Most people know that three of the major religions of the world began in the Middle East. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism remain the most powerful forces in the region… often at odds with each other. But, did you know that there is another, quieter, more discreet religion that was also born in the Middle East? A religion so secretive that even most of its members are forbidden from learning about it.
The Druze are a unique people who originated in Egypt, but have since spread all over the world, with more concentrated numbers in Lebanon, Syria, Israel, and Jordan
Druze follow the teachings of al-Hakim bi-Amrih Alla
In 1009, near Cairo, Egypt, al-Hakim bi-Amrih Alla declared himself to be an earthly incarnation of God. While most of the Shi’a Muslims living nearby vehemently rejected his holiness, small groups of followers began to follow him, giving rise to the first Druze.
The early years of the Druze were marked with violence, as they fought for their increasingly less stable leader. Towards the end of his life, al-Hakim became known as a strange, irrational and often aggressive guru, giving the entire Druze population the unsavory reputation of being madmen.
While Druze themselves concede that their leader was eccentric, they find that to be further proof of his divine nature. Al-Hakim disappeared around 1020 and his apostle Hamzah ibn Ali ibn Ahmad took over, laying out the formal foundations of the religion.
Druze have a history of publicly adopting other religions, but secretly practicing their own
In fear of retribution, Druze hid for 6 years after their leader’s death. When they began to reemerge, it was in remote mountainous regions in Lebanon, Syria, and what is today Israel. While they eventually returned to public life, they largely still kept their faith private. Many Druze in Muslim nations pretended to be Muslim in order to avoid persecution. Some even publicly declared themselves to be Protestant after a group of American missionaries came to convert them.
However, their outward practice of other religions has largely been a show to avoid conflict. One missionary named A. L. Tibawi wrote, “The Druze are a deceitful and truculent race who, under changed conditions, professed themselves to be Muslims with the same readiness that they declared themselves Protestants.”
While outwardly agreeable to other religions, Druze are fiercely protective of their faith. No converts have been allowed since 1043, and if a Druze marries outside of his religion, he must relinquish his status as Druze.
The Tenets of the Druze religion are a secret, even to many of its members
While the Druze religion is an outgrowth of Islam, and incorporates elements of Judaism and Christianity, it is very different from any of those religions. Greek philosophy and Asiatic thought both heavily influenced the religion’s foundation. Druze espoused radical ideas such as the abolition of slavery and the separation of church and state, which put them at a high risk for persecution in more conservatively minded nations.
Reincarnation is a key belief of the faith. The Druze do not fear death, because they believe that as soon as they die they are immediately reborn into another body. Reincarnation continues until one achieves purification and unities with the Divine. Hell is the failure to reach this level of purity.
There are seven duties that all Druze are required to observe: recognition of al-Hakim and strict adherence to monotheism; negation of all non-Druze tenets; rejection of Satan and unbelief; acceptance of God’s acts; submission to God for good or ill; truthfulness; and mutual solidarity and help between fellow Druze. But, beyond those duties, many Druze know very little of their faith.
Only a limited number of esoteric men and women called uqqal (“the enlightened”) are permitted to study the religion’s six holy books. The uqqals oversee the religious life of their particular community, acting almost as intermediaries with God. The rest of the Druze, known as the juhhal (“the unenlightened”), may not read the holy books, but are instead given a strict code of moral and ethical behavior to follow.
Druze meet on Thursday nights in simple buildings, the only furniture being small lecterns to lay books on during meditation. During the first part of the service, community affairs are discussed, after which the juhhal must leave so that the prayer, study, and meditation can begin.
There are no set holy days, regular liturgy or obligations for pilgrimage, as Druze are meant to be connected with God at all times.
Druze are loyal to the country they live in
Having no homeland of their own, Druze have practiced the policy of being dedicated to the country that they reside in. Syrian Druze serve in the Syrian military; Lebanese Druze serve in the Lebanese Army; and Israeli Druze service in the Israeli Defense Forces. However, Druze are reluctant to battle other Druze, and sometimes defect from their nation’s army during wartime to avoid it.
Druze maintain strong connections to each other
Although they are loyal to their country of citizenship, Druze strongest bonds are with each other. Besides their regular Thursday gatherings, Druze meet for regular visits, births, weddings, and funerals. They are known for looking after more vulnerable members of the community to make sure that no one is left without support.
The first wave of Druze immigrated to the United States in the early 1900’s. They spread to various small towns across the country, with a significant number settling in Seattle, Washington. While many became nominally Christian, most still secretly practiced their faith and maintained connections with their homeland. To this day, some Druze even continue to arrange marriages with women from their home village. The internet has been crucial in helping far-flung Druze keep in contact with each other.
Druze women mostly hold equal status to men… With one major exception
Druze women have always had the right to own and sell property, and, historically, a significant number of Druze women were literate and educated. However, in matters of marriage and chastity, there is very little freedom for women. Girls are expected to be married before the age of 21. Any sexual activity outside of marriage is strongly forbidden, and the female in question is often severely punished. A woman’s body is considered so sacred that male doctors are not permitted to care for them or even to perform autopsies after their death.
While traditionally farmers, modern Druze work in many different fields
Druze students in American universities typically study business administration, economics, or engineering. In the Middle East, Druze men have risen in the ranks to become prominent members of business communities, particularly in American and European firms. Druze have a reputation for being especially hardworking and trustworthy, characteristics which continue to make them peaceful, productive members of wherever they reside.