The other day I came across this site, which informs us that the Druze sect
are perhaps one of the most misunderstood and understudied religious sects in the world.
I think I've come across references to them here and there, without knowing much about them. The site explains their origin, which dates back to the eleventh century:
Historians trace Druze origins to 11th century Fatimid Cairo where they began as an Islamic reform movement. The establishment of this reform movement and doctrine revolves primarily around several individuals, two of whom are Hakim and Hamza. A third individual, named Darazi, is thought to be responsible for undermining the doctrine and ironically lending his name to the sect itself. Hakim was the 6th Fatimid Caliph who became the head of the Islamic Fatimid state in 996 at the age of eleven. Although Hakim’s attitude towards the emerging reform movement that later became known as ‘Druze’ is not fully discernible from available sources, he is regarded within the Druze manuscripts as the founding father of Druzism and the source of its strict unitarianism. Among the reforms he introduced were resolutions to (1) abolish slavery, (2) prohibit polygamy, and (3) implement a form of separation of church and state. While these reforms did not become part of orthodox Islam, the Druzes, as well as other Islamic sectarian movements, adopted them.
The connection between Hakim and the Druzes is best substantiated through the religious writings of Hamza, the second person associated with the Druze faith, who was appointed as a religious leader by Hakim. He is considered the main author behind most of the original Druze manuscripts. After a period of teaching philosophy and religion, Hamza began to organize followers, train missionaries, and write a religious doctrine. Prospective adherents were requested to pledge their loyalty to a form of strict unitarianism (Tawhid), a reform doctrine with a new interpretation of some aspects of Islam and monotheism in general.
The resistance of the medieval populace to such interpretation, however, posed a grave danger for Hamza and his associates. One of Hamza’s subordinates, Darazi, seized the opportunity to take political control of the movement and proclaimed himself “Guide of guides” which was meant to elevate him over Hamza.
More importantly, Darazi began to falsify the doctrine of Tawhid by altering a number of Hamza’s writings. Darazi was ultimately executed by Hakim in 1019. Nonetheless, some of Darazi’s teachings were attributed to the Druzes by his followers, referred to as “Darazis.” Ironically, a few medieval chroniclers of the time not only failed to make the distinction between Druzes and Darazis but attributed Darazi’s doctrine to the followers of Hamza and argued that Hakim supported Darazi’s ideas. Other historians have reported that it was Hamza who was subordinate to Darazi, and still others have referred to Hamza and Darazi as the same person: Hamza al-Darazi. As a consequence, the name “Druze” became synonymous with the reform movement. Despite the ironic and misleading origins of the sect’s name, the title “Druze” never occurs in the Druze manuscripts of the 11th century. After the execution of Darazi and his collaborators, Hamza continued his preaching activities for two more years. Among Druzes today, Darazi is known as a heretic and the uttering of his name constitutes the use of profanity.
The conflation of Hamza and Darazi sounds almost Borgesian, as does the sect being called by the name of its heresiarch. I also recall reading somewhere that al-Hakim disappeared in mysterious circumstances; the Druze (if one may call them that) believed that he had become occultated -- had been hidden, but was still the spiritual leader, and would return.
The quoted text goes on to describe the Druze's social structure, which sounds more like a Gnostic order than an Islamic one:
Although the structure of the Druze society helps unite them into a socially cohesive community, it also divides them into two main classes: “the initiated” known in Arabic as ‘uqqal, literally “wise,” who are familiar with the religious teachings; and “the uninitiated” known as juhhal, or literally “ignorant” who are not initiated in the Druze doctrine. Only those members of the community who demonstrate piety and devotion and who have withstood a lengthy process of candidacy are initiated into the teachings of the Druze faith. Women may also be initiated in the Druze doctrine. The Druze tradition considers women to be more spiritually prepared than men to enter such circles because they are considered less likely to be exposed to deviant or immoral practices such as murder and adultery.
Most monotheists believe in exoteric or literal meanings of their scriptures while some speak of esoteric or inner meanings. The mystical tradition in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity also attempts esoteric reading or interpretation of the scriptures. Druzes believe that both the Bible and the Qur’an have esoteric meanings in addition to the exoteric or literal ones. Moreover, Druzes also believe that above these two levels of meaning there is “the esoteric of the esoteric.” In Druze faith, there are prophets, helpers, and luminaries. Each fulfills a different function in achieving complete spirituality.
For example, Druzes venerate the messages of prophets in the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic traditions, who preached the word of God in their respective lifetimes. Each prophet, according to Druzes, preached only a partial truth since humanity was not yet ready to receive the entire truth. However, underneath the exoteric truth lay the esoteric message. For each of these prophets, God provided a helper or assistant to propagate the doctrine of strict unitarianism and to interpret the esoteric nature of the message. For each period, Druzes argue there were also luminaries who taught these three levels of interpretations.
This short paper (actually more of a cheat sheet) on the Druze adds this information:
The Druze faith is one of the best-kept secrets in the Middle East, hence non-Druze have a very limited knowledge of the theology behind Druzism. Only a Druze is permitted to read the sacred texts. The Druze deviated from the Shiites after following al-Hakim bi-amr Allah, who they believe to be divine. Al-Hakim lived in the 11th century and is considered a heretic by orthodox Islam. He outright denied many of the basic tenets of Islam. He discontinued public prayer, did not observe the fast of Ramadan, and prohibited the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca (Nisan 81).
Al-Hakim disappeared in Cairo in 1022 (Nisan 81). Since al-Hakim did not die, this phenomenon is similar to that of the Ismaili’s, who believe that Ismail, the seventh imam, was occulted. Hamza, who promoted al-Hakim’s divinity, instituted a moral code, which strayed from orthodox Islam. He also called for a jihad or holy war. Rather than waging a holy war against non-Muslims, this jihad was a “striving to know God” (Nisan 81).
Another belief of the Druzes is transmigration of the soul. In his book, Minorities of the Middle East, Mordechai Nisan gives a brief explanation of this supernatural movement. He writes, “Druze solidarity grew from the idea of metempsychosis, which posited that when a Druze died, his soul reappeared in a new body elsewhere. Thus a universal far-flung Druze community existed, but its exact location and numbers were concealed” (Nisan 81).
An article in the May-June 1994 edition of the Tibetan Bulletin notes similarities between Tibetan Buddhism and the Druze.
Interdependence and harmony between positive and negative aspects are other cornerstones of Druze belief. The significance of harmony is all comprehensive - individual, collective and cosmic levels. These thoughts facilitate in creating balance in times of conflict between the two aspects. In this, five factors play crucial role: the brain, the soul, the speech, the pre and the post of everything. One obtains superior brain, the state of enlightenment, according to Druze, through harmonious blend of the above
factors. This state is sought primarily to help others, a tradition almost similar to the concept of Boddhicitta in Mahayana Buddhism.
The Druze also give a lot of importance to behavior: modesty, hospitality and non attachment. The devout shave off their hair to signify non-attachment. Death to them is merely a change of cloth, termed Takmis in Arabic, which literally means change of shirts. Just as you cast away the old shirt and put
on the new one, you die and leave your previous body and enter into a new form.
Generally the Druze philosophy has received influence, as Mr Araidi says,"...from my Arab culture and by virtue of my mystical religion, the secrets and symbols of the Islamic suffi, which knew the way to inject into sinews of the Near East the liquid essence of the Greek philosophy, transformed by the Confucius ideas carrying in its veins the lifeblood of the soul of Indo-China."
I wish I had an intelligent observation with which to conclude, but I suspect the best I can do is to echo the claim that the Druze are an understudied sect.Posted by Ideofact at July 18, 2003 01:28 AM