Saturday, March 23, 2013

Who are the Druze?

Druze town of Daliyat al-Carmel

I draw blank stares when I tell people back home that there is a town near Haifa called Isifiya where Druze, Christians, Muslims, and a few Jews live together in peace. Who are the Druze? They are a monotheistic religious group of Arabic speakers that split off from Islam in the 11th century. According to Internet articles, there are about one million of them around the world, mostly in Syria and Lebanon. There are 125,000 Druze in Israel, less than 2% of the population, and about 20,000 Druze in the United States.

Only a few enlightened individuals understand all the faith's secrets. About 20% of Druze are called knowledgeable initiates and have special dress. The rest are just followers. There is no fixed daily liturgy, defined holy days, or pilgrimage obligation. Five colors have special meaning  for the Druze: red for the universal soul, green for the universal mind, yellow for the Word, blue for potentiality, and white for immanence.

Shrine of Abu Ibrahim (note the 5 Druze colors over the door)
In Daliyat al-Carmel, the largest Druze town, I visited the Shrine of Abu Ibrahim, honoring one of three emissaries sent from Egypt by Caliph Al-Hakim a thousand years ago to spread the faith. Taking off my shoes and putting on my hat, I entered a small room with a portrait of the late spiritual leader of the Druze, Sheikh Amin Tarif, who died in 1993.

Sheikh Amin Tarif

I descended a dozen large, uneven stone steps to crawl through a small door to a 10x12 foot stone chamber with stone benches on the sides, one of which had a tray with several burning candles. I said a silent prayer to my own God. A Druze couple I met there explained that they do not worship there, but do so on Monday and Friday nights at a place called a khalwa.
A Druze place of worship in Daliyat al-Carmel
The town has a Druze memorial center, and outdoor and indoor lists of the Druze who lost their lives in military service for Israel. Unlike Christian men, Druze men are required to perform military service. They have the reputation of being valiant warriors.
Druze memorial museum 
Outdoor memorial to the Druze killed in acion

Photos of some of the fallen Druze soldiers

Tomb of Abu Abdallah, in Isifiya
In nearby Iisfiya, I found the tomb of another of the first messengers of the Druze faith, Abu Abdallah. Unlike Daliyat al-Carmel, which is almost all Druze with a small Muslim population, Isifiya has about 70% Druze, 20% Christians, and 10% Muslims, with a few Jews.

 I am spending the weekend in Isifiya with my Palestinian Christian friends, the Hallouns, some of whom are pictured below.

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