Although raised in the Maronite Christian church, Gibran was excommunicated in 1908 because of his writings which remain a favorite among New Age enthusiasts.
Known as the third best-selling poet of all time (behind Shakespeare and Laozi), Gibran was born on January 6, 1883 into a Maronite Christian family in Bsharri, a mountainous area in Northern Lebanon. He was born to Kamila Rameh and her third husband, an irresponsible man who drove the family into poverty. As a result, Khalil had no formal education in his early years and was tutored by a priest who taught him the fundamentals of Christianity along with the Syriac and Arabic languages.
The Gibran family, absent the father, moved to America in 1895 and settled in South Boston, Massachusetts where Kamila supported the family by selling lace and opening a dry goods store. It was here that Khalil was registered for school and where his name was shortened from Gibran Khalil Gibran to simply Khalil Gibran.
An art teacher noticed his artistic skill and arranged for him to meet Fred Holland Day, a well-known photographer and patron of the fine arts, who began to use Khalil, his sisters Marianna and Sultana, half-brother Peter and his mother Kamila as models. Day found Khalil’s aptitude for literature and art to be exceptional and before long, he had the boy designing book illustrations and sketching portraits.
In 1898, Khalil returned to Beirut, Lebanon, where he attended a Maronite college and co-founded a literary magazine. He returned to Boston in 1902 which turned out to be a very dark year. He lost three of his family members – Sultana and Peter to tuberculosis and his mother to cancer. His only remaining sibling, Marianna, supported both herself and Gibran while working as a seamstress.
Meanwhile, Khalil renewed his friendship with Day and two years later had his first art exhibition in Boston. From 1908 to 1910 he studied art with August Rodin in Paris. It was during this time that he wrote a book entitled Spirits Rebellious – considered to be a “timeless New Thought” (read New Age) classic – in which he criticized Lebanese society and religious ministers. The work got him excommunicated from the Maronite church and exiled from Lebanon.
He returned to the U.S. in 1912 and settled in New York where he devoted himself to writing and painting. Among his best-known works is The Prophet, a book containing 26 poetic essays which has been translated into over 20 languages. The story is about a man living in a foreign city who is about to board a ship to return home when he is stopped by a group of people. The prophet proceeds to teach them the mysteries of life.
The book became a favorite among New Agers during the 1960’s and 70’s.
Gibran’s life ended prematurely. An alcoholic, he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1948.
Gibran philosophies on life were influenced not only by his own religion, but also by Islam and the mysticism of the Sufis. Therefore, his work should be read with caution and by those who have a firm grip on Christian theology in order to avoid being influenced by non-Christian concepts.