The Druze are a closed, tightly knit, Arab minority who live in southern Syria, in the mountains of central Lebanon, and in Israel, including the Golan Heights. There are also small communities in Jordan, the United States, Canada, and Latin America. In the early 1980s they numbered approximately 200,000 in Syria, 10,000 in Lebanon, 43,000 to 72,000 in Israel, and another 10,000 to 15,000 in the Golan Heights (Grimes 1988).
The Druze originated as a religious minority in the eleventh century when a small group of Muslims split off from the Shiite branch of Islam in Egypt. One of the founders, Abu ʿAlī al-Mansūr al-Hākim bi-Amrih Allāh (985-1021), was accorded divine status. One of his disciples, also considered a founder of the faith, was Ḥamzah ibn ʿlī, who established most of the doctrine that defined the new religion. Another founder, who competed with Ḥamzah for followers, was Muhammad ibn Ismā'īl ad-Darazī. Bloody clashes between Darazī and Ḥamzah led to Darazī's death in 1020. Al-Ḥākim and Ḥamzah died the following year, which left all three founders of the faith dead within three years of the founding of their religion.
Darazī's followers began proselytizing members of the sect in Syria. They became known as the community of Darazī, durzī in Arabic, and the plural form, duruz, took hold as their name—"Druze." After the withdrawal of Ḥamzah's successor, al-Muqtana, in 1034, Druze proselytizing ceased, and the doctrine was adopted that there could be no further admission into their ranks. The Druze then migrated northward into Lebanon, south into Galilee, and further east into Syria.
The Druze call themselves muwahhidūn, ("declarers of oneness"), and they call their religion dīn al-tawhīd (monotheism). Internally, the spiritual hierarchy of the Druze underwent a gradual change that resulted in the division of the community into two classes, the ùqqāl (knowers, sages; sing. ʿ āqil ) and juhhāl (the ignorant). The ʿuqqāl are those who are initiated into the doctrines of the Druze religion and who are knowledgeable about the gnostic-cosmological-moralistic writing produced by the Druze sages in the course of their history. The external signs of their status are their special garb and white turbans. The leaders of the ʿuqqāl, who are called shuyukh (sing, shaykh ), are chosen from those who are considered the most learned and pious among them. Shuyukh are trained for their office at special schools. From among the shuyukh a ra'īs is chosen, usually a member of a leading family, as the supreme religious authority in the district.
All ʿuqqāl are expected to lead a morally impeccable life and always to behave with decorum. They must abstain from using stimulants, and from lying, stealing, and exacting revenge. They are expected to attend Friday evening services at the majlis, which corresponds to the Muslim mosque. They are allowed to read the Druze secret books and to know of, and participate in, the secret ritual.
The juhhāl are the uninitiated majority of the Druze community. They are held to a less strict code of behavior, and, unless they attempt to attain ʿāqil status, must remain in their "ignorant" position until death and possibly a future rebirth. The juhhāl are bound by the same laws and tenets of the religion as the ʿuqqāl.
The laws laid down by Ḥamzah in the eleventh century still apply to the Druze today. Among them are laws that establish equality between husband and wife and allow divorce only in rare circumstances, for very specific reasons. The position of women in Druze society is, therefore, on a more even level with that of men than it is in traditional Muslim societies. There is reason to believe that women, in fact, have a higher level of status than men. Almost all unmarried women work within Druze communities. When they go outside of their village, they are escorted by fathers and brothers. At work, the sexes are strictly segregated, and sometimes walls are built to keep young men and women out of each others' sight.
There are seven commandments in the Druze religion that are somewhat similar to the Five Pillars of Islam. The Druze must speak the truth among themselves (but not among outsiders); they must defend and help each other in times of crises or need (carrying arms for this purpose is sanctioned); they must renounce beliefs negating the oneness of God; they must dissociate themselves from unbelievers; they must recognize al-Hākim as an incarnation of God; they must be content with God's actions; and they must submit to God s will and orders.
The Druze believe that al-Ḥākim and Ḥamzah will reappear, conquer the world, and establish justice, and that the Druze living at that time will be the universal rulers. They also believe that the number of living Druze is fixed, and will always remain constant. They share with other Middle Eastern groups, such as the Baha'is, a belief in the concept of taqiyah (dissimulation). For the Druze, "taqiyah" means that in order for them to preserve the secrecy of their faith, they must pretend to accept the faith of the ruling majority, which for most Druze, has been Sunni Islam.
In the ten centuries following their formation as a group, the Druze have tended to settle in high mountain villages. In these protected enclaves, they have maintained their own culture, which is based primarily on their distinctive religious beliefs and perpetuated by strict endogamy. Because of their religious tenets, the Druze have insisted on self-determination and independence, and have considered all outsiders, whether Muslim or Christian, their enemies. This has resulted in numerous violent clashes with their neighbors.
The traditional culture of the Druze is threatened by the encroachment of technology and modern culture that arises from the dominant cultures within which they exist. The Druze live in uneasy compromise between their traditional values and the pressures of life in increasingly Westernized countries. Young Druze men are beginning to question the religious beliefs and practices of their elders, although there are few who have rejected the faith entirely.
If there is any large-scale rejection of the Druze religion, it will more than likely begin with the young men who have sampled the amenities of Western culture and want more from life than what can be obtained in small Druze villages. Women are not likely to lead the call for change because they seem to enjoy the protected status that they receive.
The Druze, a very old culture that began as a religious community, but have, over the centuries, become an ethnic entity. They have survived largely because of their skill at adapting to the requirements of their environment, both physical and cultural. Their traditional policy of taqiyah and accommodation to larger protective cultures has helped keep their traditions intact, but this policy may not be enough to preserve their culture in the future. If they are to maintain their identity, they must somehow accommodate the desires and demands of their more Westernized young people with the strict tenets of their distinctive religion.
Ben-Dor, Gabriel (1979). The Druzes in Israel: A Political Study. Jerusalem: Magnes Press.
Dana, Nissim (1980). The Druse: A Religious Community in Transition. Forest Grove, Oreg.: Turtledove Press; Jerusalem: Israel Economist.
Friendly, Alfred, and Eric Silver (1981). "Israel's Oriental Immigrants and Druzes." Minority Rights Group Report no. 12.
Grimes, Barbara F., ed. (1988). Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics.
Minority Rights Group (1994). "Druzes of Israel and the Golan Heights." In World Directory of Minorities , 191-192. London: Minority Rights Group.
Patai, Raphael (1986). "Druze." In The Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Mircea Eliade, 503-506. New York: Macmillan.