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Robert Brenton Betts, Matthew Gray
The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World What is This? Provides comprehensive scholarly coverage of the full geographical and historical extent of Islam

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The Druze faith, or tawḥīd, grew from the Ismāʿīlī theology that prevailed in early Fāṭimid Cairo. This system had promised a radical political change within Islam which failed to materialize once the Ismāʿīlīyah gained political power in North Africa, especially in Egypt in 969 CE People still looked for messianic rule and many came to believe that the Caliph al-Ḥākim ibn ʿAmr Allāh (r. 996–1021 CE) was the expected deliverer.

The leading apologist for al-Ḥākim and his divinity was Ḥamzah ibn ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad al-Zūzanī, a Persian Ismāʿīlī theologian. In 1017 CE, a year after Ḥamzah’ s arrival in Cairo, al-Ḥākim issued a proclamation in which he revealed himself to be the manifestation of the deity. Ḥamzah pursued the daʿwah (divine call) of the new faith throughout the empire and beyond to Damascus and Aleppo, aided in his missionary endeavors by two disciples in particular: Muḥammad al-Darāzī and al-Muqtanā Bahāʿ al-Dīn. Al-Darāzī generally is regarded as having given converts the name “Druze” by which they are now known to non-Druze.

Even in its earliest stages the Druze were not so much a sect of Islam as a new religion that aimed to establish a millennial world order. Within a year of al-Ḥākim’ s proclamation, however, a disagreement between Ḥamzah and al-Darāzī arose over issues of political power and the process of conversion. Ḥamzah publicly rebuked al-Darāzī, and in 1019CE the latter was assassinated and then anathematized by the Druze faith as a heretic. Less than two years later al-Ḥākim disappeared suddenly under mysterious circumstances. His successor, ʿAli al-Ẓāhir (r. 1021–1035 CE), denied his predecessor’ s divinity and worked for the destruction of those who believed in the Druze message. Despite the persecution, Bahāʿ al-Dīn continued pursuing the missionary daʿwah, gaining new converts and nurturing those who had survived the imperial reprisals, particularly in the remoter regions of Mount Lebanon. During this time he codified the religious teaching of the Druze into six books known as al-Ḥikmahal-Sharīfah (The Noble Knowledge), which contain 111 texts composed by al-Ḥākim, Ḥamzah, and himself. In 1043 CE the daʿwah was formally ended; since that time no new adherents have been admitted to the faith, though there remains some uncertainty as to whether the daʿwah was closed forever or merely suspended.

The closing of conversion assisted in consolidating the Druze community, and this, combined with their geographic isolation, meant that they evolved semi-independent communities within wider Sunnī empires. A local Druze dynasty, the Tanukhs, ruled Mount Lebanon from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, during which time the Druze developed most rapidly as a distinct religious and social community. The Druze developed a reputation for martial capability by repelling Crusaders in the thirteenth century; this also brought them into favor with the Mamlūk rulers of the Levant. After the decline of the Tanukhs, the Maʿn became the principle Druze clan after the Ottoman conquest of the Mamlūks, though the Maʿn fiercely resisted the Ottoman attempt to subjugate them. It is at this time that Druze political power and autonomy reached its peak. In the seventeenth century Fakhr al-Dīn I was permitted by the Ottomans to form his own military; he was followed by Fakhr al-Dīn II, who ruled Mount Lebanon and much of the coast with considerable autonomy and effectiveness.

After a century of political prominence under the Maʿn, the Druze split over the succession of the rival Shihāb clan, and many fled in the early eighteenth century to the region of southern Syria known thereafter as the Jabal al-Durūz. When the Shihāb converted to Maronite Christianity in the mid-eighteenth century, Druze leadership passed to the Jumblatt (Junblāṭ) family, who were relatively recent arrivals from Aleppo, reputedly of Kurdish origin. Rivalry between the Druze and Maronites saw fierce tensions, especially in 1842 when Lebanon was effectively partitioned, though briefly, into separate Christian and Druze districts. This partition did not reduce tensions, however, and fighting flared on several occasions in the nineteenth century. French support to the Maronites resulted in violence in 1860, leading to the creation of an autonomous Christian governorate that became the basis of an enlarged Lebanon, first under a French mandate in 1920, and then as an independent republic in 1943 in which the Druze counted for only 6.7 percent of the population. Kamal Jumblatt was the leading Druze leader (zaʿīm) from independence until his assassination in 1976 during the Civil War. He was succeeded by his son Walīd, who still presides with unquestioned authority over the political interests of the Lebanese Druze. The political leadership of the Druze in Syria has traditionally been exercised by the al-Aṭrash family. Traditional Druze leadership in Israel has come from the Ṭarīf clan of Julis in Galilee. Since independence, the Druze, alone among the Arabs of the former Palestine mandate, have served in the Israeli military and occasionally been given minor posts in the government and diplomatic service.

Although known to outsiders as Druze, the Druze refer to themselves as al-Muwaḥḥidūn (Unitarians), a sign of their emphasis on absolute monotheism. Many details about the religion have been held secret since the closing of the daʿwah and are shared only by a small number within the community. In each succeeding generation, a few are initiated into the ranks of the al-ʿuqqāl (the enlightened), which from the earliest days has included both men and women. Al-ʿuqqāl live ascetic lives focused on the pursuit of enlightenment, and are initiated only after years of study and observation. Other Druze, the juhhāl (the ignorant, or the uninitiated), protect the secrecy and sanctity of the religion through group loyalty and solidarity.

Several beliefs and characteristics set the Druze apart from other religions. Their faith is exclusive and secret, not universal. Their theology, while deriving from Ismāʿīlī theology, accepts the Christian Old and New Testaments as divine texts, reveres several figures (including Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muḥammad) as prophets, and includes aspects drawn from other religions and from secular philosophers. The Druze separate themselves from Islam irrevocably by declaring that the revelations of al-Ḥākim, not those of the Prophet Muḥammad, contain the ultimate truth. The Druze believe that God is beyond human comprehension or definition; God is a universal intellect resident in every aspect of existence. They adhere to seven principles, drawn from scripture: belief in the unity of God; truthfulness in their conduct; loyalty and aid to other Druze; renunciation of all other religions; submission to God’ s will; contentment with God’ s deeds; and the rejection of any behavior that distracts from their spiritual conduct and endeavors.

Due to their strict secrecy, as protection in times of mortal danger a Druze is permitted outwardly to deny the faith. The Druze believe in the transmigration of souls (tanāsukh), which is not a feature of the mainstream monotheistic religions. They believe that the number of souls was finalized at the closure of conversion, and that transmigration lets the soul have a breadth of experience and build a greater knowledge of God than would be possible in one lifetime, and is thus seen as a generous, definitive act of divine justice. Male circumcision, universal among Muslims, is not ritually practiced among the Druze. Gender issues also set the Druze apart from some other religions: polygamy, concubinage, and temporary marriage (mutʿah) are forbidden to Druze. Divorce is not an easy process, and a Druze woman can initiate proceedings.

Still largely a rural-based community, today the Druze are rarely found in communities of their own exceeding 10,000, the exceptions being al-Suwaydāʿ in Syria and Baʿqlin in Lebanon. They number between 350,000 and 400,000 out of a population of close to 4 million in Lebanon, and in Syria between 400,000 and 450,000 out of a population of about 12 million. A smaller community of 60,000 to 70,000 lives in Israel proper, augmented since 1967 by another 15,000 in the occupied Golan Heights. In addition there are some 15,000 to 20,000 Druze in Jordan and perhaps as many as 100,000 living outside the Middle East, giving a total Druze population of slightly over 1 million worldwide. The Druze of Lebanon are found primarily in small towns and villages in the Shūf district on the western slope of Mount Lebanon from the Beirut-Damascus highway south to the Jazzin escarpment. A second concentration is located in the southeast of the country in the Wādī al-Taym district in the western foothills of Mount Hermon around the towns of Hasbayya and Rashayya. A third center is Beirut, where a small number have permanent residence. In Syria, 80 percent of the Druze are found in the district of al-Suwaydāʿ (Jabal al-Durūz) in the south. A second concentration is located on the eastern slope of Mount Hermon in Damascus province and in the city itself. A third, historic center is the Jabal al-Aʿlā region west of Aleppo near the Turkish frontier, where some 30,000 to 40,000 Druze live in a dozen villages dotted with ruined Byzantine churches (e.g., Qalb Lawza). The Druze of Israel live primarily in sixteen towns and villages (nine of them exclusively Druze) in Galilee, and two major settlements on Mount Carmel southeast of Haifa.



  • Abu Izzeddin, Nejla M.The Druzes: A New Study of Their History, Faith, and Society. Leiden, 1984.
  • Betts, Robert B.The Druze. New Haven, 1988.
  • Bouron, Narcisse. Les Druzes: Histoire du Liban et de la montagne haouranaise. Paris, 1930.
  • Chasseaud, George Washington. The Druses of the Lebanon: Their Manners, Customs, and History; with a Translation of Their Religious Code. London, 1855.
  • Firro, Kais M.A History of the Druzes. Leiden, 1992.
  • Joumblatt, Kamal. I Speak for Lebanon. Translated from the French by Michael Pallis. London, 1982.
  • Layish, Aharon. Marriage, Divorce, and Succession in the Druze Family. Leiden, 1982.
  • Makarem, Sami N.The Druze Faith. Delmar, N.Y., 1974.
  • Najjār, ʿAbd Allāh. Madhhab al-Durūz wa-al-tawḥīd. Cairo, 1965. Translated by Fred Massey as The Druze: Millennium Scrolls Revealed. Atlanta, 1973.
  • Silvestre de Sacy, Antoine I.Exposé de la religion des Druzes: Tiré des livres religieux de cette secte. 2 vols. Paris, 1838.
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