The Druze are a small, Arabic-speaking group (between one and two million) who concentrate mostly in Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Jordan. They are an esoteric religious group that originated in Cairo as a sect of Shia Islam a thousand years ago.
In 1017 some devout Muslims declared that the sixth Fatimid (a Shia dynasty) ruler of Egypt, Al-Hakim, was divine. This small heretical movement was persecuted, and its followers moved to the region of present-day Syria and Lebanon. They soon disappeared in Egypt, and by 1043 they no longer sought any converts, meaning they only expanded through biological growth.
Despite their small size, the Druze, often fierce warriors, have been very influential in the Middle East through the eras of the Crusades, and the Ottoman and European colonial periods. They were also power brokers in both of Lebanon’s 20th century civil wars.
The Druze religion today is quite distinct from Islam. While some Muslim authorities still classify them as a Muslim sect, most Druze – and Muslims for that matter – do not consider themselves Muslims. Their main scripture is the Kitab Al Hikma (Epistles of Wisdom).
Their beliefs include reincarnation and the conviction that the inner secrets of the faith are reserved for only a few initiates. They believe there are three layers of truth: the exterior (zahir), which any Druze can access; the hidden (batin), open only to those who search; and the hidden of the hidden (anagoge), for an exceptional few who truly understand the nature of the universe. About 10% of the population, both men and women, are initiated (called the ‘uqqal).
The rest are known as the ignorant (al-Juhhal). Their seven precepts include commitments to honesty and loyalty, renunciation of all other religious beliefs, commitment to Allah’s oneness, and absolute submission to Allah’s will.
Druze shrines are scattered throughout Lebanon, Israel, and Syria. The principal shrine is Nabi Shu’ayb in northern Israel. Each community has a khalwat, a house of prayer, retreat, and unity. Both women and men play important roles in the community and religious life.
Their survival sometimes depends on the permission they have to deceive those who seek to destroy them by pretending to be Muslims or Christians and even participating in their religious practices for a time.
Their tightly closed communities have made it very difficult to reach the Druze with the Gospel. However, God is at work among them, and there are encouraging developments in which God is leading a few Druze-background followers of Christ to begin small house fellowships.
Significant sensitivity to their religious, social, and cultural distinctives must be used in ministering among them. The strongest opposition to the Gospel comes from the community leaders. The sensitive nature of such ministries does not allow for sharing more details.