BEIRUT: Despite being a Christian holiday, the feast of the Annunciation is a boom time for business for at least one Muslim artisan in southern Lebanon. “A month ago we started making statues of the Virgin Mary in preparation for Annunciation Day,” Hadi Hasan told The Daily Star.
“Many Lebanese - Christians and Muslims - give the statues as gifts to one another. We have customers of all Islamic sects who buy statues and give them as gifts to Christians at [religious] celebrations,” he explained.
The Christian celebration of the Annunciation is held on March 25 to commemorate the moment Archangel Gabriel informed the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ. But although many people tend to associate the Virgin Mary strictly with Christianity, she also holds a venerated status in Islam. In the Quran, she is one of the few women referred to by name, and Jesus never appears without his matronymic name “Ibn Maryam.”
As such, said Hasan, who owns a shop in south Lebanon’s Msayleh and is himself a Muslim, Christian celebrations like the Annunciation mean good business from not only Christians but also Muslims.
Along with representations of other Christian figures, his works greet commuters on the Nabatieh-Zahrani road just a stone’s throw Msayleh, home to Speaker Nabih Berri’s south Lebanon residence. Some Christian residents of Lebanon’s largely Muslim south choose to buy their statues from Hasan’s workshop.
“There is nothing strange about buying from a Muslim seller,” said George Tannous, one such resident and a customer of Hasan’s. “The point is the relationship with God - and God is one. This strengthens coexistence between religions and brings together people’s hearts.”
Hasan used to make wooden props for artists and musicians, but in 2008 decided to bring fiberglass and resin into his repertoire. The new materials are “solid, easy to transport and unbreakable,” and have improved business, he said.
“We started making statues of the Virgin Mary, in addition to other Christian saints such as Mar Maroun, Mar Charbel, hermits and beatified individuals,” or unsainted individuals recognized by the Catholic Church for having performed a miracle or been martyred.
Hasan said statues of Virgin Mary and Mar Charbel are among the most popular, especially around feasts like Annunciation Day.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that many Muslims are ordering images of the Virgin Mary and Mar Charbel,” Hasan added.