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Syrian Culture Resource

Heather Franks
Cohort 34
Spring 2005

Topic References

Family Life
What Teachers Should Understand
Teacher Guidelines
The Katreeb Family: Journey to America


religion: Sunnite Muslim

Other Muslim religions: Alawites, Ismailis,

and Shiite

majority religion: Christian

Greek Orthodox and American Orthodox


religions: Druses (related to

Islam), Jewish (dwindlingmost have
moved to the US or Israel)

Majority Religion

Muslims practice the five pillars of Islam.

Shahada is the profession of faith: There is no God
but God (Allah) and Mohammed is his prophet.
Salat is the requirement to pray five times a day: at
dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and evening.
Zakat is the giving of alms to the poor.
Saum is the requirement to fast from sunrise to
sunset during the month of Ramadan.
Hajj is the pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims must
make at least once in their lives.
May include a stop in Medina to pay respects at the
Prophets grave.

Majority Religion

Sunnite Muslim: A member of the branch of

Islam that accepts the first four caliphs as
rightful successors to Muhammad.
Caliph: the civil and religious leader of a Muslim state
considered to be a representative of Allah on earth; "many
radical Muslims believe a Khalifah will unite all Islamic lands
and people and subjugate the rest of the world.
Khalifah: synonym of caliph

Majority Religion

Muslim: A believer or follower of Islam

Islam: the monotheistic religion of Muslims founded
in Arabia in the 7th century and based on the
teachings of Muhammad as laid down in the Koran.
Koran: The sacred writings of Islam revealed by God to the
prophet Muhammad during his life at Mecca and Medina.
Muhammad: The Arab prophet who founded Islam (570-632)
Mecca: joint capital (with Riyadh) of Saudi Arabia; located in
western Saudi Arabia; as the birthplace of Muhammad it is the
holiest city of Islam.
Medina: city in western Saudi Arabia; site of the tomb of
Muhammad; the second most holy city of Islam

Minority Religion

Druze: an adherent of an esoteric monotheistic

religious sect living in the relative security of
the mountains of Syria and Lebanon who
believes that Al-hakim was an incarnation of
Esoteric: confined to and understandable by only an
enlightened inner circle.
Al-hakim: an Ismaili caliph of Egypt who declared
himself an incarnation of God and founded the
Druze religious sect (985-1021).

Syrian Muslim Holidays
Eid al-Fitr
Eid al-Adha

Christian Holidays

Catholic or Orthodox Easter

Syrian Muslim Holidays


dates of Muslim holidays change

The Islamic religion follows the Lunar
354 days in a year
Each year the holidays are 11 days earlier than
the previous year.

Syrian Muslim Holidays

Ramadan: Ninth month of the Islamic


Fast from sunrise to sunset.

A time for reflection of spiritual matters.
Shows devotion to Allah and Mohammed.
Builds self-discipline and encourages compassion
for those who are less fortunate.
During Ramadan families eat their evening meal
with each other.

Syrian Muslim Holidays

Eid al-Fitr: The breaking of the fast at the

end of Ramadan.
People eat special foods, including sweets, and
many people stay up all night.
Visit family and wear new clothes.
Children receive gifts of money from their relatives.
There are rides for children in the streets and fireworks at

The celebration is three days.


Syrian Muslim Holidays


al-Adha: Lasts four days and comes

at the end of the traditional season of
pilgrimage to Mecca.
Celebrates Abrahams willingness to
sacrifice his son to God.

Syrian Muslim Holidays

Muharram: The beginning of the first month in

the Hijara (lunar) calendar.
Is the Muslim New Year.
Commemorates the day on which Mohammed and
his followers left Medina for Mecca.
Festivals held throughout the year:
Palmyra Festival: Held in the desert and features singing
and dancing as well as camel and horse races.
Latakia, Syria: A peace festival is held during the month of
September, an international folk festival is held in Busra.
The festival continues every night for three weeks.

Syrian Christian Holidays


Syrians celebrate Christmas

and the Catholic or Orthodox Easter.
Communities celebrate these holidays.
Only a few decorations appear in
Christmas time
Christmas lights are uncommon.


Primary education is free.

Attendance is mandatory for ages 6 to 15.
Students wear a green, military-style uniform.
Taught in Arabic.
Learning a second language is mandatory at
eight years-old.
Most students study English.

Religion is taught also.


Secondary education is free at state schools.

Ages 15 to 18.

Four universities.
Students pay a small tuition to attend.

Literacy rate has increased significantly over

the last 20 years.
About 71%.
86% of men and 56% of women.

Family LifeChildren

children is very important.

When a couple has a son, the parents
take the name of their first son.
i.e.: If they name their son Yassar, the
father becomes Abu Yassar or father of
Yassar and the mother becomes Umm
Yassar or mother of Yassar.

Family LifeMarriage

Children do not leave their parents home

until marriage.
Some newlywed couples live with their parents for
a few years after marriage.

Weddings are major social events.

Arranged marriages are common in Syria.
In the city there is usually more freedom to choose
a marriage partner.
Parents of couple must OK the marriage.

The groom pays a bride-price (majr) to the brides


Family LifeStatus

have a strong individual and family

honor (ird).
Women do not have equal status.
Men and women rarely socialize together
outside the home.
It is legal for Muslims to have multiple
Rare for Syrian families to divorce.

Family LifeRelatives

The elderly are respected.

Elders live with their families their entire life.
Nursing homes are not available.
A death in the family entails three days of
Women relatives of the deceased must wear black
months after their passing.

Family LifeStructure

The husband or head

man is the leader of the home.
Females, beginning at a young age, are
expected to help raise[ed] younger
brothers and sistersand continue[d]
that obligation until her death
The Katreeb Family

Aspects of Culture that Teachers Should Understand

Female students may seem to be reclusive.

This can be attributed to their lack of social
standing in Syria.
Syrian students of Muslim decent will need to
pray during the school day.
Set up a special place where they can go to pray.

Syrian students of Muslim decent are not

going to eat at school during lunch while they
are observing Ramadan.
Be understanding of their religious holiday. This is
a practiced Muslims have been observing for

Aspects of Culture that Teachers Should Understand


term Mohammedanism is offensive

to Muslims who believe that Allah, not
Muhammad, founded their religion.
Teachers should be careful of the
questions they ask or comments made
about a students religion.
Teachers should research the students
religion to preempt a faux pas.

Aspects of Culture that Teachers Should Understand


you need to speak with a parent

of your Syrian student the mother may
not be allowed to make a decision
about her child without first consulting
her husband.
The most important piece of information
to keep in mind is that there is no
typical Syrian student or family, just as
there is not in the US.

Aspects of Culture that Teachers Should Understand

Some families have come here to find safety

aware from the constant war in the Middle East
that has been going on for centuries, while
others are coming for better opportunities.
Treat each family as their own unit. The way
you will handle situations regarding a student
depends a lot on the religious and social
background that student comes from in Syria
and the amount of education the parents have

Aspects of Culture that Teachers Should Understand

Syria is an old country with an extensive religious and

political background.
Holy wars have been constant in Syria and
surrounding countries for a long time.
Syria used to be a larger country containing the land
of what is not Israel and Lebanon.
Because of Syrias extensive history students may
have mixed emotions regarding the US and Syria.
Take the students feelings into consideration. Be
both patient and understanding of their countrys


Disney is universal!
Middle Eastern children are very familiar with
Disney. You may consider using a Disney book,
such as The Lion King, to provide the student a
comfort zone.

Let the children share their Funds of Knowledge
through different cookbooks.
Believe it or not, Betty Crocker has cultural foods!



Concept books tend to be filled with

pictures. Students can learn the English
terms and share the Arabic terms in the
concept book with the class.


Use these titles in your classroom as a

reference for you, as a learning experience
for your native students, and as a familiar
experience for your Syrian student(s):
Ahsan, M.M. Muslim Festivals. Illustrated by
M.M. Ahsan. Vero Beach, FL: Rourke Enterprises,
Bloom, Jonathan, and Sheila S. Blair. Islamic
Arts. Art and Ideas. London: Phaidon Press,

Bloom, Jonathan and Sheila S. Blair.
Islam : A Thousand Years of Faith and
Power. New Haven, CT and London: Yale
University Press, 2002.
Burns, Khephra. Mansa Musa. Illustrated
by Leo & Diane Dillon. San Francisco:
Harcourt Brace, 2001.
Chalfonte, Jessica. I Am Muslim. New York
: PowerKids Press, 1996.


Ellis, Deborah. The Breadwinner. Toronto,

CA: Groundwood, 2000.
Goodwin, Jan. Price of Honor: Muslim
Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the
Islamic World. New York: Plume, 1995.
Kessler, Cristina. One Night: A Story from
the Desert. Illustrated by Ian Schoenherr.
New York: Philomel Books, 1995.


Naff, Alixa. The Arab Americans. New York:

Chelsea House, 1988.
Nye, Naomi Shihab. The Flag of Childhood:
Poems from the Middle East. New York:
Aladdin Paperbacks, 2002.
Nye, Naomi Shihab. The Space Between
Our Footsteps: Poems and Paintings from
the Middle East. New York: Simon &
Schuster, 1998.


Anne Marie. Arabian

Cuisine. Illustrated by John Berry.
Beirut, Lebanon : Dar An-nafas, 1984.
Wprmser, Richard. American Islam:
Growing Up Muslim in America. New
York: Walker & Co., 1994.

Guidelines for Teachers


that females may not have the

same amount of education as males the
same age because women do not have
the same rights as men.
When probing the class, do not put
students on the spot unless they are
comfortabletheir education has been
more formal that what is in the US.

Guidelines for Teachers


counselorsNote that religion plays

a major role in most Syrian families.
You must respect the rules those
families follow.
Some towns do not have electricity or
indoor plumbingthere may be cultural
bias that you will have to overcome or
work around.

Guidelines for Teachers


these students have been

educated, many times the schools are
overcrowded, on double session and
without up-to-date information.
You may have build an entirely new
foundation of knowledge for that student
and overcome their misconceptions or outof-date conceptions regarding academics.

The Katreeb Family: Journey to America


Thanaus Katreeb begins

his journey to America.
Burj Safita, Syriaby donkey to Beirut,
Syria (now Beirut, Lebanon)
Boarded at a house in town for a few
weeksStop in Marsilles, FranceEllis
Processed and sent to Pennsylvania with
many other Syrians.

The Katreeb Family: Journey to America


begins his living

Established a local grocery in Southside

Returns to Syria in 1986 to marry Sarah
Libbos Katreeb.
Sarah and Elias returned to the US taking
the same long journey.

The Katreeb Family: Journey to America



Elias and Sarah were able to afford to bring

Elias sister and husband to the US, and
Sarahs two brothers.
Ann and her husband moved to McKeesport.
Sarahs brothers moved to West Newton.
The majority of Syrian immigrants from Burj Safita
were living in West Newton at that time.

The Katreeb Family: Journey to America


all of the Katreeb-Libbos family was

able to enter the US because of quota
Many members of my family immigrated to
Brazil, where that part of the family still is

Resources and References



Resources and References


Katreeb, Charles. The Katreeb Family.
Florida, 1995.

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