Talk of the village: What does Amal Alamuddin's Druze community think of Clooney engagement?

Published May 26th, 2014 - 07:06 GMT

The 150-year-old ancestral home of the Alamuddin family is a solid stone edifice built in the traditional Lebanese style, a testament to the prominent role the family has played in their native Chouf village of Baakline for centuries.

A large tree shades the courtyard, and a modest orchard stretches behind the house, which is located on a quiet tree-lined street in the quaint mountaintop village.

The family remains tight-lipped regarding the impending nuptials of Lebanese-British lawyer Amal Alamuddin and American movie star George Clooney. While the house would undoubtedly make an ideal wedding location, sources close to the couple have told The Daily Star they will wed in London this fall.

Local residents have taken the news in stride as the sleepy Druze mountain town has found itself thrust into the spotlight since the engagement broke last month.

“She’s a good girl, educated, and this is the person she has chosen, and perhaps he is up to her standards,” says Baakline native Imad Abou Mosleh, tending his shop not far from the Alamuddin home.

His friend, Jad Abou Shaqra, pipes in to warn that there are “conditions” for Druze who marry non-Druze -- “penalty fees,” he joked.

Druze sheikhs, for example, will “cut them off” and refuse to pray over their grave when they die, and often families will turn their backs as well.

“Those who leave [the religion] are not allowed back,” he said. “He or she must live with the sect they have chosen.”

Civil marriage offers a loophole for some, allowing them to keep their religion despite being married to a non-Druze. Druze sheikhs will not officiate the marriage, but the local mukhtars will register it. As a Lebanese Druze woman marrying a foreigner, Alamuddin has no choice but to have a civil marriage abroad, and will be unable to pass on her nationality to her famous spouse or any children they might have.

Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party and leader of the Druze community, famously married two women, neither of whom were Druze. Jumblatt told the Weekly Standard he hopes the Alamuddin-Clooney union would set an example of openness for the Druze sect following the high-profile assault and mutilation last year of a Sunni man by the male relatives of a Druze woman who defied her family by marrying him.

“In the end, everyone is free; no one will stop them [from marrying who they wish],” says Abou Mosleh of mixed marriages. “But there are some people who will be uncomfortable with it; they will worry for the future of the children.”

“In nature, birds of a feather flock together,” he concludes with a shrug.

Neither Abou Mosleh nor Abou Shaqra know Alamuddin or her immediate family personally, pointing out that they live abroad and only rarely return to Baakline. But the Alamuddins are considered one of the founding families of the village, playing a leading role in the community through the local council for generations.

"They're a very big, highly respected family," says Abou Shaqra.

Amal’s paternal grandfather, Najib Alamuddin, was also well known as the head of Middle East Airlines. Her father, Ramzi, taught at the American University of Beirut, and her mother is an accomplished journalist.

A woman buying clothes in the center of town who introduces herself as Madame Sleiman says she understands the media attention the engagement has received, even if she finds it odd.

“It’s something very normal,” she says, adding that the engagement would have received just as much media attention if the bride were from another village in Lebanon, or of another sect.

“Many Druze marry non-Druze, look at Walid Bek,” she says, using Jumblatt’s honorific title. “We are not as closed as people think.”

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