The birth of Christianity in Lebanon and the advent of Islam
Despite the fact that Islam prevailed 600 years after Christianity, the Middle East is now overwhelmingly populated with Muslims, with the Christian minority comprising about 14 million Christians or 10% of the population.
The Christians, mainly Maronite, have existed in the area, of what is known today as Lebanon since the fourth century, and moved in large numbers to Mount Lebanon(Jabal Loubnan) in the eighth and ninth centuries. The Maronites took their name from John Maron, a learned monk who was Patriach of Antioch in the 8th century. The Muslim (Shiite, Sunni and the Druze sects) community emerged in Mount Lebanon at a later stage.
Marguerite Johnson traces the heritage of the Lebanese Christians directly to Jesus. By the 5th century, Christianity became the dominant religion in the area of Lebanon. After the forceful advent of Islam beginning in the 7th Century, many Christian communities along the coast of Lebanon converted to Islam. However, the mountains of Lebanon remained a Christian haven.
Peter Kolvenbach saw that the history of Lebanon's Christians and the history of Lebanon were so intertwined that without the Christians, and especially its Maronite sect, there would not have been a Lebanon and without Lebanon the destiny of Christians in the Middle East would have been different.
The 1860 civil war between the Maronites and the Druze erupted when Maronite peasants revolted against their landlords who were given land ownership by the Ottoman Empire. The Druze launched a pre-emptive strike against villages in the north with the help of Turkish officials. Engine Akarli mentioned that few Shiites and Sunnites, joined the Druze against the Maronites and the Greek Orthodox Christians (even though the Greek Orthodox had been friendly with the Druze before this incident). Akarli said that the Ottoman troops themselves failed to stop the Druze attacks due to their unwillingness to fight fellow Muslims.
The 1860 civil war left more than 15,000 Christians dead and more than ten thousand homeless. Later, however, the Ottoman foreign ministry imprisoned the Druze leaders involved in the war, and even punished a number of Ottoman officers and officials for having failed to prevent the 1860 civil war.
This was the first Lebanese civil war between Christians and Muslims. It is important to note that the Maronites had been subject to persecution by the Turkish rulers over centuries. However, the 1860 war was the first of its kind between the Lebanese people themselves.
It is hard to ignore the role of the Maronite Church in Lebanon in any study of the Christian political status in Lebanon. The role of the Maronite Church in Lebanon focused on strengthening the status of Christians during the Ottoman rule. Following the purge of the Druze leadership by the Turkish authorities, the Maronite Church emerged as the only significant institution in the Lebanese Mountains. The Church's special position encouraged it to aspire to greater influence. It was very conscious not only of the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Christians over the Druze in the Mountains, but also of the greater educational and material advances of the Maronites.
The 1860 events had created uproar in Europe, particularly in France. Although the Turkish Empire took swift action against the Druze, a large French force landed in Beirut for the purpose of protecting the Maronites and other Christians. Foreign intervention by the French persuaded the Ottoman Empire to form a small force in Mount Lebanon, which comprised of 160 men, 97 Maronites, 40 Druzes, 16 Greek Orthodox, 5 Greeks Catholics and 2 Muslims. Later on, Mount Lebanon was able to mount a military force of 10,000 men where Arabic replaced Turkish as the language of command and instruction. This development helped to strengthen the Christians who were the main core of the force. Moreover Christians were happy to be given a sort of autonomy by the Muslim Turkish Empire.
John Spagnolo wrote that in this particular period of 1860, international communities were looking after the interests of communities within Lebanon of a similar faith. For example, Russia wanted three seats to be reserved for the Greek Orthodox. In its turn, France wanted the Maronite representation to be increased on the administrative council of the mutasarrifiyya.
The protection of Christianity by the international community helped increase its survival chances in the midst of the Muslim conquest in the Middle East region. Marguerite Johnson noted that from the Byzantines and the Crusades in the Middle Ages to the French and Americans in 1984, the Christians have repeatedly relied on foreign powers to guarantee their survival and political power.
Because this section does not give sufficient information on the subject, the following material is inserted from another article in this site entitled "Phoenician Christians:"
Advent of Islam and Christians of the East
By Dr. George Khoury, Catholic Information Network (CIN)
The Arab Prophet
During his lifetime, Muhammad reacted differently at different times to Jews and Christians depending on the reception they accorded him and also on his dealings with Christian states. At first, Muhammad favoured the Christians and condemned the Jews because they acted as his political opponents. This is reflected in Sura 5:85 : Thou wilt surely find the most hostile of men to the believers are the Jews and the idolaters; and thou wilt surely find the nearest of them in love to the believers are those who say, "We are nasara"; that, because some of them are priests and monks, and they wax not proud. (Sura 5:85; see also Sura 2:62; 5:69; 12:17).
Later he turned against them and attacked their belief that Jesus was God's son (Sura 9:30), denounced the dogma of the Trinity (4:17), and pointed to the division of the Christians amongst themselves (5:14). Most often though, Muhammad adopted an intermediate position: the Christians are mentioned together with the Jews as "People of the Book," while their claim of possessing the true religion is refuted. (See Sura :114; 3:135, 140; 9:29). And they will be punished by God.
Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden--such men as practice not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book until they pay the tribute out of hand...That is the utterance of their mouths, conforming with the unbelievers before God. God assail them! How they are perverted! They have taken their rabbis and their monks as lords apart from God, and the Messiah's, Mary's son, and they were commanded to serve but One God; there is no God but He (Suras 29-31).
During his lifetime Muhammad settled his relations with Christian political entities by treaties whereby they were allowed to keep their churches and priests, and also had to pay tribute and render some services to Muslims.
During the period of two hundred years following Muhammad's death, the attitude of Islam to Christianity remained generally similar to what it had been during the closing years of the prophet's life; Christianity was regarded as parallel to Islam, but corrupt. To this extent, Islam was superior. The outstanding consequence of this period, however, was the impressing on the masses of ordinary Muslims the view that Christianity was corrupt and unreliable. This, together with the death penalty for apostasy, kept the Muslims in lands ruled by the scimitar effectively insulated from Christian propaganda. Let us view this more closely, considering first the period immediately following the death of the prophet in 633 A.D.
The Covenant of Umar I (634-644)
The year after the death of the prophet in Arabia, the stage was set for a full-dress invasion of neighbouring lands. In 634 the Arab forces won a decisive victory at Ajnadayn, and Damascus surrendered to Khalid ibn-al-Waleed in September 635. Jerusalem capitulated in 638 and Caesarea fell in 640, and between 639 and 646 all Mesopotamia and Egypt were subjugated. The last links connecting these Christian lands with Rome and Byzantium were severed; new ones with Mecca and Medina were forged. In about a decade the Muslim conquests changed the face of the Near East; in about a century they changed the face of the civilised world. Far from being peripheral, the victories of Islam proved to be a decisive factor in pruning life and growth of Eastern Christianity.
After the Arab invasions have stopped, there arose the problem of administering these new lands. Umar ibn-al-Khattab (634-644) was the first man to address himself to this problem. Despite the fact that later additions were made to it, it is agreed that the surviving covenant represents Umar's own policy. The conquered peoples were given a new status, that of dhimmis (or ahl-al-Dhimmi). As dhimmis they were subject to tribute which comprised both a land-tax (later kharaj) and a poll-tax (later jizyah) while they enjoyed the protection of Islam and were exempt from military duty, because only a Muslim could draw his sword in defence of Islam.