I returned late at night from Damascus after attending a Tleebeh, an “Asking for a Hand” ceremony. My father and I drove the tiring round trip in about five hours. The entire process of the intricate ceremony was over in sixty minutes, more or less. Does this ritual fulfill any necessary role or is it an outdated pretentious leftover of social behavior. I am going to elaborate on my opinion about this episode, marriage and so much more.
First, however, I have to admit that although my principles haven’t wavered over the years, my tolerance, my acceptance, my embracement, my perspective on certain moral codes have softened a bit. I might not agree with some people on many points. However, our difference of opinions is not a matter I take seriously. I am, generally speaking, a tolerant person. There are just two exceptions to the above “generalization”. I cannot stand a fellow countryman who disgraces himself by maliciously attempting to shame the people or ignominy the land that is our living conscience. No matter who he or she is, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them to go screw themselves. I also avoid arguments with, not religious people, but rather with narrow-minded religious people, and, there’s a big difference. They unfortunately see the world in black and white. Not only do they miss all the beautiful natural colors, they even fail to notice the shades of gray. Therefore, I see no point in arguing with them at all. You might be wondering at this point why I’m quartering but not attacking my subject. I just needed to clarify where I stand. My sense of morality is the offspring of my conscience. If I agree with the established social mores and religion on some definite points it’s because they both make sense. Sometimes! Well, here we go.
“Tleebeh”, the traditional way for a suitor, along with a group of men from his extended family to visit the home of a girl and ask for her hand in marriage, is one of the most meaningful social forms of behavior we still have here in the Levant. I need to quickly add that this original tradition is devoid of religion, although it is culminated for Muslims in the reading of the “Fatha”. It is practiced in most traditional societies around the Mediterranean, Latin America, Africa and Asia by various faiths.
When two young people fall in love, cross the preliminaries and seriously consider marriage, it often is the time for the “Tleebeh” visit. In most cases, both immediate families are well aware of the relationship between their son and daughter and they have already met socially on several occasions. Now is the time to inform the rest of the clan.
My paternal uncle called me in midweek and told me that his son, my cousin, is getting engaged. We should meet at his house in Damascus at 7:00PM. We left Tartous and made it on time for a cup of coffee and a brief introduction on the “family” we are to visit. There we were, all 12 of us formally dressed men, knocking the door of the would-be bride. We were greeted by 10 of her men, including her grandfather, in the large and elegant salon. We briefly exchanged pleasantries then got to the serious matter at hand. The most important aspect of this entire procedure, and I strongly believe the most detrimental for a successful marriage, is the feeling of equality among this large group of men. This status of egalitarianism is a manifestation of compatibility in moral, social, cultural and familial backgrounds. The two proud fathers introduced the rest of the men meticulously and with a clever hint of reserved pride. There was no competition, just a simple assertion: “We are who we are in Tartous, you are who you are in Damascus” and the reverse of the equation. Those of us who were apprehensive became convinced now. The young couple had made the right choice. In their honor, let’s read the Fatha.
We went in total strangers; we came out godfathers of a new family.
I have learned that love alone is not enough for a successful marriage. Of course marriage without love is a lot in hell. I am talking about the whole package, the kids, the brothers and sisters, the grandparents, the cousins, the uncles and the aunts. Harmony is very essential if we were to take full advantage of what our culture has to offer. We might not see members of the family for years, and we might be lucky that we don't. In fact this is exactly the case as we tend to barely meet in weddings and funerals as a result of the changes that have swept our way of life. But when we finally meet the sense of belonging is overwhelming.
As I sat, quietly most of the time, in that salon, I couldn’t resist the flickering of a thought struggling for my attention. My children will grow up one day and the time shall come. A group of men will pay me a visit or I have to make that call myself. I would very much like to be in the company of my men. I would very much like my father to lead my pack.