Families and cultural diversity in Australia

Historical publication – December 1995

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9. Lebanese-Australian families

by Trevor Batrouney

This chapter first provides a brief overview of Lebanese immigration and settlement in Australia and a statistical picture of Australia's current Lebanese population. It then examines the variety of Lebanese families in Australia in terms of origin, status and structures. The final section focuses on Lebanese family values, distinguishing between values associated with social activities and with different stages in the life cycle. Throughout the chapter, distinctions are made between traditional and emergent family values which may be found in both Lebanon and Australia. The former are typically embedded in the long-established customs and codes of behaviour of families in Lebanon and in the first generation of Lebanese families in Australia. Emergent family values are those which are developing in response to the economic, political, social and cultural changes taking place in both Lebanese and Australian societies. The information in this chapter is derived from secondary sources, focus group discussions and the writer's direct involvement as a member of a family of Lebanese origin.

Lebanese migration to Australia

Lebanese migration to Australia has taken place in three major waves: the first from around 1880 to 1947, the second from 1947 to 1975, and the third from 1975. Each is distinctive in terms of the backgrounds, numbers and characteristics of Lebanese immigrants, as well as the social and economic conditions of Australia at the time.

From stranger to settler, 1880-1947

Until the First World War the area now known as Lebanon was part of the Ottoman or Turkish Empire. Despite calling themselves and being known as Syrians, the first immigrants from the area were classified by the Australian Government as Turks. This created a problem for the small Lebanese communities in Sydney and Melbourne during the First World War when Turkey was an enemy of the British Empire of which Australia was then a proud member. While some young Lebanese men fought for Australia, other members of the Lebanese community were required to report weekly to police stations to be checked as enemy aliens.

After the French mandate over Syria was established in 1920 immigration officials began to recognise the Lebanese as a distinctive group, but it was only when Lebanon achieved semi-autonomous statehood in 1926 that immigrants began arriving with Lebanese passports. Not until 1954 did Australia classify Lebanese and Syrian immigrants in separate categories.

The pioneer immigrants of the first wave came from various parts of Lebanon, with the largest numbers coming from Tripoli and its surrounding villages in north Lebanon, and from Beirut and its surrounding districts. The great majority were Maronite, Melkite and Orthodox Christians. Most were from farming stock who gave their loyalty first to their extended family and second to other members of their village, who typically shared their religion. Unlike many other immigrants from Asia and Europe during this period, the Lebanese quickly brought out their families and made an early commitment to settle.

Almost all early Lebanese immigrants became hawkers soon after their arrival. They would purchase goods from merchants in Sydney and Melbourne and peddle their wares predominantly in the country areas of New South Wales and Victoria. After years of hawking many would open drapery shops in country towns and later in the capital cities.

Small communities of 'Syrians' (as they were then known) lived in the Redfern area in Sydney and in the Khara, an area bounded by Lonsdale Street, La Trobe Street and the Exhibition Gardens in the inner-city area of Melbourne. They lived in relative isolation from the mainstream Australian community, preserving their religion through the establishment of a small number of churches, and maintaining their culture and cuisine in their homes.

The descendants of first-wave Lebanese settlers now extend to five and six generations and, in general, there has been a significant decline in traditional Lebanese values and practices during the 100 or so years of their settlement in Australia.

The new Lebanese, 1947-75

In the three decades after the Second World War-the period of the most sustained migrant intake in Australia's history-Lebanese immigration was at first quite small and then grew rapidly. The years 1947-61 saw a net gain of about 400 Lebanese settlers a year and 1961-66 about 800 a year. Following the 1967 ArabIsraeli war and continuing conflict in Lebanon, this figure increased to 3000 per year during 1966-71, declining a little during 1971-76. By 1976 the number of Lebanese-born people in Australia was 33424 (Batrouney 1992, pp. 427-8).

These newly arrived Lebanese were mainly Christians and nearly all had received some formal education in Lebanon. They emigrated to improve their standard of living. The few churches and other community organisations already in existence were strengthened by the new arrivals, and other Christian churches in addition to Sunni Islamic mosques were established in both Sydney and Melbourne.

During this period most Lebanese, both men and women, found their first jobs in the manufacturing industries which had sprung up in the post-war years. Many then entered small businesses such as milk bars, coffee lounges and taxi-driving. Previous developments, such as Lebanon gaining semi-autonomous statehood in 1926 and the achievement of Lebanese independence in 1943, meant that those emigrating in the post-war years clearly identified themselves as Lebanese. Second-wave Lebanese-Australian families now include at least three generations and their settlement in Australia covers a period of about 40 years.

A people divided, 1975-

The third period of immigration was ushered in by the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon in late 1975. Between 1976 and 1981 more than 16000 Lebanese arrived, contributing to a Lebaneseborn population of 51371 in 1981 which, by 1986, had grown to 56 337 (Batrouney and Batrouney 1985, p. 85). The third wave included more Muslims than Catholics (Maronite and Melkite) and Orthodox believers. The effect was to challenge the Christian (mainly Maronite) dominance of the Lebanese-Australian community and, at the same time, to identify Lebanese Muslims as a significant Muslim group in Australia, second only to the Turkish Muslims (Batrouney 1992).

The economic conditions in Australia which greeted the immigrants were more difficult than those experienced by earlier Lebanese settlers. The new arrivals suffered very high rates of unemployment. Third-wave Lebanese-Australian families typically include only two generations and their settlement in Australia covers less than 20 years.

The Lebanese population in Australia

At the 1991 census the number of Lebanese-born in Australia had reached 68 787, an increase of 19400 or 39 per cent over the decade 1981-91; 52.5 per cent were males and 47.5 per cent were females. The author estimates that the total number of Lebaneseborn and people of Lebanese descent is almost 200 000 or 1.2 per cent of the Australian population. Around 75 per cent of the Lebanese-born live in New South Wales and 20 per cent in Victoria, with much smaller numbers in the other States. The great majority of Lebanese-Australians live in the capital cities.

In the early years of the civil war, immigration from Lebanon constituted as much as 4.3 per cent of Australia's total immigration. However, in recent years settler arrivals from Lebanon slowed, decreasing to 1.4 per cent of all arrivals in 1992-93. At the same time, largely due to the cessation of hostilities in Lebanon and the continuing high unemployment levels in Australia, departures of Lebanese settlers from Australia reached 0.3 per cent of all departures in 1990-91, 0.7 per cent in 1991-92 and 0.5 per cent in 1992-93 (BIPR 1993c, p. 22 and p. 27).

The religious affiliations of the Lebanese-born in Australia are: Catholic (40 per cent), Muslim (37 per cent) and Orthodox (13 per cent) (BIPR 1994c). Over three-quarters of the Catholics belong to the Maronite eastern-rite sect, which is found only in Lebanon and the diaspora, while a smaller proportion belong to the Melkite sect, which shares similar forms of worship and religious practices with the Orthodox church but has given allegiance to the Roman Catholic Pope since the eighteenth century. The great majority of the Orthodox are members of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, which is identical in faith to the other Orthodox churches such as the Greek, Russian, Serbian and Romanian. The Antiochian Orthodox are to be found mainly in Lebanon, Syria and the diaspora. There are also much smaller groups of Christians such as the Oriental Orthodox (around 2 per cent) whose faith and worship is similar to the Antiochian Orthodox but who come under different jurisdictions. Small numbers of Protestants are also to be found in Lebanon and the diaspora.

The majority of Muslims in Australia adhere to the Sunni sect (around 33 per cent of the total Lebanese-born) while much smaller numbers are adherents of the Alawite sect (around 2 per cent) and the Shiite sect (around 1 per cent). The Druse account for 1.2 per cent of the Lebanese-born in Australia. The Sunnis believe that after the death of Muhammad the leadership of the Islamic community passed to a succession of caliphs, elected by the community from the Quraish, the tribe of the Prophet. Both the Shiites and Alawites believe that on the death of Muhammad the spiritual leadership of Islam passed to a line of imams descended from the Prophet through his son-in-law and cousin, Ali. The distinction between these two sects lies in the special reverence which the Alawites accord Ali.

In terms of households, of over 30 000 Lebanese-born people in Australia in 1991 the great majority (94.3 per cent) lived in the following family groupings: couples without children (12.2 per cent), two-parent families with children (73.6 per cent) and oneparent families (8.5 per cent). Only 4.7 per cent lived in a single-person household (1991 census, table provided by ABS). The relatively.large number of one-parent families is a legacy of the deaths and social dislocation caused by the civil war.

A major characteristic of the Lebanese-born in Australia over the last decade has been the high unemployment rate, which reached 33.7 per cent in 1991 (33.8 per cent for males, 31.3 per cent for married females and 38.9 per cent for other females) (BIPR 1994c). Among the factors which could account for these unemployment figures are: lack of English language proficiency; relatively recent arrival in Australia; disruption to education and work experience caused by the civil war and consequent lack of educational qualifications and references; the decline in the number of jobs in manufacturing industries, which had traditionally provided the first jobs for both first- and second-wave Lebanese immigrants; and discrimination in recruitment by Australian employers.

Lebanese-Australian families

Lebanese-Australian families are very diverse. As noted earlier, some are the descendants of the first wave of Lebanese immigration and extend now to the fifth and sixth generations. There is a significant decline in traditional values and practices among this group, with perhaps a certain degree of family cohesion, and Lebanese cuisine, being the only surviving remnants of Lebanese traditions. Families established by second-wave immigrants are now into their third and, in some cases, fourth generations. Given the larger numbers in this group and the more established Lebanese communities to which they belong, there is some retention of Lebanese values in these families. The third major wave of immigrants from Lebanon, including humanitarian entrants, typically consists of no more than two generations. Traditional Lebanese values are more strongly maintained by members of this group for a variety of reasons, such as their forced departure from Lebanon, relatively short time in Australia, and return visits to Lebanon. This maintenance of Lebanese values has also been aided by improved transport and communication systems such as air travel, long-distance telephone calls, newspapers, videotapes and films, all of which have reduced for this group the social and cultural isolation from their homeland experienced by first- and second-wave settlers.

As illustrated above, Lebanese-Australian families differ in their religious affiliations. While religious affiliation has obvious relevance for religious faith and practices, perhaps its major importance in Australia is that it provides a means of identifying the sector of the Lebanese community to which a family belongs or used to belong. Religious affiliation, family membership and village or town of origin constitute the major means of social identification among Lebanese-Australians. Among the descendants of both the first and second waves of immigration, religious participation is declining and affiliation to the faith their families brought with them from Lebanon is becoming attenuated. For example, many Lebanese Catholics of second and later generations are deserting their eastern rites and attending Roman Catholic churches, while some former Antiochian Orthodox are to be found attending Anglican, Catholic and other churches.

Apart from religion Lebanese-Australian families also vary in terms of their rural or urban origin. While this is no longer an issue for those families which have been in Australia for a number of generations, it is an important differentiating factor among more recently arrived families. Urban families are likely to be less traditional and more inclined to accept emergent values than are families from a rural background.

Some families remain attached to the Lebanese community through their attendance at Lebanese churches and mosques, and by sending their children to Saturday Arabic-language schools or to Lebanese day schools and child care centres. Others, often living in outer suburban areas, mix less with other Lebanese-Australians and integrate more quickly with the wider Australian community.

The occupations, educational levels and socio-economic status of family members are also important variants among families. Over time these constitute the most powerful determinants of the values held by Lebanese-Australian families.

Lebanese family structures

Given the variations outlined above, it is to be expected that Lebanese-Australian family structures will vary. Extended families consist of parents and children, grandparents and possibly one or more unmarried uncles or aunts. Over time the typical family pattern becomes that of a nuclear family, with parents and children living in the one household. A common variant is a modified extended family in which married. children live near their parents to enable frequent interaction of extended family members for visiting and babysitting purposes, and so that grandchildren can stay with grandparents. This family structure provides for a degree of independence for the different generations, as well as much mutual assistance, support and conviviality.

Another important structural factor is the extent to which family members are separated from loved ones in Lebanon. The separation of families leads to a greater number of return visits to Lebanon, with consequent strengthening of ties and retention of Lebanese values. Sometimes families are spread over two or three continents. In these instances it is common to arrange a reunion of all family members in Lebanon, again strengthening ties and sustaining values. However, the retention of traditional values is no simple matter in either Lebanon or Australia, as both societies are subject to a pervasive western popular culture which appears to be challenging traditional values as much in Lebanon as in Australia.

Lebanese-Australian families can also vary in terms of whether they are patriarchal, whereby men hold well-established formal positions of authority, or modified patriarchal, whereby patriarchal norms have been modified by egalitarian norms in the upper strata of society so that authority is associated with education and income. These two would be the more common Lebanese family types in Australia. Some second and later generation Lebanese families approximate the Australian norm of transitional egalitarian families where men achieve power and esteem through educational, occupational and income channels and not simply by tradition. Some later generation Lebanese-Australian families may have reached a situation of egalitarianism marked by a high level of power-sharing between husband and wife (Brown 1994). These variations both express and determine different family values.

The size and cohesiveness of families impact on the extent of family members' interactions within or outside the family. In general, larger and more cohesive families provide greater opportunities for interaction with other family members than do smaller, less cohesive families. This, in turn, has a direct effect on the importance of the family as a socialisation agent of Lebanese values.

In all families Lebanese women have played a key role. As wives, mothers and grandmothers, women have helped to maintain unity within their own families and to form links between families in the community. The contribution of women has been expressed through traditional activities such as care for their children and grandchildren, the preparation of food and nurture of the sick.

At the same time, many Lebanese women have been active participants in the workforce in a variety of jobs, depending on their educational level, socio-economic status and occupational opportunities. Over the three immigration waves Lebanese women have been partners in family businesses, process workers in factories, and semi-professional and professional workers. While their role as working women may have increased their influence within family decision making, they have in general continued to assume the major responsibility for domestic chores (Batrouney and Batrouney 1985, p. 43).

Despite the great variety of Lebanese-Australian families, researchers and the Lebanese themselves agree that the family is the single most important institution to which they belong. McKay (1989), in his study of three generations of Lebanese Christians in Australia, found that the family was the most enduring of the institutions the Lebanese brought with them, and that family factors were the main reason why the second and third generation felt Lebanese even if they could not speak Arabic and had never been to a Lebanese church. For this group of Lebanese, ethnic identity was highly privatised in the family and did not extend to other institutions such as work, religion and politics.

This pervasive familism extends across the three immigration waves and all Lebanese social and religious groups. For example, Humphrey (1984b) found that concern with family values and reliance on family members were strong among both Christian and Muslim respondents. The importance of the family was seen in the sponsorship of relatives, arranged marriages, assistance of all forms given to new arrivals, child care arrangements and household composition. It is in this context that certain family values are now examined.

Family values

The range of values held by Lebanese-Australian families can best be understood by seeking to locate them along a continuum ranging from traditional to emergent. Accordingly, traditional family values and the ways in which they are being retained and/or changed in Australia will be discussed.


A traditional Lebanese proverb advises: 'Work until you are exhausted rather than be humiliated'. This suggests that work is to be valued not only as a means of earning a living but also as a means of establishing one's honour and standing in a community; failure to work is shameful. In rural Lebanon the family constituted an economic unit with all members involved in a range of agricultural and/or domestic activities. Women did the domestic work and helped with the growing and processing of food crops. It is acceptable for Lebanese women in the cities, especially if they are educated, to work for a living.

The lives of many first- and second-wave Lebanese immigrants exemplified values such as diligence, thrift and abstemiousness. Many first-wave immigrants and their descendants undertook a sequential range of occupations from hawking to shopkeeping to work in manufacturing industries and finally to professional and managerial occupations (Batrouney 1979, pp. 309-20). Secondwave immigrants moved from working in manufacturing industries to ownership of small businesses to working in larger businesses in the service sector. The occupational pathway of second-wave immigrants has been shorter than that of first-wave settlers, with some members of the second and third generations gaining access to professional and managerial positions. Significant unemployment experienced by third-wave immigrants is denying them access to upward occupational mobility and even, in some cases, to the dignity of work itself. Unemployment also places considerable stress on family relationships. Men's lack of access to productive work threatens their traditional role in the family, particularly if women become the sole breadwinner. Community workers report that the stresses of unemployment for Lebanese males have contributed to the incidence of marriage breakdown, domestic violence and child abuse in some Lebanese families. In addition, high rates of unemployment have meant that third-wave families and religious institutions such as churches and mosques have not been able to carry out their traditional role of finding jobs for their members.

In each wave of immigration women have worked alongside their husbands and children. For some first-wave women this involved accompanying their hawker husbands, or sewing clothes or softgoods for them to sell. Second- and third-wave Lebanese women have worked in factories and later in family milkbars, restaurants and other service industries.

This analysis illustrates the value accorded entrepreneurial activity, typically undertaken by the family as a unit, or by two or more members of a family. Entrepreneurial activity has been made possible by a combination of family cohesion and patriarchal control. The former provides the strength and cooperation of the group and the latter an unchallenged unity of purpose and direction. In pursuit of the goal of owning their own businesses, Lebanese-Australians have travelled extensively, separated themselves from their families, taken great financial risks and abandoned educational aspirations. However, the value of entrepreneurship found stronger expression in the lives of the first and second generations, rather than subsequent generations, of Lebanese settlers. Thus there is a discernible movement from traditional to emergent values in relation to work as a result of immigration. For example, second- and third-generation Lebanese are moving away from entrepreneurial activities in small service businesses to employment in larger companies in the tertiary sector. This has the effect over time of reducing the cohesiveness and shared values of Lebanese-Australian families.


'Step by step the ladder is ascended.' If entrepreneurial business activity is one means of upward social mobility, another is educational achievement. Lebanese families typically have an instrumental view of education, strongly encouraging their children to achieve educational success so they may become well-paid and prestigious professionals. This aspiration is accompanied by a traditional view of education based on transmission of facts, respect for teachers as learned persons, and a strict morality. Lebanese parents tend to be sceptical of the value of social education, discovery learning and some leisure activities. Some parents feel that education and teachers are too intrusive in areas which are properly the domain of the family. Examples cited in focus-group discussions included the conduct of sex education classes at school; teachers enquiring of children whether they were being physically abused at home; teachers reporting cases of suspected physical violence to the police; and teachers offering advice to students on Austudy to seek an allowance that would enable them to live away from home.

Many Lebanese, both in Lebanon and in Australia, retain a traditional view of education. However, there is evidence among Lebanese-Australians of emergent values that are more congruent with economic and social conditions in Australia. One example is to be found in a study of Lebanese post-primary students in Victoria in which parents expressed aspirations for their children which were realistic in terms of the families' socio-economic and cultural backgrounds (Batrouney 1991). A second example is the view, which emerged in group discussions, that girls should be given the same educational opportunities as boys ('We want the girls to learn like the boys ... they can use their education like a weapon'). This is contrasted with the situation in Lebanon where education is costly and where, if choices have to be made, preference is given to all or some of the boys in a family. This belief in the ameliorative value of education is illustrated in a study which found that most Lebanese women respondents believed their lives would be improved if they had access to adult education. The major reasons given were a desire for greater independence and better quality of life; a wish to improve friendships and social life; an opportunity to learn new skills; and a chance to get a job (Faour and Elalfy 1986).

There is also evidence that, by the third generation, Australians of Lebanese ancestry, both men and women, aged 18-34 years, are achieving tertiary qualifications at a rate higher than almost all other ancestry groups (Jones 1991, tables C. 6 and C. 7). This suggests that the educational achievement values of Lebanese families, which enable them to succeed in the Australian education system, have not found full realisation until the third generation.


As has been indicated, religion represents a major form of social identity for Lebanese people, both in Lebanon and Australia. Lebanon consists of a mosaic of religious faiths: Muslim, Christian and Druse, each divided into a number of sects and each forming its own community. This is reflected in Lebanese constitutional arrangements which recognise 17 different religious communities and allocate positions in the government in accordance with their size and significance. The dominant role of religion in Lebanon derives from the Ottoman control of the region in which the country was divided into millets or communities of religious believers. Each millet was a self-governing entity with its own laws which overrode local laws, giving both spiritual and temporal powers to the traditional religious leaders. This form of control continued under the French mandate (from 1920 to 1943) and hindered the development of Lebanon as a unified nation.

The first community organisations which Lebanese immigrants established in Australia were churches and mosques, and religious leaders were the most important community leaders, providing a focal point for religious, social and cultural activities. As the community became more established other organisations, such as village organisations, welfare bodies and formal Lebanese associations, began to appear and the dominant role of religious organisations and their leaders declined over time.

One study found that 78 per cent of Lebanese respondents, compared with 48 per cent of Maltese and 42 per cent of Vietnamese respondents (McAllister 1991, p. 40), thought religion was very important. The importance of religion as a form of exclusive social identity was illustrated in the focus-group discussions where all the women said they preferred their children to marry a person of their faith, even if they were not Lebanese.

The picture of continuity and change in religious values was evident in a study of Lebanese Catholic women's experiences of First Communion in Maronite or Melkite Catholic churches in Lebanon and in Roman Catholic churches in Australia (Onley 1990). In this study it was found that the atmosphere and impact of First Communion in the more cohesive, mono-religious communities of Lebanon had a more lasting effect on participants than did the same ceremony in Australia. The women, who had a strong tradition of family devotional customs in Lebanon, maintained these in Australia, including regular attendance at Sunday worship. Thus there was continuity in their faith values even though the women were clearly aware of the different socio-religious environment in Australia. Migration to a multi-faith or secular society such as Australia meant that the women relied even more on the extended family for rearing their children religiously. Thus religious belief and practice became more a private and family matter than one which involved the community at large.

Family values associated with religion are concerned with maintaining one's affiliation to the religion of the family, engaging in worship and other forms of religious practices and, in the case of Muslims, observing codes of behaviour and dress required by their faith. Religion is also an important source of values associated with social activities and stages in the life cycle, as discussed below.


Humphrey (1984a) identified a conflict between values expressed by the Lebanese Muslim immigrant family and community on the one hand and Australian courts on the other. In the resolution of disputes the dominant Lebanese value is that of honour, which refers to sum'a (individual honour) or sharaf (family honour); these are interdependent concepts in that a matter of individual honour can quickly become a matter of family honour. The concept of honour helps to maintain social order in the face of the alien and threatening social and economic structures of Australian society. The four main areas in which disputes may be expressed in terms of honour are conflict over women, economic transactions, community politics and official intervention in family or community affairs (Humphrey 1984a, pp. 54-6), all of which are subject to Australian laws and government action. Disputes related to conflicts over women and official intervention in family affairs reflect, in particular, Lebanese family values.

Because family honour is located in, among other areas, the behaviour of women, women are seen to be vulnerable targets in need of protection by the males in the family. Perceived failure to protect women, or loss of control over women in the family, reflects on the reputation of the head of the household in the community (Humphrey 1984a, p. 56). This is illustrated by a case which involved a daughter of a Lebanese family who eloped with a young man from another Lebanese family. The couple were discovered, meetings were held between the two families, the priest and other mediators, and the marriage did not take place. This episode appeared to be a major factor in the decline of the young woman's family's involvement in church and community activities and its return to Lebanon.

In Lebanon this episode would have been regarded as a typical elopement, the marriage would have taken place and the father of the young woman would have been reconciled to the marriage and given his retrospective blessing. In Australia, however, the episode revealed a clash of values between the traditional views of the parents of the young man, who wanted the marriage to go ahead, and those of the young woman's family, who opposed the marriage on a number of grounds, including the fact that their daughter was under age and because their educational and social aspirations for her would not have been achieved had the marriage gone ahead.

The other important area in which male authority and honour are threatened is that of official intervention in family relations. The intrusion of government officials or police into the domestic arena is seen as undermining the social position and honour of the male head of the household (Humphrey 1984a, p. 58). The following example, concerning the eldest son of a Lebanese family caught shoplifting by the police, reveals something of the clash of values in this area. When the police brought the boy home the father paid the $50 fine and then physically disciplined his son by beating him. The son's teacher, who became aware that the boy had been beaten, reported the incident to the police who again approached the father. The father told the police that he hit his son to stop him stealing. After the boy had been caught shoplifting a second time and the police took the boy home, the father's response was: 'I will pay the fine and another fine for hitting my child but if you want to control my son you can take him. 1 will go back to Lebanon'. This case clearly illustrates the father's patriarchal values in relation to the control and disciplining of his son vis-a-vis the involvement of state authorities, as represented by the police and the teacher acting to protect the child. It thus depicts the clash of traditional Lebanese family values with the interventionist values of the modern democratic state.

Other social values

The Lebanese espouse a cluster of traditional values associated with family hospitality and entertainment. The extent to which a family can entertain and the status of those it entertains are measures of the family'S reputation and standing in the community. Hospitality is accompanied by the important custom of visiting other family members and friends in the community. Visits are typically unannounced and require the host family to offer hospitality in the form of drinks, sweets, coffee and fruit which, after repeated offerings, the guests are expected to accept. Extending and receiving hospitality is reciprocal and provides for interaction and cohesion in the Lebanese community.

A related value is family conviviality in which family gatherings and celebrations, including those celebrating births, baptisms (in Christian families), engagements and marriages, provide the most important and enjoyable social activities. These family social gatherings not only span the generations but also include two value systems: a traditional one from the old country, espoused by the older members of the family, and an emergent one derived from younger family members. Thus the one function may have traditional Lebanese food and dancing as well as modern dancing and entertainment.

This traditional picture of family visiting, entertainment and conviviality has undergone substantial change under the impact of Australian social and economic conditions, as illustrated in a case study of a first-wave Lebanese family. For its first 30 years in Australia the family fitted the picture of traditional family solidarity and cohesion identified above, as family members worked, played and prayed together. However, with the third and later generations the family became geographically, occupationally and socially diverse, changing over time from an extended family to a modified extended family, until now it consists of a cluster of nuclear families. The family's social values have also changed so that, now, they are largely indistinguishable from Australian social values (Batrouney, Mansour and Batrouney 1989).

Family values associated with the life cycle

While it is acknowledged that religious beliefs are at the centre of life for traditional Lebanese families both Muslim and Christian, the two religious communities do not have significantly different attitudes to the basic human situations of marriage, childbirth, child rearing, sickness, death and bereavement. Apart from the strictly religious rituals and regulations, such family occasions and practices bear witness to values which are common to Christian and Muslim alike (Shboul 1985, p. 20).

Family size

In 1986 Lebanese-born women had the highest birth rate of any ethnic group in Australia, 4.3 children per family (Hugo 1993, p. 3). This is one indication of the importance of children in the Lebanese family and culture. The Lebanese have a saying: 'Every child comes with its own fortune'. In a study of antenatal care for Muslim Lebanese women, children were seen by the respondents as a fundamental good, important in Lebanese tradition and part ofthe definition of a happy and meaningful life and marriage. Women said that, although men often hoped to have sons to ensure the continuation of the family name, girls also had an important place in the family, especially for mothers (Hickey, Trompf and Reid 1991). The traditional preference for boys continues in more muted and ambivalent form in Australia, as revealed in one woman's comments: 'Our people love boys. To me, they're all the same, but men, they love boys. I think he doesn't mind girls really' (p. 10).

In one study it is claimed that having large families might become an important element in Lebanese Muslim identity in Australia, in that it could reinforce values surrounding women remammg in the home and the traditional sexual division of labour, and could help promote a sense of family identity and belonging (Humphrey 1984b, p. 46). A large family can certainly provide a sense of security and identity for newly arrived Lebanese immigrants in Australia. On the other hand, it is likely that a set of countervailing factors in Australia will make for smaller families over time. Such factors include: a strong desire to achieve the security of purchasing and paying off a home; a growing individualism as parents' choices begin to be less constrained by the expectations of the extended family and community; and greater awareness of modern forms of contraception. These factors may account for the fact that Lebanese Christian families, resident in Australia for a longer period, are generally smaller than Lebanese Muslim families.


The information available shows that there is a great variety of Lebanese family values associated with pregnancy and childbirth, ranging from traditional values typically associated with rural life in Lebanon to a cluster of emergent values which approximate the views of Australian women as a whole. Service providers present an account of traditional Lebanese women resisting the use of antenatal services until late in pregnancy, possessing a degree of ignorance about health risks and ideal health behaviours during pregnancy, deferring to the authority of the husband in decision making about most family matters including when and whether to seek care (Hassan, Healy and McKenna 1985); together with the husband's lack of involvement in the pregnancy by not assisting with housework or attending the birth. Earlier studies reported by Hickey, Trompf and Reid (1991) also identified Muslim Lebanese women's aversion to pelvic examinations and their firm preference for female doctors, as well as their reservations about the cross-cultural sensitivity of health care providers and the public clinic environment.

Among other traditional Muslim Lebanese practices is the need for a woman to rest in bed for a week after giving birth and to remain at home for 40 days, during which time she receives the assistance of family members and accepts their congratulations and gifts. During this time, too, the woman is exempt from all religious duties. The traditional preference is to have boys rather than girls and the first son is special because it is through him that the family name will be passed on. The parents of a first son are referred to as the mother of (son's name) or the father of (son's name) and the first son is normally given his paternal grandfather's name. In accordance with their religion Muslim boys are normally circumcised during their first year.

While there is little doubt that traditional practices such as these are still to be found among some Muslim Lebanese families, there is also evidence of emergent practices among the women. Hickey, Trompf and Reid (1991) found that Muslim Lebanese women were no less concerned about and aware of beneficial health practices in pregnancy than many other Australian women. However, those without extended family in Australia missed the support and guidance of extended family members. Comments about their husbands' contributions to the household were very varied and did not support the stereotype of strictly differentiated roles in the home. Almost all of the women had chosen to see their local doctor early in their pregnancy, delaying their contact with the hospital until later. Most reported that they did not mind seeing a male doctor for obstetric care, pointing out that almost all doctors in Lebanon were males. The exception was younger women pregnant for the first time who preferred to see a female doctor (Hickey, Trompf and Reid 1991, pp. 19-22). In short, the major finding of the study was the great range of responses regarding particular customs and values.

Childhood and adolescence

A host of traditional values underpin the upbringing of children in Lebanese families. Given the patriarchal nature of the traditional family, there is a clear sex-role differentiation in child rearing. For example, boys are dressed in masculine clothes and are allowed to behave aggressively and play roughly. They are not expected to help in the house but there is great pressure on them to do well at school. Girls are dressed in feminine clothes, are not permitted to be rough or to show their bodies, and are expected to help with the household chores and the care of their younger siblings. They are more strictly supervised than boys and are expected to be virgins when they marry (Semaan and Stambouliah 1981, p. 143).

The focus-group discussions generally supported a degree of sex-role differentiation. For example, in response to a question about why boys are allowed to go out unattended and girls are not, the following responses were made: 'The girl goes out with her mother ... not alone'; 'I am afraid for her virginity; the son doesn't bring shame but the girl brings shame'; 'I'm scared for the girls here . . . maybe the girls are not straight here . . . my daughter here is an angel but I don't know what she does'. The fears expressed relate to loss of virginity, shame on the family and reduced prospects of marriage.

A number of responses also indicated concern for sons, with fears being expressed that the son would become attached to an Australian girl or get involved in drug use. The responses suggested that family conflicts over the degree of freedom for young people were more likely to occur in relation to sons than to daughters. One woman recounted the story of her son, who left home after being locked out of the house by his father for repeatedly staying out late. She related what happened after she discovered where her son was staying: 'I cried and kissed his feet to come back home . . . he came with me and we sent him to Lebanon where he became engaged and, after one year and seven months, he returned- home ... 1 won my child'.

This case reveals the conflict for some Lebanese adolescents between traditional family values and Australian peer group values. It also illustrates the common parental solution of sending children to Lebanon to strengthen their ties with relatives, to reinforce Lebanese family values and, in the process, to find a marriage partner approved by the parents.

The family is the major socialisation agent of core values of honour and shame. These practices have both a private and a public face as indicated by the common parental injunction to children: 'What will people say about us if they see you doing that?'. Thus the behaviour of individuals has a direct bearing on the community'S perceptions of the honour (or shame) which attaches to the family. Some of the honourable practices which keep the family in good standing are: being respectful to elders; obedience to parents at all stages of life; generosity to those in need; being hospitable to guests and strangers; remaining close to family through visits, letters and telephone calls; supporting the family through work and participation in family celebrations; striving for a good education; upholding the traditions of the family; being involved in community affairs; and performing religious and social duties within the community.

Some of the things that bring shame are: disrespect to the family; single children moving away from home; daughters going out at night unchaperoned, with the attendant risks of loss of virginity and pregnancy; being involved in crime; not showing respect or extending hospitality; marrying outside one's religion or without parental consent; men and women living together outside marriage; and not performing one's duties towards parents, especially when they are old (Fakhri 1987, p. 4).

It must be remembered that the above represent family values of the ideal typical traditional Lebanese family and that in both Lebanon and Australia the impact of modernisation and western culture, especially popular culture, are eroding these values. Traditional values are more likely to be found in the first generation of each of the immigration waves and to erode with each succeeding generation and immigrant wave. For example, third-wave immigrants, who have been subjected to the political and social turmoil of the Lebanese civil war and in many cases to unemployment in Australia, appear to adhere to these values less than did the earlier immigrants. For some of the third-wave group the values associated with work are not able to be realised, leading to a heavy dependence on social security benefits with a consequent loss of independence, incentive and ambition.

A comparison of a sample of Lebanese-born mothers with Australian-born mothers reveals some interesting differences in their expectations of children's educational development. The findings suggest that the Lebanese mothers showed a strong achievement orientation, valuing straight success with little subtlety and/or differentiation on their part-with a few face-saving notions about children trying or doing their best. Australian-born parents revealed a greater knowledge of the school system and a correspondingly more differentiated definition of success, stipulating, for example, the desirability of success in certain key subjects (Goodnow and Cashmore 1985, p. 235).

This study also found that the Lebanese-born mothers had a more relaxed timetable than the Australian-born mothers did in relation to their children acquiring adult skills and values, in particular verbal assertiveness and social skills with peers. The attitude to verbal assertiveness is probably related to the fact that Lebanese children are expected to adopt a more deferential attitude to parents and other adults than are Australian children. The attitude to social skills reflects the different orientation towards families and peer groups of Lebanese and Australian families, with the Lebanese traditionally seeking deeper and closer links within the family and Australians seeing the family as providing a launching pad into the wider society (Goodnow and Cashmore 1985, p. 237).

Furthermore, Australian-born mothers were more inclined to favour invisible pedagogy, believing in the educative value of play and the role of informal learning inside and outside the classroom. Lebanese mothers were more oriented towards visible pedagogy and formal teaching (p. 238). This may relate to the latter's own experiences of classroom teaching, and to their inability to assist their children in Australia, thereby having to rely on the more formal setting of the school.


The traditional Lebanese injunction to 'marry your own kind' carries with it a number of key values associated with marriage. The first is the importance of marrying a Lebanese person from one's own religious community and preferably from one's own village or town. A male Lebanese immigrant commonly returns to his village, marries and then brings his wife to Australia. The value of endogamy (marrying within one's community) was strongly endorsed by participants in the focus-group discussions. Comments included: 'You can only trust someone from your own religion, village and country'; 'The Lebanese woman bears more ... she will be more patient'. These comments were accompanied by stories of Lebanese men being left by their Australian wives, who take custody of the children and keep the property-stories which serve to strengthen the value of endogamy among the Lebanese community.

Traditionally, there is a preference for relatively early marriages- 14 years and over for women and 17 years and over for men. If a woman is not married by around 25 years her chances of finding a suitable marriage partner are much reduced. In fact, marriages in which the males are considerably older than the females are common, especially where the men have emigrated and where they wait until their return to Lebanon before marrying. The typical pattern is for sons and daughters to continue to live in the parental home until they marry.

Given the importance of marriage, parents traditionally have a major role in the selection of a marriage partner, varying from the parents actually selecting the partner and arranging the marriage to the increasingly common situation where young people meet and decide to marry but require first the parents' consent (Semaan and Stambouliah 1981, p. 141). While parental consent is normal, written consent is required in the case of minors (under 18 years for males and under 16 years for females). Consent is an absolute requirement for daughters for whom the issue of parental permission is based not so much on the daughter's juvenile status but on the family's honour (Humphrey 1981, p. 11). For a Muslim couple the drawing up of the marriage contract is the official marriage, but the marriage is not consummated until the marriage celebration takes place, sometimes days later.

There is no legal or customary prohibition against Lebanese Muslims marrying blood relatives such as cousins, including first cousins. For example, of 32 Lebanese Muslim women who attended an antenatal clinic twelve reported that they were related to their husbands, with marriages being to first, second, third or distant cousins or other relatives (Hickey, Trompf and Reid 1991, pp. 3-4). Consanguinity in marriage relationships may occur for many reasons, including meeting familial obligations, gaining compatible marriage partners and strengthening bonds within the extended family. Marriage between blood relatives also occurs among Christians but it normally requires religious absolution and permission.

Under Shari'a law (Muslim religious law) the groom pays a marriage price or maher to the bride or the bride's father to assist with the establishment of the home. The smaller part of the maher, known as the moukaddam, is paid at the khoutubah or engagement and the larger part is paid as mouakhar or delayed dowry if the husband divorces his wife. This delayed dowry, the larger sum, provides a degree of financial security for the wife against the husband's traditional right of repudiation. Although the dowry is announced in the marriage ceremony by the officiating imam, it is not enforceable in Australian law. This is overcome by the groom writing a note of indebtedness to the bride, which is held in trust by a solicitor. In this way both Australian family law and Shari'a law can enforce the payment of a dowry in Australia and in Lebanon (Humphrey 1981, p. 13). A Christian marriage does not normally entail a dowry but rather an agreed social custom whereby the husband provides a house with furniture while the wife provides all the furnishings for the main bedroom including her trousseau. The furnishings and trousseau are known as albayad, meaning white-coloured, which symbolises the purity of the bride (Semaan and Stambouliah 1981, p. 141).

As marriage involves the establishment of new relationships between families, when a marriage begins to break down attempts at mediation are made by influential members of the family or the community to preserve the marriage and the family relationships. For Muslim Lebanese in Australia divorce or dissolution of marriages provides a clear clash of values. In Lebanon, under Shari'a law, the male has a unilateral right of divorce and the right of custody of male children older than seven years and female children older than nine years. If a wife were to leave home with her children, or if a husband believed his wife had committed adultery, he could exercise his traditional paternal rights by immediate repudiation, which involves the thrice-repeated 'I divorce you'. However, Shari'a law imposes a number of costs and conditions upon the husband before the immediate repudiation becomes the final act of divorce. The husband believes that in following Shari'a law he is exercising his natural religious rights. However, in Australia the application of the Family Law Act deprives the Muslim male of his privileged rights under Shari'a law. While application to ,the imam for a Shari'a divorce can be made, such a divorce cannot settle matters of property, maintenance or custody (Humphrey 1981, p. 14). In these matters Australian family law, with its emphasis on the welfare and protection of the child and on the rights of both husband and wife, conflicts with the values underpinning Shari'a law.

In two other areas there is a distinction between what may be permissible under Shari'a law and what occurs in practice in both Lebanon and Australia. Under Shari'a law the wife can gain a judicial divorce from her husband under certain conditions but, in doing so, she forfeits her moukhar or late dowry, thus making it very difficult for her to actually take such action. Given the availability of pensions and welfare services in Australia and the possibility of recourse to family law, there are fewer barriers to a woman divorcing in Australia than there are in Lebanon. Furthermore, in Australia a woman may experience less family and community pressure to remain in an unhappy marriage.

The second area is polygamy which, although permitted under certain circumstances by Shari'a law, is not customarily practised in Lebanon and is prohibited in Australia. However, it can sometimes occur when a man takes a second wife after divorcing his first wife according to Shari'a law but not Australian law.

The issue of divorce for Lebanese Christians is not unlike that for Australian Christians. Divorce is generally forbidden for Lebanese Catholics but marriages can be annulled under certain circumstances. For Orthodox Christians the law regarding divorce is similar to that for Catholics but, in practice, it is easier to obtain, requiring a letter from the Patriarch or from the regional bishop. Thus Lebanese Christians, as well as being subject to Australian law, must also conform to the law of their Church.

The traditional values associated with marriage and divorce are subject to change in the Australian context. Perhaps the major means has been through intermarriage. In his study of first-wave Lebanese Christians, McKay (1989) found that 97 per cent of the first generation married Lebanese; in addition, 67 per cent of the second generation and 50 per cent of the third generation who had two Lebanese parents married Lebanese. However, of those who had only one Lebanese parent only 11 per cent of the second generation and 15 per cent of the third generation married Lebanese (p. 72). This general picture of an increase in intermarriage across the generations is also found in a history of a Lebanese family where the rate of marriage to Lebanese declined from 100 per cent for the first generation to 70 per cent for the second generation to 20 per cent for the third generation (Batrouney, Mansour and Batrouney 1989, p. 100).

The rate of in-group marriages differs for brides and grooms. In the period 1987-90 second-generation in-group marriages of brides was 65 per cent and those of grooms 50 per cent (Price 1993, p. 6). These figures reflect the difference in parental control and supervision over Lebanese daughters and sons. However, it is important to note that in-group marriage rates for both Lebanese brides and grooms are among the highest for any country-of-origin group. This suggests that, while recognising that changes in family values will take place in marriages between Lebanese partners, and between Lebanese and non-Lebanese partners, the relatively high level of in-group marriages will ensure a slower rate of change than for other country-of-origin groups with lower rates.

Old age

Respect and care for older family members is of great importance in Lebanese families. Two major aspects are parental expectations and filial obligation. A common household pattern in Lebanon, and a somewhat less common pattern in Australia, is for one or both parents to live with their married son in an extended family household. This has a number of advantages for both generations in terms of sharing domestic tasks, child care and mutual support. However, in Australia it is also fraught with increasing problems, especially in households experiencing unemployment and financial problems. Married children are sometimes unable to support their elderly parents, notwithstanding their undertaking of an Assurance of Support to allow the emigration of their parents to Australia. This leads to tensions and, in some cases, family conflict and the return of one or more parents to Lebanon. Another source of tension lies in the communication and cultural gap between grandparents and their grandchildren, with the former speaking Arabic and typically favouring the retention of traditional values, while the grandchildren speak English as their first language and are busily acquiring the values and practices of Australian young people (Batrouney 1989).

These dilemmas are reflected in the comments of focus-group members, who compared life for the elderly in Lebanon and in Australia. The dominant response was that, despite any problems that may occur, it was better to be where your family was. ('Your home is where your children are.') One woman spoke of how she looked after her grandchildren even more than she did her children when she was in Lebanon and, although she loves her grandchildren here, they are not as loving or caring: 'They have a more soft heart in Lebanon than in Australia'. On the other hand, a number of people spoke appreciatively of the better and cheaper health care in Australia-'In Lebanon they want money to look after you ... here you can get help'-and of the security of a regular pension in Australia. The general picture is highly variable, with most respondents torn between life in Lebanon and life in Australia.

Death and bereavement

Traditionally, Lebanese families share their bereavement not only with all members of their extended family but with the whole community. It is regarded as a duty to visit the house of mourning and extend one's condolences to the bereaved family. In villages in Lebanon and in the immigrant communities in Australia this obligation extends across religious boundaries. While both Christian and Muslim express a degree of fatalism in the face of death and a belief in the sharing of bereavement, each religious group has different beliefs and practices. Lebanese Christians experience no problems in carrying out their traditional practices in Australia, in that services for the dead are similar to those in Australian churches, and cemeteries have sections set aside for the major Christian denominations, which. are used by the Lebanese.

An important part of the preparation for an Islamic burial is the ritual bathing of the body, which should be carried out immediately before burial. After bathing, the body is taken to the mosque where prayers are said and a procession, comprising men only, proceeds to the cemetery. The Muslim requirement of bathing the body immediately before burial has not always been possible in Australia, especially when an autopsy has been required. However, a number of mosques now have facilities which allow for this ritual, preceded by any other legal or medical procedure required. In the belief that for a good person the grave represents Paradise, Muslims prefer to bury their dead in larger graves than are normally provided in Australia.


Lebanese families in Australia present a picture of great variability in terms of immigration waves and length of time in Australia, as well as differences in structure, socio-economic status and religious affiliation. Notwithstanding these differences, the family is identified as the major social institution to which the Lebanese belong. Family values related to social activities and stages in the life cycle are seen as ranging on a continuum from traditional to emergent, with immigration and modernisation appearing to produce a movement away from the more traditional values. However, any such movement is neither uniform nor inevitable, and it is important that we don't make easy assumptions about the values held by Lebanese families. The information in this chapter should be used, rather, as a guide to the values which Lebanese families might possibly hold.