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25 October, 2020 10:02:56 PM

What if secularism was achieved in Lebanon?

Cynthia Saade
What if secularism was achieved in Lebanon?

Lebanon is a small country rich in religions where the sectarianism overlaps the political system as a result of which parliamentary seats are distributed, governments are formed, and personal status laws are divided regarding each sect. In this context, many thinkers have spoken about the importance of implementing secularism in Lebanon while the leaders of the sectarian parties tried to attract their audiences under the pretext of protecting their sects.

Therefore, what is the concept of secularism? Is that its contradiction with religion a true or false concept?

Religion and Secularism

In the Arab world, Secularism has been criticized for being the creation of the West or it has been considered as a synonymous for atheism. However, secularism is not hostile to religion nor it is an alternative to it, rather, it is a sector of life. At this point, one of the most famous Lebanese thinkers who spoke about secularism was the writer Boutros Al-Boustani  (1883 - 1819) who  called for the separation of religion and state and adopted a secular approach to education. One of his proverbsis: “Religion is for God and the Nation is for All”.

Furthermore, we mention the politician Joseph Moghaizel who wrote the book “Arabism and Secularism” which emphasizes on the importance of secularizing the society and the political institutions. Thus, secular movements have long existed in Lebanon even though their form has changed significantly over time.

Secular movements in Lebanon and the Arab world

In the last decades, these movements aspired to secularizing the political system and they played an important role in “October Revolution” that happened last year due to the planned taxes on gasoline, unemployment and political corruption. However, they didn’t pose themselves as an eligible alternative to the current system and thus they didn’t play an actual corrective role in implementing secularism in the state.

Moving to the Arab world, let’s talk about the Egyptian writer Qassem Amin (1863 - 1908), who was known as the pioneer of the women's liberation movement in Egypt and the thinker Ismail Mazhar (1891 - 1962), who was considered one of the pioneers of the scientific renaissance in the Arab world. In addition, the Moroccan thinker Mohamed Abed Aljabiri defined the term secularism, as a system that preserves the rights of individuals and groups and achieves rational political practice.

In our time, the Arabic revolutions that aimed to implement secularism didn’t have eligible alternative to the political system, which leads to the intervention of the powerful states and the fail of these movements to achieve their principle goals.

Back to Lebanon which is considered a civil country, there’s no doubt that the Lebanese constitution contradicts itself when it adopts sectarian texts that disrupt its civil character and lead to the classification of individuals in society on a sectarian basis. Accordingly, we can define the basic reforms through which the secular state can be built in Lebanon along four main axes.

Constitutional amendment

In the first place, it is important to amend some articles of the constitution related to the public affairs and political system. As Lebanon is a founding and active member of the United Nations Organization, global agreements take precedence over domestic law and assumed that all Lebanese citizens are equal under the law. On the other hand, the constitution stipulates that the national parliament shall be composed of equally elected representatives between Christians and Muslims. More than that, government formation and the distribution of jobs in public administrations arebased on the current sectarian political system.

Personal status laws

Further, there are multiple personal status laws in Lebanon related to different Lebanese sects which lead to the division of the Lebanese society legally and socially. For example, the marriage of the Lebanese citizens is directly affected by the sectarian laws especially for the couples who are from different religions. Thus, the application of civil law regarding the personal status in the country allows any Lebanese citizen, regardless of his sect, to have a civil marriage under civil courts.


In third place, many educational institutions are affiliated to religious confessions, while adopting a national educational policy in schools can contribute to the reduction of intolerance and the pursuit of secularism. For example, the religious education classes for each sect can be combined into one course that includes the basic principles of the Christian and Islamic religions with a brief presentation of the different religions and cultures of the world.

Role of media

It is well known that the media in Lebanon is affiliated with political parties in terms of funding and therefore it is important that the role of these institutions will be modified through the social media platforms which could be an alternative to show the disadvantages of sectarianism and its danger to the society. The existence of neutral media that has an educational role will contribute fundamentally to implement secularism in the society.

In summary, secularism rejects fanaticism and protects religions as it does not interfere with individual's faith or religious rituals,however it raises the principle of political and civil equality among citizens through its system. In consequence, intimidating secularism and linking it with the term of “atheism”is merely a policy adopted by the leaders of the sectarian parties for gaining popularity and controlling the regime, which serves their own interests, not the interests of the Lebanese citizens.

The writer is a freelance Journalist based in Lebanon


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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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