|Lebanon Table of Contents
Arab rule under the Umayyads and Abbasids had a profound impact on the eastern Mediterranean area and, to a great degree, was responsible for the composition of modern Lebanese society. It was during this period that Lebanon became a refuge for various ethnic and religious groups. The presence of these diverse, cohesive groups led to the eventual emergence of the Lebanese confessional state, whereby different religious communities were represented in the government according to their numerical strength.
The ancestors of the present-day Maronites were among the Christian communities that settled in Lebanon during this period. To avoid feuds with other Christian sects in the area, these followers of Saint John Maron moved from the upper valley of the Orontes River and settled in the picturesque Qadisha Valley, located in the northern Lebanon Mountains, about twenty-five kilometers southeast of Tripoli.
Lebanon also became the refuge for a small Christian group called Melchites, living in northern and central Lebanon. Influenced by the Greek Christian theology of Constantinople, they accepted the controversial decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth ecumenical council of the church held in 451. As a result of missionary activity by the Roman Catholic Church, some were later drawn away from this creed and became known as Greek Catholics because Greek is the language of their liturgy. They lived mainly in the central part of the Biqa Valley.
During the Arab era, still another religious faith found sanctuary in Lebanon. After Al Hakim (996-1021), the Fatimid caliph of Egypt, proclaimed himself an incarnation of God, two of his followers, Hamza and Darazi, formulated the dogmas for his cult. Darazi left Egypt and continued to preach these tenets after settling in southern Lebanon. His followers became known as Druzes; along with Christians and Muslims, they constitute major communities in modern Lebanon.
Under the Abbasids, philosophy, literature, and the sciences received great attention, especially during the caliphate of Harun ar Rashid and that of his son, Al Mamun. Lebanon made a notable contribution to this intellectual renaissance. The physician Rashid ad Din, the jurist Al Awazi, and the philosopher Qusta ibn Luqa were leaders in their respective disciplines. The country also enjoyed an economic boom in which the Lebanese harbors of Tyre and Tripoli were busy with shipping as the textile, ceramic, and glass industries prospered. Lebanese products were sought after not only in Arab countries but also throughout the Mediterranean Basin.
In general, Arab rulers were tolerant of Christians and Jews, both of whom were assessed special taxes and were exempted from military service. Later, under the Ottoman Empire, the practice developed of administering non-Muslim groups as separate communities called millets. In the late-1980s, this system continued; each religious community was organized under its own head and observed its own laws pertaining to matters such as divorce and inheritance.
Source: U.S. Library of Congress