From Martyrdom to dialogue, this could be the motto of Beirut. Beirut was a martyred city. Beirut is now the city of the interfaith revival.
In the heart of Beirut, Martyrs’ Square, Sahat al Chouhada is aptly named. It is noticeable by its eponymous statuary riddled with bullets. The sculpture depicts two martyrs lying at the foot of a woman brandishing the flame of freedom and hugging a young man with an amputated arm. Built in 1960, the monument was erected in place of another monument built in 1930 with the same strong symbolic impact. The first monument represented two women, one Muslim, the other Christian, mourning together the death of their children. It was aimed at paying tribute to Syrian and Lebanese martyrs hanged in 1916 by the Ottoman occupier.
Beirut’s Marty’s Square itself martyred
The new Martyr’s monument built in 1960 will inadvertently become an almost living symbol of the new martyrdom suffered by Lebanese people between 1975 and 1990, the years of civil war during which Lebanese people killed each other. Located at the crossing point of the demarcation line separating the Muslim neighborhood of West Beirut from the Christian neighborhood of East Beirut, the Martyr’s Monument was in sniper’s line of fire. Stigmas of the stone give the monument a mystically human appearance.
From martyrdom to dialogue: Lebanese national unity embodied in the national day
On this day of March 25, 2019, the country celebrates its National Day. From martyrdom to dialogue: the celebration is not without recalling the symbolism of the first Martyrs’ Monument, the one dating back to 1930. Since a few years, March 25 in Lebanon is indeed dedicated to the Muslim-Christian dialogue.
According to the local press, Beirut would be the only country in the world to have a national day dedicated to the Muslim-Christian dialogue. Both communities pray together Mary, Maryam, in Arabic, to which the Koran consecrates an entire sura. Under the auspices of the Churches of Lebanon, the Ecumenical Council of the Middle East and the community of Taizé in France, an ecumenical meeting is organized at the Seaside Arena Fair Ground in Beirut.
Although it takes place in a modernist and unattractive building, the ceremony leaves the visitor speechless. It brings together over 1600 young Christian and Muslim believers from more than 43 countries around the world, communicating with an amazing fervor. Almost all Muslim and Christian clerics in the country attend the ceremony: they are Catholic, Maronite, Orthodox, Chaldean, Sunni and Shiite. They gather in the midst of the songs of young Muslim choristers dressed in Marian colors.
Later in the day, the young Christians are taken to the Great Mosque Muhammad al-Amin, located on Martyrs’ Square, to learn further on Muslim rites. And surprisingly, girls and boys are allowed to pause side by side in the prayer hall of the Mosque.
Beirut, at the intersection between the past and the future
War wounds are also visible in Chouf’s Druze villages, a majestic snow-covered mountain overlooking this little piece of the Middle East. The bullet-ridden car exposed in Kamal Joumblatt’s family home in the village of Mukhtara reflects the assassination of the Lebanese Druze leader in his car on a Chouf road in 1977, shortly after Syria invaded Lebanon.
Strolling a few days in Beirut provides the visitor with plenty of discovery opportunities, just to name a few, the feverish reconstruction of the city, the cultural diversity of the population, a friendly conversation with Armenian residents, the Lebanese youth swinging between the East and West enjoying strolling around the Marina.
But Lebanon remains a land of contrast.
A less visible reality of suffering and survival is also taking place. Syrian kids in suburbs areas hiding their faces are a reminder of on-going war on the other side of the border. The district of DEKWANA, RAJ in Beirut has a high concentration of Iraqi Christian refugees surviving in substandard housing. These refugees, who fled ISIS persecutions, feel today to be neglected by the media.
Solange Paradis, Beirut, March 2019,
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