Marwan al-Husayni *
Many questions related to religions keep revolving in my mind whenever I think of the link between the sacred and the non-sacred in a social context. One of these questions has to do with culture and the social representation of individual.
In our part of the world, religion, among other components of personal identity, is not considered a personal matter. The privacy zone which is supposed to limit the access to one’s private spaces by others is vulnerable in this regard. This is a strong aspect of our Eastern culture.
It is true sometimes that the collective controls the individualistic dimension of this culture, but this does not mean that it is justifiable. Many reasons stand behind the fact that individuality has weak presence in our societies. Certain individualistic behaviors which are connected to religion are dissolved in social pots. This is why many social spaces in the Arab World have more focus on rituals.
When thinking of religions in a social context, I usually ask myself: is religion an inherited structure or an acquired behavior? Is it an effect or an experience? An action or a reaction? A text or a context? I am not talking about religion as a set of teachings and guidelines. I am not even talking about it as a spiritual practice. What I am more concerned about is how we, as individuals, perceive religion on a personal level. How can religion become a total personal stand?
Privacy is not a popular word in our culture. It is also not a popular feeling. It belongs to the components of individual identity which is dissolved in social pots. Any personal instance of religious practice is often derived from the wider collective practice.
Religion is not a personal property in the Middle East. It is a property which is managed by society, state or political groups. The collective social management of religion is a mainstream in the Arab countries. Sharp examples of state management of religion are Saudi Arabia and Israel. Egypt and Lebanon are examples of political management of religions.
While writing this article, I knew about Vivian Hannah Salameh; A Jordanian Christian who is said to have been dismissed from her job after refusing to cover her head. She served for 25 years in one of the Jordanian banks before it was seized by another bank. The new administration dismissed her on the basis that she refused to wear the new uniform which includes a head cover. Reading the comments on this incident on Facebook, I came across incidents of women who were forced to leave their jobs because they wear a head cover.
Whatever were the policies of banks or companies in these cases, it is obvious that collective hegemony suppressed personal identities. These identities refused to lose part of their individual markers and melt down in social or corporate pots.
One of the recurrent words in the Jordanian media lately was the word “detained”. It was used in contexts of fighting corruption and managing the processes of reform in Jordan. When it comes to the relation between the individual and religion in our region, you cannot find the word “privacy” in the social dictionary. It is “detained” for complicated reasons.
* Media Strategist, Interfaith and Intercultural specialist