Lebanon Table of Contents

Orthodox Sunni Muslims are those who regard the Quran, supplemented by the traditions of the Prophet, as the sole and sufficient embodiment of the Muslim faith. They do not recognize the need for a priesthood to mediate the faith to the community of believers. Thus, Sunnis have no "church" and no liturgy. The Sunnis, especially the Wahhabis of Saudi Arabia, stand for the original simplicity of Islam and its practices against later innovations.

Religious leadership of the Sunni community in Lebanon is based on principles and institutions deriving partly from traditional Islam and partly from French influence. Under the Mandate, the French established a Supreme Islamic Council at the national level, headed by a Grand Mufti and a national Directorate of Waqfs; these institutions continued to exist in the mid-1980s. The French also established local departments of waqfs, which staffed and maintained hospitals, schools, cemeteries, and mosques. In addition, the waqfs managed the funds that supported these operations. The funds were obtained partly from direct donations and partly from income derived from real property given to the community as an endowment.

Shaykh is an honorary title given to any Muslim religious man in Lebanon. As a result of the 1975 Civil War and the intensification in sectarian mobilization and identification, the religious leaders of the Sunni community assumed a more political role, especially with the advent of Islamic fundamentalism in Lebanon. As of 1987, the Sunni mufti, Shaykh Hasan Khalid, was the most powerful Sunni leader; he headed what was called the Islamic Grouping, which was composed of all Sunni traditional leaders. The Sunni ulama (learned religious men) of Lebanon emulated the Shia practice of combining temporal and religious power in the person of the imam.

In 1987 the majority of Lebanese Sunnis resided in urban centers. It is estimated that more than two-thirds of them lived in Beirut, Sidon, and Baalbek. The few rural Sunnis lived in the Akkar region, the western Biqa Valley, around Baalbek, and in the Shuf Mountains. Their typical occupations were in the realms of trade, industry, and real estate. Large Sunni families enjoyed political and social significance. The most prominent of them were the Sulh, Bayhum, Dauq, Salam, and Ghandur in Beirut; the Karami, Muqaddam, and Jisr in Tripoli; and the Bizri in Sidon. It is estimated that approximately 595,000 or 27 percent of the Lebanese population as of 1986 were Sunnis.

The Kurds are non-Arab Sunnis of whom there are only a few in Lebanon, concentrated mainly in Beirut. They originated in the Taurus and Zagros Mountains of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. The Kurds of Lebanon tended to settle there permanently because of Lebanon's pluralistic society. Although they are Sunni Muslims, Kurds speak their own language.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress