What traditions and customs are there in Syria?
How the customs and traditions of Syria have developed in history.
Food in daily life
Wheat is the main crop and one of the staple foods. Vegetables, fruits and dairy products are also consumed. Lamb is popular, but most people cannot afford to eat meat on a regular basis.
Islam forbids the consumption of pork, and other meats must be specially prepared in a method called halal cooking. In middle-class and wealthier households, meals are like those eaten in other Middle Eastern countries: roasted or grilled chicken or lamb with sides of rice, chickpeas, yogurt and vegetables.
A mezzeh is a midday meal made up of up to twenty or thirty small dishes. These dishes can include hummus, a puree of chickpeas and tahini (ground sesame paste); baba ganouj, an aubergine puree; meat rissoles; stuffed grape leaves; tabouleh (a salad of cracked wheat and vegetables); falafel (fried balls of mashed chickpeas); and pita bread.
Olives, lemon, parsley, onion, and garlic are used for flavor. Popular fruits grown in the region include dates, figs, plums, and watermelons. Damascus has a number of French restaurants that are preserved from the days of colonial rule.
Tea is the ubiquitous beverage and is often consumed at social gatherings. Soda is also very popular, as is milk and a drink made by mixing yogurt with water, salt, and garlic. Alcohol consumption is rare, as it is forbidden by the Islamic religion, but there is beer and wine, as well as arak, an aniseed drink that is also popular in other Middle Eastern countries.
Food customs on ceremonial occasions
Food is an important part of many celebrations. During Ramadan, the daily fast is broken with a meal called iftar. This meal starts out quiet and is quickly consumed. Eid al-Fitr, the final breaking of the Ramadan fast, involves the consumption of large amounts of food, particularly sweets. Food is also a central element at weddings, parties and other festivities.
According to Muslim tradition, the marriage is organized by the families of the couple. Although more leniency is now allowed, especially in the cities and among the upper classes, it is still extremely rare for a couple to marry against their family’s wishes.
According to the Constitution, the State has assumed the duty to protect and promote the institution of marriage. However, the marriage rate has declined due to housing shortages, inflation, rising education levels, money from brides, and the prohibitive cost of weddings.
Although the state and the Muslim religion oppose the current dowry system, it is deeply embedded in the family structure. It puts enormous pressure on her husband and family, who have to raise large sums of money, and on the bride, who is often forced to marry the suitor who can provide the largest dowry. Syria was the first Arab country to pass laws regarding polygamy.
In 1953, the Personal Status Law was passed, under which a man was required to prove that he could financially support two wives before marrying the second. Whereas divorce laws used to follow the Arab tradition that a man only had to repeat “I divorce you” three times (in the presence of his wife or not), court proceedings are now required.
Men and women socialize separately, except on occasions when the whole family is involved. Talking is a favorite pastime, and the art of conversation is a highly prized skill. Men often make a kind of jokes where they try to pick each other up with witty and eloquent insults.
In social interactions, people stand together, talk loudly, and make gestures with their hands and heads. Greetings have great social meaning.
They are often lengthy, including questions about health. They are usually accompanied by a handshake and sometimes a hug and a kiss on each cheek. Placing your right hand over your heart when meeting someone is a sign of affection.
Syrians are very loving people. Men walk with their arms crossed or holding hands and hug and kiss a lot, as do women. Close physical contact in public is more common between people of the same sex than between girlfriend and boyfriend or between husband and wife.
74% of the population is Sunni Muslim. 16 percent belong to the Alawite, Druze and other Muslim sects, and 10 percent are Christian. There are small Jewish communities in Damascus, Al Qamishli and Aleppo.
As in many Arab countries, religion is an integral part of culture and daily life. The word “Islam” means “submission to God.” The religion shares certain prophets, traditions, and beliefs with Judaism and Christianity. The foundation of Islamic belief is called the Five Pillars.
It is speculated, though not certain, that Alawi Muslims do not observe the holy month of Ramadan or make a pilgrimage to Mecca like other Muslims and celebrate some Christian holidays. The practices of the Druze are also somewhat mysterious. A smaller group known as the Ismailis recognize a living person, the Aga Khan, as their sacred leader.
The mystical branch of Islam called Sufi has a small presence in Syria, although the government sees this sect as subversive and disapproves of its practice. Sufi rituals include singing and dancing while moving in a circular formation.
Despite the powerful influence of Islam in people’s lives, some elements of the popular religion persist. Particularly in rural areas, there is a strong belief in the evil eye as well as in jinas (spirits). There is also a tradition of local saints being prayed to.
There are no priests or clergy in Islam. Instead, there are people who lead the prayers and read the Koran, the Muslim holy book.
The Qur’an, more than a religious leader, is considered the supreme authority and has the answer to any question or dilemma one may have. There are also muezzins who make the call to prayer and are scholars of the Koran and spend their lives studying and interpreting the text.
Rituals and sacred places
The most important observance of the Islamic calendar is Ramadan. This month of fasting is followed by the joyous festival of Eid al Fitr, during which families visit and exchange gifts. Eid al-Adha commemorates the end of Muhammod’s Hajj. The mosque is the Muslim house of worship.
Outside the gate, there are washing facilities, since cleanliness is a prerequisite for prayer, demonstrating humility before God. You also have to take off your shoes before entering the mosque.
According to Islamic tradition, women are not allowed to enter. The interior does not have an altar, it is simply an open and carpeted space. Because Muslims are supposed to pray facing Mecca, there is a small niche carved into the wall that indicates the direction that city is facing.
Death and the afterlife
Death is followed by three days of mourning during which friends, relatives and neighbors pay their respects to the family. Female relatives of the deceased wear black for several months to a year or more after death. Widows generally do not remarry and often wear mourning clothes for the rest of their lives.
The main secular holidays are January 1, January 1, March 8, Revolution Day, and March 22, the anniversary of the formation of the Arab League. Syrians celebrate Martyrs’ Day in memory of the nation’s heroes on April 6; National Day (also known as Evacuation Day, which celebrates independence), April 17; and the Day of Mourning, November 29.
The arts and humanities
The Ministry of Culture and National Orientation promotes national culture. Most publishing houses are owned by the state, and the writers tend to be government employees.
Censorship is strictly enforced and foreign books on contemporary Syrian and Middle Eastern politics and history are prohibited. The National Film Center, established in 1966, oversees the production of most films.
There is a long literary tradition going back to poets like al-Mutanabbi in the 900s and al-Maarri in the 2000s. Writers must deal with government censorship, but fiction writing is not as strictly controlled as it is. the nonfiction.
While the punishment for breaking nonfiction laws is usually imprisonment, fiction writers are often reprimanded. Perhaps for this reason, poetry and short stories are widely read and appreciated, represented by such writers as Nizar Qabbani, Shawqi Baghdadi, and ‘Ali Ahmad Sa’id’.
There are few women in the ranks of well-known Arab writers, but one of them is Ghada al-Samman, who was born in 1942. She writes on many of the same issues as her male contemporaries, including cultural identity and the clash between tradition and progress, as well as on specific issues of being a woman and a writer in a male-dominated society.
Islam prohibits the artistic representation of animals or human beings. Therefore, Syrian art until the First World War consisted mainly of geometric designs in arabesque and calligraphy. These works can be seen in many palaces and mosques.
After World War I, Western drawing techniques began to be taught, and fine art was introduced as a discipline at the University of Damascus. Most of the sculptures are carved from white marble and are often displayed in palaces and public buildings.
There is a lively tradition of craft production. Jewelry, particularly in gold and silver, is popular, as is other metalwork, such as brass and copper plates and bowls. These items were traditionally produced by Syrian Jews, and as their population has dwindled, so has this art form.
Mosaic carpentry is also practiced and used in the construction of boxes, trays, tables, desks, and game boards. Damascus is a center for the production of blown glass and fabrics, including the silk brocade called damask, which was named after the city.
The Bedouin are known for weaving fabrics, including rugs and prayer rugs made on hand-built looms, and traditional clothing that is carefully embroidered.
Movies have been produced in Syria since the 1920s. Musicals and light comedies were popular until the late 1940s. During the 1970s, film clubs were important in resisting the government, and because of this reason they were closed in 1980.
Syria has spawned a number of internationally renowned filmmakers, including Omar Amirallay and Usama Muhammed, but their films, which deal with social issues, have been banned in the country or ignored by distribution companies.
Memorizing and reciting the Koran and secular poetry is a popular form of entertainment. There is a rich tradition of storytelling going back thousands of years. Even today there are coffee shops where men go for tea and listen to episodes of an ongoing saga recited by a professional storyteller at night.
Arabic music is tied to the tradition of storytelling and often tells stories of love, honor and family. Technically, it’s repetitive and subtle. Use quarter notes with small jumps in the scale.
Arabic classical music uses the oud, an ancient stringed instrument similar to the lute; small drums held in the lap; and flutes. Contemporary music is performed by an orchestra using mostly European instruments with a lead singer and choir.
Share the customs and traditions of Syria.