It is fitting that Khalil Gibran, among history’s most talented and beloved poets, is the most famous Lebanese person, for he transcends the tribalism and pettiness that has devastated the country and become a seemingly intractable of its social and political fabric.
Like most Lebanese people worldwide (including my own family), he was a Maronite Catholic, and drew much of his inspiration from his faith. Yet he was also influenced by Islam, today Lebanon’s majority faith, especially its mystical aspect of Sufism. Gibran also had deep connections with the Bahá’í Faith, an ecumenical religion that stresses the unity of all humans and religions, and was intimately familiar with Judaism and theosophy (a philosophical tradition that explores the truth of nature and the divine).
He was very knowledgeable of Lebanon’s bloody history stemming from sectarian conflict and factionalism, and this strengthened his belief in the fundamental unity of religions; like his parents, he happily engaged with and welcomed people of all beliefs systems to his home. This attitude is exemplified in his assertion that “You are my brother and I love you. I love you when you prostrate yourself in your mosque, and kneel in your church and pray in your synagogue. You and I are sons of one faith—the Spirit.”
This attitude extended to his political views as well. “Spare me the political events and power struggles,” he once remarked, “as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen.” To this day, Lebanese of all identities celebrate him, and the country commemorates his birth as a virtual holiday (I remember seeing every channel in the country — Muslim, Christian, or otherwise — devote hours-long specials in his honor).
Such an open and compassionate mind explains why Khalil Gibran’s works are the third best-selling in the world (after those of Shakespeare and Laozi), for he dealt with thoughts and themes that are fundamentally universal and human. He drew from so many different perspectives and philosophies that he could speak to just about anyone. If only more people from his contemporaries would apply his approach; I still hold out hope.