Christianity in Syria

CHRISTIANITY IN SYRIA


Christians in Syria make up about 10% of the population.
The country's largest Christian denomination is an Eastern Orthodox Church of Antioch (officially known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East), closely followed by a Uniate Melkite Greek Catholic Church, and then by an Oriental Syriac Orthodox Church, and Maronites.
The city of Aleppo is believed to have the largest number of Christians in Syria.
The President of Syria has to be a Muslim, as a result of popular demand at the time the constitution was written.
However, Syria does not profess a state religion, and does not officially favor any religion over another.

Damascus was one of the first regions to receive Christianity during the ministry of St Peter. There were more Christians in Damascus than anywhere else.
After the military expansion of the Umayyad empire into Syria and Anatolia, the teachings of Islam came into practice and many became Muslims.
Nowadays, Damascus still contains a sizeable proportion of Christians, with churches all over the city, but particularly in the district of Bab Touma.
Masses are held every Sunday and civil servants are given Sunday mornings off to allow them to attend church, even though Sunday is a working day in Syria.
Schools in Christian-dominated districts have Saturday and Sunday as the weekend, while the official Syrian weekend falls on Friday and Saturday.
In May 2011, International Christian Concern indicated that Christians in Syria were more afraid of the anti-government protesters than of the government itself, because under the Syrian Assad government there has been tolerance towards religious minorities.

Integration

Christians (as well as the few remaining Jews in the country) engage in every aspect of Syrian life.
Following in the traditions of Paul, who practiced his preaching and ministry in the marketplace, Syrian Christians are participants in the economy, the academic, scientific, engineering, arts, and intellectual life, the entertainment scene, and the political arena of Syria.
Many Syrian Christians are public sector and private sector managers and directors, while some are local administrators, members of Parliament, and ministers in the government.
A number of Syrian Christians are also officers in the armed forces of Syria.
They have preferred to mix in with Muslims rather than form all-Christian units and brigades, and fought alongside their Muslim compatriots against Israeli forces in the various Arab-Israeli conflicts of the 20th century.
In addition to their daily work, Syrian Christians also participate in volunteer activities in the less developed areas of Syria.
As a result, Syrian Christians are generally viewed by other Syrians as an asset to the larger community.
Syrian Christians have their own courts that deal with civil cases like marriage, divorce and inheritance based on Bible teachings.
By agreement with other communities, Syrian Christian churches do not proselytise to Muslims and do not accept converts from Islam.



Christians and Muslims

In Syria, there are several social differences between Christians and Muslims.
Throughout the history, Syrian Christians were more highly urbanized than Muslims; many live either in or around Aleppo, Hamah, or Latakia, and there were relatively fewer of them in the lower income groups.
Proportionately more Christians than Muslims are educated beyond the primary level, and there are relatively more of them in white-collar and professional occupations.

Christians spread throughout Syria and they are a majority in some provinces; important areas are :

Aleppo, where the largest Armenian population resides.
Damascus contains a sizable Christian community.
Homs, which has the second largest Christian population known, especially in the nearby Valley of Christians, a popular tourism site close to the Crac des Chevaliers;
Saidnaya
Tartous
Latakia
Suwayda and Al-Hasakah, which has a large ethnic Assyrian/Syriac population.

Maronite Christians

الموارنة‎ - the Maronites - are a Pre-Arab Semitic Christian ethnoreligious group in the Levant.
They derive their name from the Syriac saint Mar Maron whose followers moved to Mount Lebanon from northern Syria establishing the Maronite Church.
The Maronite were able to maintain an independent status in Mount Lebanon and its coastline after the Arab Islamic conquest, maintaining their religion and language until the 13th century.
The Ottoman Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate and later the Republic of Lebanon were created under the auspice of European powers with the Maronites as their main ethnic component.
A number of Maronite historians claim that the Maronites were the descendants of the Canaanites or Phoenicians, or also the Marada, residents in parts of Greater Syria, who kept their identity under both Byzantine and Arab authorities.
The reason for their adoption of the name is disputed and historians disagree whether it refers to Mar Maron, a 4th century Syriac Christian saint, or to John Maron, the first bishop of Lebanon.
Syrian Maronites total 51,000, belonging to the archdioceses of Aleppo and Damascus and the Diocese of Latakia.


The followers of the Maronite Church form a part of the Syriac Christians and belong to the West Syriac Rite.
The Maronite Syriac Church of Antioch traces its foundation to Maron, an early 5th-century Syriac monk venerated as a saint.
Before the conquest by Arabian Muslims reached Lebanon, the Lebanese people, including those who would become Muslim and the majority who would remain Christian, spoke a dialect of Aramaic called Syriac.
Syriac remains the liturgical language of the Maronite Church.


The Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch

 Πατριαρχεῖον Ἀντιοχείας - بطريركية أنطاكية وسائر المشرق للروم الأرثوذكس‎ - (the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch), also known as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East and the Antiochian Orthodox Church (Greek:, Patriarcheîon Antiocheías; Arabic: بطريركية أنطاكية وسائر المشرق للروم الأرثوذكس‎, Baṭrīarkīyyat Anṭākiya wa-sā'ir al-mašriq li'l-Rūm al-Ūrthūduks), is an autocephalous Greek Orthodox Church within the wider communion of Orthodox Christianity.
Headed by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch, it considers itself the successor to the Christian community founded in Antioch by the Apostles Peter and Paul.
It is one of several churches that lays claim to be the canonical incumbent of the ancient see of St. Peter and St. Paul in Antioch.
The Oriental Orthodox Syriac Orthodox Church of Antioch makes the same claim, as do the Syrian Catholic Church, the Maronite Church, and the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, all of them Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with the Holy See.
These three, however, mutually recognize each other as holding authentic patriarchates, being part of the same Catholic communion.
The Roman Catholic Church also appointed titular Latin Rite patriarchs for many centuries, until the office was left vacant in 1953 and abolished in 1964 and all claims renounced.
The seat of the patriarchate was formerly Antioch, in what is now Turkey, however, in the 14th century, it was moved to the "Street called Straight" in Damascus, modern-day Syria, in response to the Ottoman invasion of Antioch.

Its traditional territory includes Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait and parts of Turkey.
Its territory formerly included the Church of Cyprus until it became autocephalous in 431.
Both the Orthodox Churches of Cyprus and Antioch are members of the Middle East Council of Churches.
The head of the Orthodox Church of Antioch is called a Patriarch.
The current Patriarch is Ignatius IV (see left). Membership statistics are not available, but may be as high as 1,100,000 in Syria.

The Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch is one of the ancient churches of the world. According to the New Testament "The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch." (Acts 11:26).
St. Peter and St. Paul the Apostle are considered as the cofounders of the the Patriarchate of Antioch, the former being its first bishop. When Peter left Antioch, Evodios and Ignatius took over the charge of the Patriarchate. Both Evodios and Ignatius died as martyrs under Roman Persecution.
Members of the community in Southern Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Northern Israel still call themselves Rûm which literally means "Eastern Roman" or Byzantine in Turkish, Persian and Arabic.
The term "Rum" is used in preference to "Ionani" which means Greek or "Ionian"
Some Grecian "ancient synagogal" priestly rites and hymns have survived partially to the present, notably in the distinct church services of the Melkite and Greek Orthodox communities of the Hatay Province of Southern Turkey, Syria and Lebanon.



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The Alawis

 علوية‎

The Alawis, also known as Alawites, Nusayris and Ansaris are a prominent mystical religious group centred in Syria who follow a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam.
The Alawis take their name from علي بن أبي طالب (Ali ibn Abi Talib), cousin and son-in-law of Muḥammad, who was the first Shi'a Imam and the fourth and last "Rightly Guided Caliph" of Sunni Islam.
Until fairly recently, Alawis were referred to as "Nusairis", after Abu Shu'ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr (d. ca 270 h, 863 CE) who is reported to have attended the circles of the last three Imams of the prophet Muhammad's line.
This name is considered derogatory, and they refer to themselves as Alawis.

Origins

The origin of the Alawis is disputed.
The Alawis themselves trace their origins to the followers of the eleventh Imam, Hassan al-'Askari (d. 873), and his pupil ibn Muḥammad ibn Nuṣayr (d. 868). 
The sect seems to have been organised by a follower of Muḥammad ibn Nuṣayr known as al-Khasibi, who died in Aleppo about 969.
In 1032 Al-Khaṣībī's grandson and pupil al-Tabarani moved to Latakia, which was then controlled by the Byzantine Empire.
Al-Tabarani became the perfector of the Alawi faith through his numerous writings.
He and his pupils converted the rural population of the Syrian Coastal Mountain Range and the plain of Cilicia to the Alawi faith.
Around the turn of the last century, some Western scholars believed Alawites to be descended from ancient Middle Eastern peoples such as Canaanites and Hittites.


Alawis and the Ottomans



Under the Ottoman Empire members of the Alawi sect were often ill treated, and they resisted an attempt to convert them to Sunni Islam.
The Alawites were traditionally good fighters, and revolted against the Ottomans on several occasions, and maintained virtual autonomy in their mountains.

In his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence wrote:
'The sect, vital in itself, was clannish in feeling and politics. One Nosairi would not betray another, and would hardly not betray an unbeliever. Their villages lay in patches down the main hills to the Tripoli gap. They spoke Arabic, but had lived there since the beginning of Greek letters in Syria. Usually they stood aside from affairs, and left the Turkish Government alone in hope of reciprocity.'
On the other hand, throughout the 18th a century a number of Alawi notables were engaged as local Ottoman tax farmers (multazim).
In the 19th century some Alawis also supported the Ottomans against the Egyptian occupation (1831-1840),[27] while individual Alawis made careers in the Ottoman army or as Ottoman governors.
In the early part of the 20th century, the mainly Sunni notables sat on the wealth and dominated politics, while Alawites lived as poor peasants.


The French Mandate period

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syria and Lebanon came under a French mandate.
On December 15, 1918, prominent Alawi leader Saleh al-Ali called for a meeting of Alawi notables in the town of Sheikh Badr, and urged them to revolt and expel the French from Syria. When the French authorities heard of the meeting, they sent a force in order to arrest Saleh al-Ali.
Al-Ali and his men ambushed them, and the French forces were defeated and suffered more than 35 casualties.
After the initial victory, al-Ali started to organize his Alawi rebels into a disciplined force, with its own general command and military ranks, which resulted in the Syrian Revolt of 1919.
In 1919, Al-Ali retaliated to French attacks against rebel positions by attacking and occupying al-Qadmus from which the French conducted their military operations against him.
In November, General Henri Gouraud mounted a full-fledged campaign against Saleh al-Ali's forces in the An-Nusayriyah Mountains.
They entered al-Ali's village of Ash-Shaykh Badr and arrested many Alawi notables.
Al-Ali fled to the north, but a large French force overran his positions and al-Ali went underground.
When the French finally occupied Syria in 1920, they recognized the term "Alawi", gave autonomy to them and other minority groups, and accepted them into their colonial troops.
On 2 September 1920 an Alawite State was created in the coastal and mountain country comprising Alawi villages; the French justified this separation with the "backwardness" of the mountain-dwelling people, religiously distinct from the surrounding Sunni population.
It was a division meant to protect the Alawi people from more powerful majorities.
Under the mandate, many Alawi chieftains supported the notion of a separate Alawi nation and tried to convert their autonomy into independence.
The French considered the Alawites, along with the Druze, as the only "warlike races" in the mandate territories, as excellent soldiers, and the communities from where they could recruit their best troops.
The region was both coastal and mountainous, and home to a mostly rural, highly heterogeneous population.
During the French Mandate period, society was divided by religion and geography: the landowning families of the port city of Latakia, and 80% of the population of the city, were Sunni Muslim.
However, more than 90% of the population of the province was rural, 62% being Alawite peasantry. 
In May 1930, the Alawite State was renamed "the Government of Latakia", the only concession the French made to Arab nationalists until 1936.
There was a great deal of Alawite separatist sentiment in the region, but these political views could not be coordinated into a unified voice.
This was attributed to the majority of Alawites being peasants "exploited by a predominantly Sunni landowning class resident in Latakia and Hama".
On 3 December 1936 (effective in 1937), the Alawite state was re-incorporated into Syria as a concession by the French to the Nationalist Bloc, the party in power of the semi-autonomous Syrian government.
In 1939 a portion of northwest Syria, the Sanjak of Alexandretta, now Hatay, that contained a large number of Alawis, was given to Turkey by the French following a plebiscite carried out in the province under the guidance of League of Nations which favored joining Turkey.
However, this development greatly angered the Alawi community and Syrians in general.
In 1938, the Turkish military had gone into Alexandretta and expelled most of its Arab and Armenian inhabitants.
Before this, Alawi Arabs and Armenians were the majority of the province's population.
Zaki al-Arsuzi, the young Alawi leader from Iskandarun province in the Sanjak of Alexandretta, who led the resistance to the annexation of his province to the Turks, later became a founder of the Ba'ath Party along with the Eastern Orthodox Christian schoolteacher Michel Aflaq.
After World War II, Salman Al Murshid played a major role in uniting the Alawi province with Syria.
He was executed by the newly independent Syrian government in Damascus on December 12, 1946 only three days after a hasty political trial.



The Alawites in an Independant Syria

Syria became independent on April 17, 1946.
In 1949, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syria endured a succession of military coups and the rise of the Ba'ath Party.
In 1958, Syria and Egypt were united through a political agreement into the United Arab Republic. The UAR lasted for three years.
In 1961, it broke apart when a group of army officers seized power and declared Syria independent anew.

A further succession of coups ensued until, in 1963, a secretive military committee, which included a number of disgruntled Alawi officers, including Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid, helped the Ba'ath Party seize power.
In 1966, Alawi-affiliated military officers successfully rebelled and expelled the old Ba'ath that had looked to the founders of the Ba’ath Party, the Greek Orthodox Christian Michel Aflaq (see left) and the Sunni Muslim Salah al-Din al-Bitar (see right), for leadership

 ميشيل عفلق‎‎ - Michel Aflaq (1910 – 23 June 1989) was a Syrian philosopher, sociologist and Arab nationalist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of Ba'athism and its political movement; he is considered by several Ba'athists to be the principal founder of Ba'athist thought. He published various books during his lifetime, the most notable being 'The Battle for One Destiny' (1958) and 'The Struggle Against Distorting the Movement of Arab Revolution' (1975).


صلاح الدين البيطار Salah ad-Din al-Bitar (1912 – 21 - July 1980) was a Syrian politician who, with Michel Aflaq, founded the Arab Ba'th Party in the early 1940s. During their student days in Paris in the early 1930s, the two worked together to formulate a doctrine that combined aspects of nationalism and socialism. Al-Bitar later served as prime minister in several early Ba'thist governments in Syria, but became alienated from the party as it grew more radical, and in 1966 fled the country. He lived most of the rest of his life in Europe, and remained politically active until he was assassinated by unknown persons in 1980.

They promoted Zaki al-Arsuzi (see right) as the "Socrates" of their reconstituted Ba'ath Party.

The Assad Family

In 1970, then an Air Force General,  حافظ الأسد‎ - Hafez al-Assad (see right), an Alawite, took power and instigated a "Correctionist Movement" in the Ba'ath Party.
The coup of 1970 ended the political instability having lasted since the arrival of independence.
In 1971, al-Assad declared himself president of Syria, a position the constitution at the time allowed only for Sunni Muslims to hold.
In 1973, a new constitution was adopted that omitted the old requirement that the religion of the state be Islam and replaced it with the statement that the religion of the republic's president is Islam. Protests erupted when this was known.

In 1974, in order to satisfy this constitutional requirement, Musa Sadr, a leader of the Twelvers of Lebanon and founder of the حركة أمل - Amal Movement who had earlier sought to unite Lebanese Alawis and Shias under the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council without success, issued a fatwa stating that Alawis were a community of Twelver Shia Muslims.
Under the authoritarian but secular Assad government, religious minorities were tolerated more than before, but political dissidents were not.
After the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000, his son  بشار حافظ الأسد‎ - Bashar al-Assad maintained the outlines of his father's governance.
In 2012, the Alawis comprised the overwhelming majority of the top military and intelligence offices.
Government employees from lower bureaucratic ranks are largely from the popular majority of the Sunni Muslim faith, who represent about 74% of Syria's population.
The Alawis are currently the politically most powerful religious affiliation in Syria and the only one in direct governmental control.

Alawite Beliefs

Alawis are self-described Shia Muslims, and have been called Shia by other sources, including the influential Lebanese Shia cleric Musa al-Sadr of Lebanon.
The Alawis get their beliefs from the Prophets of Islam, from the Quran, and from the books of the Imams from the Ahlulbayt such as the Nahj al-Balagha by Ali ibn Abu Talib.
At least one source has compared them to Baha'is, Babis, Bektashis, Ahmadis, and "similar groups that have arisen within the Muslim community", however the prominent Sunni Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni issued a dubious fatwah recognizing them as part of the Muslim community in the interest of Arab nationalism.
Sunni scholars such as Ibn Kathir, on the other hand, have categorized Alawis as pagans in their religious works and documents.

Many of the tenets of the faith are secret and known only to a select few Alawi.
According to some sources, Alawis have integrated doctrines from other religions (syncretism), in particular from Ismaili Islam and Christianity.
Alawites are reported to celebrate certain Christian festivals, "in their own way", including Christmas, Easter, and Palm Sunday, which make use of bread and wine (without alcohol).
It has also been suggested that they also practice a religious feast called by the Persian name Naw Ruz.
Their main feasts though are Eid al Fitr, Eid al Adha, Mawlid an-Nabi Muhammad and the Shia feast Eid al Ghadeer.


Alawis in Syria

Traditionally Alawis have lived in the Alawite Mountains along the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Latakia and Tartous are the region's principal cities.
Today Alawis are also concentrated in the plains around Hama and Homs.
Alawis also live in all major cities of Syria.
They have been estimated to constitute about 15–20% of Syria's population - 4.5 million people.
There are four Alawi confederations—Kalbiyah, Khaiyatin, Haddadin, and Matawirah—each divided into tribes.
Alawis are concentrated in the Latakia region of Syria, extending north to Antioch (Antakya), Turkey, and in and around Homs and Hama.[58]
Before 1953 they held reserved seats in the Syrian Parliament, like all other religious communities.
After that, including for the 1960 census, there were only general Muslim and Christian categories, without mention of subgroups in order to reduce "communalism" (taïfiyya).

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The Druze

 درزي
THE DRUZE


The Druze are a monotheistic religious community, found primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, which emerged during the 11th century from Ismailism school of Shia Islam.
Druze beliefs incorporate several elements from Abrahamic religions, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism and other philosophies.
The Druze call themselves Ahl al-Tawhid "the People of Monotheism" or al-Muwaḥḥidūn "the Unitarians".
The Druze people reside primarily in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.

The name Druze is derived from the name of Anushtakīn ad-Darazī (from Persian, darzi, "seamster") who was an early preacher.
Although the Druze consider ad-Darazī a heretic the name had been used to identify them.
Before becoming public, the movement was secretive and held closed meetings in what was known as Sessions of Wisdom.
During this stage a dispute occurred between ad-Darazi and Hamza bin Ali mainly concerning ad-Darazi's ghuluww (Arabic, "exaggeration"), which refers to the belief that God was incarnated in human beings, especially 'Ali and his descendants, including Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah who was the current Caliph, and ad-Darazi naming himself "The Sword of the Faith" which led Hamza to write an epistle refuting the need for the sword to spread the faith and several epistles refuting the beliefs of the ghulat.
In 1016 ad-Darazi and his followers openly proclaimed their beliefs and called people to join them, causing riots in Cairo against the Unitarian movement including Hamza bin Ali and his followers which led to the suspension of the movement for one year and the expulsion of ad-Darazi and his supporters.
Although the Druze religious books describe ad-Darazi as the "insolent one" and as the "Calf" who is narrow minded and hasty, the name "Druze" is still used for identification and for historical reasons.
In 1018 ad-Darazi was assassinated for his teachings; some sources claim that he was executed by Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah.
Some authorities see in the name "Druze" a descriptive epithet, derived from Arabic dâresah ("those who study").
Others have speculated that the word comes from the Arabic-Persian word Darazo (درز "bliss") or from Shaykh Hussayn ad-Darazī, who was one of the early converts to the faith.
In the early stages of the movement, the word "Druze" is rarely mentioned by historians, and in Druze religious texts only the word Muwaḥḥidūn ("Unitarian") appears.
The only early Arab historian who mentions the Druze is the 11th century Christian scholar Yahya of Antioch, who clearly refers to the heretical group created by ad-Darazī rather than the followers of Hamza ibn 'Alī.
As for Western sources, Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish traveler who passed through Lebanon in or about 1165, was one of the first European writers to refer to the Druzes by name.
The word Dogziyin ("Druzes") occurs in an early Hebrew edition of his travels, but it is clear that this is a scribal error.
Be that as it may, he described the Druze as "mountain dwellers, monotheists, who believe in 'soul eternity' and reincarnation."

Early History

The Druze faith began as a movement in Ismailism, that was mainly influenced by Greek philosophy and gnosticism and opposed certain religious and philosophical ideologies that were present during that epoch.
The faith was preached by Hamza ibn 'Alī ibn Ahmad, a Persian Ismaili mystic and scholar.
He came to Egypt in 1014 and assembled a group of scholars and leaders from across the world to establish the Unitarian movement.
The order's meetings were held in the Raydan Mosque, near the Al-Hakim Mosque.
In 1017, Hamza officially revealed the Druze faith and began to preach the Unitarian doctrine.
Hamza gained the support of the Fātimid Caliph al-Hakim, who issued a decree promoting religious freedom.
Al-Hakim became a central figure in the Druze faith even though his own religious position was disputed among scholars.
Al-Hakim believed that "he was not only the divinely appointed religio-political leader but also the cosmic intellect linking God with creation".
Al-Hakim disappeared one night while out on his evening ride – presumably assassinated, perhaps at the behest of his formidable elder sister Sitt al-Mulk.
The Druze believe he went into Occultation with Hamza ibn Ali and three other prominent preachers, leaving the care of the "Unitarian missionary movement" to a new leader, Bahā'u d-Dīn.

Closing of the Faith

Al-Hakim was replaced by his underage son, 'Alī az-Zahir.
The Unitarian Druze movement, which existed in the Fatimid Caliphate, acknowledged az-Zahir as the Caliph, but followed Hamzah as its Imam.
The young Caliph's regent, Sitt al-Mulk, ordered the army to destroy the movement in 1021.
At the same time, Bahā'a ad-Dīn as-Samuki was assigned the leadership of the Unitarian Movement by Hamza Bin Ali.
For the next seven years, the Druze faced extreme persecution by the new caliph, al-Zahir, who wanted to eradicate the faith.
This was the result of a power struggle inside of the Fatimid empire in which the Druze were viewed with suspicion because of their refusal to recognize the new Caliph, Ali az-Zahir, as their Imam.
Many spies, mainly the followers of Ad-Darazi, joined the Unitarian movement in order to infiltrate the Druze community.
The spies set about agitating trouble and soiling the reputation of the Druze.
This resulted in friction with the new caliph who clashed militarily with the Druze community.
The clashes ranged from Antioch to Alexandria, where tens of thousands of Druze were slaughtered by the Fatimid army.
The largest massacre was at Antioch, where 5,000 Druze religious leaders were killed, followed by that of Aleppo.
As a result, the faith went underground in hope of survival, as those captured were either forced to renounce their faith or be killed.
Druze survivors were found principally in southern Lebanon and Syria.
In 1038, two years after the death of al-Zahir, the Druze movement was able to resume because the new leadership that replaced him had friendly political ties with at least one prominent Druze leader.
In 1043 Bahā'a ad-Dīn declared that the sect would no longer accept new pledges, and since that time proselytization has been prohibited.

The Crusades

It was during the period of Crusader rule in Syria (1099–1291) that the Druze first emerged into the full light of history in the Gharb region of the Chouf Mountains.
As powerful warriors serving the Muslim rulers of Damascus against the Crusades, the Druze were given the task of keeping watch over the crusaders in the seaport of Beirut, with the aim of preventing them from making any encroachments inland.
Subsequently, the Druze chiefs of the Gharb placed their considerable military experience at the disposal of the Mamluk rulers of Egypt (1250–1516); first, to assist them in putting an end to what remained of Crusader rule in coastal Syria, and later to help them safeguard the Syrian coast against Crusader retaliation by sea.
In the early period of the Crusader era, the Druze feudal power was in the hands of two families, the Tanukhs and the Arslans.
From their fortresses in the Gharb area (now in Aley District) of southern Mount Lebanon Governorate, the Tanukhs led their incursions into the Phoenician coast and finally succeeded in holding Beirut and the marine plain against the Franks.
Because of their fierce battles with the Crusaders, the Druzes earned the respect of the Sunni Muslim Caliphs and thus gained important political powers.
After the middle of the twelfth century, the Ma'an family superseded the Tanukhs in Druze leadership.
The origin of the family goes back to a Prince Ma'an who made his appearance in the Lebanon in the days of the 'Abbasid Caliph al-Mustarshid (1118–35 AD).
The Ma'ans chose for their abode the Chouf District in south-western Lebanon (southern Mount Lebanon Governorate), overlooking the maritime plain between Beirut and Sidon, and made their headquarters in Baaqlin, which is still a leading Druze village.
They were invested with feudal authority by Sultan Nur ad-Din Zangi and furnished respectable contingents to the Muslim ranks in their struggle against the Crusaders.

Persecution during the Mamluk and Ottoman Period

Having cleared Syria of the Franks, the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt turned their attention to the schismatic Muslims of Syria.
In 1305, after the issuing of a fatwa by the scholar Ibn Taymiyyah calling for jihad against all non-Sunni Muslims like the Druze, Alawites, Ismaili, and twelver Shiites, al-Malik al-Nasir inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Druze at Keserwan and forced outward compliance on their part to orthodox Sunni Islam.
Later, under the Ottoman Turks, they were severely attacked at Ayn-Ṣawfar in 1585 after the Ottomans claimed that they assaulted their caravans near Tripoli.
Consequently, the 16th and 17th centuries were to witness a succession of armed Druze rebellions against the Ottomans, countered by repeated Ottoman punitive expeditions against the Chouf, in which the Druze population of the area was severely depleted and many villages destroyed.
These military measures, severe as they were, did not succeed in reducing the local Druze to the required degree of subordination.
This led the Ottoman government to agree to an arrangement whereby the different nahiyes (districts) of the Chouf would be granted in iltizam ("fiscal concession") to one of the region's amirs, or leading chiefs, leaving the maintenance of law and order and the collection of its taxes in the area in the hands of the appointed amir. This arrangement was to provide the cornerstone for the privileged status which ultimately came to be enjoyed by the whole of Mount Lebanon in Ottoman Syria, Druze and Christian areas alike.

The Ma'an Dynasty

With the advent of the Ottoman Turks and the conquest of Syria by Sultan Selim I in 1516, the Ma'ans were acknowledged by the new rulers as the feudal lords of southern Lebanon.
Druze villages spread and prospered in that region, which under Ma'an leadership so flourished that it acquired the generic term of Jabal Bayt-Ma'an (the mountain of the Ma'an family) or Jabal al-Druze.
The latter title has since been usurped by the Hawran region, which since the middle of the 19th century has proven a haven of refuge to Druze emigrants from Lebanon and has become the headquarters of Druze power.
Under Fakhr-al-Dīn II (Fakhreddin II), the Druze dominion increased until it included almost all Syria, extending from the edge of the Antioch plain in the north to Safad in the south, with a part of the Syrian desert dominated by Fakhr-al-Din's castle at Tadmur (Palmyra), the ancient capital of Zenobia.
The ruins of this castle still stand on a steep hill overlooking the town. Fakhr-al-Din became too strong for his Turkish sovereign in Constantinople.
He went so far in 1608 as to sign a commercial treaty with Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany containing secret military clauses.
The Sultan then sent a force against him, and he was compelled to flee the land and seek refuge in the courts of Tuscany and Naples in 1614.
In 1618 political changes in the Ottoman sultanate had resulted in the removal of many enemies of Fakhr-al-Din from power, signaling the prince's triumphant return to Lebanon soon afterwards.
In 1632 Ahmad Koujak was named Lord of Damascus.
Koujak was a rival of Fakhr-al-Din and a friend of the sultan Murad IV, who ordered Koujak and the sultanate's navy to attack Lebanon and depose Fakhr-al-Din.
This time the prince decided to remain in Lebanon and resist the offensive, but the death of his son Ali in Wadi el-Taym was the beginning of his defeat. He later took refuge in Jezzine's grotto, closely followed by Koujak who eventually caught up with him and his family.
Fakhr-al-Din finally traveled to Turkey, appearing before the sultan, defending himself so skillfully that the sultan gave him permission to return to Lebanon.
Later, however, the Sultan changed his orders and had Fakhr-al-Din and his family killed on 13 April 1635 in Istanbul, bringing an end to an era in the history of Lebanon, which would not regain its current boundaries until it was proclaimed a mandate state and republic in 1920.
Fakhr-al-Din was the first ruler in modern Lebanon to open the doors of his country to foreign Western influences.
Under his auspices the French established a khān (hostel) in Sidon, the Florentines a consulate, and Christian missionaries were admitted into the country.
Beirut and Sidon, which Fakhr-al-Din beautified, still bear traces of his benign rule.

The Shihab Dynasty

As early as the days of Saladin, and while the Ma'ans were still in complete control over southern Lebanon, the Shihab tribe, originally Hijaz Arabs but later settled in Ḥawran, advanced from Ḥawran, in 1172, and settled in Wadi-al-Taym at the foot of mount Hermon.
They soon made an alliance with the Ma'ans and were acknowledged as the Druze chiefs in Wadi-al-Taym. At the end of the 17th century (1697) the Shihabs succeeded the Ma'ans in the feudal leadership of Druze southern Lebanon, although they reportedly professed Sunni Islam, they showed sympathy with Druzism, the religion of the majority of their subjects.
The Shihab leadership continued until the middle of the 19th century and culminated in the illustrious governorship of Amir Bashir Shihab II (1788–1840) who, after Fakhr-al-Din, was the most powerful feudal lord Lebanon produced.
Though governor of the Druze Mountain, Bashir was a crypto-Christian, and it was he whose aid Napoleon solicited in 1799 during his campaign against Syria.
Having consolidated his conquests in Syria (1831–38), Ibrahim Pasha, son of the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha, made the fatal mistake of trying to disarm the Christians and Druzes of the Lebanon and to draft the latter into his army.
This was contrary to the principles of the life of independence which these mountaineers had always lived, and resulted in a general uprising against Egyptian rule.
The uprising was encouraged, for political reasons, by the British.
The Druzes of Wadi-al-Taym and Ḥawran, under the leadership of Shibli al-Aryan, distinguished themselves in their stubborn resistance at their inaccessible headquarters, al-Laja, lying southeast of Damascus.

The 1860 Lebanon Conflict

The Druzes and their Christian Maronite neighbors, who had thus far lived as religious communities on friendly terms, entered a period of social disturbance in the year 1840, which culminated in the civil war of 1860.
After the Shehab dynasty converted to Christianity, the Druze community and feudal leaders came under attack from the regime with the collaboration of the Catholic Church, and the Druze lost most of their political and feudal powers.
Also, the Druze formed an alliance with Britain and allowed Protestant missionaries to enter Mount Lebanon, creating tension between them and the Catholic Maronites, who were supported by the French.
The Maronite-Druze conflict in 1840–60 was an outgrowth of the Maronite Christian independence movement, directed against the Druze, Druze feudalism, and the Ottoman-Turks.
The civil war was not therefore a religious war, except in Damascus, where it spread and where the vastly non-Druze population was anti-Christian.
The movement culminated with the 1859–60 massacre and defeat of the Christians by the Druzes.
The civil war of 1860 cost the Christians some ten thousand lives in Damascus, Zahlé, Deir al-Qamar, Hasbaya, and other towns of Lebanon.
The European powers then determined to intervene, and authorized the landing in Beirut of a body of French troops under General Beaufort d'Hautpoul, whose inscription can still be seen on the historic rock at the mouth of Nahr al-Kalb.
French intervention on behalf of the Maronites did not help the Maronite national movement, since France was restricted in 1860 by Britain, which did not want the Ottoman Empire dismembered.
But European intervention pressured the Turks to treat the Maronites more justly.
Following the recommendations of the powers, the Ottoman Porte granted Lebanon local autonomy, guaranteed by the powers, under a Christian governor.
This autonomy was maintained until World War I.

The Rebellion in Hauran

The Hauran rebellion was a violent Druze uprising against Ottoman authority in the Syrian province, which erupted in 1909.
The rebellion was led by al-Atrash family in an aim to gain independence, but ended in brutal suppression of the Druze, significant depopulation of the Hauran region and execution of the Druze leaders in 1910.

Modern History

In Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, the Druze have official recognition as a separate religious community with its own religious court system.
Druze are known for their loyalty to the countries they reside in, though they have a strong community feeling, in which they identify themselves as related even across borders of countries.
Despite their practice of blending with dominant groups in order to avoid persecution and because the Druze religion doesn't endorse separatist sentiments, urging the Druze to blend with the communities they reside in, nevertheless the Druze have had a history of brave resistance to occupying powers, and they have at times enjoyed more freedom than most other groups living in the Levant.

The Druze in Syria

Druze warriors preparing to go to battle with Sultan Pasha al-Atrash in 1925
In Syria, most Druze live in the Jebel al-Druze, a rugged and mountainous region in the southwest of the country, which is more than 90 percent Druze inhabited; some 120 villages are exclusively so.
The Druze always played a far more important role in Syrian politics than its comparatively small population would suggest.
With a community of little more than 100,000 in 1949, or roughly three percent of the Syrian population, the Druze of Syria's southeastern mountains constituted a potent force in Syrian politics and played a leading role in the nationalist struggle against the French.
Under the military leadership of Sultan Pasha al-Atrash, the Druze provided much of the military force behind the Syrian Revolution of 1925–27. In 1945, Amir Hasan al-Atrash, the paramount political leader of the Jebel al-Druze, led the Druze military units in a successful revolt against the French, making the Jebel al-Druze the first and only region in Syria to liberate itself from French rule without British assistance.
At independence the Druze, made confident by their successes, expected that Damascus would reward them for their many sacrifices on the battlefield.
They demanded to keep their autonomous administration and many political privileges accorded them by the French and sought generous economic assistance from the newly independent government.
Well-led by the Atrash household and jealous of their reputation as Arab nationalists and proud warriors, the Druze leaders refused to be beaten into submission by Damascus or cowed by threats.
When a local paper in 1945 reported that President Shukri al-Quwatli (1943–49) had called the Druzes a "dangerous minority", Sultan Pasha al-Atrash flew into a rage and demanded a public retraction.
If it were not forthcoming, he announced, the Druzes would indeed become "dangerous" and a force of 4,000 Druze warriors would "occupy the city of Damascus."
Quwwatli could not dismiss Sultan Pasha's threat.
The military balance of power in Syria was tilted in favor of the Druzes, at least until the military build up during the 1948 War in Palestine.
One advisor to the Syrian Defense Department warned in 1946 that the Syrian army was "useless", and that the Druzes could "take Damascus and capture the present leaders in a breeze."
During the four years of Adib Shishakli's rule in Syria (December 1949 to February 1954) (on 25 August 1952: Adib al-Shishakli created the Arab Liberation Movement (ALM), a progressive party with pan-Arabist and socialist views), the Druze community was subjected to a heavy attack by the Syrian regime.
Shishakli believed that among his many opponents in Syria, the Druzes were the most potentially dangerous, and he was determined to crush them.
He frequently proclaimed: "My enemies are like a serpent: the head is the Jebel al-Druze, the stomach Homs, and the tail Aleppo.
If I crush the head the serpent will die." Shishakli dispatched 10,000 regular troops to occupy the Jebel al-Druze.
Several towns were bombarded with heavy weapons, killing scores of civilians and destroying many houses. According to Druze accounts, Shishakli encouraged neighboring bedouin tribes to plunder the defenseless population and allowed his own troops to run amok.
Shishakli launched a brutal campaign to defame the Druzes for their religion and politics.
He accused the entire community of treason, at times claiming they were agents of the British and Hashimites, at others that they were fighting for Israel against the Arabs.
He even produced a cache of Israeli weapons allegedly discovered in the Jabal.
Even more painful for the Druze community was his publication of "falsified Druze religious texts" and false testimonials ascribed to leading Druze sheikhs designed to stir up sectarian hatred.
This propaganda also was broadcast in the Arab world, mainly Egypt.
Shishakli was assassinated in Brazil on 27 September 1964 by a Druze seeking revenge for Shishakli's bombardment of the Jebel al-Druze.[
He forcibly integrated minorities into the national Syrian social structure, his "Syrianization" of Alawite and Druze territories had to be accomplished in part using violence, he declared: "My enemies are like serpent. The head is the Jabal Druze, if I crush the head the serpent will die" (Seale 1963:132).
To this end, al-Shishakli encouraged the stigmatization of minorities.
He saw minority demands as tantamount to treason.
His increasingly chauvinistic notions of Arab nationalism were predicated on the denial that "minorities" existed in Syria.
After the Shishakli's military campaign, the Druze community lost a lot of its political influence, but many Druze military officers played an important role when it comes to the Baathist regime.

Beliefs of the Druze

The Druze are considered to be a social group as well as a religious sect, but not a distinct ethnic group.
Also complicating their identity is the custom of Taqiya—concealing or disguising their beliefs when necessary—that they adopted from Shia Islam and the esoteric nature of the faith, in which many teachings are kept secretive.
Druze in different states can have radically different lifestyles.
Some claim to be Muslim, some do not.
The Druze faith is said to abide by Islamic principles, but they tend to be separatist in their treatment of Druze-hood, and their religion differs from mainstream Islam on a number of fundamental points.

God in the Druze Faith

The Druze conception of the deity is declared by them to be one of strict and uncompromising unity.
The main Druze doctrine states that God is both transcendent and immanent, in which he is above all attributes but at the same time he is present.
In their desire to maintain a rigid confession of unity, they stripped from God all attributes (tanzīh) which may lead to polytheism (shirk).
In God, there are no attributes distinct from his essence.
He is wise, mighty, and just, not by wisdom, might and justice, but by his own essence.
God is "the whole of existence", rather than "above existence" or on his throne, which would make him "limited."
There is neither "how", "when", nor "where" about him; he is incomprehensible.
In this dogma, they are similar to the semi-philosophical, semi-religious body which flourished under Al-Ma'mun and was known by the name of Mu'tazila and the fraternal order of the Brethren of Purity (Ikhwan al-Ṣafa).
Unlike the Mu'tazilla, however, and similar to some branches of Sufism, the Druze believe in the concept of Tajalli (meaning "theophany").
Tajalli, which is more often misunderstood by scholars and writers and is usually confused with the concept of incarnation,
...is the core spiritual beliefs of the Druze and some other intellectual and spiritual traditions.... In a mystical sense, it refers to the light of God experienced by certain mystics who have reached a high level of purity in their spiritual journey. Thus, God is perceived as the Lahut [the divine] who manifests His Light in the Station (Maqaam) of the Nasut [material realm] without the Nasut becoming Lahut. This is like one's image in the mirror: one is in the mirror but does not become the mirror. The Druze manuscripts are emphatic and warn against the belief that the Nasut is God.... Neglecting this warning, individual seekers, scholars, and other spectators have considered al-Hakim and other figures divine.
...In the Druze scriptural view, Tajalli 'takes a central stage.' One author comments that Tajalli occurs when the seeker's humanity is annihilated so that divine attributes and light are experienced by the person."
The concept of God incarnating either as or in a human seems "to contradict with what the Druze scriptural view has to teach about the Oneness of God, while tajalli is at the center of the Druze and some other, often mystical, traditions."

Scriptures

Druze Sacred texts include the Kitab Al Hikma (Epistles of Wisdom).

Esotericism

The Druze believe that many teachings given by prophets, religious leaders and holy books have esoteric meanings preserved for those of intellect, in which some teachings are symbolic and allegorical in nature, and divide the understanding of holy books and teachings into three layers.
These layers, according to the Druze, are:
The obvious or exoteric (zahir), accessible to anyone who can read or hear;
The hidden or esoteric (batin), accessible to those who are willing to search and learn through the concept of exegesis; and
The hidden of the hidden, a concept known as anagoge, inaccessible to all but a few really enlightened individuals who truly understand the nature of the universe.
Unlike some Islamic esoteric movements, known as the batinids at that time, the Druzes don't believe that the esoteric meaning abrogates or necessarily abolishes the exoteric one.
Hamza bin Ali refutes such claims by stating that if the esoteric interpretation of taharah (purity) is purity of the heart and soul, it doesn't mean that a person can discard his physical purity, as salah (prayer) is useless if a person is untruthful in his speech and that the esoteric and exoteric meanings complement each other.

Precepts of the Druze Faith

The Druze follow seven precepts that are considered the core of the faith, and are perceived by them as the essence of the pillars of Islam.
The Seven Druze precepts are:
Veracity in speech and the truthfulness of the tongue.
Protection and mutual aid to the brethren in faith.
Renunciation of all forms of former worship (specifically, invalid creeds) and false belief.
Repudiation of the devil (Iblis), and all forces of evil (translated from Arabic Toghyan meaning "despotism").
Confession of God's unity.
Acquiescence in God's acts no matter what they be.
Absolute submission and resignation to God's divine will in both secret and public.

Religious Symbols

The Druze strictly avoid iconography but use five colors as a religious symbol: green, red, yellow, blue, and white.
Each color pertains to a metaphysical power called Haad, literally meaning a limit, as in the limits that separate humans from animals, or the powers that makes the animal body human.
Each Haad is color coded in the following manner: green for Aql "the Universal Mind/Nous", red for Nafs "the Universal Soul/Anima mundi", yellow for Kalima "the Word/Logos", blue for Sabiq "the Potentiality/Cause/Precedent", and white for Tali "the Future/Effect/Immanence".
The mind generates qualia and gives consciousness.
The soul embodies the mind and is responsible for transmigration and the character of oneself.
The word which is the atom of language communicates qualia between humans and represent the platonic forms in the sensible world.
The Sabq and Tali is the ability to perceive and learn from the past and plan for the future and predict it.
The colors can be arranged in a vertically descending stripes or a five-pointed star.
The stripes is a diagrammatic cut of the spheres in neoplatonic philosophy while the five pointed star embodies the golden ratio, phi, as a symbol of temperance and a life of moderation.

The Druze are divided into two groups.
The largely secular majority, called al-Juhhāl (جهال) ("the Ignorant") are not granted access to the Druze holy literature or allowed to attend the initiated Uqqal's religious meetings.
They are around 80% of the Druze population and are not obliged to follow the ascetic traditions of the Uqqal.
The initiated religious group, which includes both men and women (about 20% of the population), is called al-ʻUqqāl (عقال), ("the Knowledgeable Initiates").
They have a special mode of dress designed to comply with Quranic traditions.
Women can opt to wear al-mandīl, a loose white veil, especially in the presence of other people.
They wear al-mandīl on their heads to cover their hair and wrap it around their mouths and sometimes over their noses as well.
They wear black shirts and long skirts covering their legs to their ankles.
Male ʻuqqāl grow mustaches, and wear dark Levantine/Turkish traditional dresses, called the shirwal, with white turbans that vary according to the Uqqal's hierarchy.
Al-ʻuqqāl have equal rights to al-Juhhāl, but establish a hierarchy of respect based on religious service
The most influential 5% of Al-ʻuqqāl become Ajawīd, recognized religious leaders, and from this group the spiritual leaders of the Druze are assigned.
While the Shaykh al-ʻAql, which is an official position in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel, is elected by the local community and serves as the head of the Druze religious council, judges from the Druze religious courts are usually elected for this position.
Unlike the spiritual leaders, the Shaykh al-ʻAql's authority is local to the country he is elected in, though in some instances spiritual leaders are elected to this position.
The Druze believe in the unity of God, and are often known as the "People of Monotheism" or simply "Monotheists".
Their theology has a Neo-Platonic view about how God interacts with the world through emanations and is similar to some gnostic and other esoteric sects.
Druze philosophy also shows Sufi influences.
Druze principles focus on honesty, loyalty, filial piety, altruism, patriotic sacrifice, and monotheism.
They reject tobacco smoking, alcohol, and consumption of pork.
Also, in contrast to most Islamic sects, the Druze reject polygamy, believe in reincarnation, and are not obliged to observe most of the religious rituals.
The Druze believe that rituals are symbolic and have an individualistic effect on the person, for which reason Druze are free to perform them, or not.



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