Mufti's threats over civil marriage in Lebanon

In an extraordinary fatwa yesterday, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon 
threatened to excommunicate any member of parliament or government minister who supports the legalisation of civil marriage.

"Every Muslim official, whether a deputy or a minister, who supports the legalisation of civil marriage, even if it is optional, is an apostate and outside the Islamic religion ...

"[Such officials] would not be washed, would not be wrapped in a [burial] shroud, would not have prayers for their soul in line with Islamic rules, and would not be buried in a Muslim cemetery."

The mufti, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, also issued 
an apparent threat to undermine democratic processes in order to prevent civil marriage being legalised:

"There are predators lurking among us, trying to sow the bacteria of civil marriage in Lebanon, but they should know that the religious scholars will not hesitate to do their duty ..." 

At present, Lebanon has no legal provision for civil marriages, though does recognise civil marriages made abroad – with the result that Lebanese couples usually get married in Cyprus if they want a civil ceremony.

The issue has been debated, on and off, for years but was reopened this month by the case of Khouloud Sukkariyeh and Nidal Darwish (see yesterday's blog post). 

Allowing the option of civil marriage for those who want it might seem a sensible and uncontentious idea but over time it could weaken Lebanon's sectarian social/political system, which in turn would weaken the influence of clerics like Sheikh Qabbani.

That helps to explain his over-the-top reaction. Currently, there is no draft law for the legalisation of civil marriage before parliament but Qabbani seems determined to stifle it before it happens, even at the risk of making himself look ridiculous.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 29 January 2013.