Who are Druze?

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The Druze are a distinct religious group who believe in the divinity of the Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. They see themselves as descendants of Moses’ father-in-law and have faced persecution throughout history. They have official status in Israel, Lebanon, and Syria and are known for their military service and political prominence. Most Druze are secular, but religious members make up about one-fifth of the population. They discourage marriage outside the group and tend to keep a distance from other populations.

The Druze are a religious group who are seen by some as Muslims, but are seen as completely distinct from most major branches of Islam. One major distinction between this group and other branches of Islam is that the Druze believe the Caliph al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah is a manifestation of God and believe that he will return as the Mahdi’s redeemer.

Many Druze see themselves as part of a fascinating biblical narrative, which links them to Moses’ father-in-law. Although Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro or Shoaib, was not Jewish, he ministered to Moses’ Jews and accepted the one God of Moses, before returning to his Kenite people. Many Druze consider themselves to be descendants of Jethro, and loose cooperation with the Jews is often undertaken on this basis.

In the 11th century a preacher of the Ismaili branch of Islam, Muhammad bin Ismail Nashtakin ad-Darazi, began teaching that al-Hakim was divine. The caliph finally rebuked ad-Darazi, and he vanished. His ideological successor was Hamza ibn-‘Ali ibn-Ahmad, who continued to preach the deity of al-Hakim and eventually formed the Druze. Rather than trying to convert people en masse, they instead sought to create a union of Muslims, connecting them by their similar beliefs, rather than highlighting their differences.

When al-Hakim disappeared, the Drusus continued to teach about his divinity, proposing that he was occluded from God in preparation for his return as Mahdi, at which time he would refresh and redeem Islam. They therefore focused most of their attention on strengthening Islam. Facing some persecution, the Druze practiced taqiyya, in which they could hide their beliefs to integrate with different groups, while at the same time continuing their religious practice in secret.

For the next few centuries, the Druze continued to operate, mostly under the radar of the general population. At various times in history, they have been considered heretics by other branches of Islam and have been persecuted as a result. At the same time, the Druze have sometimes come into conflict with Christians sharing the same regions as them, especially the Maronite Christians in Lebanon.

The Druze have official status in Israel, Lebanon and Syria, where they are governed by their own religious courts. In Israel they occupy a somewhat unique position. At the request of community leaders, they are not formally recognized as an Arab group, and are instead seen as distinct. Druze serve in the Israeli military and a high percentage are prominent as politicians. Much of their special position in Israel is a result of what is sometimes referred to as the Blood Covenant, in reference to the many Druze who have fought and died in Israel’s wars since the nation’s formation.
Most Druze are secular, with little or no connection to the beliefs of religious members. Religious Druze make up about one-fifth of the total population and wear distinct clothing. Marriage between Druze and non-Druze is discouraged, even among the lay population, and the group as a whole tends to keep somewhat distant from the populations in which it exists.

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