There is no official religion in Lebanon. Muslims are the largest religious group in the country with 70% of the population falling into that group. A Muslim might belong to the Shi’a (Shiite), Sunni, Isma’ilite, Alawite, Nusayri or Druze groups.7 Muslims are followers of Islam. The word Islam means “submission.”8 Islam, as well as Christianity and Judaism find their origins in the prophet Abraham. Muslims believe that Muhammad was the last in a line of prophets that included Moses and Jesus. The Islamic religion is based on the Quran which is a “masterpiece of prose and poetry”9 received by Muhammad. The religion is based on five duties or pillars. They are Testimony, Prayer, Giving, Fasting, and Pilgrimage.10
About 100,000 people follow the Druses religion that grew out of Islam. This group has many secret beliefs, and they keep separate from both other Muslims and Christians.
Those people who are not Muslim, most likely are Christian. (There is a very small Jewish population that resides in Lebanon.) In Lebanon 30% of the population is Christian. This is the second largest religious group in the country. Most Lebanese Christians belong to the Maronite Church, which has similar beliefs to the Roman Catholic Church, but has its own priests. The church is named after the Syrian saint Maro. The Christians are further divided into the Orthodox Christian, Roman Catholic, and Protestant sects.
Although the Palestinians are also Arabs and are both Christians and Muslims, they have a different national identity than the Lebanese. Some of the Palestinians originally fled from Palestine in 1948. Others fled to Lebanon after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war or are refugees who first went to Jordan in 1948 or 1967, and then fled from Jordan to Lebanon after Black September.11 They live in overcrowded refugee camps that lack sanitation and safe drinking water.12
When teaching about life in Lebanon it should be pointed out to students that it is difficult to make generalizations because what may be true about one social, economic, or religious group may not be true about another. Students might understand this if you point out that something that is true in an urban area of the United States is not necessarily true of a rural area. However, if we learn about life in inner city New Haven, as well as life in Appalachia, a farm in Kansas, and a Native American village in the Pacific Northwest we will get a picture of the fabric of America. Still, this study is valuable as long as we understand that at times we may be looking at but one facet of a multifaceted culture.
The two religious groups, the Muslims and the Christians, as well as the Palestinians when coupled with the wide range of socio-economic and educational groups that cut across all religious and political divisions make up the fabric of Lebanese Arab culture.