In this post Refugee Hosts Researcher, Leonie Harsch, reflects on her soundscape of Muslim and Christian spaces in Hamra, Beirut. Harsch includes insights from interviews with members of both religious and secular communities who use these spaces for both humanitarian and religious purposes, and describes how these spaces are conceptualised by local communities. The soundscape also provides insights into the linguistic and cultural diversity found in Hamra and the fluidity of the concepts of refugee, citizen, and resident, and acts of what Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh refers to as ‘refugee-refugee humanitarianism,’ themes that Refugee Hosts have been exploring here and here.

If you found this piece of interest please visit our Readings and Soundscapes page, our Reflections from the Field series, our Faith in Displacement Series, or the recommended readings at the end of this post.

Soundscape: Faith Communities in Hamra  

By Leonie Harsch, Researcher, Refugee Hosts

Hamra is characterised by the diversity of its residents’ beliefs, including religious ones. By alternately juxtaposing sounds of Muslim and Christian places, this piece reflects the present and historical variety of faith communities that exist in this neighbourhood, alongside spaces which our research interlocutors identified as secular or non-religious. These faith communities were described, sometimes in different terms, by their own members and by other people from the neighbourhood, as either providers of social space, food or medical assistance, in addition to emotional or spiritual support for displaced people, among others. For example, one church was identified as a place of support for refugees by various people because it provided space for volunteer initiatives, while the pastor of the church and people who regularly attended it did not share this view.

This soundscape also offers a glimpse of Hamra’s linguistic diversity, letting the listener overhear fragments of conversations in Filipino on a Sunday morning in the yard of a church that holds services in Arabic, English, and French. Some Filipino members of Christian communities in Hamra, often themselves migrant workers in marginalised positions, have mobilised to provide support for refugees, as my fellow local researchers and I learned through the fieldwork. This is an example of the diverse composition of ‘host’ communities in terms of citizenship and residence status, as Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh has also argued with regards to what she terms ‘refugee-refugee humanitarianism’.

Sounds: call to Friday prayer from a mosque – liturgical chants heard through a church’s window – Takbīr, praising God as the greatest, at a mosque – gathering of churchgoers in a churchyard on a Sunday morning – chanting of a muezzin, heard from a rooftop veranda – church bells

Listen to the soundscape here:

Some of the sounds included in the collage accompanied my everyday life while living in Hamra. For instance, in the first part of the soundscape, the recorder is following a call to prayer from a mosque located in the same street as the house I stayed in, one of many that I heard through my room’s open window at regular intervals during day and night. Sounds from the loudspeakers of another mosque I recorded on a Syrian woman’s rooftop veranda, interrupting our late afternoon coffee and conversation to listen to the chanting.

All of the sounds were recorded from outside the respective buildings, not as an attendant of prayer or service, but as a – sometimes more and sometimes less accidental – passer-by. While the collection may evoke an idea of the variety of faith in Hamra, it does not comprise sounds from all faith communities in this neighbourhood. Not least, it omits references to communities that meet in more secluded places, such as a church located in a residential building, the presence of which no sounds in public space indicate.

Below are a selection of images taken in the areas where the soundscapes were recorded.

The minaret of a mosque in Hamra, surrounded by residential buildings. (c) L. Harsch, 2019
Church bell in Hamra
Church bell in Hamra. (c) L. Harsch, 2019
View from rooftop
View from a rooftop veranda in Hamra, with a minaret in the distant background on the right; a call to prayer recorded in this place can be heard in the soundscape. (c) L. Harsch, 2019

Listen to the soundscape here:


If you found this piece of interest please visit out Readings and Soundscapes page, our Reflections from the Field series, our Faith in Displacement Series, or the recommended readings below:

Ager, A. (2017) Sounds from Hamra, Lebanon

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Reflections from the Field: Introduction to the Series  (including soundscapes from Baddawi camp, Lebanon)

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) The Poetics of Undisclosed Care

Harsch, L. (2018) Historical Photos of Hamra, Beirut

Greatrick, A. (2018) Sounds from Istiklal, Turkey

Itani, B. (2019) The importance of identity – reflections from fieldwork in Hamra, Beirut

Rowlands, A. (2018) Faith and Displacement: Introducing the Series

Stonebridge, L. (2018) Undoing the Meaning of the World: Creation and Decreation in Contemporary Refugee Studies

Featured image: View from a rooftop veranda in Hamra, Lebanon. (c) L. Harsch (2019)


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