Islam in Lebanon

Islam in Lebanon

Islam in Lebanon is divided between four Muslim sects; Shiites, Sunnis, Alawites, and Ismailis including the Druze. All but Ismailis enjoy proportional representation in parliament.

Muslims (including Druze) account for 59.7% of the total population of Lebanon, where 39% are Christians. [ [ CIA Factbook - Lebanon] ] About 25% of the Lebanese population is Sunni, concentrated largely in coastal cities. Shi'is - about 35% [ [ The New York Times > International > Interactive Feature > Interactive Graphic: Attacks, Day by Day ] ] of the total population of Lebanon - live mostly in the northern area of the Beqaa Valley and southern Lebanon. A religious data in 1985 suggests that the number of Muslims has risen, with 75% compared with Christians at 25%. [ [] Contemporary Religious distribution of Lebanon's main religions] . By the 1980s Shi'is became a large confessional group in Lebanon, leading to demands for better educational and employment opportunities and redistribution of power based on actual numbers. Druze constitute about 5 percent of the population. Alawis are numerically insignificant but have risen in importance since the Gulf War of 1990-1991 due to the growing influence of Syria, where Alawis dominate the government. Ismailis number only a few hundred and play no significant political role. Religious officials of each sect maintain jurisdiction over personal status law. The distribution of political power is based on religious affiliation: the president must be Maronite Catholic Christian, the speaker of the parliament must be Shiite Muslim and the prime minister must be Sunni Muslim.

Shiite community in Lebanon

There is no certainty as to when the Shi'a community first established itself in Lebanon, though they were well settled across the Levant by the tenth century. Later still Shi'a emirates were establlished in Tyre though these collapsed at the time of the First Crusade in 1099. After the fall of the Crusader kingdoms, the Shi'a peoples, who had withdrawn to the hinterland of Lebanon, were persecuted by the new conquerors, the Sunni Mamelukes. People were forced out of the mountainous areas of Kisrawan where they had taken refuge in the wake of the Crusaders, moving through the Beqaa plain, to new strongholds in Jezzanine and Jabal Amil, in what is now the south and east of Lebanon. During the time of the Ottoman Empire the Shi'a were largely ignored, though they found themselves competing for scarce resources with the expanding community of Maronite Christians.

During most of the Ottoman period the Shi'a largely maintained themselves as 'a state apart', though they maintained contact with the Safavid dynysty, which established Shi'a Islam as the state religion of Persia. These contacts made them all the more suspect to the Ottoman Sultan, who was frequently at war with the Persians, as well as being, in the role of Caliph, the leader of the majority Sunni community Shi'a Lebanon, when not subject to political repression, was generally neglected, sinking further and further into the economic background.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the Comte de Volmy was to describe the Shi'a as a distinct society, outside the main currents of Lebanese life; and so they were perceived by their Sunni, Druze and Maronite neighbours, right into the twentieth century. It was by default that they found themselves as part of the new state of Grand Liban, created by the French in September 1920. The Sunni had attempted to resist the French mandate; and when they were defeated, refused to participate in the administration of what they considered to be an artificial political entity. Sunni opposition had aimed at the creation of a 'greater Syria', where the Shia would have been a permanent minority. But in the new state of Lebanon they acquired both an independence and a far greater political significance in relation to the size of their community. This was further emphasised by French colonial policy, which sought to reach out to the Shi'a, with the intention of preventing a possible alliance with the Sunni.

After independence in 1943, although the Shi'a remained part of Lebanon's delicate confessional and political balancing act, their homelands were still economically among the most backward areas. Many of them gravitated towards the slums of Beruit, progressively becoming more radicalised in the process; they also became deeply resentful at the affluence of the Sunni and Christian middle classes, prospering in the liberal atmosphere of the 1950s. In 1959 the Shi'a acquired a more determined and unique voice, when Musa al-Sadr arrived from Qom to take up the position of Mufti. In 1967 he established a Supreme Islamic Shi'a Council, regulating the affairs of the community, and giving it as high a profile in the state as the corporate bodies set up by the Maronite, Sunni and Druze. People who had been carried along by left-wing and secular currents were slowly drawn back into a reinvigorated Islam, many joining Amal, the militia founded by Sadr in 1974. Although Sadr disappeared under mysterious circumstances in 1978, his influence, and his radical message, lived on, contributing later to the rise of Hezbollah. The Lebanese Civil War, and Israeli intervention in southern Lebanon, also went a long way towards consolidataing a new and more radical Shi'a identity.

External links

* [ The Lebanese Christians: Unsuspecting Victims of a Sunni Shiite Cold War in Lebanon]


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