The Druze population has been on a dramatic decline over the years, yet the religion forbids exogamy, barring adherents from marrying outside of it. In case a Druze marries a non-Druze, the adherent is refused a traditional wedding. Neither will the couple’s children by considered Druze nor will they be allowed to convert into the faith. By practice, the religion can only be passed on through birth to two Druze parents.
To help the declining population find suitable partners, national Druze conventions are organized across the world. 23-year-old Fatin Harfouch, who visited the recent National Druze Convention organized by the American Druze Society, explains while the search for a spouse at these conventions is supposed to be discreet, the basic idea is to find fellowship with other Druze adherents, with hopes of it blossoming into something long lasting. That is why, these gatherings are always crowded with singles mixers.
Typically, a Druze convention is a gala-style party that arranges educative religious sessions for teens and young adults, serves traditional Middle Eastern meals to guests and allows children to display their handiwork. The educative sessions at the conventions teach those present different things about the religion like the connection between Druze and Islam, the need to dress modestly, that piercings and tattoos taboo and most importantly why a Druze must marry a Druze only.
For some Druze like Rima Muakkassa, vice president of the American Druze Society, marrying a non-Druze would never have been an option.
“It would have come down to marrying Druze, or not marrying at all,” she said.
She met her husband at one of the Druze conventions in 1994 and even though she lived in California and he in Ohio, he traveled across the country on several occasions in order to get to know Muakkassa better. Often, he was accompanied by his sister who came all the way from New York to chaperone their dates.
“I think most parents nowadays, although they are opposed to the term ‘dating,’ have gotten an understanding of the fact that if they want their kids to marry somebody Druze, they have to give them that opportunity,” said Harfouch.
Harfouch herself is an “initiated” Druze, who after fully immersing herself in the religion, has been allowed to pray and read the faith’s holy text Kitab al-Hikma. “Uninitiated” or secular Druze on the other hand are considered to have a cursory understanding of the religion’s basic tenets but not know much apart from that. Harfouch considers herself lucky to have the rare and special opportunity of identifying as a Druze.
“Marrying a non-Druze means turning your back on your family’s efforts to maintain the faith over many generations. I always come across people who say ‘I would never want to rob my kids of the opportunity to be involved in something like this… I want to preserve that. It’s a kind of honor, to me at least and I can raise my kids to understand it and to want to be a part of it,” she said.
Harfouch is engaged to be married on August 30. She will marry Samer Abou-Zaki, a media engineer at Microsoft, whom she met at a Druze convention in 2011, when she was 19-years-old and he 21. Even though they did not fall in love instantly, they did manage to make things work eventually.
“We had a couple of group Google chats with people who were at the convention. Sometimes it would be 12 of us from all over the United States who would get on and talk and catch up… He happened to be one of them… I know a couple that met at the same convention as us who were from Australia and the US, they are married and have a child now,” she said.
While those who want to preserve their faith have a tough time dating, most young Druze grow up less rigid about their faith and marry outside of it, which is primarily the reason for the decline of the Druze population, at least in the United States. Druze is a minor Arab religion that originated in the Middle East about 1,000 years ago and currently there are not more than 1 million adherents across the world, though most of them live in Lebanon, Syria, Israel and Jordan.
Photo Credit: Lady Kul El Arab, a documentary about a model who defies her Druze community and enters a beauty pageant for Israeli-Arab women.