Beirut: A Lebanese Muslim parliamentarian faced social media outcry when a photo of hers went viral, in which she is seen drinking coffee during Ramadan while offering condolences on the demise of Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir.
The Sunni Muslim Beirut-born MP Rola Tabsh, a member of Future Movement of Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri, faced outrage across social media and mainstream media, and the issue became the talking point on news bulletins.
In a sectarian, complex community, Lebanese took to social media and lashed out at the parliamentarian.
The politician’s photo issue snowballed across social media as users started trolling her act.
Some were implying Tabsh should’ve been fasting. And if she was not for whatever reason, she shouldn’t have publicly sipped coffee.
A user wrote on Twitter: “Since you represent the Sunni community of the capital in parliament, at least have some respect for the feelings of those fasting.”
Another tweet read: ‘Dear MP Rola Tabsh, we need to be politically correct … Ramadan Kareem.”
“Apologise to the Sunni sect that you represent … apologise to God”, tweeted a female user.
Meanwhile a Facebook user called the photographer a “mean person” and called the lawmaker a bad name.
“God help you Prime Minister Sa’ad Hariri for having such colleagues in your political movement,” tweeted another user. As the criticism spread like wildfire, other social media users, including politicians, media figures, and activists defended MP Tabsh’s freedom to do whatever she wanted in a “democratic” and “free” country such as Lebanon.
Famous Lebanese broadcaster Rima Njeim expressed her solidarity with the lawmaker and called on tweeps to “leave MP Tabsh alone”.
Nicole Hajal, a news anchor at LBCI, supported the politician when she described the campaign against her as ‘defamatory’ and tweeted “she is free to practice religion as she likes, let us judge her work as a legislator rather than wasting time on issues that push the country backwards”.
A user tweeted in solidarity, “Whoever accepts that MP Rola Tabsh represents him/her in the parliament as an unveiled Muslim woman should accept her drinking coffee publicly in Ramadan”.
Another wrote: “She was elected to a Sunni seat, not a secular seat. It’s true that she is free to fast or to break her fast, but she must conceal ending her fast.”
Gulf News spoke to Shaikh Wassim Mzawwak of Lebanon’s Sunni authority Dar Al Fatwa who said: “During Ramadan, able Muslims are required to fast. Those who cannot fast for any reason [as per the Sharia] are required to abstain from drinking or eating in front of others. They are religiously obliged to conceal that they aren’t fasting in respect of Ramadan’s holiness and sacredness.”
Shaikh Mzawwak elaborated that “God blesses those who protect themselves from bringing gossip upon oneself”.
It is not the first time that Tabsh has been involved in a religion-based controversy. She attended a New Year’s mass in January at the Maronite Catholic church when she was spotted on TV cameras approaching the priest and receiving a blessing — without communion.
Despite the event being a gesture of tolerance, what the cameramen grabbed on TV opened the floor for a spiteful social media fiasco that was driven by the unending and decades-long sectarianism in Lebanon.
Similarly, MP Tabsh was subject to a provocative war of opinions that accompanied her joining of the ‘peace and love’ mass that she attended in Beirut.
Some slammed her for betraying her own faith as a Sunni Muslim while others praised her courage and openness towards other religions.
Later she had to issue a media statement confirming her commitment to Islam and apologised to Allah — triggering another wave of criticism from those who supported her church visit.
Bassam Za’za’ is a freelance journalist based in Beirut.