In the rural Lebanon of my childhood, people of both faiths dwelt side by side and helped each other in times of conflict
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 30 December 2010
"I worship Allah and I am not a Muslim. I celebrate eid, and it is not a Muslim festival. I attended al-madrasa, but it was not a Muslim school. How might one explain what some perceive as contradictory terms? Allah, eid and madrasa are the Arabic words for God, festival and school, respectively. Therefore as an Arabic-speaking Christian these terms were part of my childhood vocabulary and so should have retained their apparent meanings. However, Allah, eid and madrasa have in recent times become associated with Islam and Muslims; they continue to be exploited and at times misused by the media.
Consequently, I have begun to feel alienated from the Arabic that was connected to my cultural upbringing....
I grew up in a Lebanese farming village called Yarun, which was (and still is) inhabited by both Christians and Muslims. Yarun has a church and a mosque. Its patron saint is Saint George and, although I cannot tell you the name of its mosque, I can clarify that the Muslims in Yarun belong to the Shia sect. Furthermore, words such as burqa or hijab were unknown to me as a child – I only became acquainted with them in London. When Muslim Yaruni women went to al-hajj, they would wear scarves upon their return. As a child, I knew therefore that a hajji was a Muslim woman who covered her head because she had made the pilgrimage to Mecca. A Yaruni hajji was respected for what she believed and she did not show non-Muslims any hostility for not covering their heads. It was in London that I first encountered reproachful and contemptuous glances from the so-called pious Muslim women who seem to object to my uncovered and often unbound hair. Moreover, although hajj and hajji are the Arabic titles of masculine and feminine Muslim pilgrims, they are also used by Christians – some of the most devoted Christian couples in Yarun are affectionately known as hajj and hajji....."