“Their faith eases death, their bodies are only a legacy to be used up…Death becomes easy for them, the body is torn and the soul remains.”
- – Marunh Abboud, a Lebanese Maronite, from a poem, “The Druzes”
A thousand-year-old offshoot of Islam, the Druze consider themselves Arab in every country they inhabit except Israel where they enjoy a privileged status in exchange for their loyalty to the state. As such, they fight in the Israeli army alongside Jews, which has given them a strained relationship with many Palestinians.
The Druze are neither Muslim, Christian nor Jewish but have their own secret monotheistic religion. Their founding prophet, Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the last of the great Fatimid caliphs, was quite a character – he nixed Nile booze cruises, abolished slavery eight centuries before America did, and outlawed polygamy, alcohol and some vegetable for a reason no one seems to remember. He even let his subjects choose their own religion, which is how the Druze faith got started in Cairo in 1017.
They were brutally persecuted for defecting from Islam, so the Druze closed their faith soon after it began and still hold much of it secret, even from the uninitiated Druze. No initiated Druze has ever left the sect to confess the secrets and no anthropologist has ever successfully penetrated the community.
The Druze live primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan, with expatriate populations in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Europe, Latin America and West Africa and number anywhere from 1,000,000 to 2,500,000.
The Druze religion is purported to be a complex mixture of Neo-Platonic philosophy, Gnosticism, Sufi mysticism and Isma’ili tradition. Sometimes they’re called the Zen Buddhists of the Middle East. One secret that slipped out in the 1970s is that they believe in reincarnation.
To keep the religion as pure and secret as possible, Druze don’t recognize marriage with outsiders. Dating is not allowed, most especially outside the faith. Those who violate this rule can be killed or excommunicated.
The Druze don’t want any non-initiated Druze to read their holy books. They feel the scripture must be protected from “unfit” persons. If not, they’ll learn the truth of God and life and, if they fail to adhere to those responsibilities, it’s worse than if they’d remained unenlightened. A Druze will sacrifice his life to ensure this knowledge doesn’t fall into impure hands.
According to some accounts, the Druze believe all human souls were created at once and the number is fixed, although no sources seem to agree on what that number is. They believe that only in a long string of successive lives would a soul have sufficient opportunity to become responsible for his or her behavior. With their choices, people could enhance or impair their next lives.
Supposedly, thousands of reincarnations occur to the soul until Judgment Day, when the Tawhid founder Al-Hakim will return and confront each soul with the memory of all its previous lives and choices and their consequences. It’s not clear what happens after that. This may not be what they believe anyway, but it’s what I found.
Most Druze believe “Druze” came from Nashtakin Darazi, a heretic early leader of the sect, whom they try to forget. Though the name has stuck throughout the centuries, officially, they prefer the name Muwahhidoon (Unitarian). Many, if not most, seem to have given up and gone with “Druze”.
Druze ethnic heritage is equally mysterious: Most Druze say they are Arab, while others claim to trace their lineage back to Assassin bloodlines, the ancient Hittites of Anatolia, the European Freemasons (with a similar emphasis on secrecy) or the lost tribes of the Jews
For more information on the fascinating Druze, visit:
- O my soul, why do you complain of her love,
- O my heart, why are you burned by her love,
- O my mind, why are you mad because of her love?
- This is the reward for one, who claimed love!
— Old song of the Druse