According to latest global estimations, 61% of Lebanon’s population identify as Muslim while 33.7% identify as Christian.1 The Muslim population is somewhat evenly split between followers of Sunni (30.6%) and Shi’a (30.5%) denominations, with smaller numbers of those belonging to Alawite and Ismaili sects. Christians in Lebanon include members of Maronite Catholic, Eastern, Melkite Catholic, Armenian , Armenian Catholic and Protestant churches. A further 5.7% of the Lebanese population identify as Druze, with smaller religious minorities making up less than 1% (including Judaism, Baha'i, Buddhism and Hinduism (>0.1%).2
Religion plays a major role in Lebanese culture, society, politics and legal systems. Lebanon recognises 18 different religious sects recognised within the Muslim and Christian religions, each of which is considered to represent a significant Lebanese community. Parliamentary representation is organised to reflect these partitions in society, and so seats are apportioned according to the dispersion of religion. The ratio of Christians to Muslims in Parliament used to be kept at 6:5. However it is now at 1:1, with eight seats reserved for Druze representation. This government structure is intended to prevent any religious community being privileged over another.
Separation along religious lines also occurs in Lebanon’s legal structure, which combines basic common laws with several separate jurisdictions according to Muslim or Christian religious affiliation. Many personal legal matters (such as marriage, divorce, custody and inheritance) are administered by religious courts that abide by different standards and proceedings.
Ultimately, one’s religion often constitutes a crucial part of a person’s social and civil identity in Lebanon. Every citizens’ identity card specifies their religion, which determines how they interact with political and legal systems. As such, while some Lebanese people may not practice or observe a religion, they tend to identify with one legally given its role in the judicial and governmental systems.
The Druze consider themselves to be descendants of a select group of ‘inaugurated’ people. Therefore, people are born into the religion and, traditionally, no conversion is allowed in or out of the faith. Over history, some Druze have tried to protect their religion by living in isolated communities or praying as Muslims or Christians to blend in. However, this secrecy and caution of the religion’s sanctity is dissipating in contemporary Lebanon.
1 Central intelligence Agency, 2018