Religion and group of people with somewhere between 350,000 (estimate of Western scholars) and 900,000 (figures presented by the Druze) members (LookLex estimates that around 600,000 live in the Middle East and nearly 700,000 all over the world), living in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Jordan, often in mountainous regions. There are also important Druze communities abroad, living in Europe and USA.
|Druze by country
Last column: % Druze of the population
|Other countries: 75,000
*) Calculated for the total population of North Africa and the Middle East, approx. 460,000,000.
Druze temple in Suweida, Syria. Photo: Sergio & Gabriella.
Druze shaykh. Photo: Sergio & Gabriella.
While the Druze are not regarded as Muslims by other Muslims, they regard themselves as Muslims as well as carriers of the core of this Islam. The Druze seem, to a large extent, to have originated from a group of Shi'is, the Isma'ilis, but they have diverged much, and the Koran does not seem to be a part of their religion.
The Druze call themselves muwahhidun, 'monotheists'.
The theology of Druze religion is called hikma and its main theme is that God incarnated himself in the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim, who they claim disappeared in 1021. While most Muslims believe he died in 1021, the Druze disagree and believe that al-Hakim is awaiting to return to the world in order to bring a new golden age to true believers.
The concept of God
Druze believe in one God and claim that the qualities of God cannot be understood or defined by humans. Al-Hakim is worshiped in Druze religion, he is called 'Our Lord', and his cruelties and eccentricities are all interpreted symbolically.
But while God incarnated himself in al-Hakim in his unity, other aspects of God can be incarnated in other human beings. These aspects are represented with 5 superior ministers. Under the ministers, one finds three other groups: functionaries, preachers, and heads of communities. The knowledge of about this hierarchal system is the highest knowledge in the Druze religion.
Frequently one hears from sources about a calf in Druze religion. It is believed that the calf is a central symbol which represents the negative forces in the world.
The moral system of Druze religion consists of seven principles:
- Love of truth
- Taking care of one another
- Renouncing all other religions
- Avoiding the demon (the calf?) and all wrongdoers
- Accepting divine unity in humanity
- Accepting all of al-Hakim's acts
- Acting in total accordance to al-Hakim's will
Central in the Druze world system is the belief in reincarnation, through which all souls are reborn as humans, good as well as bad. Good people have a more fortunate rebirth than bad people. Behind this system is the belief that humans cannot reach perfection and unite with God.
Hell and Paradise in Druze religion are viewed differently from most other Middle Eastern religions, and bear clear resemblances with Gnostic philosophy and religion, as heaven is only spiritual, when man stops being man and is saved from more rebirths. Hell is just as spiritual and is the distance from, and the longing to, unity with God which goes on for one lifetime after another if a person has been evil.
Meaning of the Druze star
The Druze star symbolizes the five wise superior ministers, each with his quality. Green is for "the mind", 'al-'akl, which is necessary for understanding the truth. Red is for "the soul", 'an-nafs. Yellow is for "the word", 'al-kalima, which is the purest form of expression of the truth. Blue, 'as-sabik, is for the mental power of the will. White, 'al-tali, is the realization of Blue, in which its power has been realized in the world of matter.
Organization of the community
The hikma is known only to an elite of religiously trained men, the uqqal. Most Druze know only parts of their religion's theology, and they are referred to as juhhal, "ignorants." One out of 50 members of the uqqal, reach as high as perfection, and are called 'ajawid, 'noble', and work as the real leaders of the Druze religion.
The uqqal take care of the religion for the juhhal, and they alone attend the religious meetings taking place on the night between Thursday and Friday, in ordinary buildings in the outskirts of Druze villages. For the Druze, the centre of religious activities is located to the Druze in southern Syria (main town is Suweida).
The juhhal perform few of the typical Muslim rituals, prayer is not performed in mosques, a fast is not performed during the Muslim month of Ramadan, and there are no obligations to perform the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage.
The Druze follow a life style of isolation in which no conversion is allowed, neither out of, or into, the religion. When Druze live among people of other religions, they try to blend in, in order to protect their religion and their own safety. They can perform prayer as Muslims, or as Christians, depending on where they are.
This system is apparently changing in modern times, where more security has allowed Druze to be more open about their religious identity.
Druze have earlier been reported to practice polygamy. But there is no evidence of such a practice among Druze today.
Druze abstain from wine and tobacco. There are clear prohibitions against a number of other acts, too.
Druze have a strong community feeling, in which they identify themselves as related even across borders of countries.
There are sources suggesting that the Druze had their own identity even before conversion to the faith in al-Hakim. Unsubstantiated theories point in a direction of the Druze being descendants of Persian colonists, while another theory says they are descendants of Christians from the time of the crusades. The latter is not very likely, due to the fact that the first crusade took place 80 years after al-Hakim's disappearance.
Despite their practice of blending with dominant groups in order to avoid persecution, the Druze have had a history of brave resistance to occupying powers, and they have at times enjoyed more freedom than most other groups living in the Levant.
1017: The religion is established in Cairo. The religious orientation gets its name from one of the earliest followers of Caliph al-Hakim, Muhammadu d-Darazi. It is believed that it spread to many regions in the Middle East and North Africa, but that it is only the Druze that kept it up.
1516: The Druze come under Turkish pressure as the Levant is conquered by the Ottomans. The Druze offer strong opposition, and keep a higher level of independence than their neighbours.
1918: Druze participate in the army of Faisal, thereby breaking a principle of non-participation outside their own community.
1921 March 4: The Druze are granted autonomy in the region of Jabalu d-Duruz, from the League of Nations.
1925: The Druze revolt, when Druze leaders protest against the liberalization of the society as promoted by the French governor of Duruz Mountains. The revolt ends with the arrest of the Druze leaders, and their being exiled to Palmyra.
1927: The Druze revolt is over, and the French begin a politics that is intended to keep the Druze away from Arab nationalism, and hence dependent upon the safety offered by the French.