The Druze PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur

 The Druze are a religious group, numbering about one million Arabs, most of whom live in Lebanon and Syria. There are 114,000 Druze in Galilee.

In 1016 AD the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim and his followers split off from Islam, founding the Druze religion. Its tenets, preserved in 111 Letters of Wisdom written by the founders, are secret – so take what non-Druze say about them with a grain of salt (present author included)! The letters are said to be incomprehensible without the oral interpretation, which is the privilege of the "knowing" (uqqal). Any Druze may read them, but if, having done so, he does not then follow their precepts, the divine judgment against him will be harsher.

The "knowing" today make up about a sixth of the group. Those Druze who choose this course must be ready to sacrifice the simple pleasures and vices. They opt for an ascetic way of life, marked by self-restraint, patience and discretion. They dress in traditional garb (wide pantaloons distinguish the men); they avoid crime, alcohol, tobacco, lying and coarse language. But to join the knowing is not just a matter of choice. One must also pass difficult tests.

From the beginning, the Druze granted equal rights to women in many matters (the first monotheists to do so), and today there are more knowing women than men. During the prayer service on Thursday nights, a signal is given, and the "ignorant" (juwwal) must leave. The knowing remain to interpret the holy texts. They also provide the ignorant with spiritual direction and officiate at weddings and funerals.

One basic Druze teaching takes the Islamic mystical doctrine (derived from Plato), "that all proceeds from the One and returns to the One through knowledge," but modifies this "by insisting on the immediate presence of the cosmic One incarnated in al-Hakim" (Murphy-O'Connor, p. 237). The Druze call themselves, therefore, Muwahhadun ("Unitarians"). Their enemies, it seems, were the first to use the term Druze, intending it derogatorily. They derived it from a wayward disciple named al-Darasi. The latter was the one to proclaim al-Hakim's divinity in 1016, but he ran afoul of his master three years later, when he held believers to be free from moral precepts. Another disciple named Hamza ben Ali then became prominent, assuming the leadership after al-Hakim's disappearance in 1021, and writing most of the 111 letters.

Druze believe in a steady purification of their group through the generations (and do not accept converts or intermarry). Whenever one of their number dies, it is thought, the soul passes into a newborn, becoming somewhat purer, so that ultimately all Druze will be knowing. When that great day is reached, they believe, al-Hakim and Hamza will emerge from hiding to establish justice in the world with the help of their fellow Druze.