The Druze (or Druse) comprise a closely knit religious community estimated at 300,000-450,000 people. Most live in Syria and Lebanon; smaller groups are in Israel and Jordan. The spiritual leader of the Druze in Israel is Sheik Mowafaq Tarif.
The Druze religion originated in 1017 AD, when the Fatimid Caliph al-Hakim declared himself to be the final incarnation of God. The name Druze comes from al-Hakim's first missionary, al-Darazi (d. 1019). The Druzes' first imam (religious leader), however, was Hamza ibn Ali, al-Darazi's rival. After al-Hakim disappeared in 1021, Hamza developed the doctrines of the faith, which included the belief that al-Hakim would return on Judgment Day
For centuries the Druze were hostile to the Ottoman Empire, leading numerous revolts, often with support from Christian states in Europe.
Around 1630, Druze emir Fakhr al-Din Ma'n (1572-1635) gained effective control of provinces of the Ottoman Empire along the coasts of Syria and Palestine. His rise, fall from power, and eventual execution shed light on the decentralized nature of the Ottoman state, how the Ottomans tolerated and even encouraged factional fighting among provincial elites, and the efforts of Medici Tuscany to establish footholds in the eastern Mediterranean. The key to Fakhr al-Din's political success lay in his ability to mobilize local resources and to work with foreign consuls and merchants to provide security for the Mediterranean trade so vital to the region's economic well-being.
The Maronite-Druze conflict in Lebanon, 1840-60 was an outgrowth of the Maronite Christian independence movement directed against the Druze and Ottoman-Turks. The civil war was not therefore a religious war, except in Damascus where it spread and where the population was anti-Christian. The movement culminated with the 1859-60 massacre and defeat of the Christians by the Druzes, who were aided by the Turks. French intervention on behalf of the Maronites did not help the Maronite national movement since France was restricted in 1860 by Britain which did not want the Ottoman Empire dismembered. But European intervention pressured the Turks to treat the Maronites more justly.
The government of Israel encourages Druze separatism from Israel's Arab minority through a special educational curriculum emphasizing Druze history and culture, Druze folklore, a calendar of holy days and feasts, and the 'invention of traditions,' including pilgrimages and festivals, associated with the rebuilt or even newly created 'maqamat' (holy places).
Due to requests from the Israeli Druze leadership, ever since 1956 all Israeli Druze males are obliged to serve in the IDF. Israeli Druze serve in all branches and corps of Israeli military, some even serving as high ranking officers and members of elite units. The Druze are also well integrated in Israeli politics, as evidenced by their relatively strong presence in the Knesset.
The American Druze community began in 1881, and pockets of settlement were established without weakening their links to Lebanon. The Arabic language is still used within the communities. The Druze, who see themselves as Islamic but not Muslim, have been active in Arab-American organizations, and in the 1980s the American Druze Public Affairs Committee was formed specifically to counter the Zionist lobby.
The most authoritative Druze religious text is the Kitab al-hikma (Book of Wisdom), a collection of 111 letters, some of them written by al-Hakim and Hamza. The community is divided into two groups: the uqqual and the juhhal. The uqqual are those initiated into the teachings of the hikma (religious doctrine); the juhhal, comprising the great majority of the population, are unfamiliar with these tenets
The Druze, Jewish Virtual Library
- Betts, R. The Druze (1988)
- Firro, Kais. The Druzes in the Jewish State: A Brief History (1999)
- Hitti, Philip K. The Origins of the Druze People and Religion, with Extracts from Their Sacred Writings (1928)
- Kanaan, Claude Boueiz. Lebanon, 1860-1960: A Century of Myth and Politics. (2005)