The Druze1 (Arabic: darazi درزي, pl. drooz دروز) are a small and distinct religious community residing mainly in Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Jordan (small communities of immigrants also exist, notably in the US, Canada, Latin America, Australia, and Europe). They use the Arabic language and follow a social pattern very similar to the Arabs of the region. They are not considered Muslim by most Muslims in the region, though some Druze say that their religion is an Islamic one. Sometimes they do not consider themselves to be Arabs. In particular, some Lebanese Druze claim to be Arabs, while many Israeli Druze claim not to be. Some 600,000 Druze live in the Middle East today.
History of the Druze
The religion developed out of Ismaili Islam, a philosophical movement based in the Fatimid Caliphate, in the 10th century, a time of particular cultural wealth. The religion did not attempt to reform mainstream Islam, but aimed to create a whole new religious body, influenced by Greek philosophy, Gnosticism, and Christianity among others. The main actors were al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the Caliph who allowed the movement to grow, and Hamza, the main architect of the movement.
The Druze played major roles in the history of the Levant. They were mostly scattered in Mount Lebanon, which was known as the Mountain of the Druzes, and later in Jabal el-Dourouz (Druze Mountain) in Syria.
The Druze also played a major role in the War of Lebanon (1975–1990). They organized a militia (probably the strongest militia in the Lebanon war) under the leadership of Walid Jumblatt (son of Kamal Jumblatt) mostly as a response to aggressions conducted by other factions. They were based in the Mount Lebanon area (especially the Chouf).
The Druze today
In Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, the Druze have official recognition as a separate religious community with its own religious court system.
In Israel they vote in elections, and usually identify themselves as Israeli citizens; a number prefer to identify themselves as Arabs (but not specifically as Palestinians)2. However, many Druze living in the Golan Heights consider themselves Syrian and refuse Israeli citizenship, while the remainder consider themselves Israeli. Some Israeli Druze complain that their villages do not receive the same grants and subsidies that are given to Jewish communities.
Israeli Druze also serve in the Israeli army, voluntarily since 1948, and (at their request) compulsorily since 1956. Their privileges and responsibilites are the same as Israeli Jews; thus, all Druze are drafted, but exemptions are given for religious students and for various other reasons; however, conscientious objectors typically face jail time  (see also Refusal to serve in the Israeli military).
Prominent Druze figures include Fakhreddin II, descendant of the Ma'an dynasty, who ruled at its height what is known Lebanon, part of Syria, Israel, and even part of Turkey, and later Kamal Jumblatt, the founder of the Progressive Socialist Party in the mid-20th century and a major thinker and philosopher. In Israel, Salah Tarif (a former captain in the paratrooper and the tank divisions of the Israeli Army) has been a Knesset member since 1992. He has served as the Deputy Speaker, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs, and was appointed Minister without Portfolio in the Sharon government of 2001.
Their symbol is an array of five colors: Green, Red, Yellow, Blue and White. Each color pertains to a symbol defining its principles. The symbol can also be represented in a five-sided star. This is why the number '5' has special considerations among the religious community.
Beliefs of the Druze
The Druze faith keeps its tenets secret. They are publicly open about very few details of their faith (borrowing from the Shiite practice of taqiyya) and they do not accept converts. This is due to many religious, political and historical reasons: the Druzes were violently and brutally persecuted for centuries by other religious communities.
The Druze believe in the Unity of God, whence comes their own name for themselves: Ahl al-Tawheed (sons of the Unity). They are monotheists, in the same way as Jews and Muslims. Their theology has a Neo-Platonic view about how God interacts with the world through emanations and also is similar to some gnostic and other esoteric sects. They are not however also influenced by the Sufi philosophy, as many think.
The principles of the Druze faith are: guarding one's tongue (honesty), protecting one's brother, respecting the elderly, helping others, protecting one's homeland, belief in one God. Another well-known feature of the Druze religion is a fervent belief in human-only reincarnation for all the members of the community.
Druze consider the Old Testament prophets, as well as Jesus and Muhammad, to be true prophets. They also believe in the wisdom of classical Greek philosophers such as Plato. In addition, they have an array of "wise men" that founded the religion in the 11th century. Individual prayer, as in Islam, does not exist. Smoking, alcohol, and the eating of pork are banned. The Druze are not allowed to intermarry with Muslims, Jews, or members of any other religions. However, these rules are often disregarded in modern day societies.
The Druze are split internally into two groups. The 'inner group' are called the 'Uqqal' (meaning 'knowledgeable initiates'). Male Ukkal have moustaches and shaven heads. The 'outer group', called the 'Jahhul' (which means 'ignorant ones'), are not allowed access to the secret Druze holy literature. Between 10 and 20% are members of the Uqqal, whilst the Jahhul supply the material needs of the initiates.
One of the Druze's holy book is called the "Hikme" book (or the book of Wisdom). They denounce materialism, especially materialism relative to religion. Thus, their places of worship are usually very modest, and their religious figures ("Ajaweed") lead very modest lifestyles. Prayer is usually conducted discreetly and among family and friends. There is little official hierarchy in the religious community, except for the "Sheikh A'el", whose role is more political and social rather than religious. A religious figure is admired for his wisdom and lifestyle.
Druze women can opt to wear a "Mandeel" (transparent loose white veil) especially in the presence of religious figures. They are considered equal to men in all aspects, and are thought to be spiritually more suited to becoming members of the Uqqal than men.
Today contradictory literature and hoaxes surround the Druze, mainly due to adopted beliefs that were used to protect them from persecutors, or simply due to outsiders telling rumors and stories. For example, it is still unclear to most outsiders whether the Druze follow the same traditions of fasting as Muslims in the month of Ramadan. This is because the Druze have followed these traditions for numerous centuries in order to protect themselves. More orthodox Druze hold that they shouldn't follow these traditions, but should follow a different fasting tradition still practiced by religious figures instead.
- The Druze call themselves Ahl al-Tawhid, or Sons of the Unity (see tawhid). The origin of the name Druze is debated but is usually traced to Nashtakin-Al-Darazi, an early messenger of the sect who is considered a heretic by the Druze today.
- Identity Repertoires among Arabs in Israel, by Muhammad Amara and Izhak Schnell; Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 30, 2004
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