The Druze

In the later years of Caliph al-Hakim (see original entry here), two separate forces fused to create the Druze, the secretive cult/tribe based in Lebanon. This is another of those stories that’s hard to make out clearly because there are too many disagreements among versions. It goes something like this.

A talented Persian preacher, Hamza, came to Egypt and rose to the top of the Da’wa (missions) department. He was very evangelical about Ismailism and probably influenced Caliph al-Hakim’s increasing suppression of Sunnis. His immediate junior was ad-Darazi, also a Persian. Under Hamza’s influence, ad-Darazi also became very evangelical and ambitious. Since the Caliph was also the Imam, the two motives could not be separated.

Ad-Darazi was asked to lead a military expedition against a rebellious group in Lebanon. (Because, according to Shi’ite doctrine, who better to lead an army than an esoteric preacher?) The rebellion in Lebanon was probably a reaction against the strictness of Ismailism; it was called “Unity” and it stressed uniting the monotheistic religions in one faith. The Unity followers were part of a large extended clan who considered themselves ancient Midianites descended from Moses’s father in law Jethro.

Ad-Darazi lost the battle and was captured. In captivity, he converted to the beliefs of the Unity movement, now also called the Movement that Defeated Ad-Darazi. He brought the same evangelical zeal to the Unity beliefs, then brought its gospel home to Cairo.

Darazi competed with Hamza for leadership of the Dawa. Perhaps in order to gain favor with the mad caliph, he declared that al-Hakim was the new Incarnation of God, a status handed down from Jesus and Ali. For one intense year, the original Unity beliefs and the new fanatical faith in al-Hakim were taken back and forth from Cairo to Lebanon until they began to blend. When ad-Darazi preached his theology in public, there were riots in Cairo. In 1018, he was executed by Caliph al-Hakim.

Darazi left his name to the new theology, Darazites (perhaps short for the Movement that Defeated Darazi), eventually shortened to “Druze,” but he won no friends. The Druze consider Hamza their founder, not Darazi. Reports differ on Caliph Hakim’s view of all this. Some claim firmly that Hakim wanted no part of divine claims, while others believe the claims fit right in with Hakim’s insanity. The Druze believe that in 1017, he had appointed Hamza to be Imam of the Unity movement. In 1021, when the Caliph disappeared, Hamza appointed a new Dawa chief and retreated into Lebanon. He apparently wrote the Druze scriptures.

The Druze call themselves Unitarians, al Muwahhidun; “Druze” is a derogatory nickname, the way “Christian” was at the start too. It’s hard to know just what they believe. They may believe that either or both Hakim and Hamza were “occulted” or “sublimated” instead of dying, and will come again. They did not accept the next Caliphs as Imams. Hamza’s successor at the Dawa stayed in touch and also continued to develop the theology of the “Divine Call.” Eventually he too went into hiding, and in 1043 the theology was declared heretical. The Druze leader (maybe still Hamza’s successor) declared the faith closed.

Just like that, one of the most evangelical movements suddenly became the least evangelical. You cannot convert to the Druze faith; you can only be born into it. The first duty of a Druze is to survive long enough to pass on his faith, so they developed a code of secrecy and lying to outsiders. Pretty much all of the Muslim rulers after this persecuted them if they possibly could. The Druze withdrew to a mountain in Lebanon and created a fortress culture, eventually impressing the Crusaders by their fanatical devotion. (Their ruler, called by Europeans “The Old Man of the Mountain,” could gesture at a guard to jump off the cliff, and with a cry of “Allah hu Akbar!” the guard would jump without delay.)

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