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TV Series Covers Touchy Subject of Interfaith Relationships

A recent TV series has broken taboos by tackling the sensitive topic of Christian-Muslim relationships in Syria.

“Not a Mirage” was a mini-series shown during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which this year coincided with September. The drama, focusing on the secret marriage of a Muslim man and a Christian woman, both from conservative religious backgrounds, was controversial and won a large viewership.

When the couple’s marriage is discovered, both communities shun them. The Christian wife is unable to handle the pressure and leaves her husband, who dies shortly afterwards.

The groundbreaking subject matter – religious tensions as well as interfaith marriage – has not previously been discussed in this open manner, and the TV series has led Syrians to debate these things.

Series director Subh al-Muthanna said he wanted to expose “some ugly flaws” in Syrian society which “we have to work on”.

“If the show touched on some sensitive issues, it doesn’t matter to me,” he said. “What matters to me is showing this problem which is suffered by Syrian individuals, and the extent to which society treats them unjustly.”

Scriptwriter Fadi Qoshaqji said he was inspired to create the series because he was “haunted by the monster of sectarianism which destroys the foundations of our society”.

The Romeo and Juliet tale put a human face to a difficult issue, and Syrians responded strongly to the narrative.

Thaer, 30, who did not want his surname to be divulged, is a Muslim man married to a Christian in Damascus.

He said his own family shunned him for marrying a Christian, so the TV series “explained precisely the problems I have suffered”.

He noted that Islam allows men to marry women from other religions, but “some traditions are at times more powerful than the law of the heavens”.

Michel al-Farzali, a Christian who works as a dentist in Damascus, said the programme made him rethink his own views.

“Before I watched the show, my opinion was… definitely rejection of this kind of marriage,” he said. “But after watching the show, which presented the issue in a sympathetic way that made viewers realise how deeply it touches them, I can see that I would accept this kind of marriage – of course with the proviso that Muslims should accept that a Muslim girl can marry a Christian man as well.”

Abbas al-Nuri, the actor who played the husband in the series, said presenting social issues on TV in this manner “gives people a measure of hope that someone is thinking [about issues] alongside them. Voices will rise gradually until all taboo subjects are talked about openly.”

Nuri believes this series could mean that future drama productions in Syria focus on themes of freedom, rights and living conditions through personal stories.

Not everyone was convinced by the story of interfaith love.

“A respectful Christian woman would only marry a Christian man,” said Manal Nima, a 24-year-old Christian woman. “I am against that kind of marriage because there would be many disagreements within the family after the marriage, particularly over the children. What religion would they follow?”

(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)

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