Salam Rassi

Beirut claims back its only patron saint

Translated by
Hanna H. Farha
From the book "Naas Binnas" by Salam Al Rassi
January 25, 2008

    "On April 23 of every year, the English celebrates the day dedicated to their patron saint , St. Georges . But the real St. Georges lived in Beirut and so the dragon he slayed. This extract from the book also shows that the legendary figure is still part of the lives of the Lebanese people."

My uncle Makhoul did not believe in fate. He always used to say: "A man can always reap what he sows", while my other uncle Abu Saadeh declared that "Man cannot choose his destiny .... Everything is written."

When Abu Saadeh’s wife decided one stormy day to go to the neighboring village of Abu Amha to fulfill her vows at St. Georges church, uncle Abu Saadeh did not stop her saying, "Let her go. She’ll get whatever fate has decided for her."

When she failed to show up after dark, he didn’t go out to look for her, but confessed his concern that, "Perhaps she has fallen prey to Abu Amer the hyena."

She finally arrived completely soaked , to tell us her dramatic adventure of how she was followed all the way , but from a distance by Abu Amer. She was convinced that the hyena did not get close to her because "Mar Jiryus – St. Georges - was guarding her from the church to the footsteps of her house.

Since then, the image of St. Georges has glittered in our imagination . From childhood we have believed in his power, our own personal protector against all harm: hyenas, thieves, and evil eyes - he was our patron saint.

Years later when the civil war broke out and spread to Mina Al Hosn, all the hotels there including the St Georges were converted into barricades.

One day I went to see a friend who live in that area. After greeting him amidst the din of cannon and rockets he looked at me and said sarcastically: "It seems that this battle is between St. Georges on one side and Al Khadr on the other."

The next day when I saw smoke coming from the area, I went to check on my friend. After a very long search I found him sitting with his relatives and friends in the basement of an old house. So I asked "Tell me my friend..who won the battle, St. Georges or Al Khadr? " *

"Unfortunately the dragon" He replied from amongst the rubble.

    Saint Georges ( Mar Jiryus in Arabic) also known to both Christians and Moslems in this part of the world as Al Khadr 'the green one' was a true Lebanese citizen who used to live in Mina Al Hosn , in Beirut in the same place where the St. Georges hotel was later built.

    During that time a dragon would periodically terrorize the city's inhabitants. The people begged their ruler to give in to the creature’s demand for the surrender of his daughter as the price of the city's freedom.

    As the princess to be sacrificed left the Bab As Serail(east) gate of the city walls, St. Georges rescued her and killed the dragon near the gulf which carries his name up till today.

    For this reason, St. Georges or Al Khadr is considered the only national saint for all the citizens of Beirut , both Christians and Moslems.

    The key to the mystery of St. Georges adoption by the English is Christianity and the Crusader’s presence in this region.

    It is generally thought that the real St George was born in Lydda, Palestine, rose to high, rank in the Roman army in which he served in Britain, became a distinguished Christian and was martyred under Diocletian, on April 23, 203 AD, still celebrated as St. Georges Day in England, after Edward III proclaimed him patron saint.

    But it was not until the fourth century AD that the first Lebanese monument was erected in the martyr’s honor.

    The mother of Constantine , the first Christian emperor, erected a small white marble column in an early Byzantine chapel on the spot where the dragon was slain.

    The Crusaders built a larger chapel,which was adapted into a mosque in 1661. Now the Mosque of Al Khadr , it still contains remains of the 12 century Crusader chapel.

اهل الكرامات فيهم علامات
"Honorable signs can only appear on the faces of honorable men"
Translated by
Hanna H. Farha
From the book Li”alla Tadhia “lest they are lost” by Salam Al Rassi
December 15, 2007

Sheikh Abu Ali Sayyagha was one of the most respected and honest men in his days. He was capable whenever he meets someone for the first time to guess immediately what type of person he was, whether smart or stupid , generous or stingy , honest or not, by just stirring at his face , a science called those days physiognomy.

Before cars were made, the sheikh was one day going on foot from Hasbayya to Jdeidet Marjeyoun (South Lebanon).
When he arrived at the intersection of Souq El Khan, he met a man riding on a donkey going in the same direction.
When the man got close to him, the Sheikh stirred at his face and said to himself "I don’t like him… he’s a bastard."

The man dismounted his donkey, rushed to the sheikh ,kissed his hand and asked: "Where are you heading for?"

"Jdeidet Marjeyoun" the sheikh replied . The man in a loud voice said "How lucky I am. I’m going there too . "Then asked the sheikh to mount the donkey.
The sheikh hesitated and thought for a while. "How can such a noble gesture come from a bastard?" Then he stirred again at the man to only see signs of dishonesty on his face.
He apologised in a nice way saying "No , thank you...But I prefer to walk." The man insisted "It is impossible for you to walk while I ride" and added: "Someone we know may pass by and say how rude and impolite I am You must ride..I insist."

The sheikh finally mounted the donkey in spite his will. Everytime he stopped the donkey and started to come down, the man would stand in his way threatening to rip away the donkey’s belly with his dagger if he did so.

On the way, the man was always talking about his devoutness and respect to clergymen, a thing which made the sheikh worried and thought: "To me, this man looks infernal, but his behavior shows that he’s a man of honor. I believe I have a problem here. If this proves to be of moral excellence, then I have to reconsider from now on , the way I judge people. If my judgment on this man is wrong, then I think I may have had made mistakes in judging others…and that’s a serious problem, because then I may loose people’s confidence in me."

Arriving in Jdeidet Marjeyoun, the sheikh dismounted the donkey, thanked the man and walked away…
The man called him saying "But you haven’t paid me the donkey’s fare…"
"How much do you want ?" ,the sheikh asked "Half a Majidi (this was the kind of currency used those days)
The sheikh looked at the man’s face and said to him : "Listen my friend…Only truth prevails at the end..I knew what person you were from the first time I saw your face…" and added: "Here’s a whole Majidi… But I want you to always remember that HONORABLE SIGNS CAN ONLY APPEAR ON THE FACES OF HONORBLE MEN."

Plato and the Goatherd
Translated by
Hanna H. Farha
From the book "HeeS BeeS " by Salam Al Rassi
December 10, 2007

When I was still young , I used to memorise statements made by famous writers or philosophers which I tried to use when I needed to prove a point of view or to end an argument.
One day we were discussing the question of this strange and astonishing creature called 'Man'.
Someone among those present asked us to give him the correct definition. This sparked a discussion that went on and on ,and caused a big argument among us.
I said in a loud voice : Listen my friends, Plato, the father of all philosophers says : Man is a rational being not more, not less.
I continued: If the animal speaks, it will then be equal to man.
Abou Faraj who was a goatherd from my home town stood up, looked at me and said: Who’s this fellow the father of all philosophers that you just mentioned?
Haven’t you heard of Plato, the great philosopher who lived before Christ and whose words are still as good as gold? I replied.
No, no said abou Faraj the goatherd. Your father of philosophers is mistaken. I have the correct definition of 'man'.
I smiled, looked at him with astonishment and asked: "Based on your experience, what’s man then?"
"Based on my experience , man is a lying animal, not more not less".
"If the animal can learn lies, then he can talk, compose poetry, and can sit with you and me and talk philosophy."
I looked at Abou Faraj and said to myself: This is an idea that I never faced before. Man is a lying animal? For 2000 years we've been teaching Plato's philosophy at schools and universities. Can you imagine how astonishing, exciting and frustrating it will be if the goatherd of Ebel Al Saqi can prove that Plato is stupid or foolish?
I remembered here my cousin who had spent ten years preparing a 600 page dissertation on Plato’s philosophy. Oh my God! Had this been a waste of time?
What’s your proof that animals don’t lie? I asked Abou Faraj. He replied without any hesitation: Be patient and listen..
And this was the story he told…

During the first world war, the Ottoman government used to draft young men in the army and send them to war, a thing which forced many of them to flee and hide. The government used to chase those fugitives , punish them once they were caught and punish anyone who gave them shelter or help.

One day, a fugitive from Baalbeck fled to Ebel Al Saqi and took refuge in Hajj Mitri’s house.
Hajj Mitri offered him work as a labourer. They agreed they would deny knowing each other if he were caught by the Ottoman army.
After sometime the fugitive’s story was spread in town. He was scared and ran away to the neighboring village Rashaya Al Fukhar.
But after a few months later he was caught by a Turkish officer called Fahmi Agha.
So you are Hajj Mitri’s labourer, the officer said. "No I am not" the fugitive replied. "I don’t know Hajj Mitri..I know nothing about him.."
Officer Fahmi took the fugitive back to Ebel Al Saqi to Hajj Mitri’s home. Hajj Mitri denied knowing anything about him and so did Hajj Mitri’s wife and four children.

It just happened that the officer’s eyes fell on a dog, tied to a trunk of an old tree, shaking his tail happily at seeing his old friend after a long absence.
Suddenly, the officer caught Hajj Mitri by the neck and said to him: You liar. you’ve taught your wife to lie, you’ve taught your children to lie, but you were not able to teach this shameful habit to your dog.
Then the officer ordered the dog to be unleashed . The fugitive and the dog ran to each other to hug and kiss like two lovers meeting after a long separation…

أذا ارتفع سعر الشعير...بيرخص سعر الحمير.
Translated by
Hanna H. Farha
From the book "HeeS BeeS " by Salam Al Rassi
November 5, 2007

Salam Al Rassi says "I've spent my whole life working for the government without getting real promotions since I didn't hold any university degree.
Other employees used to study during and outside their working time, in order to get the necessary diplomas which would qualify them for exceptional promotions,a thing which made me feel that my value has gone down and my dignity has lessened.

One day, I've decided to protest against this and submitted a complaint to the government. So, I went to Sheikh Farid Dahdah, Chairman of the Civil Service Council then, perhaps he could help me find a way to see my situation improved. Sheikh Farid brought all the files and began to read all the resolutions, regulations and laws in order to persuade me that the government was right in its policy.

On my way out from his office I met a villager from the South (Lebanon). I told him my story and complained about the bad situation I was in and how unfair the government was and said "those who are inferior and younger have become more dignified and receive one promotion after another, all because they hold higher degrees" Then I asked his advice. The man said "I believe that's fair. Aren't you aware of the proverb which says: When the price of barley goes up, prices of donkeys go down ?"
"Thank you very much my friend.. You've solved my problem" I said ,and rushed back to Sheikh Farid's office to tell him the good news..
"Do you know what ?" I asked "What?" Sheikh Farid replied "Now I am convinced that the government is right." "And what made you change your mind ?" the Sheikh asked.
"On my way out, I've met a villager from our area who ruled in the government favor and convinced me with a very simple proverb which all your resolutions and laws could not be so persuasive when he said commenting on my story with you "If the prices of barley go up, prices of donkeys go down."

After Sheikh Farid examined carefully the meaning of the proverb he commented saying "If we bring all the economists and ask them to set a brief rule to define the relationship between the lavish supply of production and the reduction of prices - or vice versa- they will not be able to come with a better formula."

From the book "HeeS BeeS " by Salam Al Rassi, Nawfal Publishing Est. ,Beirut.