Druze

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Druze

Druze or Druse (drōōz), religious community of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, with important overseas branches in the Americas and Australia. The religious leadership prefers the name Muwahhidun (Unitarians). While preserving many Islamic symbols, the Druze religion also incorporates Gnostic and neo-Platonic tenets. In the 10th cent. Cairo Hamza ibn Ali, a Persian dai (preacher, propagandist) and Muhammad al-Darazi, a Turkish dai who gave his name to the sect, pronounced the sixth Fatimid caliph and Ismaili imam, al-Hakim, as Divine. After al-Darazi's death (1020), Hamza declared himself to be the true manifestation of the Divine reality of al-Hakim. Hamza was successful in greater Syria, and a series of pastoral letters written at that time form the Druze scripture, the Kitab al-hikma, or Rasail al-Hakim. Since the Druze religion was seen as an abrogation of Islam, the concealment of the substance of the faith is a religious obligation, marriages outside the faith are forbidden, and initiation from lay status (jahil, ignorant) to clerical (aqil, knower) is restricted. The Druze formed principalities that fought the Crusaders and secured considerable independence under nominal Mamluk and Ottoman rule. In the 19th cent. the rise of the Christian Maronites undermined Druze power in the Mount Lebanon region. The ensuing conflict scarred relations between the two communities and provided an opportunity for European intervention. After the dissolution of the Ottoman sultanate and the establishment of the French mandate in Syria (1920), the Druze leadership played a crucial role in launching and sustaining the anti-French revolt (1925–27), after which an autonomous Druze state was created by the French in southern Syria. In 1944 the Druze agreed to surrender their autonomous rights in the Jebel Druz [jebel=mountain], as their section of Syria is called. Since then the Druze have been active in the political life of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Druze officers were noticeable in the history of Syria in the 1950s and 1960s. Walid Jumblatt and other Druze leaders took active roles during the Lebanese civil war. In Israel, the Druze were granted a "nationality" status distinct from the Arabic-speaking population, and are expected to serve in the Israeli army.

See R. B. Betts, The Druze (1988).

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