Your Druze and Mine

by Marilyn Raschka

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Readers familiar with the work of the Lebanese mystical poet and novelist, Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931), may catch the plagiarism in my title. Gibran’s poem, “Your Lebanon and Mine,” quoted in part here, speaks of two Lebanons:

You have your Lebanon and I have mine.
Yours is political Lebanon and her problem;
Mine is natural Lebanon and all her beauty.
You have your Lebanon with problems and conflicts;
I have mine with her dreams and hopes.

In 1966, my first year in Lebanon, I lived in the Maronite Catholic village of Shemlan where, together with seven other Americans, I studied Arabic. Life was idyllic. I would wake up to dawn duets featuring roosters and donkeys. Figs and grapes were on the breakfast table. On the seemingly endless sunny days, with which we were often blessed, I would take my Arabic texts and hike along the trails that skirted olive groves and vineyards, find a spot to sit and commit to memory some intricate rule of Arabic grammar.

The neighboring villages were inhabited by members of the Druze community and I would often play truant with my texts and head in their direction, curious to see if Druze in the flesh bore any resemblance to the Druze I had studied while in college.

This Islamic sect took form in Egypt during the reign (996-1021) of the sixth caliph of the Fatimid dynasty, al-Hakim, who was declared by some of his followers as the final incarnation of the Divinity. An early supporter, Muhammad ad-Darazi, ultimately gave his name to the group of followers who believed that al-Hakim, who vanished in 1021, would return on judgment Day and commence a golden age.

The rules regulating the Druze path of life include monogamous marriage and bans on the use of alcohol and tobacco. The Druze allow no conversions to their faith and intermarriage is forbidden.

A council of judges, whose supreme head is known as the Sheikh al-Aql, governs the Druze, who total more than 500,000 globally.

Stress is placed on the importance of the Druze community; trust and mutual support have the status of commandments. This devotion to the community has contributed to the strength of their identity – indeed, their very survival may be attributed to it.

A Druze village has no obvious place of worship; no minarets, no calls to prayer. The prayer hall, or khalwah in Arabic, is a simple building where the elders, or ‘uqqal, and members of the local community meet on Thursday evenings to study, recite and pray.

The Druze faith is a closed religious system. Outsiders, as well as those Druze who are not initiates, may not participate fully in the services or have access to the Book of Wisdom, the most authoritative of Druze texts. Those Druze who wish to become initiates must study long and hard.

The Druze profess a belief in the transmigration of souls. Druze scholar Dr. Nejla Abu-Izzeddin explains in her book The Druzes the consequences of this faith tenet:

Belief that the number of the days of
one’s life is fixed, not be exceeded or
diminished by a single day, and that the
soul after leaving one body is immediately
reborn in another, enhances courage
and dispels fear of death. The body is
a mere robe for the soul.

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