Druze Culture Overview
An Overview from Dr. Sami Makarem The Druze Faith . and Dr. Abdallah Najjar The Druze,
The Druze people makeup an integral part of the Arab nation. Their sect issued from Islam during the reign of the sixth Fatimid Calif, the Calif Imam al-Hakim bi-Amrillah. The Druze are Arab in outlook and nationalism. They experienced the slight degree of racial mixture that befell the Arabs in their initial wave of emigration following the surge of Islam into neighboring countries. For the last thousand years, they conducted a mode of secluded community life as Druze which strictly discouraged any further mixture of blood. They kept their lineage undiluted and untouched. They are ethnically the purest of Arabs, and in this respect, they make a fetish of their origins and of their loyalty.
The Druze believe in reincarnation and that the real suffering for sin is to be found in the sinner’s descent into a lower degree in his spiritual worth, inadequate living, into general loss in his physical and spiritual condition, and finally in the sequence of transitions at death and birth into less desirable states of well being.
“The human body is metaphorically called by Unitarism votaries a garb or more precisely Robe worn by the soul at birth. When the body dies, the soul takes off instantly for a new habitation in a new-born human baby. This change is not limited by any consideration of race or place. This sequence of death and rebirth continues without end. The Soul or the noble Spirit unites with the physical spirit in a trinity of Aki, Soul and living body to form the human person. Souls neither increase nor dwindle in number. This is the foundation of the reincarnation dogma. This doctrine makes ultimate, human accounting before man’s Creator fair, rational and just. Here is an adequate period of grace not found in the theory of one’s life only as the basis of God’s judgment. The one life conception is obviously inequitable, for human beings are not offered equal opportunities in one life so they can grow, consider and perform. In a long series of consecutive lives, however, with their balancing hedges in warnings, rewards, penalties and achievements, each soul is given full opportunity to assume responsibility for its destiny. One life with its evident handicaps in time and fortune does not offer a suitable criterion for judgment and evaluation. How are the babies and the immature in years to be judged without any score in merits or demerits or sufficient knowledge and understanding?
Humans inhabit this globe, generation after generation without interruption. Each goes his own specific way, plays his own role and leaves his own record. Providence meant this earthly existence as laboratory for man and for his soul to unite with the mind and to determine its fate for good or evil in accordance with its free will and choice.
The soul’s path in its human frame is not easy, nor is it meant to be easy; it is a serious challenge. The soul is equipped with sufficient devices to win the battle if it so desires; the battle is for wider knowledge and higher spiritual treasure that moves it progressively upwards through its recurring rounds of existence until it reaches the bounds of the Imamate in its purity. The climax of this long, trying, and successful spiritual struggle lifts the soul into the upper world of splendor and radiance, of triumph and contentment, where it joins the company of the immortal hosts of God’s faithful servants - an enduring pageant of triumph and ineffable bliss.” (4)
(1) Makarem, Sami N., The Druze Faith, Caravan Books,
Delmar, New York, 1974, PP. 1-4.
“In the nineteenth century, some Druze from the Lebanon and Syria started to settle in the Americas, Australia and West Africa. About forty thousand Druze now live in Latin America, especially in Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico, with smaller communities in Chile and Columbia. There are also some Druze in the West Indies and the Philippines. Several thousand others reside in the United States of America and in Canada. In the United States and Canada, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Australia, the Druze have organized associations which are active in strengthening the ties among the Druze and other of Arab origin who live in these countries. Many of the Druze have reached important positions in the political, social, economic and agnate sectors of the countries in which they have settled.
In the Middle East, the Druzes, although a minority, have filled an important and sometimes a leading role in the political and social life of the area and its economic and cultural affairs.
During the second half of the sixteenth century, and the first half of the seventeenth century, the Druze Emir of the Ma’nid dynasty, Fakhruddin 11, was the first to establish in the Lebanon a state practically independent from Ottoman rule. He may be regarded as the founder of modem Lebanon. At one time, this state extended almost as far as Antolia in the north; in the east, it included Palmyra and in the south reached as fir as the Sinai Peninsula. In this state, Druzes, Sunnis, Shi’a, Christians and Jews lived in relative harmony with each other. Mount Lebanon was known at that time as the Mountain of the Druzes. Prior to the Druze dynasty of Ma’n, a considerable part cf Lebanon also enjoyed political, social, and spiritual harmony under the Druze Emirs of the House of Tanukh. The Tanukhids were noted for their frequent victories in struggling against the Crusaders and then Mongols.
The Druze have always been noted for their resistance to foreign rule. This, together with their minority status, was a cause of their many wars against Turkish and later, France domination. These wars in which they showed distinguished military ability, together with their previous wars against the Crusaders and the Mongols, have given the Druze a collective feeling of pride and a reputation for courage, valor and chivalry.
Now, the Druze play an important role in Lebanese and Syrian political and social affairs. In Lebanon, they have a Druze center in Beirut which is the focal point of their religious, cultural, and social affairs. They also have several institutions: an orphanage, a home for the aged, both in the village of Abbey, and a number of schools, societies, and clubs in Beirut and other communities. In Lebanon, the Druze number approximately 150,000 to 170,000 people.
In Syria, the Druze have achieved lasting fame for their patriotism. In 1925, the Druzes led the Syrian revolt against the French; thousands of young Druze men died for the cause of nationhood. The famous Druze leader, Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, was the commander in-chief of the Revolt. In Syria, the Druzes number about 260,000 people, of whom about 15,000 live in northern Syria near Aleppo, about 20,000 in and around Damascus, about 25,000 in the districts of Qantana and Qunaytira in southwestern Syria, and about 200,000 in Jabal ad-Duruz.
In Jordan, the Druze are a small minority of about 3,000 people who live mostly in the town of az-Zarqa and in the capital Amman.
In Israel, most Druze live in Western Galilee and on the slopes of Mount Carmel. They number little more than 30,000 people. After the Israeli occupation of 1948, the Druze did not leave their country. This may be due to the fact that the Druze have always been so attached to their land that it is traditional for them to die on their land rather than to leave it. Being mostly small land owners, the majority of the Palestinian Druze’ main income is from their land.
In order to remain integral in their land, the Druze of Palestine had, therefore, to adopt an unresisting and passive attitude towards the Israelis, especially when they realized that the Arab governments at the time of the Israeli occupation in 1948 were not well prepared for fighting. In addition to that, one must remember that prior to 1948, the treatment of the Druze minority in Palestine by their non-Druze neighbors, was not altogether amicable. This resulted in the Palestinian Druze’ attitude of indifference towards whichever government was running the country.
After the founding of Israel in 1948, the Israelis took advantage of the Druze situation and soon started a policy of all-inclusive Existence. With all these contacts, and with Islam as the main impetus, the Muslims developed a new civilization. This was in an era when Asia minor was still a Christian country within the Byzantine Empire, and when Spain and Sicily were important centers of Islamic civilization. In those times, therefore, it was inaccurate to speak of the Muslim East and the Christian West.
Open to all these cultural contacts and interactions, this new Muslim civilization led some Muslim thinkers to start interpretating the literal meaning of the sacred Book of Islam and searching for possible hidden meanings beyond the merely literal ones. This contributed to the division of Islam into two major factions: the Sunnis and the Shi’a.
The Sunnis were those who adhered to the literal meaning of the Ouran. They were also known as the People ofRevelation (ahl- at-tanzil). The Shi’a interpreted the Ouran allegorically; hence, they were called the People of Allegorical Interpretation (ahl at-ta’wil).
This split among the Muslims resulted in many differences in viewpoint. These controversies were mainly of two kinds: one revolved around the fundamental principles of Islam, and the other around the subject of guidance of the Muslim Community. These two subjects, however, were interrefhted. The Sunnis believed that the true Imam of the Community i.e., the head of the Community, was the successor (Caliph) of the Prophet Muhammad in implementing the religious law (ash-sharia), in defending the Community of the faithful, and in spreading Islam. Therefore, he must come into office by election (ikhtiyar). In addition to these tasks, the Shia, on the other hand, claimed that the Imam of the Community had to interpret the divine Message according to the needs of the time. In this way, the divine Message may always be able to answer the questions asked by the ever- restless man. These questions must not, however, be left to the ordinary man to answer. According to the Shia, they must instead be answered by the Imam. Thus, the word Imam acquired in Shi’a terminology a different meaning from that given to it by the Sunnis. To the Shi’a, it came to mean a divinely illuminated person whose divine insight passes to him through the Prophet. Then the Imamate is passed to each succeeding Imam by the previous one, so as to insure the continuity of inspiration for the esoteric interpretation of revelation. It is the Imam who is endowed with the right of allegorically interpretating the Our’an according to man’s needs and intellectual and spiritual preparedness. Allegorical interpretation is thus to the Shi’a continuation of divine revelation.
After Muhammad’s death, the Sunnis elected a companion of the Prophet by the name of Abu Bakr as the Imam of the Community. The Shi’a did not consent willingly to this of rapprochement towards them, attempting to alienate them from other Arabs, and to show the world public opinion their fair treatment of the minorities. Moreover, as a means of brainwashing the Druze, military service was forced upon them by the Israelis.
The Druze spiritual leader is called the Shaykh al-AqI; In Lebanon, it has been customary to have two Shaykhs alAkl; at present the Druze have only one. Druze have established religious courts dealing with personal status laws in five regions of the Lebanon: Beirut and the district of Baabda and Northern Matn, the district of Aley, the district of the Shouf, the district of Rashayya, and the district of Hasbayya. They also have a court of appeals in Beirut. In Syria, although there are three religious leaders, they act as a council. In Palestine, the Druze have always had one spiritual leader. In 1961, a three man Religious Council presided over by the spiritual leader was organized in Israel. The Religious Council was later appointed to serve as a court of appeals. The Druze courts in Syria and Israel have adopted the Druze personal law which was first adopted in Lebanon in 1948.” (1)
In Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, and Jordan today, there are about 500,000 Druze. More than four-hundred years after the advent of Islam, the Druze Movement started. This was in 1017 A.D. (408 A.H.). The Caliph-Imam al-Hakim bi-Amirillah was reigning in Egypt. The Movement was headed by Hamza ibn-’Ali, one of the Caliph’s ministers.
Religious purity and fervor prevailed when Islam began in ??, and as the people converted to Islam, many new problems of the material world persisted - purists after education and philosophy, riches, and power.
When the Prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam died, Islam was Sunni. The Sunnis were believers of the literal meaning of the Koran. the Moslem Holy Book.
“When Islam started in the first half of the seventh century A.D., the Our’an was first understood by the followers of the new faith according to its literal meaning. The Muslims set forth from the Arabian Peninsula and spread out into Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Persia. Gradually, they began to come into contact with more developed cultures which had been greatly influenced by the Greek and Persian civilizations. As time went by, the impact of these cultures on Islam was strongly felt on the social structure and order, on the different arts and crafts, as well as on literary, scientific, philosophical and intellectual currents. When the Arabs pressed eastward, they came into contact with Indian civilization. The effect of this contact can be noticed in the Islamic mystical concept of love which leads to annihilation of the self on the
election; though, they were forced to recognize Abu Bakr as the leader of the Muslim Community after Muhammad, they considered All ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s first cousin and son-in-law to be the true Imam. According to them, Abu Bakr was nothing but a usurper, since Au, as the Shi’a claimed, was appointed to the Imamate by Muhammad himself.
One must admit, however, that both factions, the Sunnis and the Shi’a were not at first so much distinct. They both practiced the interpretation of the religious law. The distinction between them at this earlier time lay in two points. First, the Shi’a emphasized those of Muhammad’s sayings which confirmed the authenticity of Ali’s Imamate. Second, they considered their Imam as the sole interpreter of the divine Law and regarded him to be endowed with divine insight. On the other hand, the Sunnis endeavored to refute the Shi’a claim of Ali’s designation by Muhammad as the Imam. Likewise, they tried to refute the Shi’a doctrine of the allegorical interpretation of the Our’an by the Imam in his capacity as the infallible and sole authoritative source of doctrine. As to their source of interpretation of religious law, the Sunnis had their own scholars (al-mujtahidun) who functioned as mere learned men and had no divine qualities whatsoever. They based their interpretation on four sources: the Ouran the Prophet’s traditions (the hadith), analogy with the Our’an and the Prophet’s traditions (qiyas) and on consensus (ijma).
After the Sunni scholar, ash-Shafi (d. A.H. 204 IA.D. 8201 developed the complete legal system, a point of stagnation was eventually reached in Sunni jurisprudence. This period culminated in what became known as the ‘closing of the door’ of interpretating the Our’an (ijtihad). The Sunnis, by closing the door of ijtihad, surrendered their rights to independent effort in interpretating the religious law. On the other hand, through their belief in the Imam as the interpretator of the Word of God, the Shi’a continued the process of interpretation. Thus the two factions became more extinct from each other. The Shi’a became characterized by allegorically interpretating the meaning of the Our’an and giving it an esoteric content, and the Sunnis by adhering to the teachings of their predecessors in interpretation.
Returning to the Shi’a notion that Au ibn Abi Talib was the first Imam, we see that after his death, the divine illumination of the Imamate passed, according to the Shia, to his son, al-Hasan. Then, after al-Hasan’s death, to Ali’s second son, al-Husayn. After al-Husayn’s death, it passed to his son, Ali-Zayn al-Abidin. Later the Shi’a split according to differences in their beliefs in the recipient of the divine light of Imamate. The Zaydis considered Au Zayn al-Abidin’s son, Zayd, to be their Imam, while the rest followed All Zayn al-Abidin’s other son, Muhammad, known as Muhammad al-Baqir. Then they followed the later’s son, Ja’far, known as as-Sadiq. After Jafar’s death, another split occurred among his followers. lsma’il, son of Jafar, the Imam designate, was said to have died during his father’s lifetime (about A.H. 135 IA.D. 7521). Accordingly, a faction of the Shi’a paid allegiance to a brother of lsma’il, whose name was Musa al-Kazim, while another faction considered that the Imamate could not turn back to be given to Musa after lsma’il had already been designated by his father. Thus they considered lsma’il’s son, Muhammad, to be their Imam. This faction is known as the Isma’ili. Hence, three Shi’a factions developed: the Zaydis, the Musawis, and the lsma’ilis. In addition to these Shi’a factions, there remained the ruling Sunnis who were the original body of Islam, and whose ruling dynasty was the Abbasids whose capital was Baghdad.
The difference between the Shi’a factions were not, however, restricted to disagreement regarding succession. Other differences of a more philosophical and theological nature were of greater importance. They were the result of influences of various schools of thought that were important in the whole Islamic society after the translation into Arabic of the great works of Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. Meanwhile, Muslims were also translating and becoming acquainted with Persian and Indian thought. Initially, the Our’an was understood according to its apparent meaning; because of Greek, Syriac, and Indian influences, thinkers began to interpret the meanings and inquire into more remote objectives. This led many theologians to move further from the main body of Islam. Elements not in accordance with traditional Islam began to infiltrate into religious beliefs, and emancipation from the letter of the dogma began to be more and more noticeable.
Inasmuch as the Druze originated historically from the Isma’ili faction of Shi’a Islam, we shall trace their development within this context.
Paying allegiance to the spiritual Imam other than the ruling political Caliph of the Sunni Abbasids, the Isma’ilis were obliged to operate secretly, to go ‘underground,’ as it were. Also, their esoteric beliefs, which differed greatly from the main body of prevailing Islamic doctrine, forced them not to divulge their beliefs to outsiders. Alter Muhammad ibn Isma’il, several Imams, probably three in number, who followed in succession, remained in hiding. Their names are believed to be: Abdallah ibn Muhammad, Ahmad ibn Abdallah, and Husayn ibn Ahmad. After these ‘hidden’ Imams, the Isma’ili movement came into the open again. This occurred when the Isma’ili Imam, al Mahdi Billah, assumed power after escaping ‘Abbasid persecution in Syria and fleeing to North Africa, where he founded the Fatimid Caliphate in A.H. 297 [A.D. 909].
After al-Mahdi, the Imamate was assumed by al-Qa’im bi-Amirillah, then by al-Mansur Billah, and then by atMu’izz li-Dinillah. Al-Mu’izz conquered Egypt from the Ikhshidids, the vassels of the Abbasids, in A.H. 358 IA.D. 9691. He founded the city of Cairo and made it the capital of the Fatimid state. In A.H. 359 IA.D. 9701, one year after the founding of Cairo, he built the mosque of al-Azhr, which became one of the greatest centers of teaching. After al-Mu’izz, the Fatimid Imamate was assumed by al-Aziz Billah, and after al-Aziz, by al-Hakim bi-Amrillah. As heads of the Shi’a state, the Fatimids promoted allegorical interpretation of revelation according to mans needs and his readiness for esoteric knowledge. They were noted for their patronage of learning, philosophy, the sciences, literature, and the arts. The newly built city in Cairo successfully competed with two other centers of civilization in the world at that time: Baghdad and Constantinople.
Besides founding al-Azhar, which became the main university of the Islamic world, the Fatimids also established Dar al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom) known also as Oar al-’llm (The House of Knowledge). This Oar al-Hikma was established by the Fatimid Caliph Imam, al-Hakim bi-Amrillah in A.H. 395 IA.D. 10051. It was connected with the Royal Palace and contained a huge library and many conference rooms. Lectures were given in both at Azhar and Oar al-Hikma and in many other centers of learning in Cairo and other places in the Fatimid Empire. Scholastic activities were one of the main interests of the state. Cairo became a center of scientists, philosophers, theologians, men of letters, and scholars.
In such an intellectual atmosphere, the Druze Movement started in the year A.H. 408 IA.D. 10171, during the reign of the sixth Fatimid Caliph and Imam, al-Hakim bi-Amrillah. It was a result of the intellectual ferment within the various philosophical and theological schools that had emerged in Islam.” (2)
The Druzes differ from the followers of other faiths in that the literature of the Druze Faith is not widely circulated. The Druze do not accept converts; they believe in reincarnation, i.e., the human soul passes through a succession of different lives, each of which is Druze.
The doctrine of the Druze Faith is “The One is unlimited; so is the progress of man, a progress which started with the origin of man. Man is, therefore in a continuous evolution. The greater man becomes, the more of the nature of humanity is realized, and the more the purpose of man is fulfilled. Transcending the universe and being immanent in it, the One renders the universe sacred and divine. Man, being the quintessence of this universe, is the most divine being in it. Man’s creative existence is due to the divine Omnipresence. In man and his constant progress, divinity is most manifested, so man alone, among other beings, can grasp the Oneness of God everywhere, within him and all around. In other words, man is the only being who can, or more properly must, be at one with the universe and live in perfect love. Only in this way, can man realize his nature as a human being.
The world is full of potential; and so is man whose role is to realize it. In doing this, he contributes to the realization of the potential of mankind and, consequently, contributes to the movement of the human race toward its goal, self-realization in the One according to the Muwahhidun. Simultaneous with the evolution of man is the evolution of his end point, so man never reaches a dead end. “ Man’s soul,” as Hamza ibn-’Ali said, “is necessary traveling from one stage of knowledge to another.” The progression of the stages of knowledge is endless. In his progression, man is approaching the One without ever completely realizing Him.
The impetus for man’s evolution comes from two sources. One source is imposed by the cosmic order and prods man on his way; the other is within man and comes from man’s being endowed with ‘reason’ which makes him endeavor to know and to be at one with the universe. These inner and outer forces work in conjunction so that man may fulfill his own nature. Unless man has the will to strive to implement this inner force, he is left with an imbalance. If the inner force which should buoy him up is not acting properly, then man will be at the mercy of the cosmic forces. In other words, he will lose his freedom of will. In this way, he cannot realize his full potential as a human being. He cannot progress any further. On the other hand, with the two forces acting simultaneously, man freely works toward self-realization. He feels now that the One is inside him. He can approach Him and experience Him. It is by means of this element of humanity through which the One reveals Himself that the human being can understand this Unity. Consequently, man can evaluate himself onto the path of realization. No man, however, can walk along this path unless he feels that the One is both in him and around him. In other words, unless he feels that he is no longer separated from the One by his own egoistic feelings which move him away from his real nature. In times of his greatest endeavor, man thus reaches out to the One for help.” (3)
(2) Ibid., pp. 7-12.
(3) Ibid., pp. 114-115.
(4) A1-Najjar, Abdallah, The Druze, Translated by Fred I. Massy, 1966, pp. 94.