Lebanon's history has given it a distinctive religious mosaic. Islam and Christianity are the official religions, though within these religions are many denominations.
Religion dominates much of Lebanese life. Until recently, all Lebanese citizens had to carry an identity card that stated their religion, but this practice has ended. Divorce, separation, child custody and inheritance cases are resolved in religious courts; no laws in these areas apply uniformly to all Lebanese citizens. Even positions in the legislature, military, judiciary and civil service are allotted according to religious denomination; for example, the president is always a Christian, and the prime minister must always be a Muslim.
The majority of Lebanese are Muslims, most of them either Shi'ite or Sunni. Muslims are followers of Mohammed, a 7th century prophet who claimed to be the last in a line of prophets that includes Moses, Abraham and Jesus. Mohammed's teachings are collected in the Koran. Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims follow the five pillars of Islam: professing the faith; saying daily prayers; donating to the poor; fasting between sunrise and sunset during the month of Ramadan; and making the hajj or pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca once in a lifetime, if possible. The main difference in religious practice for Sunnis and Shi'ites is that Shi'ites also follow an imam or spiritual leader, who is regarded as the successor of Mohammed and an interceder between the faithful and Allah (God)-a concept similar to that of the Catholic Pope. For Sunni Muslims, an imam is one who leads prayers at a mosque.
A minority of Muslims belong to the Druze denomination. By tradition, many aspects of the Druze faith are kept private and not discussed with outsiders. Al-Hakim, an 11th century imam, is an important figure in Druze theology. One distinctive Druze belief that is widely known concerns reincarnation: the soul of a deceased Druze is believed to enter the soul of a Druze newborn.
Lebanese Christians belong to many churches and denominations, the largest being various kinds of Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant. The Maronite church also has a significant following. Originating in the teachings of St. Maron, a 4th century hermit who lived in Syria, the Maronite church's followers are mostly limited to people from Lebanon and Syria.