Running Away from Marriage: A Story From Syria

American Fulbright scholar in Damascus Orientalista brings up the story of her Syrian friend Manar, a 22-year old female from the Druze minority in the country, who ran away from her house to escape a forced marriage.

In the four-post series, Orientalista lays out her friend's story detailing her own personal involvement in the matter. In the post titled “Manar Escapes,” she writes:

A week earlier Manar had been sitting on my balcony with me, overlooking the square. “I'm thinking about running away,” she said after complaining about her family. She had been telling me about meeting with the latest arees (groom). She showed me his love poetry texts to her mobile. He was about 30, had a good job and seemed nice. She doesn't want to get married. She's 22. There had been earlier meetings with prospective grooms. We'd be hanging out, I'd ask what she was up to tomorrow. “Oh, meeting a groom.” They came to her house, sat with her and her parents, and she refused them. She didn't seem too concerned about the latest Romeo, though she thought the poetry was kinda sweet.

A week later she was in my house and I was stuffing her plastic bags into my suitcase to hide them away. It's not like I hadn't expected her to follow through, but I hadn't expected it so soon.

She refused the guy and her parents got pissed. You're going to have to get married anyway, they said, so why not this one? He's got all the credentials, including the most important one, being Druze. They set Monday for his parents to come and formally do the engagement with her parents. She refused and they told her she couldn't leave the house. She'd have to agree to some one eventually. She missed work Thursday. Her father took her ID and hid it somewhere. Friday she waited until her father left and her mother went down for a pack of smokes. She got the ID and ran.

At my house, we tried to think through the options. She had 6000 lira cash ($120) and stolen her brother's fancy mobile, which she could sell for maybe another 5-6 thousand. Foulan, who was at my house when she came and has loved her forever despite her insistance that nothing will ever happen between them, said we should start looking for a place to live. Outside of Jeramana.

She continues in “The Law is With Us” :

The next couple of days Foulan and I looked unsuccessfully for a place outside of Jeramana. The search was complicated by Ramadan. Real Estate offices don't open until after 10am, close again while the owner goes to the mosque to pray (during Ramadan, a lot of people pray who don't outside of it, while many others who pray regularly make the trip to a mosque instead of just praying at their office). Before 6, all offices close for Iftar, breaking of the fast, and a few reopen again after 9 for maybe an hour or so.

So I had to find a place for her quickly. I got an American girl I know to put her up for the night. The next day, Sunday, I was able to contact a woman I know who works on gender issues including violence, who gave me the hotline number to a safe house for women, run by nuns.

This woman told me to tell Manar that the law is with her. She's 22, not a minor, and by Syrian law does not need for father's permission for anything. She's an adult. None of us are doing anything illegal.

Then, in “Back to Jeremana” she writes :

The next day I left Manar with strict instructions. Obviously, no leaving the apartment. TV and music should be quiet. Keep the shades drawn.

That night I was watching a movie with Manar, Foulan, my roommate and my boyfriend when Foulan's mother called. Um Foulan was upset. Foulan told her he was at my house. She told him to come now, he said no, he was in the middle of a movie. After the call finished, he told us that sometimes she gets like this when she fights with her daughter. My boyfriend was more worried, saying it probably had something to do with Manar.

A few minutes later Um Foulan was at the door and Manar was hiding in my room under my bed. She said eight men showed up at her shop and demanded to know if she knew where Manar was. Manar ran away she told us. We acted properly surprised and asked the details. When? Why? Foulan told her he hadn't seen Manar in months. She said the family was threatening to get the police involved.

My boyfriend said Manar's family probably followed Um Foulan, and were probably outside. She can't leave now. Within a couple of minutes her father and uncle were outside my door. I walked into the hallway with my boyfriend, leaving the door open behind me. “Why is HE at your house at this hour!” they asked (it was 11). We were watching a movie, I said.

They left, Manar cried and apologized for getting me into this. I asked if they really would kill her, with her mother crying like that. She told me the story of a Druze girl from Sweida who ran away. Six months later she missed her family and wrote to her father, begging for forgiveness because she wanted to see them again. Manar told me the father had always loved his daughter dearly and he wrote back, forgiving her. They picked her up and drove her to their village. They stopped at what used to be gallows a long time ago. Her brother slit her throat and her mother dipped her hands in the blood, raised them to the sky and trilled.

In “No Solution“, she ends the story describing how Manar's family found out she was hiding in her apartment and then went there trying to force their daughter to go home with them, and how she refused to leave unless her American friend went with her!

Finally Manar's brother got her to come out. She collasped on the floor (there was no air in the cupboard and she was all sweat) in Um Foulan's arms, who wiped her face with water and gave her some to drink and we all bawled. Manar's mother came, shot me a dirty look and was clearly hurt by Um Foulan taking her maternal place. She shifted Manar to her, crying.

Manar went to lay down on my bed and her uncle gave her a pill to “calm her down.” I demanded to know what it is. He tried to open her mouth and put it in and I yelled “She's not a cat!” but she sat up a bit and took it. Manar didn't want to go. I apologized and told her I wouldn't leave her side. I told her I wouldn't let anything happen to her.

She refused to go home. She refused to go to the doctor. She agreed to go to her uncle's house, but only if I went with her. I grabbed my toothbrush and we all left together, Manar and I holding hands and her mother pissed that Manar didn't want to hold her hand or sit next to her in the car.


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