MESA Banner
In Search for Futures Lost: Waqf, Parish, and Locality among Rum Orthodox in Beirut
This paper tells an on-going story of the Rum Orthodox community in Mazra‘a, a district of Beirut with a history of mixed Muslim-Christian residency up until the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), when the area gradually came under the socio-political influence of Sunni and Shiʿi groups. Today, the Rum in Mazra‘a are a minority in a largely Muslim-inhabited area. Based on ethnographic and urban research carried out between 2020 and 2021, I explore how members of this community negotiate their presence in Mazra‘a at the intersection of real-estate practices, religious activities, and everyday life. I argue that Rum activate memories of a past “Christian Mazra‘a” into a present defined by high precarity in order to envision a future where Christians come back to the area. To this end, the waqf – charitable endowment – of the local church plays a major role, being the second richest Orthodox endowment in Beirut. Beyond just a donation to God to be used in perpetuity, the waqf is (re)defined as a charitable institution catering in times of multilayered crises, as grounds for sectarian renting practices, and as local heritage. Along these overlapping portrayals, the notion of “Rum” emerges as an on-going dynamic process mediated through different representations of sect, parish, and local kinship ties. It is produced by living and being part of networks and infrastructures that sectarian practices create, even within neighborhoods that are demographically diverse. Conversely, being Rum is not always about sectarianism, but about practicality of everyday life, religious practice, and parish life. Going beyond clearly defined conceptual frames allows the construction of narratives on the return of Rum to Mazra‘a as more than just a competition over sectarian influence in the area. Church, locality, family, and sect - all intersect and overlap to weave together a dynamic and often incomplete picture of the ethno-religious presence of Christians in Beirut.
Geographic Area
Sub Area
Christian Studies