Updated: Jan 3, 2020
The ‘wajib’ is a very important part of Middle Eastern culture.
I’m not quite sure how to translate it into English exactly, but I’m guessing it’s something along the lines of ‘obligation’ or ‘duty’ or ‘responsibility’?
Something like that.
And I'm sure it exists in other cultures too, albeit under a different name.
My family originates from a small Middle Eastern village, so I have to be honest; I really struggled with the whole concept of the wajib for quite some time.
It was always 'in my face' growing up, it still is in ways.
It’s brutal, relentless and never ending!
So what’s the point of it exactly?
I’ve reflected on this a lot.
In short, a wajib is a kind of offering you make to your community whenever there is any kind of occasion.
By offering, this is usually a simple visit, a phone call, maybe a present, food or sometimes money – it can get a little complicated depending on the occasion.
There are rules to this stuff.
There are many occasions that warrant a wajib, I’ll actually try and list a few of them here, so you can get a better idea.
a wedding, an engagement, a funeral, a graduation, baptism, when someone is born, or when someone dies, when someone from overseas has come into town, when someone is travelling overseas.
When someone is sick or in hospital, when someone comes home from being in the hospital, (or gets well from being sick), birthdays, Christmas, Easter or any other religious holidays, when some one invites you for lunch or a visit (you need to invite them back), if someone comes to visit you, you have to visit them back.
If someone brings over some food in a container, you have to return the container with some food in it. Now something like an engagement, wedding or a funeral, may have several 'Wajibs' attached to it (before, during and after).
I’m sure I’ve actually missed a few, but that should be enough to paint a picture?
Now, there are also consequences for not adhering to the protocols on wajib's.
You see, it’s based on the principle of reciprocity.
People will honour their wajib to you, as long as you honour your wajib to them.
So if you opt-out, you basically become an outcast in your community and no-one will probably show up at your funeral (little dramatic I know, but it's sadly true).
Now for years I really struggled with this, it just seems like way too much – after all I’m busy and I have better things to do, right?
But as I matured and started reflecting a little deeper, I began to understand.
I began to understand that the wajib is like a social glue that binds the community together.
It’s a responsibility (or duty) you take upon yourself to honour your neighbour.
It’s grounded in common decency and respect.
So community is built on a mutual reliance on each other.
On shared values and outwardly projecting those values, even if only symbolic.
So it's no longer just about you and I'm finding some real inherent beauty in that.
There’s also something to be explored in the relationship between taking on greater responsibility and that responsibility bringing with it a deeper sense of meaning.
The more others rely on you, the greater the reason to get out of bed in the morning.
This isn’t always easy, but it has value.
You're never left wanting, you'll never die of starvation and in your time of need, the whole community rallies behind you.
You essentially become part of something bigger than yourself.
Your world expands.
So what did my life look like when I abandoned the wajib for a while?
I would say, increasingly isolated and lonely.
There were moments of pleasure and self-gratification, but no real substance or meaning.
There was no ‘glue’ binding my community together, everyone seemed to be inherently in it for themselves.
Now I’m trying not to cast any judgments, because there are levels to this stuff, extremes on either end.
But there is something that can be learned by observing these little cultural nuisances and identifying exactly what it is that binds people together.