Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani took a firm stand against the legalization of civil marriage in Lebanon Monday, saying any Muslim official who supported it would not be considered Muslim.
“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,” Qabbani said in a religious edict, or fatwa, causing an uproar from civil society groups.
“[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,” Qabbani added.
Qabbani’s fatwa was issued less than two weeks after President Michel Sleiman came out in support of granting Lebanese the right to optional civil marriage .
Sleiman proclaimed his support days after a couple who had deleted mention of their religious identity from their civil registration document attempted to make their civil wedding official .
Kholoud Succariyeh and Nidal Darwish announced they had wed as a secular couple  and that they were awaiting the Interior Ministry’s formal recognition of their marriage document.
The request was denied in a statement made by Interior Minister Marwan Charbel, who said that approving such a contract would require a comprehensive law that would regulate civil marriage  as well as divorce.
The mufti slammed the attempts of some officials and civil society groups to pass a law legalizing civil marriage, saying that such efforts target the personal status laws of Muslims.
“All Muslim men and women and all Muslim ulema (scholars) are duty-bound to prevent such attempts to legalize civil marriage,” Qabbani said in reference to Sleiman’s call to grant the Lebanese the right to choose between a religious and a civil marriage.
“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.”
Pro-civil marriage Lebanese Muslims voiced their anger on all social networking websites hours after Qabbani issued his fatwa.
Late Sunday night, the controversy played out on Twitter, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Sleiman squaring off over the issue. The prime minister, who described a renewed debate on legalizing civil marriage as “futile” last week, reiterated his decision not to debate the issue during Cabinet sessions.
Sleiman tweeted that he would remain committed to supporting the right to such unions, while Mikati said that granting such a right requires consensus among all national figures.
The president said that he would “respond to the evolution and aspirations of the people and prepare the appropriate laws for the issue of civil marriage.”
Sleiman added that differences in opinion on the issue of civil marriage should not stand in the way of modernizing the country’s laws.
“There are authorities opposed to civil marriage, but this will not sway my convictions or my quest to put the train [the country] on the right track,” Sleiman said on Twitter.
Disagreeing with the president, Mikati said that “the current circumstances in the country do not allow us to address the new controversial topics that create divisions.”
Mikati also warned that “the civil marriage issue cannot be dealt with from a top-down approach.”
“It’s up to all national stakeholders to get into consensus about it,” Mikati tweeted after meeting Sleiman at Baabda Palace.
Grand Serail sources told The Daily Star that Mikati believes issues that could cause disputes, including civil marriage, should not be discussed amid the ongoing political deadlock in the country.
“Mikati will not put the issue on the agenda of Tuesday’s Cabinet session or any future session,” a source said.
The sources added that Mikati and Sleiman agree on nearly all political issues the country is facing, but they had not discussed civil marriage. “Mikati learned of Sleiman’s pro-civil marriage stance from the media,” the source said.
Sleiman criticized officials who reject legalizing civil marriage in comments during his meetings at Baabda Palace Monday.
“In this era of progress, it is unacceptable to say we reject this issue,” Sleiman told his visitors.