The Relation Between the Druze Faith and OtherReligions
Sheikh Anwar F. Abi-Khzam
Ph.D.Prof. at The Lebanese University
Since long, it was commonly believed that theDruze community possessed an independent religious doctrine which differedtotally from other religions. This belief was the basic reason for thepublic opinion which justified the fact of keeping this religion in totalsecrecy by its members. However, such a belief lacks accuracy, and a deeplook at the Druzes culture may reveal many points in common between thisreligion and other religions. In fact the Druze sheikhs prefer to considertheir Dogma a sect or a Sufi conduct rather than a religion. This pointof view is not far from reality, and there is an accord between the Druzewriters who admit that the Druze cult is not more than an inheritance descendingfrom the Ishmaili-Fatimid culture which marked the Islamic thought by itscharacteristical aspect. Yet, the relation between this sect and the Islamicheritage is not all; there are for sure other connections with Christianity,Judaism and some eastern philosophies.
We aim here to reveal these relations which will give us a clear view aboutthis particular confession.
The Druze faith originated and evolved in a totally Islamic atmosphere.It is Written in one of its Epistles that the Fatimid Caliph (Prince ofBelievers) Al Hakim Bi Amr Allah declared that every person in his kingdomhad the right to adopt the religion he liked. This decree made it possiblefor some Ishmaili preachers to construct a new dogma. This dogma inheritedalmost all the Ishmaili teaching and modified certain rules.
The decree stated:
Remove ye the causes of fear and estrangement from yourselves. Doaway with the corruption of delusion and conformity. Be ye certain thatthe Prince of Believers hath given unto you free will, and hath sparedyou the trouble of disguising and concealing your true beliefs, so thatwhen ye work ye may keep your deeds pure for God.He hath done thus so thatwhen you relinquish your previous beliefs and doctrines ye shall not indeedlean on such causes of impediments and pretensions. By conveying to youthe reality of his intention, the Prince of Believers hath spared you anyexcuse for doing so. He hath urged you to declare your belief openly. Yeare now safe from any hand which may bringeth harm unto you. Ye now mayfind rest in his assurance ye shall not be wronged. Let those who are presentconvey this message unto the absent so that it may be known by both thedistinguished and the common people. It shall thus become a rule to mankind;and Divine Wisdom shall prevail for all the days to come.
The time was the beginning of the 11th century A.D., the place was Cairo,the capital of Egypt, in the Era of the Fatimid dynasty during the reignof the caliph Al Hakim Bi Amr Allah.We have clear evidences that this caliphgranted this new Call (Daawa) his financial, political, and moral support.
Al Hakim was aiming to reign all the Islamic Empire, so he encouraged theIshmaili preachers to call for a new dogma which permits the Unificationbetween two main Islamic sects i.e. the Sunna and the Shi'aa. He himselfwas a descendant of the family of Muhammad (pbuh); and it was believedby the different Shi'aa parties, that the members of this family are qualifiedto continue the message of their Ancestor the prophet Muhammad (pbuh).Every Imam descending from the family of the prophet has the right to legislateand to develop for the welfare of the Umma because he inherits the Divineknowledge from his ancestors. He is invincible,impeccable and exempt fromcommitting mistakes.
It is evident that this new religious approach was very ambitious and itwas not easy for a prince to make his people change their traditional beliefsand customs of worship to convert to it, moreover the kingdom of Al Hakimconsisted of more than one religion: The Sunna and Copts in Egypt, Orthodox,in addition to Islamic esoteric sects and Christian minorities. For thissake Al Hakim mobilised all his staff to reach for this new movement. Theadoption to such movement was optional. The preachers were counting ona new understanding to the Koran and the other Holy Books.
This new look at religion demanded an omniscient character to the knowledgeof its canvasser (promoter).This new theology was inherited from the effortsmade by Ikhwan Al Safa who preceded this new call. The two parties (IkhwanAl Safa and the Fatimid Preachers) were aiming at the same goal:The reunificationof religions under one belief titled as Al Tawhid (i.e.Monotheism) forthat sake high estimation was given to philosophy in addition to the threecelestial religions. Ikhwan Al Safa considered philosophy on the same levelas Islam; and they considered the work of Aristotle and Plato as validas the Koran.
However, we find that the Fatimid movement was a logical consequence tothe Ishmaili jurisprudences about the Islamic doctrine. So, it is not strangeto see the Koran is at the origin of every new thought or conduct, butthe interpretation of verses was different. There is also a philosophicaltouch which makes the issues treated more relevant and logical.
Hence, the Druze faith descending from the Fatimid religious trend wasnot an innovation independent from its precedent esoteric movement of theIshmailism. The difference between these two confessions is very slight.The two confessions inherited the same metaphysical issues from the neo-platonismphilosophy and they built up a new approach to the moral concepts and IslamicEthics was adopted by both.
But we have to be cautious about the Islamic identity of monotheism orTawhid, because if we look at this trend with a fundamentalists eye, manyobstacles will hinder us from accepting this trend as Islamic. Legislationin the Tawhid regarding a number of issues differs radically from the commonIslamic view. We have in hand for example: the reincarnation, monogamy,and the free will to transmit inheritance.
These legislations seems to be quite different from the Islamic laws. Yet,the Tawhid doctrine refers these issues to the Koran. A new understandingof the verses was possible by means of esotericism and allegory, and thisled to a new look at ethics and traditions. So a progress in human relationshipswas set on, and a new kind of justification was made without violatingthe scripts of the Koran. This new Islamic trend was formulated to bringover the new believers from all the precedent dogmas of Islam, Christianity,and Judaism.
In spite of its simple requirement with respect to other confessions ,this new call did not find much success. One of the main causes of thatfailure is the quarrels which took place between its preachers notablyHamza Ibn Ali and Mohammed Al Darazi. Al Darazi proclaimed without thepermission of Hamza the Imam that Al Hakim is the incarnation of God onearth; and such a claim did not match with the other doctrines. So a generalrefutation spread between the people of Egypt. This refutation evolvedinto a struggle between the traditional Muslims and the new believers andled these believers to work underground for fear of liquidation.
The new philosophical concepts used to attract people were not so explicitor easy to grasp by the lay man. The metaphysical complexity of its thesisdemanded special qualifications which overpasses the ordinary, while thetraditional Islam was still more tolerant in dealing with what may be calledhuman conduct. So the people regarded the call as Anti-Islamic; and thislook made the spreading very difficult. The new believers were trying desperatelyto show the Islamic milieu, where they were dwelling that this new movementwas not against Islam but was only a wider scope to its teachings.
This attempt to convince other Muslims that the Fatimid movement was quitean Islamic movement and not a conspiracy against it, was in vain. The maincause for such a failure was the close connection between different Islamicparties with the political motivations that lay behind. The other partiesknew very well that such a movement might threaten their existence andlead to the sovereignty of the Fatimid dynasty over all controversial dynasties.So all the logical proofs and the philosophical approaches of this newcall met deaf ears. The greed for power was the dominant factor, and everyparty had its dogma to serve a special regime. It was impossible to separatepolitics from the religious legislations. This has been and is still oneof the main characteristics of Islam.
Eventually, the call was put to an end after 27 years of hard struggleand since that time the Druze prohibit preaching because they believe thatevery thing possible has been done, and there is no need for further preaching;hence, a believer must not speak about his faith, and the holy teachingof the sect should be kept in total secrecy. This conduct has been respectedfor almost one thousand years, and the studies about this special sectdid not see light before the second half of the 18 century. Sylvester DeSacy, a French orientalist, was the first pioneer who tried to give a completeinformation about this sect in his book Expose de Religion Des Druzes andwith the increasing interest in the Druze people many books were writtenafterwards.
The acceptance of the Druze as an Islamic sect is still under questionin most of the Arabic countries; controversial casuistries has been presentedabout that case.
However, the majority of Druze communities maintain the claim which ascertainthat the Druze is an Islamic sect. The main arguments this claim can beclassified as follows:
The relation between the Druze faith and Christianity takes anotherscope. The Druze faith considers the history of religion as a flow of continuousevents arranged in a chronological order. This flow characterises the birthof Monotheism and its development across the ages. The Druze belief stresseson a special theory of evolution with respect to the three celestial religions.This belief states that the wisdom of God did not appear suddenly and allat once. It was in fact a slow process in which Monotheism started to developfrom simple ideas to more complicated ones. So every prophet prepares forhis successor and the successor adds new items and pave the way for thenext to come. The history of religion is not a futile accumulation of time.The role of every prophet is inscribed in the eternal Will of God; andhistorically, events take place according to a well studied plan. Nothingis arbitrary, nothing is a hit of chance. This kind of look pushes theDruze doctrine to a very high level of idealism and encourages the beliefin determinism. Many Druze thinkers tried to escape this theory in orderto justify God's right of judging man for his actions and sentence himto either eternal paradise or eternal hell. But all these attempts werein vain. It is almost impossible to deny the factors of determinism whichhinder any possibility of human liberty in the Druze doctrine. The destinyof every human being is written in advance on his forehead. Predeterminationrules everywhere. It is very difficult to make space for any form of personalwill in such a belief. Nevertheless, the conclusion obtained from suchsets of ideas leads to the acceptance of every other religion because theyincarnate God's Will, and Christianity is one of the most important stagesin the human history of religions; it preceded Islam and affirmed the returnof Christ once more to save the believers from their agony and torturein this damned life.
What is more special is the identities of the prophets responsible forChristianity and other religions. According to the Druze's belief theyhave the same personality and every prophet's soul transmigrates to a newprophet to continue the spreading of God's message to every human being.This genuine idea leads consequently to consider that the prophets of Christianityare as well the prophets of Judaism and the prophets of Islam. They havedifferent names but their souls are the same. Similarly, these prophetsare also the prophets of the Druze. In the Druze culture we find scheduleswhich classify the different personalities of the prophets in every roleand every epoch.
Thus the Druze faith is considered by its believers as the last stage ofpreaching by these prophets. In it the Monotheism and divine Wisdom reachedtheir climax. Every reality has been transferred to humanity, and now thedestiny of every human being is decided forever.
What is the Druze's evaluation of Christianity ?
The answer to this question is quite special. The Druze believe inJesus and his four disciples, who wrote the Gospels. According to theirclassification Christ is the Greatest Imam and the incarnation of UltimateReason (Akl) on earth and the first cosmic principle (Hadd). He is directlysecond to God. His four disciples are considered as the four cosmic principles(Houdoud). The Gospels are Holy Books. With Christianity, the developmentof Monotheism was decisive. God promised the Christians the salvation ofthe tortured souls, and made it clear that Jesus had come to lead his followersto the safety shore. As for the crucifixion of Jesus, the Druze believethat he was not crucified but another person who resembles him was crucifiedin his place. Such a belief may seem very queer to a traditional Christian,but we have to remember that the Druze follow also the koranic verses andthe Koran made it clear that Jesus Christ was not crucified. Nevertheless,the Druze maintain a great value to the meaning of sacrifice. John theBaptist is considered next to Jesus and he personifies the Ultimate Sacrifice.
One of the Druze manuscripts reveals a fascinating idea by mentioning thatJesus and the Holy Spirit are one identity. This idea is very near to theconcept of the sacred Trinity in Christianity. The Druze's manner of thinkingenabled them to accept the idea of the all in one. The diluted pantheismof their faith leads to such a conclusion.
Another remark that shows a close relation with Christianity is the Druzerefutation to polygamy unlike the traditional Muslim sects. It is truethat the Druze refer to their refutation to certain Koranic verses, buttheir attitude gives them a special character and brings them close tothe Christian opinion about marriage. What is more remarkable about theDruze with respect to the matter is the adoption of Monasticism by someDruze Sheikhs. This conduct is highly praised in the Druze community andit is considered as the highest degree of chastity. A sheikh may ask hisfiancee to agree to marry him without conjugal relations, and there aremany cases in which a Druze priest has remained single for all his life.Sex is not an aim in itself; it is only stressed for the sake of reproduction.A part of that sex maybe considered as a sin. Such a belief proves beyonddoubt that the Druze have inherited much of the Christian dogmatics withrespect to marriage and to the sincere mutual relations between man andwoman. The general outlook on marriage in the Druze community is quitesimilar to that of the Christians and has the same pious spirit.
We have seen that the three celestial religions are closely relatedin the Druze belief. The history of these three religions is one. Thereis a vital common factor which links between them. The belief in the arrivalof a Saviour to salvage humanity on the judgement day. This common factormeans that the three religions were inspired from one personality, so Abraham,Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are the same cosmic principles in differentpersonal manifestations. In every manifestation new ideas were added andsome modifications were presented. According to this doctrine, which isbased mainly on reincarnation, the three religions are only different consecutivesteps of one common religion notably called Islam. Needless to say howmuch such a belief solidify the unity between these three religions. Wemust not forget that the Tawhid movement i.e. the Druze Movement has aimedto unify people under one religious doctrine which belongs to all. TheTawhid in itself mean Unification.
As for the relation of the Druze faith with Judaism we see that in theDruze tradition the Jews are said to be divided into twelve tribes, twotribes and and a half are lost. The Druze claim to be these lost tribes.In their belief, the lost tribes left JUdaism and joined Christianity andIslam afterwards. And their final station was the Druze's tawhid i.e. Monotheism.For this reason the Druze glorify the prophets of the Bible and give aspecial esteem to David and Solomon. The other prophets of Israel are classifiedin a hierarchic order. The number of prophets for one epoch is one hundredsixty four. This number is based on a legendary science where conclusionsare obtained from an arithmetical relation between the Arabic letters andthe number corresponding to them.
The prophets are called "letters of veracity" and they transmigratefrom one epoch to another spreading the word of God across the ages, andpreparing his people to welcome eternal happiness after the Judgement Day.
We conclude that the three celestial religions with respect to the Druzeare three consecutive stages by which God has sent his aid and blessingto humanity ,and every individual has chosen his fate by belonging to oneof these trends. Truth and Reality are found in the three Holy Books; theOld testament, the Gospels, and the Koran. The truth is revealed to thebelievers by Wisdom. The Wisdom of the Druze has uncovered the secret andunified the three dogmas in one consistent doctrine.
The relation between the Druze faith and the far eastern thinking isobscure. One of the main evidences is the belief in reincarnation, butthere is a main difference between the Druze and the Hindus concerningthis issue. Unlike the Hindus, the Druze DO NOT believe in the transmigrationof the human soul from the human body to animal, plant or inorganic substances.The human soul transmigrates only from human body to another human bodyand maintains the same gender. A male into male, and female into a female.This difference is accompanied also by another difference which is thebelief in sanction. The human soul is rewarded or punished eternally onthe Judgement Day. There is no Nirvana because the human soul cannot existwithout a body. The attachment of the soul to the consecutive bodies iseternal in this world, and in the future world. Such ideas make it difficultto find the clue which relates the Druze faith to Indian religions. Whatis certain is that there has been no??? relation between the Druze andsome Indian personalities and one of them is mentioned in the books ofthe Druze's Wisdom, and there is a special Epistle which is named the Epistleof India. Moreover, one of the Druze authors claimed to find many epistlessent to India, and he classified them in a book. This book is regardedby the Druze intellectuals as an important reference, but the Druze sheikhsrefuse to accept it as one of their books.
Another kind of special relation does exist between the Druze faithand the Greek idealistic philosophy. The Druze consider Socrates, Plato,and Aristotle as prophets. Many inspirations were taken from the Greekthought. The idea of Ultimate reason adopted by the Druze is a neo-platonicidea. The Greek philosophers are currently mentioned in the Druze culture,and there is an extensive use of Aristotle's logic in the argument dedicatedto prove the validity of the new thesis presented to people by the Druzepreachers. It is well known that the Druze's call came in the time whenthe interrelation between Islam and Greek metaphysics has reached its climax.Every Islamic sect was trying to affirm its issues by referring to Aristotle'scategories. Islamic philosophers worked hard to combine Islamic theologywith the Greek philosophy. The Druze's call was one of these attempts.The Druze preachers reached a high level in understanding this philosophyand applied its concepts on their religion.
The Druze doctrine was very ambitious like every humanitarian movement.But the path to its final end was not paved. The Druze preachers triedhard to unify people under its flag, but all their effort went in vain.Its radical ideas did not appeal to the people at that time, and fanaticismremained the ruling factor.
Today, the Druze community lives peacefully in the Middle East. Its membersare extremely polite with others, and they don't interfere with others'matters. They dont preach anymore, and they don't like others to interferwith their religious matters. It is almost impossible to reveal their secret.When religious matters are presented in front of them, they keep silent.The philosophy of their life is quite simple. It can be summarised in thefollowing epigram: Keep Silent and Wait.
So, the Druze believer waits for the final Judgement which he thinks tobe his last shelter. He despises all the riches of the world because hethinks that every thing on earth is temporary, and Wisdom is to seek forthe eternal.
The highest concern for the Druze sheikh is to await patiently for thearrival of the city of God where Justice, Love, and Grace will reign forever.