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In 1923, the Beydoun family inaugurated Amlieh, the first school originating from the Lebanese Shiite community. In this narrative, This is Beirut delves into the history of this institution and engages with the family behind it. As early as the 19th century in Syria, the family viewed the mission of “educating the masses” as a “divine calling.”
From Damascus to Beirut, from generation to generation, for over a hundred and fifty years, the Beydoun family has been dedicated to education. It was in Damascus that Hajj Youssef Mohammed Beydoun, born in 1840, laid the foundation for the Beydoun family’s reputation and educational mission throughout history.
A Divine Calling
Born into a modest family, Youssef Mohammed Beydoun learned the rudiments of reading and writing at the age of six from a religious dignitary.
Demonstrating dynamism and entrepreneurship, Youssef Mohammed Beydoun laid the first milestone of his educational work in Damascus by financing the opening of a school for boys. His success in business and his initiative in education brought him rivalries and jealousy, leading him to leave Damascus with his family in 1892 and settle permanently in Beirut. In 1900, during a visit to Damascus, he launched a pioneering, even revolutionary, initiative for his time: the opening of a school for girls named “el-Youssefiya,” after himself. In 1923, during another visit to Damascus, he personally financed the acquisition of a large building to house the school he had opened a few years earlier.
The former deputy of Beirut, Mohammad Youssef Beydoun, described this pedagogical vocation as a “divine calling,” “imparted by the Almighty” to his family, hence the need to transfer this mission to Lebanon after leaving Damascus.
Youssef Mohammed Beydoun passed away in Beirut in 1927, leaving behind a rich legacy that he fairly bequeathed to his children.
His children, especially Mohammed and Rachid, inherited from their father a generous heart, selflessness, and a propensity to help the disadvantaged. In 1923, Mohammed was deeply moved by seeing Shiite children working in the center of Beirut as shoe shiners, porters, or newspaper sellers. Most of these adolescents came from impoverished families from Jabal Amil in south Lebanon, and were forced to engage in such tasks instead of going to school to provide even modest incomes for their parents.
Mohammed Beydoun was determined to do everything possible to educate these children. In collaboration with affluent Shiites, especially from the south, he founded, in 1923, the Muslim charity association Amlieh, with the aim of combating illiteracy and opening schools to provide education to disadvantaged children. He thus laid the foundation stone of the future network of Amlieh schools, which would expand year by year in several neighborhoods and sectors.
Rachid Beydoun, a Lebanese Life
Mohammed passed on the torch of his ambitious educational project to his brother, Rachid, in 1925. Through extensive fundraising efforts, Rachid managed to purchase land in Ras El Nabeh, where he built two classrooms and a third service room, constituting the nucleus of the first Amlieh primary school, which became operational in 1928.
Rachid Beydoun’s first initiative was to bring, or rather compel, children working in Beirut’s center to join this primary school. In order to “free” these adolescents from their tasks, he directly paid their parents the weekly earnings their children provided.
In the 1930s, Rachid Beydoun, who had meanwhile been elected deputy of south Lebanon in 1937, denounced, as a parliamentarian, the lack of interest of the French mandate authority in the education of Shiite children. The then High Commissioner offered to provide the required teachers if he managed to rent even just two classrooms in villages in peripheral regions. Rachid Beydoun managed to set up no fewer than 47 primary schools in south Lebanon and the Bekaa in record time in 1937, thus establishing the first network of Amlieh schools in the country. A prominent Lebanese, Rachid Beydoun was one of the seven people who signed the first Lebanese flag.
However, Rachid Beydoun refused to limit his educational project to primary classes; he wanted to extend it to complementary and secondary cycles. In order to secure the necessary funds for these projects, Rachid Beydoun made several trips to Africa to collect donations from the Lebanese diaspora and establish partnerships.
Rachid Beydoun passed away in September 1971 after consolidating the presence and sustainability of the Amlieh schools, thanks to his dynamism and dedication, but also due to a rich political career that led him to the highest levels of the state.
Against All Odds
From 1973 to 2016, the leadership of Amlieh was in the hands of the late Mohammad Youssef Beydoun, former deputy of Beirut, who passed away in December 2023. Besides his political career, he steadfastly upheld the institution despite the multiple crises Lebanon has faced since 1975: the internal Lebanese wars, Israeli invasions, and the 2006 war.
Today, the legacy of Amlieh persists: Youssef Beydoun, son of the former deputy of Beirut, ensures the continuity of Amlieh and its message.