Prof. Gabriel Sawma
Introduction to the Druze Community in USA
A study of the Druze community in the United States can be understood within the context of the Druze people and their presence in the Middle East, mainly in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel. The faith is called Tawheed and takes its origin from Shi’a Islam under the guidance of the sixth Fatimid caliph Abu Ali Al-Mansur Al-Aziz Bi-Allah, popularly known as Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah. This caliph is considered by the adherents of the Druze faith a man with great wisdom and knowledge. (For in depth analysis of the Druze faith, refer to The Druze Faith by Sami Makarem, New York, Caravan Books, 1974).
Although there are Druze in Israel, Syria and Jordan, the majority are present in Lebanon, where they are recognized as a minority who possess a great political influence in that country. Their influence goes back to the Ottoman period.
Development of the the Druze Personal Status Law
During the Ottoman Empire, the Islamic family law (Personal Status Law), was applied to the Muslim communities according to the Hanafi School of Thought. (For more information on Muslim Family Law under the Ottoman Empire, see The View from Istanbul: Lebanon and the Druze Emirate n the Ottoman Chancery Documents 1541-1711 by Abdul-Rahim Abu-Husayni, New York, Center for Lebanese Studies in association with I.B. Tauris Publications, 2004)
The Ottoman family law remained in force in Lebanon until 1926 when the French government, which had a Mandate over Lebanon, decided to modify it in order to give separate legal status for the Shi’a community. In December of 1926, the French authority recognized the Druze of Lebanon as an independent sect. And, in 1948, the Druze Personal Status Law was enacted for the purpose of organizing the court system for the community.
The final Personal Status Law (PSL) governing the Druze community was issued on March 5, 1960. The PSL governs all aspects of family law for the Druze community in Lebanon. However, when a case has no legal ruling in the PSL, the judge may apply the Hanafi code of the Sunni Muslims, taking into account the Druze traditions, customs and the principles of justice and equality. Before 1948, family cases such as marriage, divorce, custody of the children and inheritance, were settled in accordance with the prevailing Islamic law according to the Hanafi provisions taking into consideration the practices and customs of the Druze community. (For more on the Druze tradition, see Nizam al-Mowahedine Al-Dorouz Al-Ijtimaa’; fi sijil alahkam al mazhabiat lil qadi Ahmad Taqqi Al-Dine, 1866-1870 by Taqii Al-Dine, Slieman and Abou=Chakra, Dar Isharar lil Tiba’at Wa Al-Nashir Wa Al-Tawzee’, Beirut, 2006)
The Current Personal Status Law of the Druze in Lebanon
Divorce is defined as the termination of a marriage contract. According to Article 37 of the PSL, the judge of the Druze community has solely the authority to end the marriage. Once the divorce order is issued by the judge, the husband is not allowed to remarry his divorced wife. (Article 38). Divorced members of the Druze community wish to remarry may obtain a civil marriage outside the country or change their religion.
Contrary to the rules of Islamic divorce, a Druze man cannot divorce his wife unilaterally. Under the Islamic rules, a Muslim man can divorce his wife anytime and in any place by just uttering “I divorce you”, or “I divorce my wife”, or “my wife is divorced.” Such a rule is not acceptable in a Druze divorce according to Article 37. Once a divorce application is submitted to the court, the judge is required by law to appoint two adjudicators for reconciliation:
“In a dispute between husband and wife, the judge shall appoint two arbitrators from both families. If none of their relatives has the legal capacity to act as arbitrator, the judge shall appoint an outsider to conduct the reconciliation.”
If the judge finds the husband is at fault, he will order the husband to pay the wife, balance of the mahr. According to Article 49 of the PSL, the judge has authority to order compensation for injuries caused by the husband in addition to the mahr.
The wife may seek divorce without losing her right to mahr under conditions stated in Articles 39, 40, 41, 43, 44 and 45. The conditions include wife’s right to seek divorce if the husband suffers from incurable, contagious disease, or if the husband is mentally ill, or committed an act of adultery, was imprisoned for more than five years, was absent for three years with providing maintenance to his wife for five years. Under these circumstances the wife may seek divorce without losing her mahr. On the other hand, the husband may seek divorce if the wife is considered “nashez”, i.e., refuses to have sexual relation with her husband, or leaves the house without reasonable cause and does not return back. According to Article 42 of PSL, a Druze married couple may agree to divorce amicably in front of two witnesses without having to explain the cause of divorce to the judge.
Types of Divorce in the Druze Community
Divorce among members of the Druze community takes one of three forms: (1) divorce by agreement (talaq bi al taradi) of the married couples before the case is presented to the court, i.e., out-of-court settlement; (2) the divorce is contested before the court, but the couples decide to settle the case after court intervention; (3) when the parties to a divorce contested their case before a judge without reaching an agreement. In such cases, the judge would issue a judgment of divorce.
Gabriel Sawma is a lawyer with Middle East background, and a recognized authority on Islamic law of marriage, divorce, custody of children and abduction of children to Muslim countries, Hindu marital disputes in U.S. courts, and Iran divorce in USA.
· Professor of Middle East Constitutional and Islamic law,
· Expert Consultant on Islamic divorce in US Courts and Canada,
· Expert Consultant on Hindu divorce in U.S. courts,
· Expert Consultant on Iranian Shi’a divorce in USA,
· Expert Consultant on Islamic finance.
Admitted to the Lebanese Bar Association; Associate Member of the New York State Bar Association and the American Bar Association.
Prof. Sawma lectured at the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) in New York State and wrote many affidavits to immigration authorities and family State Courts in connection with recognition of Islamic foreign divorces in the U.S., Hindu divorces, and Iranian marital conflicts.
Taught Islamic Finance for MBA program at the University of Liverpool, United Kingdom.
Travelled extensively to: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Syria and Palestine.
Wrote many articles on Islamic and Hindu divorce in USA, custody of children in the Middle East and Central Asia; and abduction of children to Muslim countries;
Speaks, reads and writes several languages including Arabic, English, French and other Semitic languages.
Tel. (609) 915-2237