Lebanese Culture & Catholic Social Teaching Food, Dance, Christianity, and Solidarity: By Simon Peter

There is a small nation in the Middle East called Lebanon. This nation has beautiful beaches, mountains, forests, and other attractions. This nation also provides the world with some of the best food, as well as, music and dance. Yet, one thing sets this nation apart from the rest of the Middle East. Lebanon is a traditionally Christian nation, despite many attacks on the faith over the course of Maronite Catholicism's long history in Lebanon. These traditions have been passed down many generations of those with Lebanese descent, especially in Canada and the United States. In the spirit of Pope Francis, I ask that we engage in solidarity and preserve every facet of the Lebanese culture.

"Agriculture... a better organization of local or national markets, systems of irrigation, and the development of techniques of sustainable agriculture. New forms of cooperation and community organization can be encouraged in order to defend the interests of small producers and preserve local ecosystems from destruction. Truly, much can be done!" (Laudato Si, par. 180).

When most think of Lebanese culture, the first thing that comes to mind is the food. It is true to say that Lebanese culture is embedded in the food. Middle Eastern cuisine consists of coffee, burglur wheat, zaatar, tomato, parsley, garlic, onion, lamb, beef, chicken, and much more. The beautiful part about this style of food is that, in most cases, a supermarket is not needed to make a meal. Lebanon is one of the most agricultural lands in the Middle East. According to the U.S. Library of Congress, "Almost one-fourth of Lebanon's of land is cultivable--the highest proportion in the Arab world" (AGRICULTURE). Generations of Lebanese citizens and Lebanese-Americans have learned the importance of maintaining gardens, which eliminates the use of plastic bags at the grocery store, the use of cars, and creates an overall healthier lifestyle.

The culture of homegrown food in Lebanon has also extended to its neighbors in need, the Syrian refugees. According to the UN Refugee Agency, "Lebanon remains the country hosting the largest number of refugees per capita, with Government estimate of 1.5 million Syrian refugees..." (2019). These Syrian refugees are in need of a home, and they found one in the nation next door. The Lebanese community is encouraging the Syrian refugees to engage in rooftop gardening as a form of therapy and a way to save money. According to Al Jazeera, a news channel covering the Middle East nations, "Of the more than one million registered Syrian refugees in tiny Lebanon, just around 10 percent are considered to be food-secure, according to the United Nations. Several organisations...are working on the rooftop gardening initiative, providing refugees with kits, seeds, compost and training" (Alabaster, 2016). The local food culture in Lebanon is preserved by the Food Heritage Foundation. The Al Jazeera article also states, "...the Food Heritage Foundation, a Lebanese non-profit organisation that seeks to preserve local food culture - believes that any balcony garden should be able to produce the necessities..." (Alabaster, 2016). It makes the Syrian people feel more at home. In the closing of the article, it states, "'...A lot of people are actually sitting in agricultural lands and they can't use the land, or they come from areas [in Syria] where they are used to planting,'"(Alabaster, 2016).

"Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer" (Laudato Si, par. 223) .

Another key element of Lebanese culture is music and dance. The most popular dance is called Dabke. The dabke is performed at nearly every Lebanese wedding or church festival. Yet, the significance of the dance goes far beyond events. There is a lot of historical significance to this dance. According to DABKE DANCE: A Symbol of Love, Life, and Struggle, the dance, "...is an Arabic folk dance which originated in the mountainous regions above the Mediterranean coastline and the Tigris River, and is still practiced in Middle Eastern regions. When first created, the Dabke dance was practiced by people of the villages and towns of Lebanon..." (Carson). The folklore of the origins of the dance movements should be noted as well. According to Introdance's, "The Dabke-An Arabic Folk Dance'', the physical movements of the dabke began as a practical set of movements.

"...local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instil a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land" (Laudato Si, par. 179).

"In Lebanon, the Dabke dance was originally formed because of the different seasons Lebanon was exposed to. When the weather changed in Lebanon, the villagers had to adjust accordingly and they ended up forming a dance based on building their homes. In Lebanon, and many of the other regions where the Dabke is danced, the roofs were flat and made of tree branches that were topped with mud. Therefore, when the weather started to change the mud would crack and the roofs would have to be fixed. To fix the roof the Lebanese would hold hands, form a line, and start stomping their feet while walking on the roof so that the mud would adjust. In historical folklore, it is said that when the mud started to crack the owner of the house would call to the neighbors to have them help with the roof. He would yell, 'Al-Awneh' which translates to 'let’s go and help.' Then all of the neighbors and family members would get on the roof and start stomping to adjust the mud'' (Introdance, 2013).

The most salient point to understand about this dance is that it creates a sense of community. Carson continues on to state that, "Historically, dabke represents solidarity, cooperation, and the importance of the community" (Carson). Introdance makes a reference to this point as well, stating, "...the Lebanese are very traditional and their families are close to each other. With the ancestral tradition of the Dabke, family is thought to be a whole village, which I believe is why so many Lebanese families and Arabic’s connect with one another because in some ways they both have the same historical heritage. Once many years passed and the villagers found new ways to build their houses, the Dabke was passed down through families as a tradition of how their culture was built" (Introdance, 2013).

"In the Christian understanding of the world, the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ, present from the beginning...the mystery of Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole, without thereby impinging on its autonomy" (Laudato Si, par. 99).

This image is Saint George's Maronite Cathedral in Beirut. The Christian culture in Lebanon has a long history. The Christian power in Lebanon comes in the form of Maronite Catholicism, named after Saint Maron. Yet, it has been under attack on many occasions. As a result of religious wars, many citizens fled their homes and the nation is still trying to recover. The religious persecution has much to do with the geographical location of this small nation. Lebanon, an ally of Israel, is located near many Islamic nations such as Syria, Egypt, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia, which are either controlled or influenced by Islamic extremist groups. Maronite Catholics have faced attacks from Islamic extremist groups, such as Hezbollah and Druze. In earlier generations, my family's rural home and farmland in Koura was occupied by the Druze group. To avoid death, my family fled through the mountains, boarded a ship to Ellis Island, and eventually found refuge in the United States. My family's story is one of many. In the face of death and imprisonment, the Lebanese people have shown their resilience by being unapologetically Catholic.

"Together with the patrimony of nature, there is also an historic, artistic and cultural patrimony which is likewise under threat. This patrimony is a part of the shared identity of each place and a foundation upon which to build a habitable city. It is not a matter of tearing down and building new cities, supposedly more respectful of the environment yet not always more attractive to live in. Rather, there is a need to incorporate the history, culture and architecture of each place, thus preserving its original identity. Ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense. More specifically, it calls for greater attention to local cultures when studying environmental problems, favouring a dialogue between scientific-technical language and the language of the people. Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment" (Laudato Si, par. 143).

Plea for Solidarity, Gentleness, and Cultural Preservation

To the audience, understand that this nation is one like no other. Do not label the Lebanese people as "terrorists". It is not the stereotypical war zone that the media makes it out to be. It is a nation that, despite its struggles, is built on pride. The Lebanese people are proud of who they are. It is undeniable. The pride of these people is reflected in every aspect of their culture. The Lebanese culture has impacted us here in the United States more than most could ever imagine. The next time you drink an espresso, think of Lebanon. The next time you have a great time dancing at a wedding, think of Lebanon. The next time you walk into your place of worship, remember Lebanon. I ask my audience one more thing...welcome your Lebanese brothers and sisters and their culture in your nation with open arms. I promise you, the reward will be amazing.


Created with an image by Art of Hoping - "untitled image"

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