The Druze community, more correctly known as the Muwahideen, number close to 120,000 in Israel. They live primarily in the Galilee and the Golan Heights, and are classified as a separate religious group, with their own courts and their own jurisdiction in matters such as marriage, divorce, and adoption.
The Druze religion has its roots in Islam, but although some members consider themselves “Muslim,” they have been recognized as a separate religion. During the reign of the Fatimid Caliphate in Egypt, in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Druze religion was formed, combining tenets of Islam with the philosophy of the Greeks and Hindus. The Druze do not accept converts. They believe that anyone who wanted to join the religion had a chance to do so in the first generation after it was started, and that everyone who is alive today is reincarnated from a previous generation. Therefore, they concluded that people today already had their chance to join, centuries ago, and the religion has been closed to converts since 1050. Proselytizing is not allowed under Druze law.
The religion is heavily monotheistic, and has ties to the world’s three main religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Their prophets include Moses, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Mohammed. Their most revered religious figure is Jethro, father-in-law of Moses. A tomb built over his believed burial site, at the Horns of Hittin near the Kinneret, is a gathering place for members of the Druze faith, and every April, the Druze meet there to discuss matters pertaining to the community.
Despite a few holy sites which have become official gathering places for the Druze, the Druze generally spurn the concepts of ceremonies and rituals. There is no official liturgy or prayer book, no holy days or fast days, and no pilgrimages. They accept “The Seven Precepts,” which they believe are the essential components of the Pillars of Islam. The precepts, which form the core of Druze faith, include truthfulness in speech, belief in one God, protection of others, and the belief that every hour of every day is a time to reckon oneself before God. Druze believe that the various rituals and practices adopted by the three major faiths have turned those believers away from the “true faith.”
The Druze are divided into two groups: al-Juhhal (“the ignorant”) and al-Uqqal (“the knowledgeable”). Al-Juhhal represents the majority of Druze members, approximately 80% of the community, and is the “unlearned” group. They do not have access to the holy writings of the faith, do not attend the religious meetings, and in general are not expected to follow the ascetic rulings of the al-Uqqal. The al-Uqqal, in contrast, which includes both men and women, are the learned minority. Men and women adopt a more stringent dress code, and the spiritual leaders of the community arise from the most influential 5% of the al-Uqqal. The Druze forbid polygamy, along with the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and pork. Equality between men and women, in marriage and in religious life, is an important part of the Druze tradition. Women are encouraged to participate in daily prayer, can take part in religious ceremonies, and are able to initiate divorce.
The first Druze began settling in modern-day Lebanon and northern Israel centuries ago, and the largest Druze community in the Galilee is called Daliyat el-Carmel, situated in the Carmel Mountains. During the British Mandate, the Druze purposely kept out of the Arab-Israeli conflict; when Israel’s War of Independence broke out in 1948, the Druze fought on the Israeli side. A minority of Druze who live in the Golan Heights protested when the Israelis annexed the land from Syria, following the Six-Day War. Few of them have accepted full Israeli citizenship, and remain Syrian citizens.
The rest of the Druze, however, are full members of Israeli society. The Druze have mainly found employment in the fields of social work, security services, and prison personnel. A new program has been started to help the Druze gain entry into Israel’s lucrative high-tech sector. They have also become prominent members of the IDF and of the Knesset, where they hold a disproportionate number of seats relative to the size of their community. In addition to holding prominent military and political positions, the Druze are active in the realms of sports, media, the arts, and literature.