Lebanon Attempting Modernity: Cross vs Hijab At SABIS?

Of the many things Lebanese pretend to have is an open mind, notably when it comes to those who are of a different sect. The catchphrase goes: welcome to the country where 18 sects live together peacefully. The reality is anything but. We pretend otherwise anyway.

Lebanese peace, fragile as it is, is always at the breaking point of a sect feeling threatened. Sometimes the mayhem that ensues is tangible, with guns and arms and black shirts. Other times, the mayhem is a scandal at a local school.

You’ve probably heard of SABIS by now. They have a bunch of well-renowned schools across the country and the region. They will also soon open a university in my hometown in Batroun. Education is what they do. Their tuition fees are steep and their students receive the best facilities possible. What SABIS also does is enforce the notion of secularity at its establishments and in doing so, it has gotten itself in some deep trouble.

A Christian Problem:

Recently, SABIS Adma issued new regulations that forbade religious signs from being displayed among students, unless such a sign was an obligation. Parents and students have therefore risen in uproar against the regulations that they believe unfairly targets Christians who wear Crosses around their necks while allowing Muslim girls who adorn the Hijab to continue wearing their religious garment at school. Crosses are meant to be worn under the vest. Hijabs can’t obviously be hidden.

This comes a couple of months after another regulation by SABIS which forbade students with an ash cross on their foreheads from attending classes on Ash Monday, at the beginning of lent.

There’s even a news report about the matter for you to check:

Half-Assed Secularism?

In typical Lebanese Christian fashion, the problem at SABIS got turned into yet another existential crisis that targets their existence in Lebanon. Do Christian parents and students have a point in being angry? Perhaps they do. Do they have a point in feeling like their entire presence is targeted in Lebanon because their children can’t flaunt a $1000 golden Cross? I daresay they don’t. In fact, on that particular point there’s a substantial amount of chill pills which need to be taken.

The regulations at hand, in delineating a clear difference between obligatory religious rules and non-obligatory rules, seem to be aimed squarely at those Christian parents and students. But is the comparison between the Cross and a Hijab a fair one to begin with with one being facultative in its religion and the other being obligatory?

There are other items worn by Muslims that could be forbidden with such regulations such as a necklace with the word Allah or a necklace with Ali’s Sword. But is the point of enforcing secularism at SABIS, whatever that means, ending up with a list of what to wear and what not to wear that is well accustomed to the religion their students were born in?

The problem at hand is that this notion of secularism at SABIS is half-assed at best. It’s like someone who has a foot in the door of modernity with all their other limbs staying outside, clinging to familiarity. You either enforce full secularism at your schools, affecting all students regardless of their religious obligations, which is how it happens in some European countries, or you ignore your students’ religious views by simply not caring whether they wear a Cross or an Allah pendant or a Hijab while not providing them with religion classes, facilities for prayer and whatnot.

SABIS‘ half-measures when it comes to their secularism emanate from their regional context with their schools in the Gulf not facing such a problem due to those countries’ demographics. But is applying regulations emanating from the Khaleej in Lebanon a good idea? Christian anger seems to indicate otherwise.

The problem with applying half-assed measures, with subtle nuances ignored, to a well-rooted Lebanese problem such as sectarianism is that it always brings out sectarian anger, regardless of how well the original intention of the proposal is. It’s easy to say why bother and to just leave things the way they are, but wouldn’t secularism at the school level at least help towards alleviating sectarianism at the national level with subsequent generations taking charge? And would a lacking notion of secularism, which pushes people towards adopting a sectarian speech, lead to the change we hope to have in Lebanon?

It’s ironic that when Lebanon attempts modernity, with neo-regulations at new-styled schools, the overall outcome turns out to be the same-old, same-old regression towards the us versus them mentality: cross versus hijab all over again. It really shows, doesn’t it, how far we are from actually becoming a modern nation where our children don’t go to school to flaunt their religious views, whether knowingly or unknowingly, where a school enforcing such a regulation is met with actual dialogue and where that precise us versus them mentality is buried way too deep for it to pop up at any given moment.

Back in my days, the point of going to school was to get an education, plain and simple, not to learn the art of provocation. It seems the former has become too mainstream these days.


9 thoughts on “Lebanon Attempting Modernity: Cross vs Hijab At SABIS?

  1. A necklace with a cross Vs Hijab???
    guys this is so blown out of its scale, apples to apples, not apples to oranges please.
    with respect to christian legitimate fears, yet this is not the battle.
    The battle is elsewhere….


    • You are right. It is an issue of scale. Hijab is mandatory in Islam while a necklace with a cross is not mandatory to be weared in Christianity.


  2. All or nothing.
    wether hijab or cross or prayers..all are religious signs.. if not all banned then no need to complicate things,problems will never fade.


    • You are so right but with so much negativity!
      Instead of saying they should ban all or nothing, just say, they should ban NONE. Be a true patriot, Lebanon is for all of us, the last thing we need is for schools to widen the gap even more between us, we already teach our children to hate the other from year one, no even from day one.


  3. I wouldn’t be interested with schools like this one in the first place, “the point of going to school was to get an education” just put on your uniform if your school has one and go, also i don’t understand, i thought the existence of schools like this one, was to ignore any religious signs and accept them all with no discrimination! not ban them lol (Lebanon)! on the other hand, this is not a competition guys, you cannot compare hijab to cross. hijab is obligatory in islam, a sword, a cross or “allah” necklace are not, don’t blow it out of proportion and let us concentrate on Internet speed lol


  4. your arguments are ridiculous. Each citizens should be free to wear whatever he wants. tell me how the cross or a hijab might harms my fellow citizen if I wear it. my freedom ends when it offends my fellow citizen.
    Moreover, Ya Habibi have some logic. both are religious signs. so they should be either all band, and ban with it every tatoo or any kind of religious symbol even satanic and non-islamic and non-christian ones, or just consider everyone s freedom of belief.
    Now the most important point you should learn today Ya Habibi ( and this is because I love you and I forgive you for pretending to know it all) :
    everyone HAS HE OWN OBLIGATIONS. NOBODY has to tell you U R OBLIGED TO DO THIS OR THAT in your religion. At least in my opinion. Everyday Virgin Mary says in her appearance says every christian should wear the cross. but we are free to put it or not. otherwise we would be born with it.
    Same applies to Muslims. We are free to put Hijab as a personal decision. You cannot take a girl to Prison for not putting it. at least in Lebanon. So it s a choice. but on the religious level it might be not just like the cross!
    Finally I have put a 1000 LL cross since I was 17 years old. and it is still on me all the time. and i have a bracelet that is small but shown and this is not show people who i am. Its because it reminds me that I am a praying and practicing christian and I should be a christian in all my acts. so I can see it and feel it and so it can protect me.
    Just like when I see a muslim girl with a hijab. I admire her for the practice and prayer she does, and her sacrifice for her own beliefs. I would let anyone tell her one day you have to remove your hijab. I would defend her hijab more than my cross. because its by defending your fellow citizens rights that your right will be respected and considered.
    Tesba7 3al watan Habibi I hope one day ull wise enough to right an article that spread love and morals not hate and bullshit.



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