January 07, 2009

You Must Not Marry a Muslim

One moment you complain that nothing is happening these days, next thing you know, we (well, not me, but someone in Lebanon), fires rockets into Israel. How’s that for a diversion?
But out of fear that I might forget (onset of age and all that), or that the times may be too turbulent to talk about trivial stuff like this, I’d like to share a conversation I had yesterday.
Three Dutch women on the slopes of Feraya (unveiled, I might add)

I have always told my daughters; You must not marry a muslim,” a friendly lady told me in the ski lift in the mountains above Beirut.

You hear some interesting snippets about this society in a ski lift. You get into a chair lift with a total stranger, and for a good 9 minutes, before you reach the mountain top, you exchange information. You learn lots of stuff about life in this place; it is a bit like the cab driver that journalists often use in order to get an idea of what plays in society.
A 'maglouta' (mix), as they call it in Lebanon.
This picture contains one sunni - greek orthodox kid, a sunni - roman catholic and a shia-protestant product).

As a foreigner, I somehow do not seem to pose a threat to people, and they gladly share their strongest misconceptions of this society, admitting that – although they are very much aware of the fact that these are misconceptions – they will hold on to these misconceptions for the moment, until times will change. Whenever that may be.

And therefore, yesterday, between a conversation about life in Dubai for a Lebanese (small businesses are doing fine, it’s the big multi-nationals that suffer) and banking in Beirut (Audi and Mawaret will cash your dollar checks for free, all other banks charge you), I had a remarkable conversation with a christian woman about raising girls.
Two 'mixed' kids getting off the ski-lift; The snow was crispy and the slopes were empty; it doesn't get any better than that

In Holland, the term ‘christian lady’ would refer to a woman that is strongly religious, and someone who will find a link to the bible in just about any sentence she utters. Something like a Jehova Witness or a born-again christian. In Lebanon, it just means someone who is born as a christian.
No lines for the ski lift! You know how much a lift ticket costs in Lebanon? 26,000 LBP ($17.32 or 12.62 euros) for 4 hours of skiing!. Yes, eat your heart out.

Anyway, the lady was an avid skier and a grandmother at the same time, by no means a simple feat. She had traveled extensively, spoke perfectly French and English, and was obviously well educated.

It started off with the usual questions: Did I like it in Lebanon? Was I working at the embassy? Did I live here? Did I have children? Was I married to a Lebanese? And where was he from? What was his family name? And that’s when we got going.

“But how come you do not wear a veil?” she asked surprised.

The Dutch community in Lebanon, some 75 women in all, is married into all the religious sects, but none (that I know of) wear a veil. I must say, in my part of town, the veil is not that much of an issue. Most of the people I know are in mixed marriages, and those muslims that have a partner of the same religion, never really discuss religion. They’ll fast at Ramadan, avoid pork if possible, but that is about it. And those with veil are the same. It’s a non-issue really. Most muslims in my neighborhood even put up a Christmas tree.
A Dutchie in action
Of course, you have the non-hand shakers, but the way they go about it is often charming and sometimes apologetic, but never provocative. I heard on an American TV show the other day that a supermarket chain in Tennessee was engaged in a labor dispute with their muslim check-out girls because they refused to touch pork products and alcohol that came over the counter. That of course made it a bit awkward to the customer, and impossible to work for the supermarket.Can you imagine anything like this every happening in Beirut? No way.

Feraya-Mzaar, 55 km from Beirut

“But he does not want you to wear a veil?” she said.

Even those Dutch married into the religions that we these days associate with chadors, burkas and the like, will laugh at the suggestion. The last time I heard of someone forced to wear a veil was a lady married to a Saudi man. The fact I led a pretty identical lifer to hers, and that I seemed to be a relatively modern/emancipated woman, free to do what I liked, and where I went, was an eye opener to her.

Moon over the mountains

You know, we know each other, I mean, we live together, but we do not really know each other," said the lady. "Muslims are different than us. When my daughters went to university, they came home and they would tell me ‘but mom, the muslims are exactly like us!’ But I have always told my daughters; You must not marry a muslim. I could never accept that.
And what if he were like my husband? I asked her.

“Yes, but we do not meet these muslims,” she replied.

She agreed that it was almost too silly for words, and that her ideas on ‘the other religion’ were all based on misconceptions. We laughed a great deal about it. But at the end of the ski lift, when we went our own ways and wished each other a good day, she added; “I know it is all true, but why bother? We are happy where we are. I am sure they are too. It’s easier to stay with your own kind.”

There is no moral to this story. I am not making a judgment. Just a conversation I wanted to share with you. I know they have them on the ‘other side’ as well.


ms. tee said...

Sounds like you live in Ras Beirut!

As a half-Muslim, half-Christian, half-Lebanese, half-Palestinian myself (how about starting a makhloutah club?), Ras Beirut was one of the few places during the war where both my parents could enjoy visitation rights from yours truly. After the war, my uncle (I am not saying on which side) moved from Ras Beirut to Jall il-Dib so that his daughter "would not marry a Muslim." Some of his best friends are Muslim, as the cliché goes, but when it comes to pullulation and handing down an identity, it is just different. Particularly with marrying off women (he never said anything about his sons). Good for him, his strategy worked.

ms. tee said...

And I just love your stories, Sietske. You may call it "just sharing a conversation," but the way you do it brings out the complexities of seemingly boxed-in identities so well. Thanks for sharing.

Michel Mohammed said...

Sietske, you MUST lead a political party in Lebanon !

Anonymous said...

Means: he wants you to get car-bombed?

R said...

Well its a little more involved than that since in Lebanon, by law, the religion of the father determines that of the children. Indeed since there is no civil marriage you must either leave the country or get married in the husband's religion. Finally, in elections each candidate and voter has a religion indeed a sect of that religion. You cant not have a religion in Lebanon for official purposes even if you're an atheist.

thodin said...

Well.. You you don't believe in aliens, it doesn't mean that they are do not exist :)

I have plenty of stories from lebanese life about muslim factor in mixed religion families. Sure, they are not about dutch (mostly about women from former USSR), but believe me - a lot of husbands force to wear veil. In shia villages life is a little bit different, than in Beirut..

Kheireddine said...

I wish that some day Civil Marriage is instaured in Lebanon, those bigots for all sides will see at least 25% of the people marrying outside their sect.

My grand-father was a Sunni Muslim who married a Greek Catholic from Zahleh, her mother was from a prominent Maronite family and that was in...1920.

R said...

To be fair, Israel doesnt have civil marriages either.

Anonymous said...

Bigots are everywhere,but Lebanon seems to have a lot more sad but true. I am a lebanese and because of that thinking I never feel at home in Lebanon.

Marieke said...

Geweldig verhaal! Ik krijg spontaan zin om te skiën! Ga je binnenkort nog eens naar boven op een weekdag? Zo ja kan ik dan een keer meeliften?

Anonymous said...

Ok Sietske, if your husband agrees on the fact that your girl can marry a christian, or that your sons can be whoever they want (change religion or even become atheïst)

If your husband agrees on those issues then you prove the others to be wrong. If not, then you are not different from the others ...

Adrian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

i am lebanese I told my daughters You must not marry black man

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Leb Jay said...

Sietske, I like your blog. You really do love this country for the better and the worse, and it's a long term relationship I hope. Is your father lebanese? In a post you mentioned your father is from Baalbeck

Leb Jay said...

Sietske, I like your blog. You really do love this country for the better and the worse, and it's a long term relationship I hope. Is your father lebanese? In a post you mentioned your father is from Baalbeck