Who Are The Druze?
by Sheik Mowafaq Tarif, Spiritual Leader of the Israeli Druze
The Druze religion has one million adherents, mainly in Syria and Lebanon. There are 140,000 in Israel, most of whom live in the north. The religion was established in Egypt by Muhammed bin Ismail Nashtakin ad-Darazi and Hamza ibn ‘Ali ibn Ahmad, Ismaili mystics and scholars, around the year 1016 CE. The religion recognizes all the Abrahamic prophets. It does not consider itself as a part of Islam.
The Druze and the Jews are brothers in history. The alliance began at the time of Moses, who took the Jewish people from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. When Moses was young he spent time in the Sinai and met Jethro, the prophet, peace be upon him, the father of Zipporah, whom Moses married. Jethro taught Moses how to organize the Jewish people. They established a spiritual system, leadership system, court system and defense hierarchies which later became the basis of modern democracy and the concept of separation of governmental branches.
In Druze tradition Jethro is the father of the Druze people. Established in 1016 in Egypt, the Druze believe in and accept all the prophets. We have tolerance for others, for other religions. We are monogamists—not allowed to marry more than one woman. That is just one of the many differences between us and Islam. Also, we made sure that women were equal, protected and have the right to divorce. In our religion there are the secular and the religious—uqqal in Arabic—which means “wise person.” Women are permitted to study the Druze religion and to become uqqal. We also believe in taqiyya, loyalty to the place where you live. We want to protect our faith. We do not proselytize, persecute or discriminate against others. We do not accept converts nor do we believe anyone can leave our faith.
On the relationship of the Druze community to Israel
Going back as far as the 1800’s, the Druze community joined and was an ally and friend to the Jewish people returning to the Land of Israel. We decided to be with the Jewish people without any agreement, any condition or payment, except that we all had legitimate rights. And we are very proud that we serve the state. Beginning in 1948 our youth began to serve in the army. In 1956 we asked that they be drafted just as the Jews are. Now 87% serve. The others have receives religious or medical exemptions. The Druze in Israel are fully involved in economic and social life. Many of them carry senior government positions and are partners in building the country. For many years we have been committed to building connections in Israel between minorities and the majority.
On Druze Youth and The army
For the four years before entering the army, every young Druze takes heritage seminars. They study our religion and traditional mentality. This could be called a Druze mechina—“preparation” for the army. We explain to the young people the dangers – the and the positives and negatives of service in the army. Sometimes we have a problem with young people who make mistakes, but we do our best. And don’t forget, every two or three weeks these youths are back with their family, which continues to educate them and develop their faith.
On Druze Education
The Druze study all basic requirements – English, Hebrew, Arabic, Math, Science, Music, everything. Some Druze high schools (Beit Jann) are among the best in the country. We need to create scholarships to make sure that our young people go to the university after they come back from the army. After army service the families are trying to keep tradition and the mentality. Many ask their children not to leave to study and instead to get married and build a home. This creates a future problem, since they will not have a university degree. I and other Druze leaders are trying to encourage young people to study before they marry and build homes. We are asking the government to increase its budget and especially to offer scholarships for Druze youths to study in the university. I am especially proud that our veterans have taken a significant interest in this area and are creating the 1st Druze high tech study center which they are calling DTEC: Druze High-Tech Empowerment Center – the 1st of its kind anywhere in the Arab world, or the world in general. Led by our veterans, who will provide guidance, scholarships, mentorships and jobs to our young men and women – we believe our community will take a giant leap in our socio-economic status and social integration.
One thousand years ago, when the Druze religion started, the majority around us persecuted and killed many of us. That is the reason that Druze families, the people and the community decided to live in the high mountains, to protect ourselves and save our lives, because we continue to be persecuted through these 1000 years. So, we understand the persecution of others. Israel and the Jews know the same fate and thus we bind ourselves as one and protect our nation together.
About Sheik Mowafaq Tarif
Sheik Mowafaq Tarif has been the spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze community since 1993. He comes from a line of spiritual leaders that began in 1753. The sheik studied the Druze religion in Lebanon and holds a degree in law from Haifa University.