A young couple in love, yet their religion keeps them apart

Nour Jaafari Al Masri and Daniel Chaalan are committed and ready to tie the knot, but they come from different religious backgrounds.

Dubai, July 19, 2011 - Nour Jaafari Al Masri. (R) who is Sunni and Daniel Chaalan (L) who is Durzi  who want to get married are hearing objections from some of Chaalan's family members because of the differences in their Islamic sects, Dubai, July 19, 2011. (Jeff Topping/The National)
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ABU DHABI // Nour Jaafari Al Masri and Daniel Chaalan, both from Syria, are in love. They are committed and ready to tie the knot.

But there is a catch: they come from different religious backgrounds. And though this is not a problem for them - they do not consider themselves religious, and they agree on lifestyle principles - it means everything to Mr Chaalan's family.

Ms Al Masri, 23, is a Sunni Muslim and Mr Chaalan, 25, is a Durzi, from the religious community of the Druze. Whether or not Druze is considered a sect of Islam is a complex question and the answer depends on who you ask. Mr Chaalan considers himself Muslim.

Regardless, the Druze community is highly secretive and tightly knit - no one is permitted to marry into or outside of the religion. And unlike other religious communities, one cannot enter the Druze community via conversion for reasons of the "purity" of the community.

This makes life tricky for the young couple, who have been together for a little over two years and are looking to settle down.

Ms Al Masri, who met her partner at a university dance, said they were aware of the challenges right from the beginning. "But I never thought it would turn into something serious," she said. "After two months together, we started to get attached and our feelings developed."

Mr Chaalan said if they decided to marry, he would be shunned from his family and the Druze community. Not only that, his family, in Syria, would also face harsh repercussions.

"If it were only me, I wouldn't care," he said. "But if I chose to do this, my parents would be shamed for the rest of their lives."

So what now? "I'll introduce her to my parents and try to convince them," Mr Chaalan said. "But even if they do accept, I don't know if I can allow them to live in shame."

Ms Al Masri comes from a more liberal background. She said if she could convert, she would. The only concern her parents raised, she said, was what happens when they have children.

"I tell them why should I make the decision for them? I'll teach them both [faiths], and when they're older they can decide.

"If my father sees that his daughter is happy, and that the person she is with is willing to do anything for her; for him that is everything."

She said many singles who are about to marry follow a checklist of what their parents deem suitable in a partner, "but then they live under the same roof unable to stand each other".

She said: "Parents should just be grateful that their child is living with someone who loves and respects them, and makes them happy."