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Lebanon no longer the country of religious freedoms... The reality of unrecognized sects

Lebanon no longer the country of religious freedoms... The reality of unrecognized sects

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Thursday 30 January 202012:33 pm
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لبنان ليس بلد الحريات الدينية... واقع أبناء الطوائف غير المعترف بها يؤكد لنا ذلك

Alláh-u-Abhá” (a Baháʼí greeting), with this phrase begins Zeina Ghamloush, a delegate of the Baha’i International Community of Lebanon, an office active in communication with the media and facilitating dialogues with the wider community. The phrase is a common greeting used by Baha'is.

Zeina is a young Lebanese woman with a degree in Law. She was born into a Baha’i family and fully embraced the Baha’i faith at the age of 15. She passionately speaks of the tenets of the Baha'i faith, which “believe in the message of all religions and that the message of Baháʼu'lláh (Mirza Husayn Ali Nuri 1817-1892) is complementary to these holy messages, for religion is one, and divine messages do not end because the divine flow never ends, and as long as there is change and development in the world, the divine message in turn needs to evolve and develop in order to keep pace with the times.”

She talks about the unified feeling of Bahá'ís like they are “part of the entire human family where all people are brothers and sisters without any differences in shape, color, race, religion, or language”, echoing the words of Baháʼu'lláh himself: “Ye are all the fruits of one tree, the leaves of one branch, the flowers of one garden.”

She also says that one of the principles of the Baha’i religion is “achieving justice, and eliminating the wide gap between great wealth and extreme poverty through the fair distribution of wealth,” and indicates that “the presence of a Baha'i (believer) in a society and its service is a matter of great value in the Baha’i faith, because faith in words alone is not enough, but must be accompanied by acts of service that translate those principles on the ground and bring about positive change in society.”

The Baha’is have a global framework that represents them, the “Baha'i International Community”. The BIC is an “international non-governmental organization that both encompasses and represents the world-wide membership of the Baha'i­ Faith”, including more than five million people. It has offices at the United Nations in New York and Geneva, and holds consultative status in several international organizations affiliated with the United Nations... But “Lebanon still does not officially recognize the Baha’i religion and does not count it among the recognized sects,” explains Zeina. However, Baha’is do not feel that they are a “minority in the sense of a minority”.

The lack of recognition of Baha’is as a recognized sect in Lebanon has had implications on their daily lives. One Baha’i, a retired 60-year-old man who used to work in the private sector, spoke to Raseef22 on condition of anonymity, indicating his desire for Baha’is to have a “mashreq al-adhkār”, that is, a place of worship, in Lebanon.

The lack of legal recognition of this faith prevents this wish from being realized, since establishing houses of worship is exclusively restricted to the recognized sects in the country, and they fall under the title of awqaf (endowments) in the law. However, the Baha’i speaker adds, “Prayer is an individual matter that can be practiced at home, of course.”

The recognized sects in Lebanon are determined by Resolution No. 60 LR issued on March 13, 1936 by the French High Commissioner, Count Damien de Martel, and the subsequent amendments that have affected it.

Lebanon recognizes 12 Christian denominations: Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Nestorian, Chaldean, the Latin Church, and Evangelical (it falls under the title of ‘The Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community’ (SCECSL), which includes the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Baptist, and the Seventh-day Adventist churches, among others). The Coptic Orthodox Church was added to these denominations on July 24, 1996 under Law No. 553.

Lebanon also recognizes the religion of Judaism under the name of “the Jewish community”. Whereas the recognized Islamic sects are Sunni, Shiite (Jaafari), Alawi, Ismaili, and Druze, which are all considered as Islamic sects in Lebanon and not an independent religion.

The Alawite sect is listed in Annex 1 of Resolution No. 60 LR. But it had stayed without its own independent council until 1995, when Law No. 449 was approved on August 17, 1995, regulating the affairs of the Alawite community in Lebanon. But to this day, there is no spiritual court for Alawites in Lebanon, a fact that causes them to resort to the Jaafari courts in the country, and this leads to issues where some rulings conflict with their beliefs.

“Relatively speaking, the rights of members of the recognized sects and denominations are guaranteed when it comes to marriage, divorce, inheritance, places of worship, and other daily transactions,” Nayla Tabbara, Director of ADYAN Foundation, tells Raseef22. However, some of these sects demand for more specific rights when it comes to political representation or public office positions, because the Lebanese career system is subject to sectarian criteria that marginalize smaller sects.

But besides these sects, there are a number of religions and sects that are not legally recognized, although those who are part of them hold Lebanese citizenship, including Baha’is, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Ahmadis, Zoroastrians, and others. In addition, there are religions that are practiced by refugees and foreign workers in Lebanon and are not recognized, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, or Yazidis…

Is Lebanon really “a country of religious pluralism”, “respects the rights of sects and religions”, and “guarantees religious pluralism”? The stories of members of unrecognized sects clearly negate these claims.

The issue of the absence of recognition is most affected by the issue of personal status laws and “those who belong to unrecognized religious sects, in addition to non-religious people, submitting to personal status laws that conflict with their own convictions,” according to Tabbara, and this is exactly one facet of the suffering of Baha’i believers in Lebanon.

“Baha’is marry into mixed, cross-sect marriages, and there is no problem at all with Baha’is when it comes to this,” Zeina explains. The Baha’i religion rejects all forms of fanaticism, including religious intolerance, “in accordance with what Baháʼu'lláh taught: Interact with all religions through soul and spirit.”

The young woman speaks of the simplicity of a Baha’i marriage ceremony, as it only requires the approval of the newlyweds and their families, and results in equality between men and women in all matters.

“However, in the absence of a unified personal status law, and since each sect regulates its personal status and has its own specialized courts to apply on the citizens of its sect, the lack of state recognition of the Baha’i sect and the absence of any specialized courts forces Baha’is who want to get married to resort to courts that belong to other sects, such as Sunni, Jaafari, or Druze courts, which, of course, leads them to refrain from revealing their belief before them, just to be able to officially register their marriage inside Lebanon, and therefore they are subject to the rulings of these courts,” explains Fatima al-Hajj, a lawyer at the support center at KAFA, a Lebanese civil non-governmental organization that is seeking to “eliminate all forms of gender-based violence and exploitation, and is working on the realization of substantive gender equality.”

Thus, those who do not want to submit to sectarian courts that apply provisions that contradict their convictions have no solution but to travel and have a civil marriage outside Lebanon, then return to Lebanon and register it, which incurs costs that many cannot afford, and this is the option that many Baha’is resort to. Accordingly, “civil courts decide marriage issues according to the system of conditions of the country in which the marriage took place,” explains al-Hajj, which solves some of the problems arising from doctrinal personal status laws, but it is “a matter that is fundamentally incompatible with sovereignty.”

Thus, those who do not want to submit to religious courts that apply provisions that go against their convictions have no choice but to travel and have a civil marriage outside Lebanon, then return to Lebanon and register it. This is a costly option that many cannot afford, but many Baha’is resort to. Accordingly, “civil courts decide on marriage issues according to the status system of the country in which the marriage had taken place,” explains al-Hajj, which solves some of the problems that arise from confessional personal status laws, but it is “a matter that is fundamentally incompatible with sovereignty and the rule of law”.

The restrictions that result from the regulation of personal status on sectarian grounds, greatly affect the rights of Baha’is, in the matter of inheritance for instance. “There are provisions on inheritance specific to Baha’is that guarantee equality between men and women, and the Baha’i faith requires every Baha’i to write his/her will,” explains Zeina.

But “the will does not have the requisite that releases it from having to submit to existing personal status laws, as it is not free, and there are always quotas reserved for heirs in every sect, and there’s no possibility to override them,” according to what lawyer and human rights activist Nadine Farghal explains. She goes on to add, “Whatever a person believes, he will ultimately be subject to the existing laws associated with the recognized sects, for the sect in Lebanon is an administrative matter, not a matter of belief.

The Ahmadis... A dead end by order of the Mufti

Contrary to the opinion of those who describe them as “the sheikhs who refuse to listen to others and are destroying the Islamic world”, “the Ahmadis attach great importance to religious freedom in Islam”. With these words, Jamil Maho begins speaking to Raseef22.

Jamil Maho is a 44 year old Lebanese man. His father is from Beirut, and his mother is from Tripoli. The man, who resides in the Beddawi area in northern Lebanon, became acquainted with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (or the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at) in 2007 through its Arabic channel, which “has played a role in the introduction of Ahmadiyya to Lebanon,” as he tells us, and within a year he had embraced its beliefs. He says, “Ahmadis are peaceful, but the sheikhs have pinned all the atrocities of the world on them.” He adds, “We belong to Islam, and our eids are the same eids of Muslims, but we are constantly labeled as heretics.”

Worldwide, the Qadiani Ahmadiyya community constitutes about one percent of all Muslims. Since its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) announced that he is the awaited Mahdi and the promised Messiah, it has spread with record speed. But in Lebanon, their number is still in the dozens.

The followers of the Mirza call themselves the “Last Community of Believers”. The Ahmadiyya sect is considered one of the most controversial and most persecuted Islamic sects in recent times. It is led today by Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who lives near the British capital London, and is considered the successor of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad V. Every Friday, he delivers a sermon that Ahmadiyya believers around the world listen to, including the Ahmadis of Lebanon.

Ahmadis consider that there’s no proof for the statement that prophethood has completely ended or been cut off, and that the prophethood of Ghulam Ahmad is a prophethood of modernization, not one of legislation. They see that saying the prophethood concluded with Muhammad means that no prophet can contradict the Muhammadan law, and they do not believe in the existence of an abrogator and an abrogated in the Qur’an and hadiths.

According to Ahmadiyya beliefs, there is no eternity in hell. Fire is a purification and a way to reach heaven, and it is the lowest level of heaven, while the highest is enjoying the highest degree of faith.

“We are Sunni Muslims on our IDs, but we are Kaka’is at our core. This reality has made me obsessed with expressing my belief. When my sect is registered on my ID differently from my belief, I'm discriminated against from the moment I’m born”

The Ahmadis, in their still small numbers, are spread out across north Lebanon, in the al-Danniyeh area. They first appeared in the new millennium and used to pray in a shop in the very beginning. But to this day, there is no official recognition of the presence of this sect in Lebanon, and it has not even been allowed to establish a cultural association.

On August 31, 2015, the then-Minister of Interior Nouhad el-Machnouk agreed to give recognition to the ‘Lebanese Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, to bear the number 1783, but only a few weeks passed before he withdrew it. “We were attacked and pressured by the (Sunni) Dar al-Fatwa to dissolve the association under various wrongful headings,” like saying that licensing it would lead to sedition, and accusing the group of deviating from Islam, explains Omar Allam, a spokesman for the Ahmadis in Lebanon, to Raseef22.

Allam is 54 years old. He hails from the Marah al-Sarraj area in al-Danniyeh and resides in the city of Tripoli. He was introduced to the group’s ideas in 1998 by an Ahmadi from the Saidnaya region in Syria who had converted to Ahmadiyya from Christianity. Following lengthy discussions between the two men, he read the books of one of the sect’s thinkers, Saleem al-Jabi (1928-2020), and grew convinced with his ideas. He then, along with five other Lebanese people, pledged allegiance to the group, and this was the group’s “second presence in Lebanon” following its first presence in the 1940s that faded away due to the civil war and the changes it brought about.

“Our biggest ambition was the recognition of the sect, and we were planning to build a mosque, which is something we consider to be necessary and fundamental in our faith,” says Maho, but as a result of the ban, “we only pray in our homes now”.

Maho begins with what the Lebanese Constitution mentions in Article 9, saying “freedom of belief is absolute,” and goes on to comment, “How can a Sunni sheikh have authority over me, specifying who is allowed to establish a (religious) group and who does not have the right to do so? The Lebanese constitution guarantees freedom of faith and belief. As for the Sunni sheikh, who should be equal with me in rights according to the constitution, has become a guardian over me. I want to spread the call of a sect that’s different from his, and only he can determine who has the right to establish a (religious) group and who does not!”

Farghal comments on the issue of withdrawing recognition, saying that “it is of course political and is meant to satisfy a group or party that expressed its consternation”, and, in this case it was Dar al-Fatwa. She gives a corresponding example; the existence of the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects (Al-Ahbash), which obtained recognition and now operates freely on Lebanese lands and whose mosques are subject to Sunni endowments(awqaf), because it has political approval.

The Ahmadis do not object to mixed marriages with other sects, according to the same principles known to other Muslims, but on the condition of the approval of the “Caliph”. “But we prefer that the marriage be within the Ahmadiyya sect, and we register it in accordance with the Sunni personal status law” in most cases, asserts Jamil Maho, and “this is what poses a danger to marriage at all times, since we are exposed to being labeled heretics and under this argument, any sheikh can invalidate our marriage.” Therefore, “we hope that civil marriage will be available in Lebanon,” he says.

Fatima al-Hajj explains that “marriage that takes place in a religious court is subject to the provisions of the sect to which this court belongs” down to the smallest detail.

Fear of apostasy, its legal consequences, and the submission of Ahmadis to the Sunni personal status law extends to the issue of inheritance. Sunnis deprive apostates of inheritance, but there is no ruling regarding apostasy in the Ahmadiyya faith. Jamil Maho wonders out loud in puzzlement, “If my son becomes an apostate, does he stop being my son?!”

So far, none of the Ahmadis have died in Lebanon, because they are still a newly established group, but Allam expresses his apprehension regarding the burial of any Ahmadi who dies, “Being labeled heretics follows us wherever we go.”

Another issue that plagues Ahmadis is the accusation that they have connections with Israel, an accusation that stems primarily from the fact that there is an Ahmadi cultural center and mosque in the village of Kababir in Haifa. And this is something that Israeli propaganda often uses within the context of promoting the idea that it has tolerance for religious minorities.

An Ahmadi Mosque in the village of Kababir in Haifa.

Allam denies these accusations and says, “We consider Israel to be an occupying power, and there is plenty of evidence to support this. The speech delivered by the Ahmadi, Zafarullah Khan, Pakistan’s delegate to the United Nations and its foreign minister, as well as his objection to the Partition Plan (the Palestine Partition Resolution No. 181 issued by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1947) is proof of that.”

He went on to add that “the presence of believers in the village of Kababir in occupied Palestinian land and the presence of an Ahmadiyya mosque there does not warrant any accusations. People were born there and must live with this reality, and are powerless to do anything like other Islamic and non-Islamic groups.”

 Jehovah’s Witnesses… A permanent confrontation with the church

Despite their presence in Lebanon since the 1920s, and their number today reaching up to around 4,000 people according to the members we met with, and despite them being distributed over a large area of ​​Lebanon — especially in areas with a Christian majority in Lebanon — and their activity in the field of preaching, Jehovah’s Witnesses are very reserved when it comes to speaking to the press. And they are very secretive regarding issues related to their activities and status in Lebanon.

Jehovah’s Witnesses consider themselves Christians and believe in the Bible, but they do not adhere to it literally because they believe that parts of it are written in a symbolic language and should not be understood in the literal sense. They also believe that God’s Kingdom (Kingdom of Heaven) is a literal government in heaven, not merely a condition in the hearts of Christians, and this kingdom will replace the human governments that failed to meet people’s real needs, and enforce God’s will on earth, and “this will happen soon, as we are living in the final days.”

The story of the “Witnesses” with bans and restrictions is an old one in Lebanon. In 1952, the Lebanese authorities prevented the entry of the Watchtower magazine, which is printed in Switzerland, and published their news and teachings and is distributed around the world. And in 1960, the same thing happened yet again with the American magazine Awake!.

Not only were magazines banned, but the group’s activities were completely prohibited on January 27, 1971, based on a recommendation from the Israel Boycott Office of the League of Arab States, on May 12, 1964, to ban the activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses in all Arab countries, because of accusations related to their connections to Zionism.


The cover of an issue of Awake! magazine.

Jehovah’s Witnesses filed a review before the Lebanese State Shura Council in July 1991 to invalidate the government’s decision, but the review was rejected in November 1996. They submitted a new petition in 1997 that met the same fate as its predecessor under a decision issued on January 21, 2010. And the ban is still in effect to this day.

“The Lebanese constitution guarantees all the Lebanese people the right of belief and faith,” says Farghal, but the decision to ban the activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses by accusing the group of communicating with Zionism “puts its members in a position of constant threat of arrest, and the authorities may use it for show from time to time to establish their security authority, or for the sake of parties who are pressuring those to maintain the ban.”

In addition, Jehovah’s Witnesses are constantly subjected to different kinds of accusations and stigmatization. and Lebanese media is often used as a platform to attack them and call for their persecution. All this takes place with main support from the official church institutions in Lebanon, viewing them as a rogue group of faith and a threat to the communities that they reside in.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are prevented from establishing their own headquarters, so they hold their meetings and practice their rituals in closed apartments.

This greatly affects their periodic meetings. “Normally, there are two types of meetings, one that takes place in the middle of the week and the other at the end of the week,” says M. A., a 30 year old member of Jehovah’s Witnesses who spoke to Raseef22 on the condition that his identity remain anonymous.

Because their places of gathering are mostly apartments and there is no legal possibility to establish separate halls, they are often unable to sing the hymns that they must sing at the beginning of the meeting, before prayer, and at the end of the meeting. “We are afraid that we will be exposed by the noise”, says M., but he does not conceal the fact that in the past three years, “Hymns have been brought back to the meetings in some areas”.

Witnesses in Lebanon “are careful to not invite anyone to a meeting on Sunday, due to the fear of being harassed or exposed, even though the program of this meeting is for welcoming new arrivals.”

There are exceptions with regard to the presence of known halls for Jehovah’s Witnesses, such as the one in the town of Rahbeh in Akkar. Even though there aren’t any signs or banners that indicate or lead to it, it is known among the residents of the village. And it, of course, isn’t officially registered in the name of the Witnesses. “But these days they do not meet, conducting their meetings online because of the COVID pandemic,” confirms one of the residents of the town, where Witnesses take up a significant portion of its population.

“Jehovah’s Witnesses do not get married in church, and since the state does not recognize their marriage, they go to Turkey or Cyprus to conduct a civil marriage, and then come to Lebanon and register their marriage,” confirms one of the mayors of Rahbeh. Of course, this would bring them a number of hardships from translating paperwork to travel costs.

Recently, this possibility of traveling and having a civil marriage has been seen as an opportunity to break free from the sway of the Church. In the past, Witnesses used to get married in Lebanon in a church marriage, which created difficulties for them in terms of their faith, as well as in terms of the complexity of the procedures when it comes to obtaining a certificate of baptism and registering the church marriage. “It seems that the first people who traveled to Turkey and Cyprus to get married abroad were Jehovah’s Witnesses, before others began traveling there to wed in secular civil marriages,” says M. A. jokingly.

As for their children, they are registered on the records of the sects present in Lebanon, the same one that their parents are formally registered on (on paper). When a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses dies, he/she is buried in a private cemetery, such as the one in the village of Rahbeh. They have a number of cemeteries distributed over a few Lebanese regions, such as the village of Btorram in the Koura region, but of course these cemeteries are small private properties and are not subject to the laws of endowments in Lebanon.

Like Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Christian Mormon community aspire to gain recognition in Lebanon. But they are patiently waiting for this, in fear that this issue might become confrontational. The Mormons of Lebanon have a church in East Beirut, in the Baouchrieh area, and they are active in the field of aid and humanitarian work.

 The Kaka’is... Nationality vs. the deconstruction of identity

“We came to Lebanon about a hundred years ago, and my grandfathers lived through the Second World War in Lebanon,” says S. Q., a 28-year-old Kaka’i young man who works as a sales manager in an East Asian country, to Raseef22, adding, “We have been in Lebanon since its independence.”

“We belong to the Kaka’i or Yarsan sect, but my family had to change their religion on their (official) papers during the process of obtaining Lebanese citizenship (in 1994), because the naturalization procedures in the country are carried out in accordance with the logic of sectarian quotas for the recognized sects in Lebanon.”

The family was registered in official records under the title of “Sunni Muslim”, which “constituted a deconstruction of identity for us,” says S. Q. He goes on to say, “Today, we are Sunni Muslims on our IDs in Lebanon, but we are Kaka’is (Yarsanis) at our core. This reality has made me live constantly obsessed with expressing my belief. When my sect is registered on my official papers in a way that’s different from what I believe, I am discriminated against from the moment of my birth”

Yarsanism, or the religion of the “People of Truth” (‘Ahl-e Haqq’), is a mystical belief that can be found among the Kurds of Iran and Iraq. Its members believe that divinity is manifested in seven roles, including Imam Ali, and their main book is the “Kitab al-Khizanah”. In the past years, they have been subjected to focused attacks launched by ISIS after it issued fatwas permitting their killing.

An Iraqi Kurdish woman who belongs to the Kaka’i faith.

“These days, we practice our rituals in secret, out of fear of course, especially following the cases of persecution that reached members of the sect in the Nineveh region in Iraq,” recounts S. Q. He adds, “Today, we are subject to a personal status law that is culturally alien to us and that we know nothing about compared to our traditions which we know by heart.”

The young Kaka’i immigrated and currently resides outside Lebanon. He married a girl there who also belongs to an eastern religion that is not recognized in Lebanon. “I did not register my marriage in Lebanon due to the complexity of the issue.”

“In Lebanon, we are numbers, not citizens,” he says, comparing his conditions in his homeland with his conditions in the new country he is living in. “Let us look at the issue of political and electoral representation. Elections takes place on a sectarian level, but our sect, along with a number of other sects, are not recognized in Lebanon. When you are born in a country like Lebanon where all jobs and opportunities are linked to sectarian affiliation and are based on the concept of nepotism, you become subject to severe marginalization, and this was one of the reasons that prompted me to leave Lebanon and search for fairer opportunities.”

The current situation in Lebanon will push everyone who is different to the same choice; emigration, according to the young man, which means that “the members of the unrecognized sects will decrease in number day after day as a result of the reality of this continued marginalization.”

Today, only about 20 members of the Kaka’i sect live in Lebanon, “after the current reality forced many to leave the country.”

Fatima al-Hajj attributes most of the problems of members of the non-officially recognized sects to personal status laws and the system that prohibits all those who belong to unrecognized sects from being tried before courts that guarantee respect for their beliefs. In her opinion, “It should be the law of the state and not the law of the sect, meaning there should be a unified civil law for personal status.”

Nayla Tabbara calls for the “recognition of all cultural and religious components, regardless of their size and number of believers. Every person has the right to safely go into the public sphere with all his/her beliefs, but this does not happen in Lebanon.”

The migrants and displaced... Worshipping secretly

There are currently 153 Yazidi families living in Lebanon, according to Sheikh Juma’a Khashman Abdo, the Yazidi sheikh of Lebanon. Abdo is from the Syrian city of Afrin and came to Lebanon years ago after the start of the Syrian war.

It is noteworthy that before the recent wave of asylum-seekers that came about from the bloody acts of displacement and genocide that the Yazidis were subjected to in Iraq and Syria, they had a historical presence in Lebanon. “But the Yazidis who had been previously present in Lebanon were forced to change their religion and converted to Christianity or Islam. They are present in areas in the Bekaa and other regions that are under other sectarian labels.”

Researchers disagree over the origin of the Yazidi religion, since the Yazidis themselves disagree over it. According to current theories, some say that the Yezidis stem from ancient Persian religions such as Zoroastrianism and others, while others believe that its basic pillars are derived from the religious beliefs of the peoples of Mesopotamia.

There are no written foundations for the Yezidis, due to losing their religious books as a result of oppression by people from other religions. Its religious clerics maintain their religious origins through oral practices and recitation. They believe in the one and only great Creator of the world, and in the existence of seven great angels. They believe that there are no evil forces in the world, and that the source of good and evil is man. In their opinion, God is the One and Only, and no evil angel can challenge Him, and it is not possible for there to be evil forces in the presence of God who is capable of everything.

In Lebanon, Yezidis suffer from a multidimensional marginalization, some of which is linked to stigma and accusations, and some that’s tied to their rituals of worship.

Manan Qrandal is a 35-year-old Syrian man who came to Lebanon in 2018, and now lives in the Jounieh area. He tells Raseef22 about the constant apprehension he has about revealing his religion, especially after what this sect has suffered from in horrors, executions, women abductions, and being labeled heretics in Iraq and Syria. He gives an example of the reality of the oppression that Yazidis experience in Lebanon with what took place following the death of a Yazidi who came from Syria because of the war, “When his family wanted to bury him, the people of the village that he was living in refused because of their ‘strange Yazidi rituals’ in their opinion, so the family of the deceased had to move him to another village and claimed that he had converted to Islam to complete the burial without issue.”

What the Yazidis encounter is experienced by migrant workers in Lebanon who believe in East Asian religions. A young Indian man named T. Garsi is one of these people. He believes in the Hindu faith and has worked for years in a Beirut restaurant, but “the sad and harsh conditions that Lebanon is suffering from has prompted me to leave it and return to New Delhi, like many other members of my community.”

He tells Raseef22 through Facebook, “On holidays, we used to gather together in the ‘gurdwara’ or the temple and celebrate together, and we would always eat together at the end of the celebration. Of course, we were never able to celebrate our holidays in public by going down to the street, for instance.”

Garsi wanted to have a visible place of worship in Lebanon, but this was not available and they would practice their rituals in small rented apartments, which the Indian embassy, according to him, secures for them, and are distributed over areas in east and north Beirut.

This restrictive situation prompted Garsi to go to the ‘gurdwara’, the place of worship for Sikhs, because it was closer to him than the rented apartment meant to act as a Hindu temple, in an area near Byblos, and “Sikh temples were open for worship for us”.

The suffering of those who adhere to East Asian religions can be summed up in incidents such as when a Buddha statue was defaced, after it was brought by a Lebanese director and erected in his own property in the Baskinta area for artistic purposes in 2012. A large number of people attacked it in a ‘jealous rage’ for their own religions, according to what comments on social media revealed at the time.

Is Lebanon really “a country of religious pluralism”, “a country that guarantees religious pluralism”, “a country that has respect for the rights of sects and religions”, and other phrases we often hear and that the Lebanese constitution emphasizes? The stories of the members of unrecognized sects clearly state: No, all this talk is pure propaganda that has nothing to do with reality.

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