Spirituality and religion are intricate wonders of the world we inhabit.
They explore a seemingly infinite number of aspects of our life, from the moral, ethical, and supernatural. Although religions can differ in messages, it’s utterly intriguing that they remain similar in the inclusion of unique traditions and rituals as integral parts of a plethora of cultures. According to the African Studies Association at the University of Michigan, there are approximately 10,000 individual religions around the globe. And yet, around 80% of the world’s population practice either Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, or Buddhism.
Religion has taken on a multitude of forms all around the world. While it governs some nations, for others it simply provides a stalwart and unwavering aspect of life. I always find it incredibly fascinating to observe the role that religion plays within certain nations. Religiously, Lebanon is incredibly extraordinary. It has, by far, the most spiritually diverse population in all of the Middle East, with nearly 55% of Lebanese identifying themselves as Muslims, while 40% of its population are Christians. The other 5% consists of the Druze – a monotheistic faith whose people co-founded modern Lebanon in the beginning of the 1700s. Lebanese people living outside of the country, however, are primarily Christians.
In most countries throughout the Middle East, Muslims are the predominant theology. Lebanon is unique in that its religious demographic resembles that of a nation in Europe. The fact that Christians and Muslims make up around half of its population is comparable to the likes of Albania and other countries throughout Southeastern Europe. This is even reflected in Lebanese culture, as many call Beirut the “Paris of the Middle East,” with French being one of the main spoken languages of the country often referred to as “Switzerland of the Middle East.”
Religion has also played a huge role in politics throughout most of Lebanon’s modern history. Before the country’s civil war in 1975, local government was run under the elites of the Maronite Christians. A larger Muslim population, however, opposed the pro-Western style of ruling, thus the conflict between the Maronite Christians and the forces from Palestine commenced. Furthermore, the national pact established in 1943 – which gave Lebanon its independence from France – states that the president of the country is required to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister must be a Sunni Muslim, while Speaker of the Parliament is needs to be a Shia Muslim. The absence and rejection of religion is not officially recognized by the government, although a citizen can have his / her religious preference removed from identification cards.
Growing up, I constantly questioned religion’s place in the world. It was an underdeveloped curiosity; one I had a hard time answering but it was a sentiment I felt incredibly certain about. My parents were not very spiritual, frankly I find it hard to feel a connection with a particular faith. I am a registered Christian in Egypt, but in my heart, I can’t truthfully tell myself that. As I’ve grown older, however, I’ve learned to appreciate the role of spirituality in our world, despite my personal struggle to identify with a religion. Especially during these extremely troubling and trying times, religion grounds many people and reminds them not only to stay strong, but to encourage kindness and cooperation.