Hani al-Rstum moved into Lebanon in 2008. He studied medicine for three years at the University of Balamand in Tripoli before deciding to change his specialization to psychology because of the high cost of his medical studies and because he felt that this specialization was more in need in light of the current events in Syria.
“I was filming a documentary in collaboration with a female American friend when I saw many children suffering from things that I did not fully comprehend. When I inquired about it, I learned that this was psychological trauma so I changed my field of study” Hani says. “Then I had the chance to do my training in the psychologists' syndicate and later I became a psychotherapist, which opened opportunities for me in this field of work in Tripoli.”
Hani has never felt like a stranger in Lebanese society even though there were some who deliberately made Syrians feel inferior. He explains this by saying, “Due to having completed my studies and having gained manifold experiences, and because of the huge team I was running, it was I who used to impose my own perspective upon my surroundings. I did not allow anyone to view me as inferior. I did meet some racist people in Lebanon but I never bowed to them. I faced this in the way a Lebanese person exposed to racism in my country would have faced it and this always shut them up.”
Hani has been working with civil society organizations since 2012 within a general framework of education, peace building and conflict resolution. He gained extensive experience in this field of work and gradually became involved in project coordination, design and management. At the beginning of 2017, he founded an association and presided over the management of its programs. These focused on designing projects related to economic development in the city of Tripoli and were implemented within the social context of Tripoli.
Hani explains all this further by saying “There were two reasons why I moved over to the field of peace-building in Lebanon and dealt with what was happening in this country. I needed to get rid of the burden of the Syrian cause, in all its forms, that was weighing upon me. Part of this was the result of my disappointment with everything happening with Syrians both at home and abroad. I also wanted to deal with people for whom the conflict that they has been living was over. I needed to understand, one way or another, how my country's future could be but without being part of it”.
“I have lived in Lebanon since 2008, so I understand the Lebanese very well. I think that the difference in my understanding has developed through working with the people of this city who are concerned with its causes. That is, my understanding of people who have an affiliation is important and essential.” Hani continues, “I have never felt belonging to a place but they were talking about their belonging to Tripoli, their city, and how they should carry out campaigns against violence etc. This was new to me and helped me understand the ways I belong. It helped me understand the motivation behind all this work for the benefit of their country.”
In 2010, a group of young Salafis in Tripoli influenced Hani and he took part in their occupations and activities at the university and so on. He shaved his moustache, grew a long beard and no longer shook hands with women or listened to music. This continued to the point of religious extremism and devout commitment.
In 2012, however, his position changed dramatically due to the death of his cousin who had accompanied him on a visit to Syria. Hani had taken him on what was supposed to be a pleasant vacation but his cousin died there. This came as a great shock and raised all kinds of questions about Creation for Hani, leading him to become an atheist who no longer believed in the existence of God or of any heavenly justice. Thus, he moved from one extreme to the other, as he says.
“Social work and engaging with other people helped me a lot in becoming a moderate non-atheist person. Today, I do not completely deny the existence of God with Whom I have a spiritual connection despite the fact that I do not perform any religious rites such as prayer and fasting”, Hani adds.