Mufti on Civil Marriage: “The Fatwa is Plain and Clear”
By: Mohamed Nazzal
Published Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the mufti of the Lebanese Republic, is not afraid of criticism. His fatwa related to civil marriage is derived from sharia, God's law. “I do not fear in God the chiding of critics,” he told Al-Akhbar in a remarkably candid interview.
On Monday, 28 January 2013, the mufti sounded radical to the degree of heresy. But in his reception of criticism, albeit harsh, he adopted a different tone.
“Criticism, even personal attacks against me, will help in airing the issue more...It will open the space for a wide-ranging discussion,” he told Al-Akhbar. “The fatwa was not a mere press statement. I will not retract a single letter. It is plain and clear. I based it on texts from sharia.”
For Qabbani to be against civil marriage is normal and logical. Having the opposite opinions would have raised eyebrows. However, his decision went further than mere rejection.
He declared the apostasy of couples who marry in civil court from Islam, which is tantamount to a death sentence. This was not expected.
Al-Akhbar asked the Mufti whether his declaration of apostasy means permitting killing. “The fatwa is plain and clear,” he replied. What does it mean? “The fatwa is plain and clear,” he repeated.
“Do you agree if it is reported that the mufti said his fatwa explicitly meant apostasy?” the question was rephrased. “The fatwa is plain and clear,” he insisted.
What if someone follows the fatwa, acts on it, and punishes with death those who are married in a civil court? What will the mufti tell them?
“The fatwa is plain and clear,” came the answer again. The mufti repeated this phrase around ten times in the interview. Finally, he added something else: “True, there is no compulsion in religion and we do not force anyone into our religion. But those who want to leave religion are those who have already left it.”
“There are many detractors, I know. There are many who want to argue about it. But, unfortunately, most people do not abide by [the Quranic phrase], ‘so ask the people of the Reminder [scholars] if you do not know.’”
The mufti explained religion with religion. He was adamant about his fatwa and had no shame in it being rejected by many. “When religion descended on the prophet, not everyone believed, which is normal,” he put it simply.
Qabbani remained vague about the issue of apostasy, not saying whether the issue includes a death sentence, knowing that he is one of the “people of the Reminder” by tradition. So he must know more than anyone else the meaning of legal terms in Islamic jurisprudence.
It seems he agrees without saying it, since calling for murder is not easy for him. Maybe, on the inside, he does not want this connotation to spread. “The fatwa is plain and clear. Those who have ears should listen and those who have minds should understand,” he rejoined. Only God knows what he feels inside.
In parallel, there were those who wondered about the mufti's unilateral decision and the silence of other Muslim voices. What about the Shia? The Shia are Muslim and also marry according to sharia.
Sheikh Shafiq Jradi, head of the Institute of Judicious Knowledge, explained that civil marriage, as proposed, “is against sharia.”
“The fact of the matter is, those who undertake civil marriage, meaning non-religious marriage, are deciding to go to a non-religious authority. This does not need any elaboration,” he said.
Jradi indicated that, for the Shia, marriage is “a legal contract between two people. A contract based on a combined human will. In principle, it does not require the presence of a religious scholar, known as a sheikh.”
“The presence of a sheikh is due to his knowledge of religion more than others. But, in principle, there is no need for his presence during the marriage contract,” he added.
In principle, the Shia agree with the Sunnis about civil marriage. The difference is in the expression of rejection. Jradi explained that the term “al-riddah,” used by the Mufti and meaning renouncement of Islam, “is not familiar to us [the Shia]. We cannot issue fatwas declaring the apostasy of those who do not declare their aversion to religion.”
“Frankly, I tremble when I hear this word. It is not that simple at all. There is a difference between the reprobate and the apostate, between the sinner and the apostate. The sinner is he who remains faithful in principle, but acts otherwise. The apostate is he who rejects the idea in principle, after having accepted it,” he explained.
“The issue does not require us to speak about apostasy. However, I have some reservations on the secular current in Lebanon. They lately entered into interactions and confrontations that will not help. On the contrary, it widens the gap in society between all sides. Secularism has become similar to a [political] party. Some of them are demanding a share of the regime as an additional sect in Lebanon.”
It should be noted that there are some variations of marriage requirements between Sunnis and Shia, most notably, the issue of the two legal witnesses. For the Sunnis, marriage is not legitimate without two legal witnesses. For the Shia, it is recommended but not obligatory.
The disagreement regarding divorce is the other way around. Sunnis can divorce without witnesses, but the for the Shia, it is obligatory, otherwise the act will not be according to sharia.
The presence of witnesses for Sunni marriage could be one of the reasons why their scholars have raised their voices to reject civil marriage, which does not include this condition.
For his part, the media representative of the Maronite Patriarchy in Bkirki, Walid Ghayadh, reiterated the Church's position. “In conformity with its principles and faith in marriage, one of its Sacraments, does not encourage civil marriage. This is consistent with the position of the [Muslims],” he declared.
The Church rejects civil marriage since it considers the act to be a theological sacrament, and one of its Seven Mysteries. But Ghayadh explained that the church “is demanding civil marriage for non-believers.”
“We should know that approving this marriage in Lebanon would require the amendment of the constitution, which kept personal status issues in the hands of the sects,” he added. “But the church will not accept an optional law, since law by nature is mandatory.”
Therefore, one does not expect to find any religious practitioners in acceptance of the principle of civil marriage. The issue hangs between people who reject it for themselves while accepting it for others, and those who reject it categorically considering it a heresy and the total rejection of religion.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.