Among all the countries of the world, Malaysia and Lebanon are the two closest to each other in terms of our religious demographics — see chart below.
In a vast majority of Islamic countries, nine out of their every ten persons are Muslim.
A great number of the OIC countries are religiously homogenous in the absolute through having a 99+ percent Muslim population — Morocco (99.9%), Afghanistan (99.7%), Somalia (99.7%), Iran (99.5%), Tunisia (99.5%), Western Sahara (99.4%), Iraq (99.1%), Yemen (99.1%) and Mauritania (99.1%).
Countries that are 97–98 percent Muslim in population are Maldives, The Comoros, Niger, Turkey, Palestine, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Jordan and Uzbekistan.
Countries with above 95 percent Muslim population are Djibouti, Libya, Senegal, Pakistan, Tajikistan, The Gambia and Egypt.
Muslim countries are, by and large, monolithically Islamic. Non Muslims don’t feature in their populations.
On the other hand, countries with mixed religious populations cum a Muslim majority – like us – are rare.
Malaysia is 66.1 percent Muslim albeit this is an older estimate not yet updated with our official 2020 decennial census figures (which has not yet been publicly released by our Stats Dept, as far as I’m aware).
Meanwhile Lebanon is 61.2 percent Muslim. Nonetheless, presidents of Lebanon are always Christian. The country’s current president is Michel Aoun.
Political Christianity in Lebanon, Malaysia
The only other countries coming close to our Malaysian (and Lebanese) Muslim-to-Non Muslim population ratios are Qatar at 65.2 percent Muslim and Burkina Faso (62.7%).
There is a simmering religious conflict in Burkina Faso — see Washington Post’s August 2019 news report above about Islamist militants targeting Christians.
Qatar has a huge population of expats and foreign workers including Indians, Bangladeshis, Nepali and Filipinos who are however non citizens. Qatari Arabs, surprisingly, comprise a mere 11.6 percent of the population in this small and super duper rich country.
So, it is Malaysia and Lebanon that are most similar in our faith make-up — i.e. Muslims, Christians and the political influence that both these groups exert.
BELOW: Poor Lebanon had a bad 2021 year
Civil War 1975–1990
Palestinian refugees pitted Lebanese Muslims against Lebanese Christians
I’ve copypasted below some relevant passages from a scholarly work titled ’The historiography and the memory of the Lebanese civil war’.
It is written by Sune Haugbolle, a professor of Arabic, and also in the field of Global Studies.
His article was published on 25 Oct 2011 and made available online by the Sciences Po, a selective research university in Paris of international standing and good repute.
Note: Lebanon is a former colony of France and the Lebanese can speak French.
“Lebanon is not an anomaly, and its experience with mass violence does not defy social analysis.” — Sune Haugbolle
Prof. Haugbolle wrote (excerpts):
The core conflicts of the 15-year civil war include “the sectarian division of power in Lebanon, the Palestinian refugee issue, the presence of Syrian forces on Lebanese soil and Syrian tutelage, and Hizbollah’s status as the only armed militia”.
”What is habitually referred to as the Lebanese Civil War was in fact a series of more or less related conflicts between shifting alliances of Lebanese groups and external actors, who from 1975 to 1990 destabilised the Lebanese state.”
”There is agreement among historians that the war broke out as a result of a period of growing division between those Lebanese who supported the right of the Palestinian resistance to stage operations against Israel from Lebanese soil, and those who opposed it.”
”The biggest bone of contention regarding the outbreak of the war is the role of the Palestinian armed presence. The historiographic debate is not just over the Palestinian question as such, and the right of the LNM to support the PLO, but over whether or not Lebanon from 1943 to 1975 had developed a viable system of consociationalism, and over the relative impact of external powers on the Lebanese state.”
Lebanese system: Power sharing between Muslim, Christian sects
“From the Cairo Agreement in 1969 to outbreak of war in 1975, he [Farid Al-Khazen] points out, all but one of Lebanon’s many cabinet crises revolved around the PLO. The destabilisation of the Lebanese state, therefore, must primarily be seen as an effect of the Palestinian question.”
”As Firro (2003: 67) puts it, the French creation of Lebanon in 1920 empowered sectarian representation and the leadership of political oligarchies locally and nationally. In this view, the institutional arrangement of sectarianism has produced an idea of two separate people [Muslims, Christians] and coexistence between them.”
“On the opposing side in the debate, proponents of the confessional [religion-based] system stress its historically proven ability to contain and resolve conflict (Weiss 2009: 143-4).”
”The Lebanese national identity may be fragile, but it is nevertheless a well-established identification with a long history that rests on an overlap of multiple identities.”
”The outbreak of the war was marked by its first massacre, known as the Ayn al-Rumana incident on 13 April 1975, where 27 Palestinians were killed by Kata’ib militants (Picard 2002: 105). Although the assault was clearly committed by Kata’ib, Christian leaders accused the Palestinians and their leader Arafat for provoking a confrontation in an environment of heightened tension (Hanf 1993: 204).”
“The [Israel 1982] invasion paved the way for the best documented of the war’s massacres, at the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Shatila”.
“In the struggle for control over Palestinian camps in West Beirut, known as the ‘War of the Camps’, between former allies of the LNM from April 1985 to 1987, more than 2,500 Palestinian fighters and non-fighters are estimated by the Lebanese government to have been killed (Brynen 1990: 190). The real number is likely to be higher, because thousands of Palestinians were not registered in Lebanon; and since no officials could access the camps in the aftermath of fighting, the casualties could not be counted. In addition, Amal and Shiite inhabitants suffered considerable losses (Sayigh 1994: 317).”
”During all phases of the war and on all sides, atrocities were committed against both [Muslim, Christian] groups.”
Lessons from Lebanon
Some 700,000 Palestinians were expelled from Israel when the Zionists reconstituted their Jewish state.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians became refugees in Jordan. Armed and radical, these Palestinian enclaves developed into a state within a state.
On 17 Sept 1970, Jordan’s King Hussein – after narrowly surviving a number of assassination attempts – ordered “his 50,000-strong army to kick the Palestinian fighters out of the Hashemite kingdom”.
Three days later on Sept 20, the Syrian military intervened and sent armoured vehicles into northern Jordan.
By July 1971, Jordanians had crushed the Palestinian revolt and expelled Yasser Arafat and his PLO fighters who went into exile in Lebanon.
The Palestinians then helped to ignite the Lebanese civil war in 1975.
Again Syria intervened and on 1 June 1976, its troops rolled into Lebanon.
Palestinian refugees were instrumental to the start of the Lebanese civil war.
In religiously divided countries like Lebanon (or Malaysia), the presence of a huge number of refugees can be a catalyst to friction and sociopolitical unrest.