In the past, marriage within the lineage, especially to first cousins or other close paternal kin, was the rule. This provided the woman the security of living among the people with whom she was raised and also tended to keep property inheritance within the family. Among Muslims, there is traditional preference for marriage to a patrilineal first cousin; in some conservative Muslim villages, the choice is considered obligatory. In Roman Catholic canon law the marriage of persons within the same bloodline or of persons within the third degree of collateral relationship is explicitly forbidden. In Lebanon a dispensation for such marriages can be obtained and they are not uncommon.
Although permitted under Muslim law, polygamy is generally regarded as both impractical and undesirable because of the additional economic burden it places upon the household and because of the personal complications it entails. Polygamous families consist of a man, up to four wives, and their children. A man rarely has more than two wives, one of whom is sometimes much younger than the other, and is married after the children of the first wife are almost fully grown. The two wives may live with their children in different rooms of the same house, or they may reside in separate abodes. A survey of families in Beirut, made in the early 1960s, indicated that there was more than one wife in only 3 percent of the Muslim families interviewed.
Other than the marriage of close relatives, such as first cousins, a factor that often enters into the choice of a marriage partner is interest in expanding family resources. A man from the leading family of a particular lineage, especially an influential and wealthy lineage, is apt to choose a wife from another such lineage within his own religious community to improve the position of his immediate family group.
The general practice in both Christian and Muslim villages is to find a partner within the village, preferably the closest eligible relative within the family. This practice has been considerably weakened in villages close to cities, where marriages outside the family and outside the village occur more often, and where first cousin marriage occurs only occasionally.
Marriage is more a matter of recognizing adult status and of joining interests than of romantic attachment. Men marry to have sons who will continue their lineage, work their land, and do honor to their house. Women marry to attain status and to bear sons for protection in their old age. Most women marry.
Age at marriage varies. In some villages girls tend to marry in their late teens; boys, in their early twenties. Urban youths marry somewhat later. Among educated families, young men frequently postpone marriage for many years, some of them waiting until their late thirties or early forties.
Christians and Druzes do not enter into a formal marriage contract; Muslims, however, do. After the announcement of the engagement of a Muslim couple, and before the wedding takes place, a formal contract is drawn up. The marriage is legal once the contract is signed. The contract notes the consent of the couple to marry and specifies the bride-price, a payment by the young man to his fiancée. In traditional Muslim society, the bride-price represented a substantial amount of money, or its equivalent in land, or a combination of both. In the 1980s, however, except in remote villages, only a token gift was made. The bride is expected to provide a dowry, usually in the form of furnishings for a new household.
Premarital and extramarital sexual relations are frowned upon throughout society. In the village there are strong sanctions against sexual relations outside marriage and such relationships are rare because every potential female partner is enmeshed in the network of kinship ties which reinforce these sanctions. Improper conduct toward an unmarried girl damages the honor of her lineage. Her father and brothers will seek redress, which can take the form of killing the girl and the man involved, killing the man or driving him from the village, or a settlement between the two lineages. If redress is not obtained, open strife between the two lineages may occur.
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