Ibrahim Mitrie Rihbani

poet and writer

To Me, God is the Parent-Life, and therefore, the Father and ever-present friend of all the souls that seek Him. He is the God of the Christians, but not a Christian God; the God of the Jews, but not a Jewish God; the God of the Brahmans, but not a Brahman God; the God of the Mohammedans but not a Mohammedan God." 1926

About The Author

When Ibrahim Mitrie Rihbani, aged nine, reported working in Mt. Lebanon - Syria as a stone-cutter apprentice in 1878, few doubted that he would carry on with that family tradition. But by the time he died in America in 1944, he had engaged in international politics, acquired a Ph.D. in Divinity, and had become an accomplished writer with eight titles to his credit, among them a best seller.

Rihbani was born in Shweir, Mt. Lebanon, in 1869 to a poor family headed by a well-respected builder. In 1875, the family moved to the town of Btater where the father was appointed foreman in charge of the industrial concerns of a Frenchman, Monsieur Lafortune, known by his Arabised name: Al-Fartouni.

At age 17, Rihbani felt a deep desire for education and joined the Presbyterian school in Souk Al-Gharb, a "giant" sitting with first-grade students. However, he advanced very quickly, and in two years he was at a school level commensurate with his age. In 1891, he immigrated to America due to the Ottomans' oppression in Syria and his personal lot of poverty.

In New-York he worked as an assistant storekeeper. A year later, he was appointed an editor of the first Arabic newspaper in the New World, Kawkab America. He worked in this capacity for one year, after which he quit because the owner would not dare criticize the Ottoman Sultan for fear of reprisal against his extended family in Syria.

While still in Syria, Rihbani abandoned the Greek Orthodox Church and became a Presbyterian. After leaving the newspaper he did not go back into the world of commerce, but embarked on a tour of American churches in the Mid-West to speak about the "Holy Land," with nothing but his broken English and raw ideas translated directly from Arabic. After a few years of hardship and struggle, and have become quite fluent in English, he was officially invited to become the resident minister in a church in the town of Morenci, Ohio.

He left New York in 1893 and traveled through the Mid-West, funding short stints of study at Manchester College (Indiana) (1894) and Ohio Wesleyan University (1895–96) by giving lecture tours to churches on the culture of the Holy Land as a key to the Scriptures. He indefinitely postponed his studies after being offered a position as a resident Congregationalist minister in Morenci, Michigan. Thereafter he served as minister for two years in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, and for nine in Toledo, Ohio, ending up at the Church of the Disciples, a Unitarian church in Boston, Massachusetts.

His first book, A Far Journey (1913), was an account of his life in Syria and America. His publisher promoted it as a "bridging of the thousands of years that separate Turkey and the United States".

His ideas about the importance of East-Mediterranean culture to an understanding of the Gospels were developed in a series of articles for The Atlantic Monthly, and in 1916 published in book form as The Syrian Christ. This went through numerous American and British editions up to 1937 (which was reprinted 17 times between 1916 and 1937), was translated into German, and has more recently been translated into Arabic and reissued in English.

In 1917, he published Militant America and Jesus Christ, a book arguing for America's intervention in WWI. His Militant America and Jesus Christ made a case for American involvement in liberating the homeland of Jesus from Ottoman rule. He followed it in 1918 with America Save the Near East, calling for an active American engagement in solving the "Syrian Question". He called for a united and independent, American-protected, Syrian federal republic with a national government in Damascus and state legislatures in Mt. Lebanon, Aleppo, and Palestine. He rejected Zionism fearing that it would sow hatred in the Middle East if it succeeded in seceding Palestine from Syria and creating a Jewish state against the will of the majority of Syrians. He warned that such a move would be a grave and dangerous mistake leading to war and tragedy. His prophetic warnings were not heeded as they ran contrary to the secret Sykes-Picot accord between the British and the French to divide Syria between them.

The following year he brought out America Save the Near East, which sold out three editions in twelve months. In it he advocated American trusteeship over an independent Greater Syrian federal republic. Rihbany believed that America stood alone in lacking imperial ambitions in the region and that the United States was uniquely equipped to reshape the region in a progressive fashion. It was due to this publication that he came to attend the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, where he became attached to the entourage of Emir Faisal, the leader of the Arab delegation, as a translator. A Greater Syrian state (the Kingdom of Syria) did briefly come into existence under Faisal before the French Mandate of Syria was imposed in 1920. Rihbany's account of the peace conference, Wise Men from the East and Wise Men from the West, was in part published in Harper's Magazine (Dec. 1921) before being issued as a book.

In 1919, Rihbani was chosen by the Syrian American Associations to be their representative at the Peace Conference in Versailles. There, he met with Prince Faisal and spent three months with him. His experience in those turbulent times was documented in a book titled Great Men from the East and from the West, which was published in 1923. Rihbani's political action did not yield the desired results, and after the entrenchment of the British and French mandates over Syria, he dedicated the rest of his life to the pulpit and to writing.

While promoting Arab nationalist and Anti-Zionist ideas, Rihbany did not stop writing religious pamphlets for the American Unitarian Association, as well as more substantial works of spiritual reflection. One British reviewer of his Seven Days with God commented on his "keen spiritual insight and considerable vigor of thought".

Rihbani's other books are The Hidden Treasure of Rasmoula, 1920, The Christ Story for Boys and Girls, 1923, Seven Days with God, 1926, and The Five Interpretations of Jesus, 1940. He died in Stamford, Connecticut in 1944.

Other Pages

The Syrian Christ