Skip to main content

Meet Ghadi, the first 'sect-less' baby in deeply divided Lebanon

By Mohammed Jamjoom, CNN
updated 10:09 AM EST, Thu November 28, 2013
  • Lebanese parents refuse to mark baby's sect on birth certificate
  • Parents have received threats in Lebanon, a country deeply divided on sectarian lines
  • Parents also fought two-year battle to get first civil, non-religious marriage certificate
  • Divisions among sects in Lebanon deepen as Syria's civil war spills into country

Beirut, Lebanon (CNN) -- In a country as small as a newborn baby is tiny, the birth of Ghadi has been a very big deal for Lebanon.

"Ghadi was born pure, was born a Lebanese citizen," explains his happy mother, Kholoud Sukkarieh, as she holds her nearly 2-month-old baby close. "He was not born a sectarian person."

Sukkarieh calls that accomplishment "a step forward for a better Lebanon" and "the result of a long struggle."

You certainly wouldn't know from glancing at Ghadi's uncluttered birth certificate -- a simple document that belies the complexity of his status.

Sukkarieh points proudly to a line that would normally denote her son's sect. But on this historic, yet flimsy little square of paper, it's been very deliberately left blank.

That may sound easy, but in a country of 18 different faiths spread amongst less than five million people, it was anything but. Lebanon's government relies heavily on a sectarian political balance to maintain a very tentative peace. It's a system that always seems fraught with peril for its population.

Ghadi, whose name in Arabic means "my future", isn't old enough to worry yet. His parents dream of a future where he'll never have to.

Sukkarieh, a Sunni Muslim, and her husband Nidal Darwish, who is Shiite, never wanted a religious wedding ceremony. But civil marriages aren't legal in Lebanon.

Committed as much to each other as they were to their cause, Sukkarieh and Darwish took on political and religious leaders -- fighting a two-year battle from engagement onward in order to become the first couple to be granted a civil marriage license in Lebanon.

Amidst the country's confessional system of governance, one whose politics have become more fractured as its sectarian lines have grown deeper, it looked on many occasions like they might not win out. But despite strong opposition and multiple threats, they persevered.

The law still hasn't been changed but momentum is now growing to change it. Sukkarieh and Darwish's marriage license was approved last April, and they haven't stopped pushing the envelope since. But in Lebanon, where religion can mean the difference between life and death, love and birth aren't always celebrated.

"Somebody talked to me on Facebook," Sukkarieh tells me, "and said 'I will turn your baby into blood because he's an illegal baby' based on his point of view ... saying 'you won't see him growing up -- you will see him killed some day between your hands.'"

It's difficult to imagine how anyone could see Ghadi as a threat, yet sectarian tensions have long existed in this country -- one that experienced a brutal 15-year civil war, and one that is being drawn deeper every day into another civil war in neighboring Syria.

Just last week, two suicide bombs rocked Beirut. Over the summer, dozens were killed in blasts targeting both Sunni and Shiite strongholds throughout the country.

It's no wonder Darwish is so fearful for his family.

"It's very hard because, when Kholoud and I started down this path, we got threats, but it didn't make a difference to us, we were proud of what we were doing and the steps we were taking," he says. "But since Ghadi arrived we've started to feel scared."

The family that wants to change Lebanon may now have to leave it. As they consider relocating, they grow sadder and more worried.

"You end up living a life of fear," says Darwish. "I just constantly want to protect Kholoud and Ghadi," he adds, "hold them close and not let them go."

"We are trying now to apply for immigration somewhere else where we can be protected as human beings and [where we can keep] our human and civil rights," Sukkarieh says.

This is the sad reality of Lebanon: A beautiful baby whose arrival was meant to bring hope may now need to depart a divided country that could use that hope more than ever.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:42 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Successful launch of lunar orbiter, seen as a precursor for a planned mission to the surface of the moon, marks significant advance for the country's space program.
updated 3:15 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, shot while standing guard at Ottawa's National War Memorial, was known for his easygoing manner and smile.
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Non-stop chatter about actress' appearance is nasty, cruel, hurtful, invasive and sexist.
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
CEO's 30-min Putonghua chat is the perfect charm offensive for Facebook's last untapped market.
updated 11:45 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Chinese leaders want less odd architecture built in the country.
updated 4:58 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Air New Zealand's new 'Hobbit' safety video stars Peter Jackson, Elijah Wood, elves and orcs.
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
A 15-year-old pregnant girl is rescued from slavery, only to be charged with having sex outside of marriage, shocked rights activists say -- a charge potentially punishable by death.
updated 11:33 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
After sushi and ramen, beef is on the list of must-eats for many visitors to Japan.
updated 12:07 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Airports judged on comfort, conveniences, cleanliness and customer service.
updated 1:48 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Scientists use CT scans to recreate a life-size image of the ancient king.
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Despite billions spent on eradicating poppy production, Afghan farmers are growing bumper crops, a U.S. government report says.
updated 6:21 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.