An association of Lebanese Catholics is campaigning to reintegrate the Syriac language into the Maronite Rite Mass, as well as into the curricula of Catholic schools. The underlying objective is to fight against the growing Islamization of Lebanese society, to prevent the dilution of its identity.
The association Tur Levnon—which means Mount Lebanon—was founded in May 2017 by Amine Jules Iskandar. It is attached to the Maronite Syriac Union, one of whose aims is to preserve the Syriac heritage in the liturgy.
“Syriac was taught in Lebanon until 1943, the date of the country’s independence,” says Amine Jules Iskandar, who adds: “When the teachers of Syriac retired, the teaching of the language came to an end, and that is why it was necessary to Arabize the Maronite Mass.”
This forced transition to the Arabic language was rather complex, since all the prayers recited during the Mass—and this for more than 1300 years—were done in Syriac. “Arabic did not have the necessary terminology, nor the spirit of the prayers. It was necessary to preserve Syriac words by Arabizing them, especially for the terms in Syriac which had no equivalent in Arabic,” explains the founder of Tur Levnon.
According to him, returning to Syriac would not cause any difficulty, because “the Syriac language, born of a meeting between Greek and Aramaic in a very Hellenized Canaanite region, is very easy to learn and practice.”
The rehabilitation of Syriac is also a way to keep the identity of Maronite Lebanon alive. It is facing a demographic decline of the Christian population, largely due to wars and exiles, but also due to the arrival of the Palestinians, the growth of the Shiite population, and the influx of people coming from Syria, powerful seeing who has exercised a dominating political influence for a long time