We as Lebanese are popularly known to be very sociable, and the common statement that says that “a Lebanese person has a friend in every country” is definitely true to a lot of us.
But underneath our overly friendly disposition lie deep-seated reservations, rooted in our mores, and exacerbated by the civil war, which, in turn, mar our professional, social, and even romantic interactions.
It is fair to say that since the sectarian civil war (1975-1990) ended, we have come a long way in overcoming religious prejudice and have been able to live relatively harmoniously with one another.
Yet, it is also undeniable that there are still many instances when sectarianism exerts considerable influence on our decision making.
For instance, there is a commonly held belief that one should marry 'inside' their religion as marrying someone of a different faith would often lead to a failed relationship.
More worrying is the fact that a surprising amount of liberal, non-conservative families, and non-practicing individuals also subscribe to the notion of "safe within the clan.”
We polled the opinions of 25 non-practicing females and 25 non-practicing males from various religious backgrounds on 9 statements commonly associated with inter-religious marriage.
Here's what they had to say :
1. Not even on the table
Out of the 25 young women I asked about the validity of this statement, 18 said they agree with it completely.
There is often an intrinsic conviction that getting to know someone outside of your religion is pointless because it would never amount to anything.
People readily admitted to ignoring a man or a woman of interest because “it is pointless for the future.”
2. Religion isn't just about faith, it's about culture
Many men and women expressed their fear over possible rifts within the family and concern over losing the joy of culturally-associated activities.
While most agree that the modern world is all about diversity, getting to know different cultures, and indulging in their traditions, many prefer to maintain “classic” values within their family unit.
The fear of losing touch with one's own culture was commonly cited as a reason for avoiding the prospect of marrying outside their religion.
3. What about the children?
Many expressed concern regarding children and how it could affect their upbringing. To them there is a general impression that inter-religious family units can affect children negatively.
But others do not agree with this statement altogether, arguing instead that being exposed to different values and traditions can even make children more wholesome, accepting, and just better people in general.
“I would want my kids to celebrate Christmas and Ramadan no matter who I marry because both are beautiful and both are about bringing people together,” said a 27-year-old woman living in Beirut.
4. Fears of a repeat
"Well, then, maybe interreligious couples would be among the few people not to get sucked into it?" This statement was actually repeated more than I expected it to be.
But not everyone agrees. Underlying political tension is still present to the point that people fear marrying outside of their religion because it may affect their personal safety should another war erupt.
“What if I have to pick a side one day? I would be torn between my own family and my wife’s,” said a 28-year-old male living in the Bekaa.
5. Parental approval is a major factor
This was the most reiterated statement of all:
“I really don’t care and religion doesn’t matter to me, but I know my parents would be so disappointed.”
It's difficult to reason against such statements because in most Arab communities parents constitute a moral high ground, which leaves little room for debate.
As a 22-year-old female living in Zahleh said:
“This is the one thing they asked of me: marry a good Christian boy. How can I deny them the one thing they asked of me?”
6. Identity politics reign supreme
Many believe that different religions in the same household would inevitably lead to deep disagreements on political issues, courtesy of sectarian identity politics prevalent in the country.
But not everyone I interviewed felt the same way. "Disagreement may actually foster diversity, broaden one's scope, and introduce a different perspective," some said, but "it still poses a risk factor as 'marriage is hard enough and we don’t need more things to disagree on,'" others lamented.
A 30-year-old male living in Beirut said: “If I picture myself having to listen to my wife or her family talk politics I completely disagree with, I imagine it would drive me insane!”
7. Sharing the faith
Many said that while they don’t practice, faith is still an important undertone of their daily lives.
On the other hand, some disagreed with this statement: “Everyone is entitled to perceive it however they want, but faith is meant to be a universal concept that should not be defined by the family you happened to be born into,” said a 31-year-old woman living in Beirut.
8. "It's just easier"
This was the second most common response, particularly from the less talkative interviewees.
Many explained that as a young person already working hard to fulfill his or her goals and excel at his or her career, it would be easier to stay close to home and establish a family unit similar to the one they are already used to.
9. Minorites and existential fears
The belief that numbers can give you a political advantage is not something people can shake off easily when they live in a society that is governed by religiously flavored political parties, and this response is proof of that:
A 19-year-old girl from a religious minority said: “It’s up to us to continue the legacy or else in 50 years there will be none of us left.”