Marriage in As-Suwayda: Realism overpowers romance

The Unitarian Druze Community’s house in As-Suwayda - June 25, 2023 (Community’s Media Office)

The Unitarian Druze Community’s house in As-Suwayda - June 25, 2023 (Community’s Media Office)

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Enab Baladi – Hussam al-Mahmoud

In the series “Ahlam Kabira” or Big Dreams, which is a Syrian drama series aired in 2004, Omar (played by Bassel Khaiat) loves Mona (played by Sulaf Fawakherji). In the show, the couple hails from different social and religious backgrounds, with the young man being Muslim and the young woman Christian, which renders the culmination of their love into marriage impossible under the diverse social circumstances of each party, as well as the dominant social norms and value systems that forcefully impose themselves, at least in the dramatic presentation of the idea.

In the series, the dreams were not “big” in the abstract sense of the word and in relation to what a young man aspires to in life, but reality was too narrow to allow their fulfillment. This led Omar to marry Wafaa (played by Norman Asaad), succumbing to the constraints of society.

Two decades have passed, bringing a lot of change to the Syrians’ present, yet some of those big dreams remain, in fact, big, while some small dreams have ballooned, amplified by reality, turning the quotidian into an obsession before discussing the overarching ideas that affect the individual broadly, such as love and marriage. Love, without dominion over it, or ethnic, social, sectarian, or doctrinal determinants that shape the identity of the beloved, and marriage in Syria with its myriad types of difference, does not follow poetry before the presence of religious and social differences, which frames marriage within the city or region, as it largely happens in As-Suwayda.

Family and society

Ihab, a young Syrian man from As-Suwayda province, told Enab Baladi that he is obliged to measure his emotions with logic and reasoning before considering an engagement or exchanging feelings with a young woman from outside the province in the doctrinal sense, not geographically. The southern province, which is currently undergoing political activism in pursuit of political change, is predominantly inhabited by members of the Druze Monotheistic sect.

As-Suwayda lies in the extreme south of Syria, bordered to the west by Daraa province, to the north by the countryside of Damascus, and to the east by the Jordanian border. Despite the limited Christian presence in the province and some tribal Bedouins from the Sunni sect, the Druze constitute about 90% of its population, according to studies.

A brief analysis by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy states that the Druze community is an ethno-religious group spread across Syria, Lebanon, and the occupied Palestinian territories. Based on the hierarchy within the sect, a “Sheikh Aql” is chosen in each country to lead the local Druze community (in Syria, the community leader is Hikmat al-Hijri, followed by Hamoud al-Hennawi and Yousef Jarboua as the Sheikhs Aql).

Besides As-Suwayda, the Druze Monotheists are also present in other areas, such as the suburbs of Damascus (Jaramana, Sahnaya, and Jdeidet Artouz), the eastern side of Mount Hermon, and some villages in Jabal al-Summaq in Idlib.

According to religious and social criteria, the As-Suwayda people marry from among themselves, condemning any romantic relationship involving just one party from the province to failure.

“Before even thinking about getting engaged to a girl who is not from As-Suwayda, I must first think about my family, who are the most important,” adds Ihab (29 years old), who resides in Dubai, explaining that breaking this cycle, while it occurs in some cases, does not result in victory, as those who challenge religious and social will face rejection and widespread exclusion, in addition to an unbridgeable family gap between, for example, the groom’s family and his wife who belongs to another social and religious component, especially evident in religious celebrations and funerals, alongside living in a whirlwind of issues with acceptance or rejection of the new family member.

Rebellion followed by disappointment

Over the last decade, with Syrians resorting to various European countries, some may compromise or sacrifice their convictions in this regard, marrying the sons or daughters of the host country in order to achieve legal and legitimate stability, which grants them citizenship and identity, without being able to measure the firmness or continuity of marriage in such cases, when they do not extend beyond their narrow framework if they occur.

For the people of As-Suwayda, marriage is tied to the authority of religious and social powers and their influence, alongside the ideas of the young man or woman, which have largely adapted to the environment without denying the presence of mutual love. However, such love falls when faced with the test of marriage.

The political events and developments in the province, at the level of protests and strikes, reflect the social cohesion among its inhabitants, along with standing and aligning behind the religious reference and the harmonious stance of the community’s leadership with the opinion of the street, which continues its protests for about five months demanding the departure of the regime’s president.

Social researcher Aisha Abdul-Malik clarified to Enab Baladi that the problem of marriage and romantic relationships is not limited to the people of As-Suwayda but extends to different social and religious components in Syria. Establishing a romantic relationship with a different other who does not belong to the same circle is considered a social rebellion in itself, and the youth tend to lean towards this type of rebellion and challenges and stepping out of the conventional within this framework.

Abdul-Malik pointed out that marriages of this kind are not free from specific sensitivities which, for instance, manifest in assigning the child’s religious or social affiliation to their mother (children of a Druze or Alawite mother), and this is felt more acutely by women than men, as the Syrian society transforms the wife into a part of her husband’s family, meaning a state of adaptation to include her as a family member, which is difficult in the face of such differences.

Regarding rebellion in relationships, the researcher indicated that both parties seek from this rebellion to break the value system that controls their fate, which does not occur, leading back to disappointment because the soft beliefs and thoughts that are not clearly visible are stronger, paving the way for submission and compliance to them, and perhaps reaching a change in convictions over time. Thus, a person may see wisdom in their family’s opposition to their marriage, which they were previously unaware of.

According to Abdul-Malik, the inclination towards rebellion goes beyond the social state to further extend, linking the emotional relationship with the position or stance of their social component and framing the story within a context of “victimhood” they attempt to overcome through rebellion, despite the ongoing and persistent issues such as gender and religious differences, cultural disparities, and the demand for equality.

There are beliefs built within a person from childhood through education or experiences, which infiltrate the mind and leave their residue, becoming a part of the person that cannot be extracted, and this unconsciously contributes to often forming unfair stereotypical images toward people from a region, city or sect without understanding the other and accepting and respecting the difference as enrichment, according to the researcher.

The people of As-Suwayda, in their civil transactions, including marriage, rely on the sectarian court.

According to the Judicial Authority law, the territorial jurisdiction of the sectarian court is limited to the province of As-Suwayda, whereas in other provinces, jurisdiction remains with the ordinary Sharia courts to look into the cases of sect followers according to their decisions.

A young man, upon reaching 18 years of age, may apply for marriage in the sectarian court, and a young woman, upon completing 17 years of age; however, one of the religious scholars or the sect judge has the right to authorize the marriage for the adolescent girl who has completed 15 years of age but not 17, if it is medically proven that her body can bear it and if her guardian consents.

If one of the religious scholars or the sect judge permits the marriage of the adolescent boy and girl without the guardian’s consent, each adolescent has the right to request the annulment of the marriage within a six-month period starting from the date they reach the marriageable age as per the law.

 

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