Friday, March 30, 2007

United in death

This week, Brigitte and I gave our condolences to good friends of us, minister Mohammad Khalife and his wife for the passing away of her mother. He is, or rather was, the minister of health in Siniora’s government but he has stepped down recently when all the Opposition ministers gave up their posts.

It was the first time I attended segregated condolences: the women were sitting on one side and the men on the other. I’ve been to Muslim condolences before, but the segregation was new for me. To be honest, it was a modern version because both men and women were in the same room, whereas the more traditional form prescribes separate rooms.

This can be problematic in case you don’t know both sides of the family. Sometime ago, the parent of a female friend died, so I should go to the condolences, but I didn’t know her family at all. If I would show up, I wouldn’t be able to give my condolences to her because she would be in the woman’s section. In the male section, nobody would know me and I would know nobody. This is perhaps an unlikely scenario for Lebanese because they would always find people they know, but for a foreigner it is more of a challenge. In the end, I decided not to attend the condolences since it would have been a useless exercise. Instead, I opted to give my condolences directly to her later on.

Another interesting aspect of Muslim condolences is the presence of a sheikh (or if there is no sheikh, it would be the kareh, which is the Arabic title for the reader) who recites the Quran. It gives a sacred touch to the occasion and is actually quite nice. They usually have beautiful voices and sometimes the reciting becomes almost singing.

During condolences, the sheikh would typically insert little breaks every ten minutes or so to give visitors the opportunity to enter and leave because it is obviously considered impolite to give your condolences while the sheikh is reciting the Quran. In other situation, no intermittences are used. If you ever visit the grave of Rafiq Hariri, e.g., you will hear a constant reciting of the Quran, played back from tape.

However, in this case there were so many visitors that the concierge of the building was urging people to move on. So, I went to the right side, Brigitte to the left and we each paid our respect to the family. It was strange to not be able to give your condolences to the minister’s wife. But after sitting a while in the room, you could notice men who would go over to the woman’s site and vice versa. So that’s what we did as well.

The minister was surrounded by many of his political adversaries. Nassib Lahoud, erstwhile candidate president, but lately out of the picture (“Lebanon is not ready for another Lahoud”, as someone noticed) , was talking for quite some time with Khalife and Atef Majdalani, member of the Hariri bloc, was standing in line to accept condolences, almost next to the minister.

Minister Khalife is known for his non-partisan stance and is respected by politicians from all sides. He is also well-liked by the people from left to right: the Daily Star published a survey a few months ago that gave him the highest score across sects of all ministers. You wish the condolences on Wednesday are the foreboding of a new Lebanon: expert people who are trying to do their job to the best they can not hindered by political baggage, simply working together with their opponents to better the situation of the country.

Too bad the current situation is so divisive. Even worse that it takes a funeral to bring people together.


Mustapha said...

In Tripoli, on the public obituary (na3weh), it is the norm to have two separate locations (usually, men in a mosque, women in the house of the bereaved) and separate times for men and for women when it comes to the funeral.