1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Druses

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DRUSES, or Druzes (Arab. Druz), a people of mid-Syria (for the derivation of the name see History section below), distributed nowadays into three isolated groups, of which the most numerous inhabits Jebel Hauran (Jebel Druz), E. of Jordan (about 55,000); the second, the cazas of Shuf and Metn in Lebanon (about 50,000); the third, the cazas of Hasbeya, Rasheya, W. al Ajem, Homs, Hamadiyeh and Selimiyeh in Anti-Lebanon and Hermon (about 45,000). The first group, which has been greatly increased by migrants from the second, since the establishment of the privileged Lebanon province (1861) under Christian auspices, lives apart from other peoples in semi-independence. The second is now confined to the southern Lebanon, and even there is greatly outnumbered by Maronites, who, in the whole “Mountain,” stand to Druses as 9 to 2. The third is counterbalanced everywhere by a large population of Moslem and Orthodox Syrians. The Hauran, therefore, has become the stronghold of the Druses, offering nowadays the best field for studying their peculiar customs and religion; and the group there still increases at the expense of the other groups, despite efforts on the part of the Ottoman government to check Druse migration by both conciliatory and repressive measures. The actual distinction of the Druses, as a racial unity, despite their dispersion, depends so exclusively on the peculiarity of their common religion, that it will be well at once to give an account of Druse creed and practice as they are understood to stand at the present day. How this religion may have grown up and come to be theirs will be considered later.

Religion.—Druse religion is a secret faith, and the following account is given with all reserves. There are many indications that a more primitive cult, containing elements of Nature worship, preceded it, and still survives in the popular practices of the more remote Druse districts, e.g. in the eastern Hauran. The Muwahhidin (Unitarians), as the Druses call themselves, believe that there is one and only one God, indefinable, incomprehensible, ineffable, passionless. He has made himself known to men by successive incarnations, of which the last was Hakim, the sixth Fatimite caliph. How many these incarnations have been is stated variously; but seventy, one for each period of the world, seems the best-attested number. Jesus appears to be accepted as one such incarnation, but not Mahomet, although it is agreed that, in his time, the “Universal Intelligence” (see later) was made flesh, in the person of Mikdad al-Aswad. No further incarnation can now take place: in Hakim a final appeal was made to mankind, and after the door of mercy had stood open to all for twenty-six years, it was finally and for ever closed. When the tribulation of the faithful has reached its height, Hakim will reappear to conquer the world and render his religion supreme. Druses, believed to be dispersed in China, will return to Syria. The combined body of the Faithful will take Mecca, and finally Jerusalem, and all the world will accept the Faith. The first of the creatures of God is the Universal Intelligence or Spirit, impersonated in Hamza, Hakim’s vizier. This Spirit was the creator of all subordinate beings, and alone has immediate communion with the Deity. Next in rank, and equally supporting the throne of the Almighty, are four Ministering Spirits, the Soul, the Word, the Right Wing and the Left Wing, who, in Hakim’s time, were embodied respectively in Ismael Darazi, Mahommed ibn Wahab, Selama ibn Abd al-Wahal and Baha ud-Din; and beneath these again are spiritual agents of various ranks. The material world is an emanation from, and a “mirror” of, the Divine Intelligence. The number of human beings admits neither of increase nor of decrease, and a regular process of metempsychosis goes on continually. The souls of the virtuous pass after death into ever new incarnations of greater perfection, till at last they reach a point at which they can be re-absorbed into the Deity itself; those of the wicked may be degraded to the level of camels or dogs. All previous religions are mere types of the true, and their sacred books and observances are to be interpreted allegorically. The Gospel and the Koran are both regarded as inspired books, but not as religious guides. The latter function is performed solely by the Druse Scriptures. As the admission of converts is no longer permitted, the faithful are enjoined to keep their doctrine secret from the profane; and in order that their allegiance may not bring them into danger, they are allowed (like Persian mystics) to make outward profession of whatever religion is dominant around them. To this latter indulgence is to be attributed the apparent indifferentism which leads to their joining Moslems in prayers and ablutions, or sprinkling themselves with holy water in Maronite churches. Obedience is required to the seven commandments of Hamza, the first and greatest of which enjoins truth in words (but only those of Druse speaking with Druse); the second, watchfulness over the safety of the brethren; the third, absolute renunciation of every other religion; the fourth, complete separation from all who are in error; the fifth, recognition of the unity of “Our Lord” in all ages; the sixth, complete resignation to his will; and the seventh, complete obedience to his orders. Prayer, however, is regarded as an impertinent interference with the Creator; while, at the same time, instead of the fatalistic predestination of Mahommedanism, the freedom of the human will is distinctly maintained. Not only is the charge of secrecy rigidly obeyed in regard to the alien world, but full initiation into the deeper mysteries of the creed is permitted only to a special class designated Akils, (Arabic ʽAkl, intelligence), in contradistinction from whom all other members of the Druse community, whatever may be their position or attainments, are called Jahel, the Ignorant. About 15% of the adult population belong to the order of Akils. Admission is granted to any Druse of either sex who expresses willingness to conform to the laws of the society, and during a year of probation gives sufficient proof of sincerity and stability of purpose. There appears to be no formal distinction of rank among the various members; and though the amir, Beshir Shehab, used to appoint a sheikh of the Akils, the person thus distinguished obtained no primacy over his fellows. Exceptional influence depends upon exceptional sanctity or ability. All are required to abstain from tobacco and wine; the women used not to be allowed to wear gold or silver, or silk or brocade, but this rule is commonly broken now; and although neither celibacy nor retirement from the affairs of the world is either imperative or customary, unusual respect is shown to those who voluntarily submit themselves to ascetic discipline. While the Akils mingle frankly with the common people, and are remarkably free from clerical pretension, they are none the less careful to maintain their privileges. They are distinguished by the wearing of a white turban, emblematic of the purity of their life. Their food must be purchased with money lawfully acquired; and lest they should unwittingly partake of any that is ceremonially unclean, they require those Jahels, whose hospitality they share, to supply their wants from a store set apart for their exclusive use. The ideal Akil is grave, calm and dignified, with an infinite capacity of keeping a secret, and a devotion that knows no limits to the interests of his creed. On Thursday evening, the commencement of the weekly day of rest, the members of the order meet together in the various districts, probably for the reading of their sacred books and consultation on matters of ecclesiastical or political importance. Their meeting-houses, khalwas, are plain, unornamented edifices. These have property attached to them, the revenues of which are consecrated to the relief of the poor and the demands of hospitality. In the eastern Hauran, there are hill-top shrines containing each a black stone, on which rugs, &c., are hung, and these seem to perpetuate features of pre-Islamic Arabian cult, including the sacrifice of animals, e.g. goats. They are held in reverence by the Bedouins. The women assemble in the khalwas at the same time as the men, a part of the space being fenced off for them by a semi-transparent black veil. Even while the Akils are assembled, strangers are readily enough admitted to the khalwas; but as long as these are present the ordinary ceremonies are neglected, and the Koran takes the place of the Druse Scriptures. It has been frequently asserted that the image of a calf is kept in a niche, and traces of phallic and gynaecocratic worship have been vaguely suspected; but there is no authentic information in support of either statement. The calf, if calf there be, is probably a symbol of the execrable heresy of Darazi, who is frequently styled the calf by his Orthodox opponents. Ignorance is the mother of suspicion as well as of superstition; and accordingly the Christian inhabitants of the Lebanon have long been persuaded that the Druses in their secret assemblies are guilty of the most nefarious practices. For this allegation, so frequently repeated by European writers, there seems to be little evidence; and it is certain that the sacred books of the religion contain moral teaching of a high order on the whole.

As a formulated creed, the Druse system is not a thousand years old. In the year A.D. 996 (386 A.H.) Hakim Biamrillahi (i.e. he who judges by the command of God), sixth of the Fatimite caliphs (third in Egypt), began to reign; and during the next twenty-five years he indulged in a tyranny at once so terrible and so fantastic that little doubt can be entertained of his insanity. He believed that he held direct intercourse with the deity, or even that he was an incarnation of the divine intelligence; and in A.D. 1016 (407 A.H.) his claims were made known in the mosque at Cairo, and supported by the testimony of Ismael Darazi. The people showed such bitter hostility to the new gospel that Darazi was compelled to seek safety in flight; but even in absence he was faithful to his god, and succeeded in winning over certain ignorant inhabitants of Lebanon. According to the Druses, this great conversion took place in A.D. 1019 (410 A.H.). Meanwhile the endeavours of the caliph to get his divinity acknowledged by the people of Cairo continued. The advocacy of Hasan ibn Haidara Fergani was without avail; but in 1017 (408 A.H.) the new religion found a more successful apostle in the person of Hamza ibn Ali ibn Ahmed, a Persian mystic, felt-maker by trade, who became Hakim’s vizier, gave form and substance to his creed, and by an ingenious adaptation of its various dogmas to the prejudices of existing sects, finally enlisted an extensive body of adherents. In 1020 (411 A.H.) the caliph was assassinated by contrivance of his sister Sitt ul-Mulk; but it was given out by Hamza that he had only withdrawn for a season, and his followers were encouraged to look forward with confidence to his triumphant return. Darazi, who had acted independently in his apostolate, was branded by Hamza as a heretic, and thus, by a curious anomaly, he is actually held in detestation by the very sect which perhaps bears his name. The propagation of the faith in accordance with Hamza’s initiation was undertaken by Ismael ibn Mahommed Tamimi, Mahommed ibn Wahab, Abul-Khair Selama ibn Abd al-Wahal ibn Samurri, and Moktana Baha ud-Din, the last of whom became known by his writings from Constantinople to the borders of India. In two letters addressed to the emperors Constantine VIII. and Michael the Paphlagonian he endeavoured to prove that the Christian Messiah reappeared in the person of Hamza.

It is possible, even probable, that the segregation of the Druses as a people dates only from the adoption of Hamza’s creed. But when it is recalled that other inhabitants of the same mountain system, e.g. the Maronites, the Ansarieh, the Metawali and the “Ismaʽilites,” also profess creeds which, like the Druse system, differ from Sunni Islam in the important feature of admitting incarnations of the Deity, it is impossible not to suspect that Hamza’s emissaries only gave definition and form to beliefs long established in this part of the world. Many of the fundamental ideas of Druse theology belong to a common West Asiatic stock; but the peculiar history of the Mountain is no doubt responsible for beliefs, held elsewhere by different peoples, being combined there in a single creed. Some allowance, too, must be made for the probability that Hamza’s system owed something to doctrines Christian and other, with which the metropolitan position of Cairo brought Fatimite society into contact.

History—There is good reason to regard the Druses as, racially, a mixture of refugee stocks, in which the Arab largely predominates, grafted on to an original mountain population of Aramaic blood and Incarnationist tendencies. The latter is represented more purely by the Maronites (q.v.). The native tradition regards an immigration of Hira Arabs into S. Lebanon, under Khalid ibn Walid in the 9th century, as the beginning of Druse distinctiveness and power; but it also accepts Turkoman and Kurdish elements in the original Druse state. About the same time, or a little later (in the reign of Saladin), it believes that Hermon was colonized by a population of 15,000 Hira and Yemenite Arabs, who had sojourned awhile in Hauran. The name Druse is met with first in Benjamin of Tudela (cA.D. 1170), and its origin has been much disputed. Some authorities see in it a descriptive epithet, derived from Arabic darasa (those who read the Book), or darisa (those in possession of Truth) or durs (the clever or initiated); but more connect it with the name of the first missionary, Ismael Darazi.

As soon as we begin to know anything of the Druses they were living in a feudal state of society, as village communities under sheikhs, themselves generally subordinate to one or more amirs. In the time of the first crusades the main power was in the hands of the Arslan family, which, however, suffered so severely in wars with the Franks, that it was superseded by the Tnuhs, who, holding Beirut and nearly all the Phoenician coast, came into conflict with the sultans of Egypt. One of these latter, Malik Ashraf, about A.D. 1300, forced outward compliance with Sunni Islam on the Mountain, after defeating the Druses at Ain Sofar. Meanwhile, however, the Maan family, lately immigrant from N. Arabia, was growing in power, and throwing in its lot with the Osmanli invaders in the reign of Selim I., it was promoted to the supreme amirate about 1517. Fakr ud-Din Maan II. increased Druse dominion until it included all the N. Syrian region from the edge of the Antioch plain to Acre, with part of the eastern desert, dominated by his castle at Tadmor (Palmyra), and the important towns of Latakia, Tripoli, Beirut and Saida; and forming further ambitious designs, he intrigued with Christians and broke with the Turks. In 1614 the pasha of Damascus moved against him with a large force, and compelled him to fly from Syria. He sought the courts of Tuscany and Naples and tried to enlist Frank sympathies, inventing (probably) the curious myth, so often credited since, that the Druses are of crusading origin and owe their name to the counts of Dreux.[1] He landed again at Saida in 1619 and recovered his old position. But in 1633 Kuchuk Ahmed Pasha was sent against him with a large army, and succeeded in capturing him with his sons. The family was sent to Constantinople, and two years later strangled. The dynasty struggled on till the end of the century, amid civil war, in which the parties seem to have been divided by the earlier Arab factions of Kaisites (Qaisites) and Yemenites, the Maan belonging to the latter.

The Shehab family, originally Hira Arabs, which had governed Hauran under the early caliphs of Damascus, and thereafter held power in Hermon, intermarried with the Maan; and in the latter’s day of weakness sided with the Kaisi faction and obtained the supreme amirate of the Mountain. But it appears never to have professed the Druse creed, remaining Sunnite. Haidar Shehab, third of the line, inflicted a notable defeat on the pasha of Saida (capital of an Ottoman eyalet since 1688) and the Yemenite Druses at Ain Dara, near Zahleh, in 1711, and proceeded to consolidate Shehab power, breaking up the old feudal society and substituting for the sheikhs mukatajis (tax-contractors), who had penal jurisdiction. The Yemenite Druses thereupon emigrated in large numbers to the Hauran, and laid the foundation of Druse power there. The Turks recognized the status quo, and made terms with the Shehab amir in 1748; but his power was none too well secured against the opposition of the Kurdish Jumblat family, even though he was supported by the Talhuk, Abd al-Malik and Yezbeki families; and it appears that some members of the Shehab joined the Maronite faith in the middle of the 18th century, causing a suspicion of secret apostasy to fall on all the family.

It is said that the amir Beshir, who succeeded about 1786, was himself a crypto-Christian. This remarkable man, who ruled the Mountain for fifty-four years, maintained his power by taking the side of one rebel pasha after another, betraying each in turn, and cultivating relations with European admirals. His earliest ally was Ahmed “Jezzar,” who established himself in Acre in contumacious independence late in the 18th century. Beshir supported Jezzar against Napoleon in 1799 and earned the friendship of Sir Sidney Smith. Falling out with Jezzar, Beshir fled to Cairo in 1805, attached himself to Mehemet Ali, and returned to take up the reins. Once more chased out by the Turks, he was again in the Mountain in 1823, allied with Abdallah, on whom Jezzar’s mantle had ultimately fallen at Acre, and maintaining friendly relations with the “English Princess,” Lady Hester Stanhope. He now finally worsted the Jumblat. The invasion of Syria by Mehemet Ali in 1831 caused Beshir to desert Abdallah and throw in his lot with Ibrahim Pasha; but he was not cordially followed by the Druses in general, and had good excuse for revolt in 1839, and intrigue with the British admiral in 1840. Ibrahim, however, by his possession of Druse hostages, restrained the amir, and after the bombardment of Acre, the Turks called him to account for his record of rebellion and treachery. He fled to Malta on a British ship, but was induced to go to Constantinople, where he died in 1851.

His successor, Beshir al-Kassim, openly joined the Maronites, and instigating these against the malcontents of his own people, brought enmities, which had been growing for a century, to a head, and initiated a devastating internecine warfare which was to continue for twenty years. The state of the Lebanon went from bad to worse, and at last, in January 1842, the Turkish government appointed Omar Pasha as administrator of the Druses and Maronites, with a council of four chiefs from each party; but the pasha, attempting to effect a disarming, was besieged in November in the castle of Beit ed-Din by the Druses under Shibli el-Arrian. At the instigation of the European powers he was recalled in December, and the Druses and Maronites were placed under separate kaimakams (governors), who, it was stipulated, were not to be of the family of Shehab. Disturbances again broke out in 1845, the native mukatajis refusing to obey the kaimakams. The Maronites flew to arms, but with the assistance of the Turks their opponents carried the day. A superficial pacification effected by Shekib Effendi, the Ottoman commissioner, lasted only till his departure; and the Porte was obliged to despatch a force of 12,000 men to the Lebanon. Forty of the chiefs were seized, the people was nominally disarmed, and in 1846 a new constitution was inaugurated, by which the kaimakam was to be assisted by two Druses, two Maronites, four Greeks, two Turks and one Metawali. All, however, was in vain: the conflict was continued through 1858, 1859 and 1860; and the disturbance culminated in the famous Damascus massacre (see Syria). The European powers now determined to interfere; and, by a protocol of the 3rd of May 1860, it was decided that the Lebanon should be occupied by a force of 20,000 men, of whom half were to be French. A body of troops was accordingly landed on the 16th of August under General Beaufort d’Hautpoul; and Fuad Pasha, who had been appointed Turkish commissioner with full powers, proceeded to bring the leaders of the massacres to justice. The French occupation continued till the 5th of June 1861, and the French and English squadrons cruised on the coast for several months after. In accordance with the recommendation of the European powers the Porte determined to appoint a Christian governor not belonging to the district, and independent of the pasha of Beirut, to hold office for three years. The choice fell on Daud Pasha, an Armenian Catholic, who was installed on the 4th of July. In spite of many difficulties, and especially the ambitious conduct of the Maronite Jussuf Karam, he succeeded in restoring order; and by the formation of a military force from the inhabitants of the Lebanon he rendered unnecessary the presence of the Turkish soldiery.

The privileged province of Lebanon (q.v.) was finally constituted by the Organic Statute of the 6th of September 1864, and the subsequent history of the Lebanon Druses is one of gradual withdrawal from the jurisdiction of that state, in which they see their ancient independence irretrievably compromised, and their religion subordinated to Christian supremacy. Many now emigrate, when occasion offers, to America.

Meanwhile, the Hauran, the old seat of the Shehab family and Hermon Druses, had been steadily receiving a Druse influx, since the day of Ain Dara (see above). Towards the close of the 18th century some 600 families left Lebanon for the Hauran, in discontent with the rule of the Shehab dynasty, and their place and property were taken by 1500 families driven out of Jebel Ansarieh by Topal Ali in 1811. The Hauran Druses increased by the middle of the 19th century to 7000 souls. They had successfully resisted Ibrahim, the Egyptian, in 1839 in the Lija, and asserted complete independence of the Turks, living under a theocratic government directed by the chief Akil in Suweda. A great effort, made by Kibrisli Pasha in 1852 to subdue the Hauran, came to nothing. In 1879 the population numbered 20,000, and by a murderous raid attracted the attention of Midhat Pasha, then vali of the province of Syria. After experiencing one disaster he defeated their forces and imposed a kaimakam, at first drawn from the Talhuks, but subsequently chosen from the Atrash family of Kunawat. But the Druses still refused to pay taxes, to serve in the Ottoman army, or to recognize the kaimakam, and maintained their contumacy under the lead of the Jumblat, till 1896; when, as the result of a military expedition under Tahir Pasha and a great defeat at Ijun, a compromise was arrived at, under which the Druses agreed to pay taxes, but to serve in their own territory only as a frontier guard. The government was put into the hands of a mutessarif resident at Sheikh Saad, under whom are kaimakams at Suweda and Salkhad. Since that epoch there has been comparative peace between the Druses and the government, largely because the latter, having learned wisdom, leaves the people very much to itself, maintaining only a small garrison of regular troops, and enlisting Druse police for service in Jebel Druz itself. The Druses are allowed to carry on their feuds with the Bedouins of the E. Desert as they will, so long as they do not disturb western districts. With the recent opening out of the W. Hauran by railway, the Druse sheikhs are beginning to acquire commercial ambitions, and to desire peace.

The Hauran Druses are a vigorous, independent folk, with a well-deserved reputation for courage, very astute, and hospitable to Europeans, especially the British, with whom they have an old tradition of friendship. But, like most persecuted but semi-independent peoples, they are both cruel, and, by our standards, treacherous. They are a handsome race, the women being often beautiful. The latter no longer carry the head-horn which used to support the veil dropped over the face out of doors. But their dress is still black with the exception of red slippers, and the veil is never abandoned, not even, it is said, during sleep. An English lady, who has been much among them, states that the Druse women of the Hauran never unveiled before her. The men wear a tarbush with white roll, a black under-robe with white girdle, a short loose jacket, and when necessary an aba or parti-coloured cloak over all. They go habitually armed with scimitar and half-moon axe, besides gun or rifle.

Polygamy is forbidden. Marriage retains certain traces of the original system of capture; but Druse women enjoy much consideration, and are comparatively well educated, dignified and free in their bearing in spite of their close veiling. As has been stated above, they join the men in religious functions. Divorce is easy and can be initiated by the woman; but remarriage of the pair can only be effected by the good offices of a proxy (as in Moslem societies, after a third divorce). Burial takes place in family mausoleums, walled up after each interment; but Akils are buried in their own houses. The body is laid on its side, with its face to the south (Mecca).

Education is widely spread, and there is a considerable religious literature, much of which is known in Europe. A copy of the Book of the Testimonies to the Mysteries of the Unity, consisting of seventy treatises in four folio volumes, was found in the house of the chief Akil at Bakhlin, and presented in 1700 to Louis XIV. by Nusralla ibn Gilda, a Syrian doctor. Other manuscripts are to be found at Rome in the Vatican, at Oxford in the Bodleian, at Vienna, at Leiden, at Upsala and at Munich; and Dr J. L. Porter got possession of seven standard works of Druse theology while at Damascus. The Munich collection was presented to the king of Bavaria by Clot Bey, the chief physician in the Egyptian army during its occupation of Syria; and for a number of the other manuscripts we are indebted to the elder Niebuhr. A history of the Druse nation by the amir Haidar Shehab is quoted by Urquhart.

Bibliography.—Adler, “Druze Catechism,” in Museum Cuficum Borgianum (1782); Silvestre de Sacy, Exposé de la religion des Druses (1838); Ph. Wolff, Reise in das gelobte Land, and Die Drusen und ihre Vorläufer (1842); C. H. Churchill, Ten Years’ Residence in Mount Lebanon (3 vols., 1853); G. W. Chasseaud, The Druzes of the Lebanon (1855); E. G. Ray, Voyage dans le Haouran, exécuté pendant les années 1857 et 1858; C. H. Churchill, The Druzes and Maronites under the Turkish Rule from 1840 to 1860 (London, 1862); H. Guys, Le Théogonie des Druses (1863), and La Nation Druse (1864); M. von Oppenheim, Vom Mittelmeer, &c. (1899); Gertrude L. Bell, The Desert and the Sown (1907).  (D. G. H.; G. Be.) 

  1. Sophisticated Druses still sometimes claim connexion with Rosicrucians, and a special relation to Scottish freemasons.