This weekend, our program visited the Druze Village of Horfish, in the rolling hills of the upper Galilee region of Israel. Here, we met Sheikh Kasem, and learned about the Druze faith. The Druze are one of many interesting minorities in Israel and they kindly welcomed us with open arms and black coffee.
Who are the Druze?
The Druze are unitarians, their official name in Arabic is Muwahhidoon, meaning ‘people of one god’. Druze is a religion of peace and coexistence.
The faith was realized by Al-Hakim, the sixth caliph (ruler) of the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt, and the holy scriptures were written by Persian-born Hamza ibn Ali. The founders incorporated Greek Philosophical and Christian ideas into Ismaeli Shi’a Islam, added some of their own ideas, and the Druze faith was born. For 24 years, anyone could become a Druze, but due to persecution in Egypt, the Druze fled to the Levant, and the doors of conversion were locked forever.
The majority of Druze live in the Levant, mostly in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, but there are also communities in the U.S. and Australia. An important teaching in the Druze faith is to be loyal to one’s homeland; so, for example, Druze commonly serve in the Israeli military, unlike most Israeli Arab Muslims and Christians.
Though the religion initially stemmed from Islam, the Druze faith is a separate religion of its own. Unlike Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Druze do not pray 5 times a day and have their own religious texts instead of the Qu’ran.
Mohammad, Jesus, and all the other Abrahamic prophets before them are revered, however, the main prophet and ancestor of the Druze is Jethro.
The Druze are pretty forward-thinking, for example, they were among the first of the early Islamic groups to ban polygamy, and allow women to file for divorce. Women can also become religious figures in the community.
However, consuming alcohol and smoking are forbidden. The Druze also abide by dietary rules similar to halal/kosher. Homosexuality is not condemned, but gay marriage is prohibited.
The Druze are an ethnoreligious group; Druze children are only considered Druze if they are born to two Druze parents. There is no way to convert or marry into Druze community. This ties into their belief in reincarnation — when a Druze (religious or not) dies, his/her soul is immediately reincarnated into another Druze child somewhere in the world.
Since Druze is also an ethnicity, not only a religion, not all members of the Druze community are religious, in fact, many are secular. Druze is an esoteric religion, so the scriptures are secretive and can only be read by those accepted by the religious community.
The Druze Flag
The Sheikh carefully explained to us the significance of the colors of the Druze flag (which is not to be confused with the Gay Pride/LGBT+ flag).
The first color, green, represents land, where the Druze live and remind them to be loyal to their host countries. The Druze have no country of their own.
Red, represents mutual respect and love. Yellow represents wheat/money, meaning that Druze need to work hard to make sure that they can eat. Wheat is associated with money and stability in many cultures and religious texts.
Blue represents water, which is considered holy in the Druze faith, and the white on the bottom of the flag represents purity and peace. Imams (high-ranking holy people) such as the Sheikh wear white hats to symbolize religious purity.
After our Q&A with the Sheikh, we had lunch in the village. Three Druze women prepared fresh knafe (a Levantine pastry made with sweet cheese, phyllo dough, pistachios and rosewater syrup).
I noticed a key difference between the Druze community Horfish and the Druze village I’d visited last semester, Majd al-Shams. Majd al-Shams is located in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, a territory which was part of Syria until 1967. In Majd al-Shams, many of the Druze are still loyal to the Assad regime, and refuse to serve in the Israeli army, unlike the Druze of the Galilee.
Israel has many important minority religious groups, such as the Druze. Stay tuned for more blog posts on diversity in Israel!