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Lebanon - Religious Sects


While there are two main branches of Islam (Sunni and Shi'a), there are also dozens of smaller Islamic sects scattered throughout the Muslim world, one is the Druze. It is estimated the Druze number at most only one million around the world, including Syria, Turkey and Jordan and Isreal. They appear to have branched off the Shi'a theology around the 11th century and are influenced by both Christianity and Classical Greek philosophy.

The religion was brought to Lebanon around the eleventh century by Darazi (hence the name Druze), a disciple of Al Hakim, the Fatimid caliph of Egypt who considered himself the final incarnation of God. The religion is secretive, and very few members are masters. The Druze community lives primarily in West Beirut, the Shuf Mountains, the Al Matn district and the regions around Hasbayya and Rashayya.

Most Muslims in the region do not consider the Druze to be Muslim and throughout their history they were routinely and brutally persecuted by other Muslim communities. Due to this persecution, the Druze have accepted the practice of taqiyya (takeeyah) in which they outwardly assume the tenets of the dominant Muslim religious beliefs while secretly adhering to the Druze faith.

The religion of the Druzes may be regarded as an offshoot of Ismaili Islam. Historically it springs from the Fatimid caliph of Egypt, Hakim (996-1021 A.D.), who considered himself the final incarnation of God. His close associates and followers Hamza and Darazi (hence the name Druze) spread the new doctrine among the inhabitants of southern Lebanon, and founded among them a sect which non-Druzes called "Druze" and Druzes called "Unitarian." The Druzes believe that Hakim is not dead but absent and will return to his people. Like the Ismailis, they also believe in emanations of the deity, in supernatural hierarchies, and in the transmigration of souls.

The Druzes are religiously divided into two groups. Those who master the secrets and teaching of the sect and who respect its dictates in their daily life, are referred to as uqqal (the mature) and are regarded as the religious elite. Believers who are not entitled to know the inner secrets of the religion and who do not practice their religion are called juhhal (the ignorant). The leadership of the Druze community in Lebanon traditionally has been shared by two factions: the Jumblatt and the Yazbak family confederations. The community has preserved its cultural separateness by being closely knit socially.

In Israel, the Druze have served in the Israeli army since 1948. Several prominent Israeli spies have been Druze and they are widely regarded by Israeli society as the perfect example of an Israeli patriot. Because of their secretive nature - they don't accept converts and strongly discourage conversion to other faiths - little detail is known about their religious beliefs. They strongly emphasize the oneness of God and place importance on prophets common to Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

They do not practice polygamy or use tobacco, alcohol or pork. Women are considered equal to men in all aspects and are regarded as spiritually superior to men. Druzi women figure prominently in religious leadership, in sharp contrast to the surrounding Christian and Muslim communities.

Because of the existence of large Christian population, Lebanon, more than the other Arab nations in the Middle East, has been influenced greatly by the western world. The area fell under the control of the Ottoman Turks, who defeated the Mamelukes in 1517. When in 1860, the Druze, a Moslem sect located in the mountains of Lebanon and Syria, massacred thousands of the Maronite Christians, French troops landed to intercede on behalf of the Christians. Turkey was forced by the European powers to grant semi-autonomy to the Maronites in the Mount Lebanon area under a Christian governor.

As if the French did not have enough trouble on their hands in Morocco, a major rebellion flared to the east in Syria, where Druze tribesmen had first risen in 1922-23, and then again in July of 1925, holding one garrison town under siege and defeating a 3,000-man relief column. The Breguet 14s and Poetz 25 bombers of the 39th Regiment d'Aviation flew in support of thirty-two battalions of infantry supported by tanks, horse cavalry and field artillery as the rebellion flared to its climax. From mid-July through September 1925 the Druze laid siege to the 700-man garrison of Suwayda. During their sixty-five day ordeal the defenders were solely dependent for supplies upon daily airdrops flown by four aircraft detailed exclusively for that mission.

As in the Rif, groundfire proved to be a major threat. "The citadel was at most 100 by 150 yards in area and to drop supplies accurately the aircraft had to descend to between twenty and one hundred feet above the rooftops, where they made fine targets for Druze marksmen, rarely returning to base without bullet holes." The Druse riflemen became increasingly adept at hitting the canvas-winged transports. "Aircraft flying low were at risk from rifle fire and several were brought down. By mid-August 1925 the three squadrons at Rayak had lost six pilots and three machines, and all their remaining aircraft badly needed repair." Such losses were the price of suppressing a rebellion which lasted until 1927.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:53:08 ZULU