The Druze (درزي, darzī, durzī, דְּרוּזִי, drūzī, druzim) are an Arabic-speaking esoteric ethno-religious group originating in Western Asia who self-identify as Al-Muwaḥḥidūn (lit., “The People of Monotheism”). Jethro of Midian is considered an ancestor of all people from the Mountain of Druze region, who revere him as their spiritual founder and chief prophet. It is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion based on the teachings of Hamza ibn-‘Ali ibn-Ahmad and the sixth Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, and Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle.
The Epistles of Wisdom is the foundational text of the Druze faith. The Druze faith incorporates elements of Isma’ilism, a branch of Shia Islam, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism, and other philosophies and beliefs, creating a distinct and secretive theology, based on an esoteric interpretation of scripture, which emphasises the role of the mind and truthfulness. Druze believe in theophany and reincarnation, or the transmigration of the soul. Druze believe that at the end of the cycle of rebirth, which is achieved through successive reincarnations, the soul is united with the Cosmic Mind (al-ʿAql al-kullī).
Although dwarfed by other, larger communities, the Druze community played an important role in shaping the history of the Levant, where it continues to play a large political role. As a religious minority in every country in which they are found, they have frequently experienced persecution, except in Lebanon and Israel, where Druze judges, parliamentarians, diplomats, and doctors occupy the highest echelons of society. Even though the faith originally developed out of Ismaili Islam, Druze are not generally considered Muslims, although Al Azhar of Egypt recognizes them as one of the Islamic sects, akin to Shia. Fatimid caliph Ali az-Zahir, whose father al-Hakim is a key figure in the Druze faith, was particularly harsh to Druze, causing the death of many in Antioch, Aleppo, and northern Syria. Persecution flared up during the rule of the Mamluks and Ottomans. Most recently, Druze were targeted by the ISIL and Al-Qaeda whose goal was to remove from Syria and neighboring countries what they saw as non-Islamic influences.
The Druze faith is one of the major religious groups in the Levant, with between 800,000 and a million adherents. They are found primarily in Syria, Lebanon (where the Druze are considered part of their Muslim population), and Israel, with small communities in Jordan. The oldest and most densely-populated Druze communities exist in Mount Lebanon and in the south of Syria around Jabal al-Druze (literally the “Mountain of the Druzes”). The Druze’s social customs differ markedly from those of Muslims or Christians, and they are known to form close-knit, cohesive communities which do not fully allow non-Druze in, though they themselves integrate fully in their adopted homelands.
Druze people reside primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. The Institute of Druze Studies estimates that 40-50% of Druze live in Syria, 30-40% in Lebanon, 6-7% in Israel, and 1-2% in Jordan. About 2% of the Druze population are also scattered within other countries in the Middle East.
Large communities of Druze also live outside the Middle East, in Australia, Canada, Europe, Latin America (mainly Venezuela, Colombia and Brazil), the United States, and West Africa. They use the Arabic language and follow a social pattern very similar to those of the other peoples of the Levant (eastern Mediterranean).
The number of Druze people worldwide is between 800,000 and one million, with the vast majority residing in the Levant.
The name Druze is derived from the name of Muhammad bin Ismail Nashtakin ad-Darazī (from Persian darzi, “seamster”) who was an early preacher. Although the Druze consider ad-Darazī a heretic, the name has been used to identify them.
Before becoming public, the movement was secretive and held closed meetings in what was known as Sessions of Wisdom. During this stage a dispute occurred between ad-Darazi and Hamza bin Ali mainly concerning ad-Darazi’s ghuluww (“exaggeration”), which refers to the belief that God was incarnated in human beings (especially ‘Ali and his descendants, including Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who was the caliph at the time) and to ad-Darazi naming himself “The Sword of the Faith”, which led Hamza to write an epistle refuting the need for the sword to spread the faith and several epistles refuting the beliefs of the ghulat.
In 1016 ad-Darazi and his followers openly proclaimed their beliefs and called people to join them, causing riots in Cairo against the Unitarian movement including Hamza bin Ali and his followers. This led to the suspension of the movement for one year and the expulsion of ad-Darazi and his supporters.
Although the Druze religious books describe ad-Darazi as the “insolent one” and as the “calf” who is narrow-minded and hasty, the name “Druze” is still used for identification and for historical reasons. In 1018, ad-Darazi was assassinated for his teachings; some sources claim that he was executed by Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah.
Some authorities see in the name “Druze” a descriptive epithet, derived from Arabic dārisah (“she who studies”). Others have speculated that the word comes from the Persian word Darazo(درز “bliss”) or from Shaykh Hussayn ad-Darazī, who was one of the early converts to the faith. In the early stages of the movement, the word “Druze” is rarely mentioned by historians, and in Druze religious texts only the word Muwaḥḥidūn (“Unitarian”) appears. The only early Arab historian who mentions the Druze is the eleventh century Christian scholar Yahya of Antioch, who clearly refers to the heretical group created by ad-Darazī, rather than the followers of Hamza ibn ‘Alī. As for Western sources, Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish traveler who passed through Lebanon in or around 1165, was one of the first European writers to refer to the Druzes by name. The word Dogziyin (“Druzes”) occurs in an early Hebrew edition of his travels, but it is clear that this is a scribal error. Be that as it may, he described the Druze as “mountain dwellers, monotheists, who believe in ‘soul eternity’ and reincarnation”. He also stated that “they loved the Jews”.
The Druze faith began as a movement in Ismailism that was opposed to certain religious and philosophical ideologies that were present during that epoch.
The faith was preached by Hamza ibn ‘Alī ibn Ahmad, an Ismaili mystic and scholar from Zozan, Iran. He came to Egypt in 1014 or 1016, and assembled a group of scholars and leaders from across the world to establish the Unitarian movement. The order’s meetings were held in the Raydan Mosque, near the Al-Hakim Mosque.
In 1017, Hamza officially revealed the Druze faith and began to preach the Unitarian doctrine. Hamza gained the support of the Fātimid caliph al-Hakim, who issued a decree promoting religious freedom prior to the declaration of the divine call.
Remove ye the causes of fear and estrangement from yourselves. Do away with the corruption of delusion and conformity. Be ye certain that the Prince of Believers hath given unto you free will, and hath spared you the trouble of disguising and concealing your true beliefs, so that when ye work ye may keep your deeds pure for God. He hath done thus so that when you relinquish your previous beliefs and doctrines ye shall not indeed lean on such causes of impediments and pretensions. By conveying to you the reality of his intention, the Prince of Believers hath spared you any excuse for doing so. He hath urged you to declare your belief openly. Ye are now safe from any hand which may bring harm unto you. Ye now may find rest in his assurance ye shall not be wronged. Let those who are present convey this message unto the absent so that it may be known by both the distinguished and the common people. It shall thus become a rule to mankind; and Divine Wisdom shall prevail for all the days to come.
Al-Hakim became a central figure in the Druze faith even though his own religious position was disputed among scholars. John Esposito states that al-Hakim believed that “he was not only the divinely appointed religio-political leader, but also the cosmic intellect linking God with creation”, while others like Nissim Dana and Mordechai Nisan state that he is perceived as the manifestation and the reincarnation of God or presumably the image of God.
Some Druze and non-Druze scholars like Samy Swayd and Sami Makarem state that this confusion is due to confusion about the role of the early preacher ad-Darazi, whose teachings the Druze rejected as heretical. These sources assert that al-Hakim rejected ad-Darazi’s claims of divinity, and ordered the elimination of his movement while supporting that of Hamza ibn Ali.
Al-Hakim disappeared one night while out on his evening ride – presumably assassinated, perhaps at the behest of his formidable elder sister Sitt al-Mulk. The Druze believe he went into Occultation with Hamza ibn Ali and three other prominent preachers, leaving the care of the “Unitarian missionary movement” to a new leader, Al-Muqtana Baha’uddin (also spelled Baha’ ad-Din).
Closing of the faith
Al-Hakim was replaced by his underage son, ‘Alī az-Zahir. The Unitarian Druze movement, which existed in the Fatimid Caliphate, acknowledged az-Zahir as the caliph, but followed Hamzah as its Imam. The young caliph’s regent, Sitt al-Mulk, ordered the army to destroy the movement in 1021. At the same time, Bahā’a ad-Dīn as-Samuki was assigned the leadership of the Unitarian Movement by Hamza Bin Ali.
For the next seven years, the Druze faced extreme persecution by the new caliph, al-Zahir, who wanted to eradicate the faith. This was the result of a power struggle inside of the Fatimid empire in which the Druze were viewed with suspicion because of their refusal to recognize the new caliph, Ali az-Zahir, as their Imam. Many spies, mainly the followers of Ad-Darazi, joined the Unitarian movement in order to infiltrate the Druze community. The spies set about agitating trouble and soiling the reputation of the Druze. This resulted in friction with the new caliph who clashed militarily with the Druze community. The clashes ranged from Antioch to Alexandria, where tens of thousands of Druze were slaughtered by the Fatimid army. The largest massacre was at Antioch, where 5,000 Druze religious leaders were killed, followed by that of Aleppo. As a result, the faith went underground, in hope of survival, as those captured were either forced to renounce their faith or be killed. Druze survivors “were found principally in southern Lebanon and Syria”. In 1038, two years after the death of al-Zahir, the Druze movement was able to resume because the new leadership that replaced him had friendly political ties with at least one prominent Druze leader.
In 1043, Baha’ ad-Din declared that the sect would no longer accept new adherents, and since that time, proselytization has been prohibited.
During the Crusades
It was during the period of Crusader rule in Levant (1099–1291) that the Druze first emerged into the full light of history in the Gharb region of the Chouf Mountains. As powerful warriors serving the Muslim rulers of Damascus against the Crusades, the Druze were given the task of keeping watch over the crusaders in the seaport of Beirut, with the aim of preventing them from making any encroachments inland. Subsequently, the Druze chiefs of the Gharb placed their considerable military experience at the disposal of the Mamluk rulers of Egypt (1250–1516); first, to assist them in putting an end to what remained of Crusader rule in coastal Levant, and later to help them safeguard the Lebanese coast against Crusader retaliation by sea.
In the early period of the Crusader era, the Druze feudal power was in the hands of two families, the Tanukhs and the Arslans. From their fortresses in the Gharb area (now in Aley District of southern Mount Lebanon Governorate), the Tanukhs led their incursions into the Phoenician coast and finally succeeded in holding Beirut and the marine plain against the Franks. Because of their fierce battles with the Crusaders, the Druzes earned the respect of the Sunni Muslim caliphs and thus gained important political powers. After the middle of the twelfth century, the Ma’an family superseded the Tanukhs in Druze leadership. The origin of the family goes back to a Prince Ma’an who made his appearance in the Lebanon in the days of the ‘Abbasid caliph al-Mustarshid (1118–35 CE). The Ma’ans chose for their abode the Chouf District in south-western Lebanon (southern Mount Lebanon Governorate), overlooking the maritime plain between Beirut and Sidon, and made their headquarters in Baaqlin, which is still a leading Druze village. They were invested with feudal authority by Sultan Nur ad-Din and furnished respectable contingents to the Muslim ranks in their struggle against the Crusaders.
Persecution during the Mamluk and Ottoman period
Having cleared the holy land of the Franks, the Mamluk sultans of Egypt turned their attention to the schismatic Muslims of Syria. In 1305, after the issuing of a fatwa by the scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, calling for jihad against all non-Sunni Muslims like the Druze, Alawites, Ismaili, and Twelver Shia Muslims, al-Malik al-Nasir inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Druze at Keserwan, and forced outward compliance on their part to Orthodox Sunni Islam. Later, under the Ottoman, they were severely attacked at Saoufar in 1585, after the Ottomans claimed that they assaulted their caravans near Tripoli. As a result of the Ottoman experience with the rebellious Druze, the word Durzi in Turkish came, and continues, to mean someone who is the ultimate thug. One influential Islamic sage of that time labeled them as infidels and argued that, even though they might behave like Muslims on the outside, this is no more than a pretense. He also declared that confiscation of Druze property and even the death sentence would conform to the laws of Islam.
Consequently, the 16th and 17th centuries were to witness a succession of armed Druze rebellions against the Ottomans, countered by repeated Ottoman punitive expeditions against the Chouf, in which the Druze population of the area was severely depleted and many villages destroyed. These military measures, severe as they were, did not succeed in reducing the local Druze to the required degree of subordination. This led the Ottoman government to agree to an arrangement whereby the different nahiyes (districts) of the Chouf would be granted in iltizam (“fiscal concession”) to one of the region’s amirs, or leading chiefs, leaving the maintenance of law and order and the collection of its taxes in the area in the hands of the appointed amir. This arrangement was to provide the cornerstone for the privileged status which ultimately came to be enjoyed by the whole of Mount Lebanon, Druze and Christian areas alike.
With the advent of the Ottoman Turks and the conquest of Syria by Sultan Selim I in 1516, the Ma’ans were acknowledged by the new rulers as the feudal lords of southern Lebanon. Druze villages spread and prospered in that region, which under Ma’an leadership so flourished that it acquired the generic term of Jabal Bayt-Ma’an (the mountain home of the Ma’an) or Jabal al-Druze. The latter title has since been usurped by the Hawran region, which since the middle of the 19th century has proven a haven of refuge to Druze emigrants from Lebanon and has become the headquarters of Druze power.
Under Fakhr-al-Dīn II (Fakhreddin II), the Druze dominion increased until it included Lebanon-Phoenicia and almost all Syria, extending from the edge of the Antioch plain in the north to Safad in the south, with a part of the Syrian desert dominated by Fakhr-al-Din’s castle at Tadmur (Palmyra), the ancient capital of Zenobia. The ruins of this castle still stand on a steep hill overlooking the town. Fakhr-al-Din became too strong for his Turkish sovereign in Constantinople. He went so far in 1608 as to sign a commercial treaty with Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany containing secret military clauses. The Sultan then sent a force against him, and he was compelled to flee the land and seek refuge in the courts of Tuscanyand Naples in 1613 and 1615 respectively.
In 1618 political changes in the Ottoman sultanate had resulted in the removal of many enemies of Fakhr-al-Din from power, signaling the prince’s triumphant return to Lebanon soon afterwards. Through a clever policy of bribery and warfare, he extended his domains to cover all of modern Lebanon, some of Syria and northern Galilee.
In 1632 Küçük Ahmet Pasha was named Lord of Damascus. Küçük Ahmet Pasha was a rival of Fakhr-al-Din and a friend of the sultan Murad IV, who ordered the pasha and the sultanate’s navy to attack Lebanon and depose Fakhr-al-Din.
This time the prince decided to remain in Lebanon and resist the offensive, but the death of his son Ali in Wadi al-Taym was the beginning of his defeat. He later took refuge in Jezzine’s grotto, closely followed by Küçük Ahmet Pasha who eventually caught up with him and his family.
Fakhr-al-Din was captured, taken to Istanbul, and imprisoned with two of his sons in the infamous Yedi Kule prison. The Sultan had Fakhr-al-Din and his sons killed on 13 April 1635 in Istanbul, bringing an end to an era in the history of Lebanon, which would not regain its current boundaries until it was proclaimed a mandate state and republic in 1920. One version recounts that the younger son was spared, raised in the harem and went on to become Ottoman Ambassador to India.
Fakhr-al-Din II was the first ruler in modern Lebanon to open the doors of his country to foreign Western influences. Under his auspices the French established a khān (hostel) in Sidon, the Florentines a consulate, and Christian missionaries were admitted into the country. Beirut and Sidon, which Fakhr-al-Din II beautified, still bear traces of his benign rule. See the new biography of this Prince, based on original sources, by TJ Gorton: Renaissance Emir: a Druze Warlord at the Court of the Medici (London, Quartet Books, 2013), for an updated view of his life.
Fakhr ad Din II was succeeded in 1635 by his nephew Ahmed Ma’an, who ruled through his death in 1658. (Fakhr ad Din’s only surviving son, Husayn, lived the rest of his life as a court official in Constantinople.) Emir Mulhim exercised Iltizam taxation rights in the Shuf, Gharb, Jurd, Matn, and Kisrawan districts of Lebanon. Mulhim’s forces battled and defeated those of Mustafa Pasha, Beylerbey of Damascus, in 1642, but he is reported by historians to have been otherwise loyal to Ottoman rule.
Following Mulhim’s death, his sons Ahmad and Korkmaz entered into a power struggle with other Ottoman-backed Druze leaders. In 1660, the Ottoman Empire moved to reorganize the region, placing the sanjaks (districts) of Sidon-Beirut and Safed in a newly formed province of Sidon, a move seen by local Druze as an attempt to assert control. Contemporary historian Istifan al-Duwayhi reports that Korkmaz was killed in act of treachery by the Beylerbey of Damascus in 1662. Ahmad however emerged victorious in the power struggle among the Druze in 1667, but the Maʿnīs lost control of Safad and retreated to controlling the iltizam of the Shuf mountains and Kisrawan. Ahmad continued as local ruler through his death from natural causes, without heir, in 1697.
During the Ottoman–Habsburg War (1683–1699), Ahmad Ma’n collaborated in a rebellion against the Ottomans which extended beyond his death. Iltizam rights in Shuf and Kisrawan passed to the rising Shihab family through female-line inheritance.
As early as the days of Saladin, and while the Ma’ans were still in complete control over southern Lebanon, the Shihab tribe, originally Hijaz Arabs, but later settled in Ḥawran, advanced from Ḥawran, in 1172, and settled in Wadi al-Taym at the foot of mount Hermon. They soon made an alliance with the Ma’ans and were acknowledged as the Druze chiefs in Wadi al-Taym. At the end of the 17th century (1697) the Shihabs succeeded the Ma’ans in the feudal leadership of Druze southern Lebanon, although they reportedly professed Sunni Islam, they showed sympathy with Druzism, the religion of the majority of their subjects.
The Shihab leadership continued until the middle of the 19th century and culminated in the illustrious governorship of Amir Bashir Shihab II (1788–1840) who, after Fakhr-al-Din, was the most powerful feudal lord Lebanon produced. Though governor of the Druze Mountain, Bashir was a crypto-Christian, and it was he whose aid Napoleon solicited in 1799 during his campaign against Syria.
Having consolidated his conquests in Syria (1831–1838), Ibrahim Pasha, son of the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, made the fatal mistake of trying to disarm the Christians and Druzes of the Lebanon and to draft the latter into his army. This was contrary to the principles of the life of independence which these mountaineers had always lived, and resulted in a general uprising against Egyptian rule. The uprising was encouraged, for political reasons, by the British. The Druzes of Wadi al-Taym and Ḥawran, under the leadership of Shibli al-Aryan, distinguished themselves in their stubborn resistance at their inaccessible headquarters, al-Laja, lying southeast of Damascus.
Qaysites and the Yemenites
The conquest of Syria by the Muslim Arabs in the middle of the seventh century introduced into the land two political factions later called the Qaysites and the Yemenites. The Qaysite party represented the Bedouin Arabs who were regarded as inferior by the Yemenites who were earlier and more cultured emigrants into Syria from southern Arabia. Druzes and Christians grouped in political, rather than religious, parties; the party lines in Lebanon obliterated racial and religious lines and the people grouped themselves into one or the other of these two parties regardless of their religious affiliations. The sanguinary feuds between these two factions depleted, in course of time, the manhood of the Lebanon and ended in the decisive battle of Ain Dara in 1711, which resulted in the utter defeat of the Yemenite party. Many Yemenite Druzes thereupon immigrated to the Hawran region, and thus laid the foundation of Druze power there.
Civil War of 1860
In 1840 social disturbance started between Druze and their Christian Maronite neighbors, who had previously been on friendly terms. This culminated in the civil war of 1860.
After the Shehab dynasty converted to Christianity, the Druze community and feudal leaders came under attack from the regime with the collaboration of the Catholic Church, and the Druze lost most of their political and feudal powers. Also, the Druze formed an alliance with Britain and allowed Protestant missionaries to enter Mount Lebanon, creating tension between them and the Catholic Maronites.
The Maronite-Druze conflict in 1840–60 was an outgrowth of the Maronite Christian independence movement, directed against the Druze, Druze feudalism, and the Ottoman-Turks. The civil war was not therefore a religious war, except in Damascus, where it spread and where the vastly non-Druze population was anti-Christian. The movement culminated with the 1859–60 massacre and defeat of the Christians by the Druzes. The civil war of 1860 cost the Christians some ten thousand lives in Damascus, Zahlé, Deir al-Qamar, Hasbaya, and other towns of Lebanon.
The European powers then determined to intervene, and authorized the landing in Beirut of a body of French troops under General Beaufort d’Hautpoul, whose inscription can still be seen on the historic rock at the mouth of Nahr al-Kalb. French intervention on behalf of the Maronites did not help the Maronite national movement, since France was restricted in 1860 by Britain, which did not want the Ottoman Empire dismembered. But European intervention pressured the Turks to treat the Maronites more justly. Following the recommendations of the powers, the Ottoman Porte granted Lebanon local autonomy, guaranteed by the powers, under a Christian governor. This autonomy was maintained until World War I.
Rebellion in Hauran
The Hauran rebellion was a violent Druze uprising against Ottoman authority in the Syrian province, which erupted in May 1909. The rebellion was led by al-Atrash family, originated in local disputes and Druze unwillingness to pay taxes and conscript into the Ottoman Army. The rebellion ended in brutal suppression of the Druze by General Sami Pasha al-Farouqi, significant depopulation of the Hauran region and execution of the Druze leaders in 1910. In the outcome of the revolt, 2,000 Druze were killed, a similar number wounded, and hundreds of Druze fighters imprisoned. Al-Farouqi also disarmed the population, extracted significant taxes, and launched a census of the region.
In Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Jordan, the Druzites have official recognition as a separate religious community with its own religious court system. Druzites are known for their loyalty to the countries they reside in, though they have a strong community feeling, in which they identify themselves as related even across borders of countries.
Despite their practice of blending with dominant groups to avoid persecution, and because the Druze religion does not endorse separatist sentiments, but urges blending with the communities they reside in, the Druze have had a history of resistance to occupying powers, and they have at times enjoyed more freedom than most other groups living in the Levant.
In Syria, most Druzites live in the Jebel al-Druze, a rugged and mountainous region in the southwest of the country, which is more than 90 percent Druze inhabited; some 120 villages are exclusively so. Other notable communities live in the Harim Mountains, the Damascus suburb of Jaramana, and on the southeast slopes of Mount Hermon. A large Syrian Druze community historically lived in the Golan Heights, but following wars with Israel in 1967 and 1973, many of these Druze fled to other parts of Syria; most of those who remained live in a handful of villages in the disputed zone, while only a few live in the narrow remnant of Quneitra Governorate that is still under effective Syrian control.
When a local paper in 1945 reported that President Shukri al-Quwatli (1943–49) had called the Druzes a “dangerous minority”, Sultan Pasha al-Atrash flew into a rage and demanded a public retraction. If it were not forthcoming, he announced, the Druzes would indeed become “dangerous”, and a force of 4,000 Druze warriors would “occupy the city of Damascus”. Quwwatli could not dismiss Sultan Pasha’s threat. The military balance of power in Syria was tilted in favor of the Druzes, at least until the military build up during the 1948 War in Palestine. One advisor to the Syrian Defense Department warned in 1946 that the Syrian army was “useless”, and that the Druzes could “take Damascus and capture the present leaders in a breeze”.
During the four years of Adib Shishakli’s rule in Syria (December 1949 to February 1954) (on 25 August 1952: Adib al-Shishakli created the Arab Liberation Movement (ALM), a progressive party with pan-Arabist and socialist views), the Druze community was subjected to a heavy attack by the Syrian government. Shishakli believed that among his many opponents in Syria, the Druzes were the most potentially dangerous, and he was determined to crush them. He frequently proclaimed: “My enemies are like a serpent: The head is the Jebel al-Druze, the stomach Homs, and the tail Aleppo. If I crush the head, the serpent will die.” Shishakli dispatched 10,000 regular troops to occupy the Jebel al-Druze. Several towns were bombarded with heavy weapons, killing scores of civilians and destroying many houses. According to Druze accounts, Shishakli encouraged neighboring bedouin tribes to plunder the defenseless population and allowed his own troops to run amok.
Shishakli launched a brutal campaign to defame the Druzes for their religion and politics. He accused the entire community of treason, at times claiming they were agents of the British and Hashimites, at others that they were fighting for Israel against the Arabs. He even produced a cache of Israeli weapons allegedly discovered in the Jabal. Even more painful for the Druze community was his publication of “falsified Druze religious texts” and false testimonials ascribed to leading Druze sheikhs designed to stir up sectarian hatred. This propaganda also was broadcast in the Arab world, mainly Egypt. Shishakli was assassinated in Brazil on 27 September 1964 by a Druze seeking revenge for Shishakli’s bombardment of the Jebel al-Druze.
He forcibly integrated minorities into the national Syrian social structure, his “Syrianization” of Alawite and Druze territories had to be accomplished in part using violence, he declared: “My enemies are like serpent. The head is the Jabal Druze, if I crush the head the serpent will die” (Seale 1963:132). To this end, al-Shishakli encouraged the stigmatization of minorities. He saw minority demands as tantamount to treason. His increasingly chauvinistic notions of Arab nationalism were predicated on the denial that “minorities” existed in Syria.
After the Shishakli’s military campaign, the Druze community lost much of its political influence, but many Druze military officers played important roles in the Ba’ath government currently ruling Syria.
In 1967, a community of Druze in the Golan Heights came under Israeli control, today numbering 23,000 (in 2019).
The Qalb Loze massacre was a reported massacre of Syrian Druze on 10 June 2015 in the village of Qalb Loze in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Governorate in which 20-24 Druze were killed. On July 25, 2018, a group of ISIS-affiliated attackers entered the Druze city of As-Suwayda and initiated a series of gunfights and suicide bombings on its streets, killing at least 258 people, the vast majority of them civilians.
The Druzite community in Lebanon played an important role in the formation of the modern state of Lebanon, and even though they are a minority they play an important role in the Lebanese political scene. Before and during the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90), the Druze were in favor of Pan-Arabism and Palestinian resistance represented by the PLO. Most of the community supported the Progressive Socialist Party formed by their leader Kamal Jumblatt and they fought alongside other leftist and Palestinian parties against the Lebanese Front that was mainly constituted of Christians. After the assassination of Kamal Jumblatt on 16 March 1977, his son Walid Jumblatt took the leadership of the party and played an important role in preserving his father’s legacy after winning the Mountain War and sustained the existence of the Druze community during the sectarian bloodshed that lasted until 1990.
In August 2001, Maronite Catholic Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir toured the predominantly Druze Chouf region of Mount Lebanon and visited Mukhtara, the ancestral stronghold of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. The tumultuous reception that Sfeir received not only signified a historic reconciliation between Maronites and Druze, who fought a bloody war in 1983–1984, but underscored the fact that the banner of Lebanese sovereignty had broad multi-confessional appeal and was a cornerstone for the Cedar Revolution in 2005. Jumblatt’s post-2005 position diverged sharply from the tradition of his family. He also accused Damascus of being behind the 1977 assassination of his father, Kamal Jumblatt, expressing for the first time what many knew he privately suspected. The BBC describes Jumblatt as “the leader of Lebanon’s most powerful Druze clan and heir to a leftist political dynasty”. The second largest political party supported by Druze is the Lebanese Democratic Party led by Prince Talal Arslan, the son of Lebanese independence hero Emir Majid Arslan.
The Druzites form a religious minority in Israel of more than 100,000, mostly residing in the north of the country. In 2004, there were 102,000 Druze living in the country. In 2010, the population of Israeli Druze citizens grew to over 125,000. At the end of 2018, there were 143,000. Most Israeli Druze identify ethnically as Arabs. Today, thousands of Israeli Druze belong to “Druze Zionist” movements.Some scholars maintain that Israel has tried to separate the Druze from other Arab communities, and that the effort has influenced the way Israel’s Druze perceive their modern identity.In 1957, the Israeli government designated the Druze a distinct ethnic community at the request of its communal leaders. The Druze are Arabic-speaking citizens of Israel and serve in the Israel Defense Forces, just as most citizens do in Israel. Members of the community have attained top positions in Israeli politics and public service. The number of Druze parliament members usually exceeds their proportion in the Israeli population, and they are integrated within several political parties.
The Druzites form a religious minority in Jordan of around 32,000, mostly residing in the northwestern part of the country.
The Druze conception of the deity is declared by them to be one of strict and uncompromising unity. The main Druze doctrine states that God is both transcendent and immanent, in which he is above all attributes, but at the same time, he is present.
In their desire to maintain a rigid confession of unity, they stripped from God all attributes (tanzīh). In God, there are no attributes distinct from his essence. He is wise, mighty, and just, not by wisdom, might, and justice, but by his own essence. God is “the whole of existence”, rather than “above existence” or on his throne, which would make him “limited”. There is neither “how”, “when”, nor “where” about him; he is incomprehensible.
In this dogma, they are similar to the semi-philosophical, semi-religious body which flourished under Al-Ma’mun and was known by the name of Mu’tazila and the fraternal order of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Ṣafa).
Unlike the Mu’tazila, however, and similar to some branches of Sufism, the Druze believe in the concept of Tajalli (meaning “theophany”). Tajalli is often misunderstood by scholars and writers and is usually confused with the concept of incarnation.
[Incarnation] is the core spiritual beliefs in the Druze and some other intellectual and spiritual traditions … In a mystical sense, it refers to the light of God experienced by certain mystics who have reached a high level of purity in their spiritual journey. Thus, God is perceived as the Lahut [the divine] who manifests His Light in the Station (Maqaam) of the Nasut [material realm] without the Nasut becoming Lahut. This is like one’s image in the mirror: One is in the mirror, but does not become the mirror. The Druze manuscripts are emphatic and warn against the belief that the Nasut is God … Neglecting this warning, individual seekers, scholars, and other spectators have considered al-Hakim and other figures divine.
… In the Druze scriptural view, Tajalli takes a central stage. One author comments that Tajalli occurs when the seeker’s humanity is annihilated so that divine attributes and light are experienced by the person.
Druze Sacred texts include the Kitab Al Hikma (Epistles of Wisdom). Other ancient Druze writings include the Rasa’il al-Hind (Epistles of India) and the previously lost (or hidden) manuscripts such as al-Munfarid bi-Dhatihi and al-Sharia al-Ruhaniyya as well as others including didactic and polemic treatises.
Reincarnation is a paramount principle in the Druze faith. Reincarnations occur instantly at one’s death because there is an eternal duality of the body and the soul and it is impossible for the soul to exist without the body. A human soul will transfer only to a human body, in contrast to the Hindu and Buddhist belief systems, according to which souls can transfer to any living creature. Furthermore, a male Druze can be reincarnated only as another male Druze and a female Druze only as another female Druze. A Druze cannot be reincarnated in the body of a non-Druze. Additionally, souls cannot be divided and the number of souls existing in the universe is finite. The cycle of rebirth is continuous and the only way to escape is through successive reincarnations. When this occurs, the soul is united with the Cosmic Mind and achieves the ultimate happiness.
Pact of Time Custodian
The Pact of Time Custodian (Mithaq Walley El-Zaman) is considered the entrance to the Druze religion, and they believe that all Druze in their past lives have signed this Charter, and Druze believe that this Charter embodies with human souls after death.
I rely on our Moula Al-Hakim the lonely God, the individual, the eternal, who is out of couples and numbers, (someone) the son of (someone) has approved recognition enjoined on himself and on his soul, in a healthy of his mind and his body, permissibility aversive is obedient and not forced, to repudiate from all creeds, articles and all religions and beliefs on the differences varieties, and he does not know something except obedience of almighty Moulana Al-Hakim, and obedience is worship and that it does not engage in worship anyone ever attended or wait, and that he had handed his soul and his body and his money and all he owns to almighty Maulana Al-Hakim.
The Druze also use a similar formula, called al-‘ahd, when one is initiated into the ʻUqqāl.
The prayer-houses of the Druze are called khalwa or khalwat. The primary sanctuary of the Druze is at Khalwat al-Bayada.
The Druze believe that many teachings given by prophets, religious leaders and holy books have esoteric meanings preserved for those of intellect, in which some teachings are symbolic and allegorical in nature, and divide the understanding of holy books and teachings into three layers.
These layers, according to the Druze, are as follows:
- The obvious or exoteric (zahir), accessible to anyone who can read or hear;
- The hidden or esoteric (batin), accessible to those who are willing to search and learn through the concept of exegesis;
- And the hidden of the hidden, a concept known as anagoge, inaccessible to all but a few really enlightened individuals who truly understand the nature of the universe.
Druze do not believe that the esoteric meaning abrogates or necessarily abolishes the exoteric one. Hamza bin Ali refutes such claims by stating that if the esoteric interpretation of taharah (purity) is purity of the heart and soul, it doesn’t mean that a person can discard his physical purity, as salat (prayer) is useless if a person is untruthful in his speech and that the esoteric and exoteric meanings complement each other.
Seven Druze precepts
The Druze follow seven moral precepts or duties that are considered the core of the faith. The Seven Druze precepts are:
- Veracity in speech and the truthfulness of the tongue.
- Protection and mutual aid to the brethren in faith.
- Renunciation of all forms of former worship (specifically, invalid creeds) and false belief.
- Repudiation of the devil (Iblis), and all forces of evil (translated from Arabic Toghyan, meaning “despotism”).
- Confession of God’s unity.
- Acquiescence in God’s acts no matter what they be.
- Absolute submission and resignation to God’s divine will in both secret and public.
Complicating their identity is the custom of taqiyya—concealing or disguising their beliefs when necessary—that they adopted from Ismailism and the esoteric nature of the faith, in which many teachings are kept secretive. This is done in order to keep the religion from those who are not yet prepared to accept the teachings and therefore could misunderstand it, as well as to protect the community when it is in danger. Druzes tend to follow the dominant religion of the country where they reside. Some claim to be Muslim or Christian in order to avoid persecution; some do not. Druze in different states can have radically different lifestyles.
The Druze allow divorce, although it is discouraged; circumcision is not necessary; they cannot be reborn as non-Druze; those who purify and perfect their soul ascend to the stars upon death; when al-Hakim returns, all faithful Druze will join him in his march from China and on to conquer the world; apostasy is forbidden, usually have religious services on Thursday evenings, and follow Sunni Hanafi law on issues which their own faith has no particular ruling.
- Green for ʻAql “the Universal Mind/Intelligence/Nous”,
- Red for Nafs “the Universal Soul/Anima mundi”,
- Yellow for Kalima “the Word/Logos”,
- Blue for Sabiq “the Potentiality/Cause/Precedent”, and
- White for Tali “the Future/Effect/Immanence”.
The mind generates qualia and gives consciousness. The soul embodies the mind and is responsible for transmigration and the character of oneself. The word which is the atom of language communicates qualia between humans and represents the platonic forms in the sensible world. The Sabq and Tali is the ability to perceive and learn from the past and plan for the future and predict it.
The colors can be arranged in vertically descending stripes (as a flag) or a five-pointed star. The stripes are a diagrammatic cut of the spheres in neoplatonic philosophy, while the five-pointed star embodies the golden ratio, phi, as a symbol of temperance and a life of moderation.
Prayer houses and holy places
The second type of religious shrine is one associated with the anniversary of a historic event or death of a prophet. If it is a mausoleum the Druze call it mazār and if it is a shrine they call it maqām. The holy places become more important to the community in times of adversity and calamity. The holy places and shrines of the Druze are scattered in various villages, in places where they are protected and cared for. They are found in Syria, Lebanon and Israel.
Initiates and “ignorant” members
Given the strict religious, intellectual and spiritual requirements, most of the Druzes are not initiated and might be referred to as al-Juhhāl (جهال), literally “the Ignorant”, but in practice referring to the non-initiated Druzes; however, that term is seldom used by the Druzes. Those are not granted access to the Druze holy literature or allowed to attend the initiated religious meetings of the ʻuqqāl. The cohesiveness and frequent inter-community social interaction however makes it in sort that that most Druzes have an idea about their broad ethical requirements and have some sense of what their theology consists of (albeit often flawed).
The initiated religious group, which includes both men and women (less than 10% of the population), is called al-ʻUqqāl (عقال “the Knowledgeable Initiates”). They might or might not dress differently, although most wear a costume that was characteristic of mountain people in previous centuries. Women can opt to wear al-mandīl, a loose white veil, especially in the presence of other people. They wear al-mandīl on their heads to cover their hair and wrap it around their mouths. They wear black shirts and long skirts covering their legs to their ankles. Male ʻuqqāl often grow mustaches, and wear dark Levantine-Turkish traditional dresses, called the shirwal, with white turbans that vary according to the seniority of the ʻuqqāl. Traditionally the Druze women have played an important role both socially and religiously inside the community.
Al-ʻuqqāl have equal rights to al-Juhhāl, but establish a hierarchy of respect based on religious service. The most influential of al-ʻuqqāl become Ajawīd, recognized religious leaders, and from this group the spiritual leaders of the Druze are assigned. While the Shaykh al-ʻAql, which is an official position in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, is elected by the local community and serves as the head of the Druze religious council, judges from the Druze religious courts are usually elected for this position. Unlike the spiritual leaders, the authority of the Shaykh al-ʻAql is limited to the country he is elected in, though in some instances spiritual leaders are elected to this position.
The Druze believe in the unity of God, and are often known as the “People of Monotheism” or simply “Monotheists”. Their theology has a Neo-Platonic view about how God interacts with the world through emanations and is similar to some gnostic and other esoteric sects. Druze philosophy also shows Sufi influences.
Druze principles focus on honesty, loyalty, filial piety, altruism, patriotic sacrifice, and monotheism. They reject nicotine, alcohol, and other drugs, and often the consumption of pork (to those Uqqāl and not necessarily to be required by the Juhhāl). Druze reject polygamy, believe in reincarnation, and are not obliged to observe most of the religious rituals. The Druze believe that rituals are symbolic and have an individualistic effect on the person, for which reason Druze are free to perform them, or not. The community does celebrate Eid al-Adha, however, considered their most significant holiday.
Mate is a popular drink consumed by the Druze brought to the Levant from Syrian migrants from Argentina in the 19th century. Mate is made by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water and is served with a metal straw (bambija or masassa) from a gourd (finjan/Qar’aa). Mate is often the first item served when entering a Druze home. It is a social drink and can be shared between multiple participants. After each drinker, the metal straw is cleaned with a lemon rind. Traditional snacks eaten with mate include raisins, nuts, dried figs, biscuits, and chips.
Druze and other religions
Relationship with Christians
Main article: Christianity and Druze
Christianity and Druze are Abrahamic religions that share a historical traditional connection with some major theological differences. The two faiths share a common place of origin in the Middle East, and consider themselves to be monotheistic. The relationship between the Druze and Christians has been characterized by harmony and coexistence, with amicable relations between the two groups prevailing throughout history, with the exception of some periods, including 1860 Mount Lebanon civil war.
In terms of religious comparison, mainstream Christian denominations do not believe in reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul, contrary to the beliefs of the Druze. Christianity teaches evangelism, often through the establishment of missions, unlike the Druze who do not accept converts to their faith. Marriage outside the Druze faith is rare and is strongly discouraged. Similarities between the Druze and Christians include commonalities in their view of monogamous marriage and divorce, as well as belief in the oneness of God and theophany. The Druze faith incorporates some elements of Christianity, and other religious beliefs.
Both faiths give a prominent place to Jesus: Jesus is the central figure of Christianity, and in the Druze faith, Jesus is considered an important prophet of God, being among the seven prophets who appeared in different periods of history. Both religions venerated John the Baptist, Saint George, Elijah, and other common figures.
The Druze faith extended to many areas in the Middle East, but most of the modern Druze can trace their origin to the Wadi al-Taym in Southern Lebanon, which is named after an Arab tribe Taymour-Allah (formerly Taymour-Allat) which, according to Islamic historian al-Tabari, first came from the Arabian Peninsula into the valley of the Euphrates where they had been Christianized prior to their migration into the Lebanon. Many of the Druze feudal families whose genealogies have been preserved by the two modern Syrian chroniclers Haydar al-Shihabi and Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq seem also to point in the direction of this origin. Arabian tribes emigrated via the Persian Gulf and stopped in Iraq on the route that was later to lead them to Syria. The first feudal Druze family, the Tanukhids, which made for itself a name in fighting the Crusaders, was, according to Haydar al-Shihabi, an Arab tribe from Mesopotamia where it occupied the position of a ruling family and apparently was Christianized.
Travelers like Niebuhr, and scholars like Max von Oppenheim, undoubtedly echoing the popular Druze belief regarding their own origin, have classified them as Arabs. The prevailing idea among Druzes themselves today is that they are of Arab stock.
Druze as a mixture of Western Asian tribes
The 1911 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica states that the Druzes are “a mixture of refugee stocks, in which the Arab largely predominates, grafted on to an original mountain population of Aramaic blood”.
The Tanukhs must have left Arabia as early as the second or third century AD. The Ma’an tribe, which superseded the Tanukhs and produced the greatest Druze hero, Fakhr-al-Din, had the same traditional origin. The Talhuq family and ‘Abd-al-Malik, who supplied the later Druze leadership, have the same record as the Tanukhs. The Imad family is named for al-Imadiyyah—the Kurdish town of Amadiya, northeast of Mosul inside Kurdistan, and, like the Jumblatts, is thought to be of Kurdish tribal origin, the Janpulad (“soul of steel”) are still found east of Adana in Turkey, across the borders from Syria. The leading “Atrash” family also can trace its background to the Kurdish tribe, the Hartush/Atrush, found in northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey today. The Arsalan family claims descent from the Hirah Arab kings, but the name Arsalan (Persian and Turkish for lion) suggests Persian influence, if not origin.
During the 18th century, there were two branches of Druze living in Lebanon: the Yemeni Druze, headed by the “Harmouche” and “Alamuddine” families; and the Kaysi Druze, headed by the Jumblatt and Arslan families. The Harmouche family was banished from Mount Lebanon following the battle of Ain Dara in 1711. The battle was fought between two Druze factions: the Yemeni and the Kaysi. Following their dramatic defeat, the Yemeni faction migrated to Syria in the Jebel-Druze region and its capital, As-Suwayda. However, it has been argued that these two factions were of a political nature, rather than ethnic, and had both Christian and Druze supporters.
According to Jewish contemporary literature, the Druze, who were visited and described in 1165 by Benjamin of Tudela, were pictured as descendants of the Itureans, an Ismaelite Arab tribe, which used to reside in the northern parts of the Golan plateau through Hellenistic and Roman periods. The word Druzes, in an early Hebrew edition of his travels, occurs as “Dogziyin”, but it is clear that this is a scribal error.
Archaeological assessments of the Druze region have also proposed the possibility of Druze descending from Itureans, who had inhabited Mount Lebanon and Golan Heights in late classic antiquity, but their traces fade in the Middle Ages.
In a 2005 study of ASPM gene variants, Mekel-Bobrov et al. found that the Israeli Druze people of the Mount Carmel region have among the highest rate of the newly evolved ASPM- Haplogroup D, at 52.2% occurrence of the approximately 6,000-year-old allele. While it is not yet known exactly what selective advantage is provided by this gene variant, the Haplogroup D allele is thought to be positively selected in populations and to confer some substantial advantage that has caused its frequency to rapidly increase.
One small DNA study has shown that Israeli Druze are remarkable for the high frequency (35%) of males who carry the Y-chromosomal haplogroup L (though some Afshar village and the Raqqa Syrians have even more), which is otherwise uncommon in the Mideast (Shen et al. 2004). This haplogroup originates from prehistoric South Asia and has spread from Pakistan into southern Iran. However, studies done on larger samples showed that L-M20 averages 5% in Israeli Druze, 8% in Lebanese Druze, and it was not found in a sample of 59 Syrian Druze.
Cruciani in 2007 found E1b1b1a2 (E-V13) [a subclade of E1b1b1a (E-M78)] in high levels (>10% of the male population) in Turkish Cypriot and Druze Arab lineages. Recent genetic clustering analyses of ethnic groups are consistent with the close ancestral relationship between the Druze and Cypriots, and also identified similarity to the general Syrian and Lebanese populations, as well as a variety of Jewish groups (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Iraqi, and Moroccan) (Behar et al. 2010).
Also, a new study concluded that the Druze harbor a remarkable diversity of mitochondrial DNA lineages that appear to have separated from each other thousands of years ago. But instead of dispersing throughout the world after their separation, the full range of lineages can still be found within the Druze population.
The researchers noted that the Druze villages contained a striking range of high frequency and high diversity of the X haplogroup, suggesting that this population provides a glimpse into the past genetic landscape of the Near East at a time when the X haplogroup was more prevalent.
These findings are consistent with the Druze oral tradition, that claims that the adherents of the faith came from diverse ancestral lineages stretching back tens of thousands of years. The Shroud of Turin analysis shows significant traces of mitochondrial DNA unique to the Druze community.
A 2008 study published on the genetic background of Druze communities in Israel showed highly heterogeneous parental origins. A total of 311 Israeli Druze were sampled: 37 from the Golan Heights, 183 from the Galilee, and 35 from Mount Carmel, as well as 27 Druze immigrants from Syria and 29 from Lebanon. The researchers found the following frequencies of Y-chromosomal haplogroups:
- Mount Carmel: L 27%, R 27%, J 18%, E 15%, G 12%.
- Galilee: J 31%, R 20%, E 18%, G 14%, K 11%, Q 4%, L 2%.
- Golan Heights: J 54%, E 29%, I 8%, G 4%, C 4%.
- Lebanon: J 31%, E 22%, K 21%, R 14%, L 10%.
- Syria: J 39%, E 29%, R 14%, G 14%, K 4%.
A 2016 study based on testing samples of Druze in the Syria (region) in comparison with ancient humans (including Anatolian and Armenian), and on Geographic Population Structure (GPS) tool by converting genetic distances into geographic distances, concluded that Druze might hail from the Zagros Mountains and the surroundings of Lake Van in eastern Anatolia, then they later migrated south to settle in the mountainous regions in Syria, Lebanon and Israel.
- Sword Battalion
- Jaysh al-Muwahhideen
- Jabal Druze State
- List of Druze
- Neoplatonism and Gnosticism
- Religious syncretism
- Dana, Nissim (2003). The Druze in the Middle East: Their Faith, Leadership, Identity and Status. Sussex University Press. ISBN 978-1-903900-36-9..
- Hitti, Philip Khūri (1924). Origins of the Druze People and Religion. Forgotten Books. ISBN 978-1-60506-068-2. Retrieved 4 April 2012..
- Nisan, Mordechai (2002), Minorities in the Middle East: a history of struggle and self-expression (2nd, illustrated ed.), McFarland, ISBN 978-0-7864-1375-1, retrieved 4 April 2012
- Swayd, Samy S (2006). Historical dictionary of the Druzes. 3 (illustrated ed.). Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0-8108-5332-4. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia