I have no doubt that many of our fellow Mauritians, upon hearing the name “Khalil Gibran” would assume that the poet and philosopher “Gibran” was a ‘Muslim’ by faith. But the truth is that he was not. He was, in fact, a Christian although with a very Arabic name because he was an Arab. As is well known, not all Arabs are ‘Muslim’ by faith. There are many who are Christians, and many have names that look, sound and are very ‘Muslim.’ In Canada and the U.S.A., there are sizeable communities of Arab Christians as there are in the Middle Eastern countries of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Palestine, among others. Khalil Gibran was a Maronite Christian and his poetry and prose reflect his Christian roots and influences.
Although it is true that the vast majority of the Arabs in the world are followers of Islam and practically all of them as well all Muslims, irrespective of their ethnicity, generally carry ‘Arabic/Muslim’ names. But then can we blame those who, erroneously, assume that all Arabs with an Arabic sounding name are ‘Muslim’ by faith?
“Arab” is an ethnicity and not a religion. In North America, there are large communities of Christian Arabs and I personally know of quite a few. So much so, it becomes interesting to a Muslim, to ‘listen’ to two Arabs – not necessarily of Muslim faith — conversing routinely in their native language and one is very likely to hear Arabic words and expressions that are routine to Muslims generally when talking among themselves. Words and expressions like Assalamu‘alaikum!”; “Allah”; “Insha’Allah”; “Al–hamdulillah!”; “Subhan’Allah!” etc. so commonly used by Muslims in general — come up routinely with them. All Arab Christians I know refer to God as ‘Allah’. They know that both Muslims and them worship the same ‘God’ – “Allah” – the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus and Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon them all).
KHALIL GIBRAN was born in Lebanon in 1883. Lebanon was then part of the Ottoman Empire. Gibran was aged twelve when his mother decided to move with Khalil and his three siblings to Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., where her brother had already settled. She was then already kind of estranged from her husband. However, Gibran’s mother, sometime afterwards, realized that she did not want young Gibran to lose his Arabic heritage. She, therefore, sent him back to Beirut in 1898, to complete his secondary studies, where Gibran did enroll in a Maronite-run high school in Beirut called “Hikma” (The Wisdom) and spend several years in Lebanon before returning to America where he would later study arts — visual arts particularly — and become an iconic artist in his own right and also a poet and philosopher of great merit. His paintings would be reminiscent of the works of mystical artists like William Blake, among others.
Gibran would become a prolific writer in both Arabic and English. His writings showed the deep influence of religion and mysticism on him. His Arabic prose, critics say, was particularly remarkable for its beauty and lyrical flow. His appeal would be universal. He decried negativism in society. He believed in freedom, abhorred injustices in any form or kind. In fact, he would come to be viewed as some kind of a ‘rebel’ and his influence would be such that he would come to be admired and, years later after his death, his rebellious feelings expressed in his writings, would find an echo with the counter-culture of the Hippie-generation of the 60’s. Little wonder then that, in days to come, he would be hailed as a literary icon and even called “the Shakespeare of the Middle East”. He would become the pride of Lebanon, where he would be reckoned as a national hero.
In Canada and the U.S., Khalil Gibran is particularly known for his two books: THE PROPHET and THE BROKEN WINGS. The first tells the story of a Sage/ Seer, who happens to pass through a village and people come to him seeking advice on the many issues we all face in life. His interaction with the people in the fictitious town is illuminating and even mesmerizing. His advice is, philosophical and deep well heeded by the folks and appreciated. The success of The Prophet has been phenomenal. It has been edited continuously ever since it was first published in 1923 and has been translated in many languages.
“THE BROKEN WINGS” is a novella about unrequited love reflecting in some ways some segments of Gibran’s own life story.
Gibran was a prolific writer. He would author over a couple of dozen books of poems, novels, maxims and aphorisms … He would become a celebrity gaining fame and respect for his invaluable body of work. All his work in Arabic have been translated into English and the other main languages of the world.
Besides, The Prophet and The Broken Wings, Gibran’s other well-known works are :The Madman, Sand and Foam, A Tear and a Smile, The Garden of the Prophet, Jesus, Son of Man, The Wanderer, Secret of the Heart, Mirrors of the Soul, Spirits Rebellious and Lazarus and His Beloved (A One Act Play).
Of all his works, The Prophet remains supreme and is the most read and quoted. Here are a few sterling gems from the mind of the great Arab poet and philosopher:
— Trust in dreams for in them is hidden the gate of eternity.
— Friendship is always a sweet responsibility never an opportunity.
— In the sweetness of Friendship let there be laughter, and shining of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.
— But let there be spaces in your togetherness and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love. Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores your souls.
Gibran never married although it is reported he did have a few relationships. However, it is surmised that one woman in particular by the name of Selma was the love of his life but which he never avowed. She would be the lady who would help him out when Gibran fell into alcoholism and, in the final years of his life, tended to shut himself in his room. It was said he was suffering from liver disease from which he eventually died in April,1933. Although, he was an American citizen, he had expressed the wish to be interred in his native Lebanon, where he is honoured as a national hero. A memorial and a Museum in Beirut, Lebanon, remains a constant reminder of the twelve-year old boy who left for the New World with his mother to become later thanks to his genius and gift of poetry, a national hero. Khalil Gibran’s work transcends ethnicity, religion and culture. He was a poet with great universal appeal.