The Druze are an Arabic-speaking esoteric ethnoreligious group originating in Western Asia who self-identify as The People of Monotheism (Al-Muwaḥḥidūn). Jethro of Midian is considered an ancestor of Druze; who revere him as their spiritual founder and chief prophet. It is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion based on the teachings of Hamza ibn Ali ibn Ahmad and the sixth Fatimid caliph, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah; and Ancient Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Zeno of Citium.
The Epistles of Wisdom is the foundational text of the Druze faith. The Druze faith incorporates elements of Ismailism, a branch of Shia Islam, Gnosticism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism, and other philosophies and beliefs; creating a distinct and secretive theology based on an esoteric interpretation of scripture; which emphasizes the role of the mind and truthfulness. Druze believe in theophany and reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul. Druze believe that at the end of the cycle of rebirth, which is achieved through successive reincarnations; the soul is united with the Cosmic Mind (al-ʻaql al-kullī).
The Druze community played an important role in shaping the history of the Levant; where it continues to play a large political role. As a religious minority in every country in which they are found; they have frequently experienced persecution. Even though the faith originally developed out of Isma’ilism, Druze do not identify as Muslims. The Druze faith is one of the major religious groups in the Levant; with between 800,000 and a million adherents.
They are found primarily in Syria, Lebanon and Israel, with small communities in Jordan. The oldest and most densely-populated Druze communities exist in Mount Lebanon and in the south of Syria around Jabal al-Druze (literally the “Mountain of the Druzes”). The Druze’s social customs differ markedly from those of Muslims or Christians; and they are known to form close-knit; cohesive communities that do not fully allow non-Druze in; though they themselves integrate fully in their adopted homelands.
The name Druze is derived from the name of Muhammad bin Ismail Nashtakin ad-Darazī (from Persian darzi, “seamster”) who was an early preacher. Although the Druze consider ad-Darazī a heretic; the name has been used to identify them. Before becoming public, the movement was secretive and held closed meetings in what was known as Sessions of Wisdom.
During this stage, a dispute occurred between ad-Darazi and Hamza bin Ali mainly concerning ad-Darazi’s “exaggeration”; which refers to the belief that God was incarnated in human beings (especially ‘Ali and his descendants; including Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah; who was the caliph at the time) and to ad-Darazi naming himself “The Sword of the Faith”; which led Hamza to write an epistle refuting the need for the sword to spread the faith.
The Druze Faith Early History
The Druze faith began as an Isma’ili movement that was opposed to certain religious and philosophical ideologies that were present during that epoch. The divine call or unitarian call is the Druze period of time that was opened at sunset on Thursday 30 May 1017 by the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah and closed in 1043 by al-Muqtana Baha’uddin; henceforth prohibiting anyone else from converting to the Druze faith.
The faith was preached by Hamza ibn Ali ibn Ahmad, an Ismaili mystic and scholar from Zozan; Khorasan, in the Samanid Empire. He came to Fatimid Egypt in 1014 or 1016 and assembled a group of scholars and leaders from across the world to establish the Unitarian movement. The order’s meetings were held in the Raydan Mosque, near the Al-Hakim Mosque.
In 1017, Hamza officially revealed the Druze faith and began to preach the Unitarian doctrine. Hamza gained the support of the Fātimid caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, who issued a decree promoting religious freedom prior to the declaration of the divine call.
Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah
Al-Hakim became a central figure in the Druze faith even though his own religious position was disputed among scholars. John Esposito states that al-Hakim believed that “he was not only the divinely appointed religiopolitical leader but also the cosmic intellect linking God with creation”, while others like Nissim Dana and Mordechai Nisan state that he is perceived as the manifestation and the reincarnation of God or presumably the image of God.