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RIC Query - Lebanon (14 June 2002)

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Response to Information Request Number:LBN02002.RIC
Date:June 14, 2002
Subject:Lebanon: Information on Shi'ite Customs Regarding Premarital Sex; Honor Killings; the Quran on Premarital Sex
From:INS Resource Information Center
Keywords:Lebanon / Access to justice / State responsibility / Violence against women




1) What are Shi'ite customs on premarital sex, in both Baalbek and other Shi'ite communities in Lebanon?

2) Are men targeted in "honor killings"?

3) Can the Government of Lebanon protect persons targeted for having had premarital sex or over choice of marriage partner?

4) How large is the Shi'ite community in Baalbek, Lebanon?

5) What guidance does the Quran provide on premarital sex?



Shi'ite Muslim customs strongly discourage premarital sex, and some Shi'ite Muslim women in Lebanon have been killed by family members for having sex, or for suspicion of having sex, outside of marriage. Experts contacted by the Resource Information Center are divided, however, on the question of whether Shi'ite men in Lebanon have also been targeted in so-called "honor killings." None of the specialists were able to provide a specific case where an aggrieved Lebanese family killed a man for allegedly tarnishing the family's reputation.


Both Islamic law and traditional Shi'ite Muslim customs in Lebanon "categorically" prohibit premarital sex, according to an expert on Islamic law at Emory University Law School in Atlanta. He said that while secular Lebanon does not apply the harsh penalties for premarital sex found in the Quran, sex outside of marriage carries a strong social stigma among Shi'ites (Professor 13 Jun 2002).

The Islamic law expert said he did not have specific information about Shi'ite practices in the Lebanese city of Baalbek. He said, however, that he believes that the strong Shi'ite stigma attached to premarital sex exists throughout Lebanon (Professor 13 Jun 2002).

A Middle East expert who was with the Central Intelligence Agency for three decades said that the rigid Shi'ite norm against premarital sex is found throughout the Shi'ite world. She too, however, could not provide specific details on customs in Baalbek (Expert 13 Jun 2002).


Amnesty International's researcher on Lebanon said in a telephone interview that he believes that Muslim Lebanese men have been targeted by the families of women with whom they had extramarital sex. The woman, however, is typically the primary target. He cautioned, moreover, that Amnesty International has not done detailed research on honor killings in Lebanon, and said that he did not have specific reports of such crimes being committed against males (AI 14 Jun 2002).

While victims of honor killings tend to be women, men could be targeted "if they are seen as complicit" in undermining a family's reputation, according to a Middle East specialist at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York. He noted that in feuds between Lebanese families, family members not directly involved in the actual disputes have been killed (LCHR 13 Jun 2002).

The U.S. State Department desk officer for Lebanon, however, expressed doubt that Lebanese men are victims of honor killings, saying he had no reports of such deaths. He said that women generally bear the brunt of any harassment related to family honor (U.S. DOS 13 Jun 2002).


The Lawyers Committee specialist said that the Government of Lebanon generally cannot protect someone caught up in a family dispute. He said that honor killings over premarital sex and other alleged slights to family reputation are fairly common in Lebanon (LCHR 13 Jun 2002).

The U.S. State Department's annual human rights report for Lebanon in 2001, in its section on discrimination against women, stated that, "[s]everal instances of honor crimes are reported in the media every year, and reportedly there were an average of two to three cases of honor crimes each month during the year" (U.S. DOS Mar 2002).

The former CIA intelligence officer said that the ability to gain protection "has everything to do with whom you know" (Expert 13 Jun 2002). In a telephone interview, she said that a person would be more likely to secure protection from the Government of Lebanon if he or she came from a well-connected family (Expert 13 Jun 2002).

Honor killings tend to be most prevalent among Lebanon's poorest and least educated groups, according to the Lawyers Committee specialist. Shi'ites, he said, are at or near the bottom on most Lebanese social indicators (LCHR 13 Jun 2002).


Located in Lebanon's Al Biqa Province, the northeastern city of Baalbek has a Shi'ite majority and a Christian minority (LOC 1989).


The Emory professor who is an expert on Islamic law said that the Quran prescribes a punishment of 100 lashes for premarital sex. He said that these punishments are not, of course, applied under Lebanon's secular legal system (Professor 13 Jun 2002).

This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Desk officer, U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS). Telephone interview (Washington, DC: 13 Jun 2002).

Expert on the Middle East (Expert). Telephone interview (Washington, DC: 13 Jun 2002).

Library of Congress, Federal Research Division (LOC). LEBANON: A COUNTRY STUDY, Area Handbook Series (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Federal Research Division, 1989), [Accessed 13 Jun 2002]

Specialist on the Middle East, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (LCHR). Telephone interview (New York: 13 Jun 2002).

Professor of Law, Emory University (Professor). Telephone interview (Atlanta, Georgia: 13 Jun 2002).

Researcher on Lebanon, Amnesty International (AI). Telephone interview (London: 14 Jun 2002).

U.S. Department of State (U.S. DOS). COUNTRY REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES FOR 2001, "Lebanon" (Washington, DC: Mar 2002), [Accessed 12 Jun 2002]

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