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Are you only marrying this person because he happens to be Druze? Harfouch is 23 years old with green-blue eyes, lightly freckled skin, and long, dark hair. On her left hand she wears a big diamond engagement ring. On her right wrist she wears a multi-colored beaded bracelet: Druze is a tiny Arab religion that originated in the Middle East 1, years ago. There are just over 1 million adherents in the world, with large concentrations in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel and roughly 30, in the United States.
The Philadelphia convention, attended by about Druze, took place over four days in April. Children did arts and crafts, older women drank Lebanese-style tea, and birthdays were celebrated. There were religious sessions for teens and adults. There was a young professionals mixer. Nearly everyone attended a gala-style party on the last evening. Several Druze mothers told me they hoped their children would meet their future husbands and wives at the convention.
The search for a spouse at these gatherings is supposed to be discreet, Muakkassa explained. This desire to marry someone within the faith is not just a preference—the religion prohibits exogamy. There are no conversions into the Druze faith. Occasionally, high-profile cases of Druze marrying outside the faith pop up— for example , the recent engagement of Amal Alamuddin, who is Druze, and the actor George Clooney.
Muakkassa, of the American Druze Society, said that marrying someone non-Druze would never have been an option for her. She met her husband at the convention in Long Beach. She lived in California, but he lived in Ohio. In order for the couple to continue getting to know each other, he had to travel across the country—along with his older sister, who came all the way from New York to chaperone their dates. Muakkassa laughed as she explained all of this. Things have since become slightly less conservative in the past three decades, she said.
She has been coming to these conventions since she was a child. Kids might learn about Druze history, including its complicated connection with Islam and years of persecution by Muslims. They might also learn about cultural requirements, like modest dress and rules against tattoos and piercings. Most importantly, they learn about the central belief of the Druze faith: Humans are reincarnated lifetime after lifetime, which is one of the biggest reasons why exogamy is prohibited—marrying a Druze means continuing the cycle.
Harfouch sees being part of her religion as a rare and special opportunity. Over a thousand years ago, when the religion was officially founded although the Druze believe the religion has existed since the beginning of time , there were two periods of openness when people were given the opportunity to become part of the faith. Many other young people grow up less knowledgeable about the faith and choose to marry non-Druze, though, which has led to a declining Druze population, especially in the United States.
So I think coming to a convention is bringing it to the forefront of their mind For those who care about preserving the faith, dating is pretty difficult. Harfouch was at the gala dinner at the National Convention in Florida during the summer of when she met Samer Abou-Zaki, a media engineer at Microsoft. She was He was She lived in Michigan. He lived in Washington state. They exchanged numbers after about a month. Then, in December of , Harfouch and her mom flew across the country to see him and other friends in the Seattle Druze community.
They stayed in a hotel for about a week and met his family and friends. And so the long-distance relationship began—Abou-Zaki would fly to Michigan to see Harfouch every month or so. Out-of-state and, sometimes, out-of-country relationships are fairly typical for American Druze. The following year, Harfouch and Abou-Zaki did the traditional tetmeem, which is sort of like a formal dating period before engagement. He and his entire family traveled to Michigan to meet with her family, including parents, uncles, aunts and brothers.
The wedding will take place in Michigan on August 30 of this year. Like Harfouch, many American Druze who choose to marry within their religion are willing to overcome challenges along their quirky path to love, like the limited pool of eligible spouses and the strong chance of having to date long-distance. What seems to make it worth it is the chance to share and preserve a rich spiritual history with a spouse. Is it worth it? We want to hear what you think about this article.
Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. Jihii Jolly is a freelance journalist and video producer based in New York.
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It's hard enough to find the man you're going to marry — imagine if you're working with a fraction of the number most of us are. That's the case if you're Druze, a tiny Arab religion that requires both of the spouses to be Druze in order to have a Druze wedding and raise their children in the religion. There are just 1 million Druze in the world, with , in the States via The Atlantic. And so, singles mixers at Druze conventions are held in order to match up twentysomethings, and many wind up in long-distance relationships out of state, or even out of country.
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