History & Overview
by Dr. Naim Aridi
The Druze community in Israel is officially recognized as a separate religious entity with its own
courts (with jurisdiction in matters of personal status - marriage,
divorce, maintenance and adoption) and spiritual leadership. Their culture
is Arab and their language Arabic but they opted against mainstream
Arab nationalism in 1948 and have since served (first as volunteers,
later within the draft system) in the Israel
Defense Forces and the Border Police.
Worldwide there are probably about one million Druze
living mainly in Syria and Lebanon, with 104,000 in Israel, including
about 18,000 in the Golan (which came under Israeli rule in 1967) and
several thousands who emigrated to Europe and North and South America.
The Druze community in Israel has a special standing
among the country's minority
groups, and members of the community have attained high-level positions
in the political, public and military spheres.
The Druze religion has its roots in Ismailism, a religio-philosophical
movement which founded the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt in the tenth century. During the reign of al-Hakim (996 - 1021) the
Druze creed came into being, blending Islamic monotheism with Greek
philosophy and Hindu influences. Active proselytizing of the new creed
was brief; since about 1050 the community has been closed to outsiders.
The first Druze settled in what is now southern Lebanon and northern Israel. By the time of the Ottoman conquest of Syria (1516),
Druze also lived in the hill country near Aleppo, and Sultan Selim I
recognized Fakhr al-Din as Emir of the Druze, with local authority.
Civil strife between the Lebanese Druze and the Maronite Christians
ended in 1860 with the autonomous administration of Mt. Lebanon, which
was imposed by the great powers. The Druze never regained ascendancy
in the region and the center of the community passed to Mt. Hauran in
Syria, which became known as Jebel-el-Druze (Mountain of the Druze)
- the name formerly synonymous with Mt. Lebanon.
Until the end of Ottoman rule (1918), the Druze were
governed by emirs, as a semi-autonomous community. In 1921 the French
tried to set up a Druze state under the French Mandate, but the attempt
The Druze in Galilee and on Mount Carmel have always kept in contact with the other branches
of the community, especially with those of Mt. Hermon and Lebanon. During
the British Mandate over Palestine they refrained from taking part in
the Arab-Jewish conflict, and during Israel's War
of Independence (1948) became active participants on Israel's side.
Beliefs and Traditions
The Druze consider their faith to be a new interpretation
of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism,
Christianity and Islam.
For them, the traditional story of the Creation is a parable, which
describes Adam not as the first human being, but as the first person
to believe in one god. Since then, the idea of monotheism has been disseminated
by "emissaries" or prophets, guided by "mentors"
who embody the spirit of monotheism. The mentors and prophets come from
all three religions, and include Jethro and Moses,
John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth,
and Salman the Persian and Mohammed - all reincarnations of the same monotheistic idea. In addition, the
Druze hold other influential people - regardless of their religion -
in great esteem, as the advocates of justice and belief in one god.
These include the Egyptian Akhenaton, the Greek philosophers Socrates,
Plato and Aristotle, and Alexander the Great.
Although the Druze recognize all three monotheistic
religions, they believe that rituals and ceremonies have caused Jews,
Christians, and Muslims to turn aside from "pure faith". They
argue that individuals who believe that God will forgive them if they
fast and pray, will commit transgressions in the expectation of being
forgiven - and then repeat their sins. The Druze thus eliminated all
elements of ritual and ceremony; there is no fixed daily liturgy, no
defined holy days, and no pilgrimage obligations. The Druze perform
their spiritual reckoning with God at all times, and consequently need
no special days of fasting or atonement.
The Druze religion is secret and closed to converts.
From the theological perspective, the secrecy derives from the tenet
that the gates of the religion were open to new believers for the space
of a generation when it was first revealed and everyone was invited
to join. Since in their belief everyone alive today is the reincarnation
of someone who lived at that time, there is no reason to allow them
to join today. Therefore, the Druze refrain from missionizing, and no
member of another religion can become Druze.
Druze religious books are accessible only to the initiates,
the uqqal ("knowers"). The juhal ("ignorant ones")
accept the faith on the basis of the tradition handed down from generation
Tenets and Precepts
The Druze religion has no ceremonies or rituals, and
no obligation to perform precepts in public. The main tenets that obligate
all Druze, both uqqal and juhal, are:
- Speaking the truth (instead of prayer)
- Supporting your brethren (instead of charity)
- Abandoning the old creeds (instead of fasting)
- Purification from heresy (instead of pilgrimage)
- Accepting the unity of God
- Submitting to the will of God (instead of holy war)
The uqqal are bound by more precepts than the juhal. Their external appearance is also different: the men have
a shaven head covered by a white turban, a mustache and a beard; the
women wear a white head scarf, called a naqab. The most pious among
the women hide all their hair under a separate covering, the iraqiyah,
which is fastened around the head underneath the white scarf.
Druze are forbidden to eat pork, smoke, or drink alcohol.
Druze women can attain positions of religious significance,
and some have indeed achieved high rank. Regarding personal status,
their rights are almost identical to those of men; actually, Druze women
are preferred over men in joining the uqqal, because they are considered
to be better "spiritually prepared". Consequently, there are
more women than men among the uqqal. Female uqqal take part in the religious
assemblies in the hilwah (prayer house), but sit separately from the
Uqqal men and women usually intermarry. If a juhal
wishes to marry a member of the uqqal, the former is expected to declare
in advance his/her intention to join in the near future. Druze men,
both uqqal and juhal, may not have more than one wife, nor may they
remarry their divorced wife, or even be under the same roof with her.
Also, a male uqqal may not be alone with a woman who is not a close
relative (spouse, daughter, sister, mother) nor even respond to her
greeting unless a third person is present. Both men and women are encouraged
to guard themselves against immodest or impulsive behavior.
The Druze Educational System
Since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Druze educational system has flourished.
In 1948/49, only 981 Druze were enrolled in school - 881 boys and 100
girls. Some 30 years later, there were 18,729 Druze students, an increase
by a factor of 19. Today there are over 30,000 Druze students in the
school system - some 2.3% of all pupils in Israel, although the representation
of Druze in the general population is only 1.6%.
Druze Revered Sites in Israel
Since there is no ritual or ceremony in the Druze religion,
there is also no sanctification of physical places. However, the Druze
gradually instituted gatherings at significant sites for the purpose
of discussing community affairs, and over time such gatherings have
taken on the meaning of a sort of religious holiday.
Most of the regional assembly places are located in
or near Druze villages in upper and western Galilee, in the Golan and
on Mount Carmel.
One of the most important Druze gathering sites is
the tomb of Nebi Shu'eib - the prophet Jethro - at the Horns of Hittin,
overlooking Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). According to Druze tradition,
Saladin had a dream on the eve of his battle against the Crusaders at
this site, in which an angel promised him victory on condition that
after the battle he gallop westward on his horse. Where the stallion
would pull up, the angel promised, he would find the burial site of
Nebi Sheuib. When the dream came true, the Druze built a tomb at the
site, next to which is a rock bearing a footprint, believed to be that
of Nebi Sheuibhimself. On April 25 each year, the Druze gather at the
site to discuss community affairs.
The older section of the existing structure was built
by the Druze in the 1880s, after the spiritual leader of the community,
Sheikh Mahna Tarif of Julis, summoned an assembly to discuss its construction.
A delegation of uqqal traveled to Syria and Lebanon and collected funds
for this purpose, and the local Druze also contributed extensively.
Renovation work and additions to the building continued throughout the
years of the British Mandate, and more intensively after 1948. In recent
years access to the site has been improved and connected to electricity
and water, with funding from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare
and various other government ministries, as well as from the Minorities
Unit of the IDF.
Sabalan was a Druze prophet, believed to be either
Zebulun, the sixth son of the Patriarch Jacob, or one of the emissaries
who propagated the Druze religion in the eleventh century. Sabalan's
tomb is located above the Druze village of Hurfeish (see Druze towns
and villages). It is the site of an annual festive pilgrimage and is
visited throughout the year by those who have taken a vow to do so.
Al-Khadr means "green" in Arabic. It is
also the name given to the Prophet Elijah in Muslim tradition. His tomb is to be found in Kafr Yasif, near Akko.
Members of the Druze community gather at his tomb on January 25th.
Tomb of Al-Ya'afuri
The prophet Al-Ya'afuri is not mentioned in any other
religion, and the name is neither Arabic nor Persian. His tomb, located
near the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan, is considered to be an
important place for the Druze.
This is, in all likelihood, the Jewish prophet Zechariah.
His tomb is located in the village of Abu Sinan near Akko. It is a very
modest site; there is no set date for gatherings there.
Tomb of Abu Ibrahim
Another minor shrine, the tomb of Abu Ibrahim attracts
Druze from all over Israel, in fulfillment of vows and to receive a
blessing. It is located in the town of Daliyat el-Carmel on Mount Carmel.
Tomb of Abu Abdallah
This tomb is visited almost exclusively by residents
of the village of Isfiya in which it is located.
Druze Towns and Villages
Most of the Druze towns and villages in Israel are
populated exclusively by Druze, although over the last century a minority
of Christians and Muslims have become residents in some of them. They
are located in the north of the country, mainly on hilltops; historically
as a defense against attack and persecution.
The largest Druze town in Israel (and the most southern)
is Daliyat el-Carmel, located on Mount Carmel in the heart of the Carmel
National Park, southeast of Haifa. Established some 400 years ago, Daliyat
el-Carmel has a population of 13,000 Druze residents, who trace their
ancestry to the hill country near Aleppo (Halab) in northern Syria,
attested to by their strong Aleppo accent and the name of the largest
family in the village - Halabi. The large market in the center of the
town boasting traditional Druze and Arab products draws tourists from
Israel and from abroad, and there is a memorial center for fallen Druze
IDF soldiers. The shrine of Abu Ibrahim is located in Daliyat el-Carmel,
and the ruins of several Druze villages are located in the vicinity.
Isfiya, also on Mount Carmel, was built on the ruins
of a Byzantine settlement. Many Crusader ornaments and relics found
on the walls and in the houses led historians to believe that the village
was once a Crusader center. In 1930, remains of the fifth-century Jewish
settlement of Husifah were unearthed in the village. They include a
synagogue with a mosaic floor bearing Jewish symbols and the inscription
"Peace upon Israel", and some 4,500 gold coins dating from
the Roman Period. The modern village was founded in the early eighteenth
century, when residents made their living from the olive oil, honey
and the excellent grapes growing in the region. Some 9,000 people live
today in Isfiya: 70% Druze, the rest Christians and Muslims. The tomb
of Abu Abdallah is located here.
Northeast of Haifa is the village of Shfar'am, a settlement
with ancient roots. Shfar'am is mentioned in the Talmud, and in the
second century was the seat of the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish religious
and judicial body). The Jewish community in Shfar'am, dating from the
end of the Middle Ages, slowly dwindled away during the 19th and early
20th century. Some 27,000 Druze, Christians and Muslims live in Shfar'am
today, and the village has a number of holy sites and prayer houses
for all three communities, as well as housing for discharged Druze soldiers.
Further north, overlooking Lake Kinneret, is Maghar,
believed to be the site of the city of Ma'ariya, where a priestly family
lived in Talmudic times. Historical sources mention the many olive trees
surrounding the village, which still thrive there today. Some 17,000
people live in Maghar today - 60% Druze, 20% Muslim and 20% Christian.
The village of Rama (population 7,000) north of Maghar,
was built on the site of the ancient biblical town of Ramot Naftali.
Rama is noted for its level of culture, dating back to the Mandate Period;
in 1948, the proportion of physicians, attorneys, and engineers in Rama
was the highest in the Arab sector. Nearby is the smaller village of
Located north of Rama, on the peak of Mt. Meron, is
the all-Druze village of Beit Jan. The village is situated at the highest
point in Israel (940 meters above sea level), and has a population of
some 9,000. Not far away is Peki'in, one of the most ancient villages
in the country. It was frequently mentioned in historical sources from
the thirteenth century onward, noting its many springs, flourishing
gardens and orchards, and its small Jewish community, which has been
present there almost continuously since the Second Temple period. In
and near the village are significant sites for Druze and Jews, including
a restored Jewish synagogue dating back to the Roman Period. The oldest
Druze school in the region was established in Peki'in by the Russian
church at the end of the nineteenth century.
Ein el-Asad, the only all-Druze village founded in
the twentieth century, is located nearby. The village's original residents
came from Beit Jan and from Syria and Lebanon. Kafr Sumei', west of
Peki'in, is thought to be the site of Kefar Sama, mentioned in ancient
South of Kafr Sumei', Kisra was the smallest Druze
village in the country in the nineteenth century. The village now has
about 3,500 residents. The nearby village of Yanuah is mentioned in
the Bible (as Janoah), the Talmud, and Crusader documents. Next to the
village is the shrine of the Muslim prophet Shams.
The only all-Druze town in western Galilee, Yirka,
is the site of one of the largest factories in the Middle East: the
steel mill belonging to the Kadmani Brothers. The factory has enabled
the village to develop a large commercial and industrial zone. Home
to about 11,000 Druze, Yirka has a number of important sites, the most
significant of which is the tomb of Sheikh Abu Saraya Ghanem, an important
Druze religious scholar of the early eleventh century.
Abu Sinan, another large Druze town in the area, is
mentioned in Crusader documents from the year 1250, as the fortress
of "Busnen". Abu Sinan became important during the reign of
the Druze Emir Fahr ed-Din al-Mani, who built a palace there for his
son Ali in 1617. Today Abu Sinan is home to about 10,000 persons - 35%
Druze and the rest Christians and Muslims. The tombs of the prophet
Zechariah and Sheikh al-Hanbali are located in the town.
South of Abu Sinan is the tranquil village of Julis,
homeof Sheikh Amin Tarif, the longtime spiritual leader of the Israeli
Druze community, who died in October 1993. His grandson Saleh Tarif,
who lives in Julis, was the first Druze to be appointed a minister in
the Israeli government.
Druze have lived in Jat, a small village northeast
of Abu Sinan, since the eleventh century. Druze sacred texts mention
Sheikh Abu Arus, who was responsible for the propagation of the Druze
faith in the region, and was buried in the village. The population of
Jat today numbers some 8,000.
The village of Hurfeish is situated on the road that
runs east from the coastal town of Nahariya, and the site of the tomb
of the important prophet Sablan. On September 10th each year, Druze
come to celebrate his festival in the village. In 1972, a monument was
erected in Hurfeish in memory of Druze soldiers who fell serving with
the Israel Defense Forces.
Druze Villages in the Golan
With some 8,000 residents, Majdal Shams is considered
to be the center of the Druze community in the Golan. The most important
residents - both spiritually and politically - are the Abu-Salah and
Safdie families. Majdal Shams is situated in the southern foothills
of Mt. Hermon, and is surrounded by thousands of dunams of orchards,
the main crops of which include first class apples and cherries.
Most of the 3,000 inhabitants of Mas'ada, originate
from the Abu-Salah and Safdie families of Majdal Shams. Originally founded
as a farm south of Majdal Shams, over time Mas'ada developed into a
large village involved in agricultural production.
South of Mas'ada is the village of Buka'ata. It was
founded over 100 years ago when a family feud in Majdal Shams resulted
in many inhabitants fleeing acts of retribution and revenge. Today,
the 5,000 residents earn their livelihood from growing apples and grapes.
Ein Kenya lies in the southwestern foothills of Mt
Hermon, above the Banyas Nature Reserve. Until the Six Day War (1967),
the inhabitants of Ein Kenya included Christians, but today its 1,600
inhabitants are exclusively Druze.