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Lebanese Sunni Muslims

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Lebanese Sunni Muslims
المسلمون السنة اللبنانيين
Distribution of Sunni Muslims in Lebanon
Lebanese Arabic
Islam (Sunni Islam)

Lebanese Sunni Muslims (Arabic: المسلمون السنة اللبنانيين) refers to Lebanese people who are adherents of the Sunni branch of Islam in Lebanon, which is one of the largest denomination in Lebanon tied with Shias. Sunni Islam in Lebanon has a history of more than a millennium. According to a CIA 2018 study, Lebanese Sunni Muslims constitute an estimated 30.6% of Lebanon's population.[1]

The Lebanese Sunni Muslims are highly concentrated in Lebanon's capital city - Beirut (West Beirut /or Beirut II), as well as Tripoli, Sidon, Western Beqaa, and in the countryside of the Akkar, Arsal. They also have a notable presence in Zahlé, Southern Lebanon, Marjaayoun and Chebaa.[2]

Under the terms of an unwritten agreement known as the National Pact between the various political and religious leaders of Lebanon, Sunni notables traditionally held power in the Lebanese state together, and they are still the only ones eligible for the post of Prime Minister.[3]


An estimate of the distribution of Lebanon's main religious groups, 1991, based on a map by GlobalSecurity.org
Lebanon religious groups distribution
An estimate of the area distribution of Lebanon's main religious groups

Ottoman rule[edit]

Historically, Sunnis in Lebanon fared better under the rule of the Ottoman Empire than did Lebanon's other religious groups. Although the Ottomans ruled loosely, the Sunnis in coastal cities were given a degree of privileged status. However, this ended with the French mandate.[4]

French mandate[edit]

In 1920, France legally extended the borders of Greater Lebanon to include all the territories of what is now Lebanon. This enhanced the position of the Maronites, whose population exceeded that of the Sunni Muslims in the new districts.[5] This changed Lebanon's demographics, as the territories added contained predominantly Muslim areas. This made Lebanese Christians constitute barely over 50% of the population, whereas the Sunni population increased eightfold. The Sunnis resented this, as they were formerly part of the majority within the Ottoman Empire, but now became a minority in a Maronite-dominated French mandate. In the 1932 Lebanon census, 175,925 individuals, constituting 22% of the total population of 785,543, were Sunni Muslims.[6]

The Lebanese Sunni Muslims did not want to be separated from their Sunni Muslim brethren in Syria, whereas the Lebanese Christians wanted a French or European-oriented Lebanon to ensure economic viability that was separate from Syria.[7] The Sunni community saw Greater Lebanon as an artificial entity, and repeatedly insisted on being reunited with Greater Syria and the rest of the Arab homeland.[8]

Lebanese Civil War[edit]

In 1975, the Lebanese Civil War broke out between Maronite forces and the Lebanese Army on one side, and Sunni militias of the Lebanese National Movement (LNM) and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) on the other. Pan-Arabism and leftism attracted its largest following among the Sunni community of Lebanon.[4] Following the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982, the Mourabitoun launched a series of attacks on the Israel Defense Forces. The Taif Agreement in October 1989 ended the civil war. It provided equal representation for Christians and Muslims in the enlarged chamber of deputies, reduced the powers of the Maronite president, and increased powers for the Sunni prime minister. With Saudi Arabian support, the Sunnis achieved a position of power out of all proportion to their number or influence.[9]


With Saudi Arabia[edit]

The Sunnis of Lebanon have close ties with Saudi Arabia, who supports them financially.[10][11] Moreover, Tripoli, the stronghold of the Lebanese Sunnis, is also the birthplace of Lebanon's Salafi Movement.[12]

With Lebanese Alawites and Syria[edit]

The Lebanese Sunni Muslims initially opposed the creation of the Lebanese state separated from Syria, where the majority of the population was also Sunni Muslim, and wanted the territory of present-day Lebanon to be incorporated within the so-called Greater Syria.[13]

Sunni Muslims and Alawites have been in conflict with each other for centuries. The Alawites of the Levant were oppressed by the Sunni Ottoman Empire, but gained power and influence when the French recruited Alawites as soldiers during the French mandate of Syria.[14][15][16] After independence from France, their co-religionists, the Assad family, came to power in Syria in 1970.[17]

Over the years, there have been numerous clashes between the Sunni and Alawi communities in Tripoli, particularly over the past 14 months since Syria's uprising began, as part of the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia. The deadliest exchange took place last June, when seven people were killed and more than 60 wounded, after Sunni Muslims staged a protest against the Syrian government.

At the best of times, the Alawites are regarded by Sunnis as heretics; at times of tension, when thousands of Sunnis in Syria are being killed, they are regarded as the enemy. And when a popular Sunni figure is strangely abducted and arrested by Lebanon's General Security Service – an organization linked to the Hezbollah militia that, in turn, is linked to the Syrian government – the Alawites become the whipping boys.[18]

Geographic distribution within Lebanon[edit]

Lebanese Sunni Muslims are concentrated in cities of west Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon and in north Lebanon in the Akkar and Minnieh Dinnieh districts, middle and West Bekaa, Chouf district and Laqlouq in Mount Lebanon, Hasbaya district, and Northeastern Beqaa Valley mainly in and around the city of Arsal.[19]


Lebanese Sunni Muslims[20][21][22]
Year Percent

Note that the following percentages are estimates only. However, in a country that had last census in 1932, it is difficult to have correct population estimates.

The last census in Lebanon in 1932 put the numbers of Sunnis at 22% of the population (178,100 of 791,700).[21] A study done by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1985 put the numbers of Sunnis at 27% of the population (595,000 of 2,228,000).[21] Sunni Muslims constitute 27% of Lebanon's population, according to a 2012 estimate.[20] And more recently, in 2023, the CIA World Factbook estimated that Sunni Muslims constitute 31.9% of Lebanon's population.[22]

Percentage growth of the Lebanese Sunni Muslims (other sources est.)[23][20][1][24][25][26][27]
Year Sunni Population Total Lebanese Population Percentage
1861 76,565 487,600 15.7%
1921 124,786 609,069 20.5%
1932 175,925 785,543 22.4%
1956 285,698 1,407,858 20.3%
1975 663,500 2,550,000 26%
1988 861,046 4,044,784 21.3%


Genealogical DNA testing has shown that 27,7% of Lebanese Muslims (non-Druze) belong to the Y-DNA haplogroup J1. Although there is common ancestral roots, these studies show some difference was found between Muslims and non-Muslims in Lebanon, of whom only 17.1% have this haplotype. As haplogroup J1 finds its putative origins in the Arabian peninsula, this likely means that the lineage was introduced by Arabs beginning at the time of the 7th century Muslim conquest of the Levant and has persisted among the Muslim population ever since. On the other hand, only 4.7% of all Lebanese Muslims belong to haplogroup R1b, compared to 9.6% of Lebanese Christians. Modern Muslims in Lebanon thus do not seem to have a significant genetic influence from the Crusaders, who probably introduced this common Western European marker to the extant Christian populations of the Levant when they were active in the region from 1096 until around the turn of the 14th century. Haplogroup J2 is also a significant marker in throughout Lebanon (27%). This marker is found in many inhabitants of Lebanon, regardless of religion, signals pre-Arab descendants, including the Phoenicians. These genetic studies show us there is no significant differences between the Muslims and non-Muslims of Lebanon.[28]

Notable Lebanese Sunni Muslims[edit]

Activists and journalists[edit]

  • Anbara Salam Khalidi, a feminist, translator and author, who significantly contributed to the emancipation of Arab women
  • Nahla Chahal, writer, journalist, researcher, and activist


Politicians, diplomats, and public servants[edit]

Religious figures[edit]

  • Hassan Khaled, late former leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community


  • Al-Waleed bin Talal, Saudi-Lebanese businessman and grandson of Riad Al Solh, Lebanon's first Prime Minister


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Lebanon: people and society"
  2. ^ Lebanon Overview World Directory of Minorities. June 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  3. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2008 US Department of State. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  4. ^ a b Mackey, Sandra (2006-07-17). Lebanon: A House Divided. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-393-35276-4.
  5. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Refworld | Chronology for Sunnis in Lebanon". Refworld. Retrieved 2023-12-03.
  6. ^ Salamey, Imad (2013-10-15). The Government and Politics of Lebanon. Routledge. p. 24. ISBN 978-1-135-01133-8.
  7. ^ Varady, Corrin (2017-06-21). US Foreign Policy and the Multinational Force in Lebanon: Vigorous Self-Defense. Springer. p. 26. ISBN 978-3-319-53973-7.
  8. ^ Butenschon, Nils A.; Davis, Uri; Hassassian, Manuel (2000-05-01). Citizenship and the State in the Middle East: Approaches and Applications. Syracuse University Press. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-8156-2829-3.
  9. ^ Yapp, Malcolm (2014-10-17). The Near East since the First World War: A History to 1995. Routledge. p. 464. ISBN 978-1-317-89054-6.
  10. ^ Lucy Fielder (23–29 June 2011). "Trial by fire for Lebanon's government". Al Ahram Weekly (1053). Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  11. ^ "Tripoli". Hugh Macleod. Archived from the original on 2 August 2010. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
  12. ^ Garrett Nada (10 May 2013). "Lebanon's Sheikhs Take on Assad and Hezbollah". Wilson Center. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  13. ^ Greater Syria By Daniel Pipes
  14. ^ Mordechai Nisan. Minorities in the Middle East: a history of struggle and self-expression. McFarland, 2002. ISBN 0-7864-1375-1, ISBN 978-0-7864-1375-1
  15. ^ Reva Bhalla (5 May 2011). Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis Stratfor. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  16. ^ Seale, Patrick. Asad Of Syria : The Struggle For The Middle East / Patrick Seale With The Assistance Of Maureen McConville. Seale, Patrick. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1989, c1988.
  17. ^ Robert Kaplan (February 1993). "Syria: Identity Crisis". The Atlantic. But the coup of 1970, which brought an Alawi air force officer, Hafez Assad, to power, was what finally ended the instability that had reigned in Syria since the advent of independence.
  18. ^ Patrick Martin, (14 May 2012). Syria's war ignites sectarian strife in Lebanon The Global and Mail. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  19. ^ Lebanon Sunnis Overview Archived 2015-01-16 at the Wayback Machine World Directory of Minorities. June 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  20. ^ a b c "2012 Report on International Religious Freedom – Lebanon". United States Department of State. 20 May 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2016.
  21. ^ a b c "Contemporary distribution of Lebanon's main religious groups". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 15 December 2013.
  22. ^ a b "Lebanon: People and Society". April 2023. Archived from the original on 26 April 2023.
  23. ^ Yahya, Houssam (2015). La protection sanitaire et sociale au Liban (1860-1963) (PDF) (Thesis). Université Nice Sophia Antipolis.
  24. ^ Gharbieh, Hussein M. (1996). Political awareness of the Shi'ites in Lebanon: the role of Sayyid 'Abd al-Husain Sharaf al-Din and Sayyid Musa al-Sadr (PDF) (Doctoral). Durham: Centre for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, University of Durham.
  25. ^ Fahrenthold, Stacy (2019). Between the Ottomans and the Entente: The First World War in the Syrian and Lebanese Diaspora, 1908-1925. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190872151.
  26. ^ Fawwaz Traboulsi, Social Classes and Political Power in Lebanon (Beirut: Heinrich Böll Stiftung, 2014)
  27. ^ Abdel-Nour, Antoine (1982). Introduction à l'histoire urbaine de la Syrie ottomane (XVIe-XVIIIe siècle). Université Libanaise.
  28. ^ Zalloua, Pierre A., Y-Chromosomal Diversity in Lebanon Is Structured by Recent Historical Events, The American Journal of Human Genetics 82, 873–882, April 2008