With a statement labeling all those who support civil marriage as apostates, Lebanon’s grand mufti, Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, struck a nerve in me, my Muslim wife, and in thousands of Lebanese hoping to get married under a civil law. The grand mufti said that Muslims who believe in civil marriage should “not be washed, shrouded, prayed on, or buried in Muslim cemeteries.”
While I am not threatened by the grand mufti’s opinion on how my remains should be handled, I am concerned about the society that he is desperately trying to control. His country is one where love, the noblest human emotion, must not cross sectarian boundaries set by years of civil wars and religious edicts; one in which families are built on love, but only within confines dictated by men claiming higher authority from God; a society where self-anointed religious leaders govern one’s most basic human interactions.
To the mufti: Your Eminence, I – and thousands like me – am tired and ashamed of your Lebanon. We have had enough of your threats of eternal damnation. Our most enlightened citizens are abandoning the country in droves. Those left at your mercy are either desperately trying to escape, or are sparring like primordial beasts in defense of sectarian ground. Rather than preach hope and unity, our communal leaders are fighting over election laws that only deepen our divides.
Your Eminence, your threats are not supported by the religion you claim. The book you preach instructs, “O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” Your threats do not represent Islam, but are designed only to perpetuate your own position of authority and to squash a debate on personal freedoms that may one day endanger your hold on society.
Your Eminence, while you may enjoy the support of many loyal bearded men ready to inflict violence on your behalf, you are in no moral position to pass judgments or dictate our lives. The Lebanese press is littered with pages reporting on your financial improprieties and your misuse of funds donated by the hardworking faithful. Your political opportunism took you from being a loyal soldier of the Assad regime in Lebanon, to the anti-Syria March 14 coalition, and now back to supporting Hezbollah and Syria’s other allies in Lebanon.
Your Eminence, your religious accusation was not lost on Prime Minister Najib Miqati, to whom you were referring when you said, “Any Muslim with legal or executive authority in Lebanon who supports the legalization of civil marriage is an apostate.” Miqati bowed to your pressure on the pretext that “civil marriage is a sensitive issue… and we do not need a new contentious issue in Lebanon.”
To the prime minister: Civil marriage should not be a contentious issue, but one that could bridge divides and bring people together. As Lebanon suffocates from the seemingly endless political deadlock between March 8 and March 14, this is a cause whose supporters are found in both camps. They are men and women, young and old, Muslim and Christian. This is an opportunity for your government to make real progress and carve out a legacy for itself.
President Michel Suleiman seems to understand the historic opportunity at hand. Civil society organizations, enlightened intellectuals, women’s rights advocates, and those who want to build a state based on citizens’ rights – not on competing sects – must act now. They must support the president’s call to legalize the union of a Lebanese couple who recently defied the ban on civil marriage and are trying to register as husband and wife.
As a people, the Lebanese must make a historic choice: Will they continue to live and die as separate communities fighting against each other, or will they one day become equal citizens of a unified and sovereign state? In almost 70 years of independence, the former path has led only to strife and foreign domination. It is time for the Lebanese to try something new. Lebanese citizens, stand up to those insulting your intelligence, those depriving you of your freedom to choose, because those claiming to speak in the name of religion only sow divisions and hate.
My wife and I will forgive the grand mufti for his fatwa against us. We will revisit memories of our special day, surrounded by loving family and adoring friends. We will be secure knowing that our fate is not in his hands, or in the hands of others like him. Our hope is that one day Lebanon will also escape his less-than-divine grip and eventually find its own unity and peace.
Firas Maksad is a recently married Lebanese citizen residing abroad. His civil marriage has not been registered in Lebanon.
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