CAIRO - The top Muslim religious authority in Lebanon has issued a fatwa banning the legalization of the civil marriage in the Arab country, amid a heightened debate about the practice.
Every Muslim official, whether a deputy or a minister, who supports the legalization of civil marriage, even if it is optional, is an apostate and outside the Islamic religion, Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said in a fatwa cited by The Daily Star on Tuesday, January 29.
[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 fatwa comes amid a heightened controversy about civil marriage in the tiny Arab country.
The controversy started after a couple had applied for formal recognition of their civil marriage document.
Getting into the fray, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, a Christian, signaled support for legalizing civil marriage in Lebanon.
Writing on his Twitter account, Suleiman said he would "respond to the evolution and aspirations of the people and prepare the appropriate laws for the issue of civil marriage."
"There are authorities opposed to civil marriage, but this will not sway my convictions or my quest to put the train on the right track," he said in another tweet.
But the president's position met resistance from Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni Muslim.
"The current circumstances do not allow us to address new controversial topics that create divisions, Mikati wrote on Twitter.
"I believe that the civil marriage issue cannot be dealt with from a top-down approach."
Civil marriage is a marriage performed by a government official and not a religious organization.
The Lebanese Mufti described civil marriage as a germ in the society.
"There are predators lurking among us, trying to sow the bacteria of civil marriage in Lebanon, Qabbani said.
But they should know that the religious scholars will not hesitate to do their duty" and prevent the passage of such a bill.
He stressed that Muslim scholars in Lebanon will resist any attempt to legalize civil marriage.
All Muslim men and women and all Muslim Ulema (scholars) are duty-bound to prevent such attempts to legalize civil marriage, Qabbani said.
In the face of an attempt to plant this germ of civil marriage ... the Ulema will not hesitate to do their job and defeat such attempts in Lebanon.
Despite a long-running campaign by civil groups, civil marriage has no legal basis in Lebanon, a country of around four million people who belong to 18 different religious communities, mainly Christian and Muslim.
In 1998, former president Elias Hrawi proposed a similar law, which gained approval from the cabinet only to be halted amid widespread opposition from the country's religious authorities.
Lebanese authorities recognize civil weddings only if they have been registered abroad, and thousands of mixed-faith couples have traveled to nearby Cyprus or Turkey to marry.Most religious faiths have their own regulations governing marriage, divorce and inheritance, and mixed Christian-Muslim weddings in Lebanon are often discouraged unless one of the potential spouses converts.