Veroniqua Khachan

Sectarian approaches to marriage

Young people demonstrate in favor of civil marriage sit-in earlier this year

Rabih, a Sunni from Akkar, and Rudaynah, a Druze from Baysour, decided to get engaged. When Rudaynah’s parents opposed her marriage, they cut off Rabih’s penis, pulled out his teeth, and beat him up. This is how the Lebanese recount the crime, which – as everyone acknowledged – represents the pinnacle of backwardness and inhumanity. For all the reasons that prompted the woman’s family to commit this crime, the sectarian factor stood out as the most important aspect in what happened, thus prompting many questions on inter-faith marriages among various religions and sects in Lebanon.


Druze reject inter-faith marriages and are accused of “seclusion.”


The story of Rabih and Rudaynah sheds light on the Druze community, which rejects marriages with people from other sects. Druze leader MP Walid Jumblatt had reason to support civil marriage, as his wife is affiliated to another sect. He has called for internal Druze dialogue on the future of his community, wondering: “Does the barbaric act in Baysour not demonstrate need for clerics, educated people, and politicians to strive to bring the Druze out of seclusion and isolation?”


“There are no texts about inter-faith marriages” in the Druze sectarian law, Sheikh Sami Abi al-Mouna, president of the Druze Sectarian Council’s cultural committee, told NOW. “This law cannot be violated. [Therefore,] anyone who wishes to marry outside the community has to ‘make do’ with civil marriage, as there is no civil law in Lebanon.”


Moreover, the Druze community is renowned for preserving the unity of its followers and their customs. Abi al-Mouna says: “When raising his/her children, a Druze strives to convince them of the need to marry a fellow Druze for the same of society’ stability and coherence, thus securing its future.”


“If inter-faith marriage occurs within the community, it is dealt with in such a way as to preserve one’s dignity. We do not make threats or deal with the person who marries outside the community with harshness, but guidance is our duty.” Coexistence, he added, “happens through politics and political parties that are not affiliated with any religion, rather than within religions and inter-faith marriage.”


Sunnis and Shiites: Inter-faith marriage for men only


In comparison with the accusations leveled at the Druze community in the wake of the Baysour atrocity, the Sunni community with which Rabih is affiliated has steered clear – one way or another – from the media controversy, perhaps because a man, rather than a woman, was involved.


Sunni Sheikh Ayad Abdallah told NOW: “The Sunni community does not have any problem with inter-faith marriage. There are more than 300,000 inter-faith marriages between the Sunni and Shiite communities, and there would be no problem for a Sunni man to marry a Christian woman. In contrast, there is a problem in dealing with the Druze, especially since their faith is unclear and does not accept inter-faith marriage.”


Abdallah says “inter-faith marriages are generally allowed in the Sunni community even though one may be required in some cases to convert to Islam so that a religious marriage can be performed. Women, however, are bound by more restrictions than men, as Sunnis would rather have women marry within their community and non-Christian men. They can marry Shiite men though this is less common.”


Shiites allow men to marry someone from a different faith provided that the woman is a follower of one of the three monotheistic religions, according to Sheikh Hussein Abdallah who told NOW: “A Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man. The marriage between a [Muslim] woman and a man from a different faith is illegitimate as she would be disobeying Allah, hence the fact that sexual and physical relations are prohibited.”


Christians: “Conditional” acceptance of inter-faith marriage


Compared to the Druzes' utter rejection of inter-faith marriages and the partial opposition of the Sunni and Shiite communities, Christianity accepts inter-faith marriages, albeit “conditionally.” In an interview with NOW, Father Abdo Abu Kassem, president of the Catholic Information Center said: “If two people from different faiths love one another, the Church does not prevent them from getting married. However, the non-Christian spouse has to sign a pledge to raise the couple’s children as Christians and to abide by this pledge, and s/he would retain his/her own faith. We respect a person’s freedom and value people for what they are.”


Civil society: Calls for adopting a personal status law


Free from religious laws and constraints, civil society believes that the best solution for Lebanese society lies in adopting the law on personal status and civil marriage as a solution for inter-faith relations.


Tony Daoud is a member of Shamel (an Arabic acronym that stands for “Non-Violent and Non-Sectarian Young Citizens), a political movement that aims to fight violence in general. The sole solution lies in “the law on personal status and civil marriage,” which was put forth by the association, as the problem with religion lies in the distribution of shares, inheritance, clan issues, and the rejection of others.” Daoud told NOW that this law “allows both parties to the marriage to retain their religions and sects, in addition to resolving the inheritance issue. We are working on legal steps, which we cannot reveal, and we are leading a campaign to support the personal status law.”


Daoud holds politicians responsible for incidents that take a sectarian turn, saying: “Religions are here to serve the people rather than the other way around. If religion bans inter-faith marriage, then let them at least forgive whoever does choose it. Any glossing over this fact on behalf of politicians would be collusion in crime.”


The Baysour crime was not the first of its kind, but the sheer horror of it pushed the civil marriage issue directly under the media limelight. It will probably not be the last one either if it is not addressed firmly, or if measures are not taken to promote personal freedom and the freedom to choose one’s partner in life. 


This article has been translated from the original Arabic.

Young people demonstrate in favor of civil marriage sit-in earlier this year. (Image via AFP)

"'The non-Christian spouse has to sign a pledge to raise the couple’s children as Christians and to abide by this pledge, and s/he would retain his/her own faith. We respect a person’s freedom and value people for what they are.'”