Love Amidst the Horrors of War

Love Amidst the Horrors of War
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Experiences that transcended the barriers of religion and sect, culminating in marriage


*Lubna Salem




At least twelve religious sects live in Syria today. Those who belong to one of these sects are legally registered as Muslim or Christian. Syrian law, derived from Islamic law, permits inter-sect marriages and permits Muslim men to marry Christian women, but Muslim women cannot marry Christian men. Those wishing to marry from a different religion or sect face the risk of being socially rejected. This rejection has been intensified by the sectarian and political tensions the country has been facing in the last four years. However, these social and legal restrictions have not prevented lovers belonging to different religions and sects from marrying and forming new families.


An Islamic wedding with a Christian blessing             


A difference in religion hinders marriage between a young man and woman in Syria in the case of Sulaf and Nabeeh; their marriage was almost impossible. However, they rebelled against traditions. Nabeeh, a young Christian man from Idlib, is an activist in the Syrian Revolution and is living in Turkey. Sulaf, a Muslim girl from Aleppo, has been living and working in France for three years. Sulaf moves between France and Turkey because of the nature of her job, which allowed them to learn more about each other.


‘I never thought that I would get married to a man from a different religion, but I did. We got over the difference in awareness; each one of us respects the other’s identity, affiliation and ideas that we grew up with,’ Sulaf said. Nabeeh, who has extensive knowledge about Islamic culture, does not believe in devoting oneself to religion in everyday life, which helped to create harmony between them. Convincing their families of the decision to marry required sophistication, intelligence, and a little diplomacy and patience, yet their friends were welcoming. Sulaf said, ‘We were able, through our love, to make our acquaintances accept the idea with the exception of very few people. For our friends, our relationship is like a meeting between two cultures.’


Initially, Sulaf was very apprehensive of her family’s reactions and since her mother was deceased and her father married, convincing her elder sister was her most difficult task. She said, ‘I presented her with my wish and I tried to be as diplomatic as possible, and I convinced her after a while, which made me believe more in what I want.’ Nabeeh’s family’s reaction to his decision was not lenient at first. He said, ‘They knew that I would not let religious hurdles [keep me] from achieving what I want in life, so they accepted my decision.’ In 2014, when they were residing in a different country, they announced their engagement, and a year later they took the major and most difficult step, marriage. Sulaf said, ‘We got married with no hesitation or fear. We conducted a legal wedding by a sheikh in Turkey and Nabeeh declared that he became Muslim in front of him so that we could get married, and our marriage was blessed by a priest that is close to my husband.’ Nabeeh added, ‘We had no other choice as we could not obtain a marriage contract from Turkish courts. They demanded identification documents from Syria which I could not obtain since I was wanted by the regime. We are seeking to register our marriage in the municipality of Paris in France as any two lovers in this world and outside of any narrow categorisations.’


Although they overcame the major obstacles, the lack of an official marriage document hinders their reunion in France and prevents them from settling down together. Despite this, both sides describe their relationship as solid and they endeavour to derive the most beautiful and moral things from the two religions. Sulaf indicates that religion is not a criterion for harmony; ‘It was possible for me to marry a man of my religion without being in harmony with him.’


The difference between us is not a sufficient reason to disturb our lives


Before they moved to Germany, Yuser and Raneem were living in Aleppo, in the north of Syria, where they married in 2013 despite Raneem’s family being Sunni and Yuser’s family being Shiite. Because they were financially and psychologically stable back then, this boosted their confidence in their decision, although marriage between sects was not very common in their home city. Raneem said, ‘Once we found that our emotions and ideas were similar, we decided to get married; we did not think of confronting the society or any one.’ Raneem encountered sectarian intolerance when one of her brothers opposed her marriage. She said, ‘My brother, like many other young men, adopted ideas promoting the isolation of sects from each other. Such ideas, which are circulated by zealots, grew after the crisis in Syria and changing them has become more difficult, which made marriage among sects more complicated. However, the decision to get married for us did not require a lot of calculations. We were, like all those who are about to get married, preoccupied with securing housing and marriage costs and nothing more.’



After marriage, many of the couple’s friends expressed their admiration of their courage and they supported them. However, this was not without some inconveniences. Raneem said, ‘Some people who we have to deal with in our daily lives tried to provoke us, but this did not affect us. We were surprised because some of them were highly educated and are supposed to have a greater degree of awareness. I still remember a university lecturer’s reaction when he knew of my marriage from another sect; he used the same obsolete terminology and ideas that are adopted by extremists.’ Raneem confirms that the difference in religious rites between the two sects is not strong enough to disturb their lives. She adds jokingly, ‘I will not starve while waiting for him for a few minutes to break our fast in Ramadan. I have always had friends from other sects and we never disagreed, so why would there be a problem in marriage?!’


We would not get married were it not for the war


Despite her support of the idea of marrying from different sects, it did not occur to Reem that she would experience this herself. Reem, who is from a Sunni family, met Mamoun, who belongs to the Ismaili sect, in Aleppo in 2012. She said, ‘When I was initially acquainted with him, the idea of getting married to him was far-fetched; I was sure that my family would not accept sectarian differences, but my feelings towards him were getting stronger and stronger every day while my fear of the future was also increasing. Marriage for us was a distant dream; the fear that the day would come when I have to choose between him and my family never left me.’



Because of the war situation, the two had to be separated from each other for a period of time during which Reem and her family were living under harsh conditions while Mamoun moved to live in Turkey. During that time, the two decided to do the impossible, to get married. Reem said, ‘Actually, the obstacle was not a sectarian difference; it was ignorance and misconceptions prevalent in the society about his sect. My father had barely heard of the Ismailis; I then realised the magnitude of marginalisation and neglect against these minorities. I could not believe that we knew nothing about a sect that lived a few kilometres away from us apart from some rumours and jokes full of lies. So, I decided to accept the challenge as I was not prepared to lose him from my life.’ The The couple [Reem and her fiancé] agreed to let Mamoun get to know Reem’s parents via the internet and to propose to get engaged to her, and they accepted. They conducted a legal wedding in 2014 and she travelled to him. Reem said, ‘Things went surprisingly smoothly; I was living under abnormal circumstances with my family. There was no way to travel outside the city in addition to the lack of communications for a long time. We were isolated from our neighbours and the world, so my parents did not realise the existence of a sectarian difference. They loved Mamoun and they still do. I don’t think we would have gotten married so easily without the war.’


Today Mamoun and Reem do not disagree about sectarian-related matters. Mamoun said, ‘We are united due to a similar way of thinking except for smoking at home and watching the news. My family and hers have become one family and we are proud of what we achieved.’






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