Druze And Islam
"When Islam started in the first half of the seventh century A.D., the Our'an was first understood by the followers of the new faith according to its literal meaning. The Muslims set forth from the Arabian Peninsula and spread out into Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Persia. Gradually, they began to come into contact with more developed cultures which had been greatly influenced by the Greek and Persian civilizations. As time went by, the
impact of these cultures on Islam was strongly felt on the social structure and order, on the different arts and crafts, as well as on literary, scientific, philosophical and intellectual currents. When the Arabs pressed eastward, they came into contact with Indian ivilization. The effect of this contact can be noticed in the Islamic mystical concept of love which leads to annihilation of the self on the election; though, they were forced to recognize Abu Bakr as the leader of the Muslim Community after Muhammad,
they considered All ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad's first cousin and son-in-law to
be the true Imam. According to them, Abu Bakr was nothing but a usurper,
since Au, as the Shi'a claimed, was appointed to the Imamate by Muhammad
One must admit, however, that both factions, the Sunnis and the Shi'a were
not at first so much distinct. They both practiced the interpretation of the
religious law. The distinction between them at this earlier time lay in two
points. First, the Shi'a emphasized those of Muhammad's sayings which
confirmed the authenticity of Ali's Imamate. Second, they considered their
Imam as the sole interpreter of the divine Law and regarded him to be
endowed with divine insight. On the other hand, the Sunnis endeavored to
refute the Shi'a claim of All's designation by Muhammad as the Imam.
Likewise, they tried to refute the Shi'a claim of Mi's designation by
Muhammad as Imam. Likewise, they tried to refute the Shi'a doctrine of the
allegorical interpretation of the Our'an by the Imam in his capacity as the
infallible and sole authoritative source of doctrine. As to their source of
interpretation of religious law, the Sunnis had their own scholars
(al-mujtahidun) who functioned as mere learned men and had no divine
qualities whatsoever. They based their interpretation on four sources: the
Ouran the Prophet's traditions (the hadith), analogy with the Our'an and the
Prophet's traditions (qiyas) and on consensus (ijma).
After the Sunni scholar, ash-Shafi (d. A.H. 204 IA.D. 8201 developed the
complete legal system, a point of ( stagnation was eventually reached in Sunni
Jurisprudence. This period culminated in what became known as the 'closing
of the door' of interpretation of the Our'an (ijtihad). The Sunnis, by closing
the door of ijtihad, surrendered their rights to independent effort in the
interpretation of the religious law. On the other hand, through their belief in
the Imam as the interpretator of the Word of God, the Shi'a continued the
process of interpretations. Thus the two factions became more extinct from
each other. The Shi'a became characterized by allegorically interpretating
the meaning of the Our'an and giving it an esoteric content, and the Sunnis
by adhering to the teachings of their predecessors in interpretation.
Returning to the Shi'a notion that Au ibn Abi Talib was the first Imam, we
see that after his death, the divine illumination of the Imamate passed,
according to the Shia, to his son, al-Hasan. Then, after al-Hasan's death,
to Ali's second son, al-Husayn. After al-Husayn's death, it passed to his
son, Ali-Zayn al-Abidin. Later the Shi'a split according to differences in
their beliefs in the recipient of the divine light of Imamate. The Zaydis
considered Au Zayn al-Abidin's son, Zayd, to be their Imam, while the rest
followed All Zayn al-Abidin's other son, Muhammad, known as Muhammad
al-Baqir. Then they followed the laters son, Ja'far, known as as-Sadiq.
After Jafar's death, another split occurred among his followers. lsma'il,
son of Jafar, the Imam designate, was said to have died during his father's
lifetime (about A.H. 135 IA.D. 7521). Accordingly, a faction of the Shi'a
paid allegiance to a brother of lsma'il, whose name was Musa al-Kazim, while
another faction considered that the Imamate could not turn back to be given
to Musa after lsma'il had already been designated by his father. Thus they
considered lsma'il's son, Muhammad, to be their Imam. This faction is known
as the Isma'ili. Hence, three Shi'a factions developed: the Zaydis, the
Musawis, and the lsma'ilis. In addition to these Shi'a factions, there
remained the ruling Sunnis who were the original body of Islam, and whose
ruling dynasty was the Abbasids whose capital was Baghdad.
The difference between the Shi'a factions were not, however, restricted to
disagreement regarding succession. Other differences of a more philosophical
and theological nature were of greater importance. They were the result of
influences of various schools of thought that were important in the whole
Islamic society after the translation into Arabic of the great works of
Greek philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus. Meanwhile,
Muslims were also translating and becoming acquainted with Persian and
Indian thought. Initially, the Our'an was understood according to its
apparent meaning; because of Greek, Syriac, and Indian influences, thinkers
began to interpret the meanings and inquire into more remote objectives.
This led many theologians to move further from the main body of Islam.
Elements not in accordance with traditional Islam began to infiltrate into
religious beliefs, and emancipation from the letter of the dogma began to be
more and more noticeable.
Inasmuch as the Druzes originated historically from the Isma'ili faction of
Shi'a Islam, we shall trace their development within this context.
Paying allegiance to the spirituaL Imam other than the ruling political
Caliph of the Sunni Abbasids, the Isma'ilis were obliged to operate
secretly, to go 'undeground,' as it were. Also, their esoteric beliefs,
which differed greatly from the main body of prevailing Islamic doctrine,
forced them not to divulge their beliefs to outsiders. Alter Muhammad ibn
Isma'il, several Imams, probably three in number, who followed in
succession, remained in hiding. Their names are believed to be: Abdallah ibn
Muhammad, Ahmad ibn Abdallah, and Husayn ibn Ahmad. After these 'hidden'
Imams, the Isma'ili movement came into the open again. This occurred when
the Isma'ili Imam, alMahdi Billah, assumed
power after escaping 'Abbasid
persecution in Syria and fleeing to North Africa, where he founded the
Fatimid Caliphate in A.H. 297 IA.D. 9091.
After al-Mahdi, the Imamate was assumed by al-Qa'im bi-Amirillah, then by
al-Mansur Billah, and then by atMu'izz li-Dinillah. Al-Mu'izz conquered
Egypt from the Ikhshidids, the vassels of the Abbasids, in A.H. 358 IA.D.
9691. He founded the city of Cairo and made it the capital of the Fatimid
state. In A.H. 359 IA.D. 9701, one year after the founding of Cairo, he
built the mosque of al-Azhr, which became one of the greatest centers of
teaching. After al-Mu'izz, the Fatimid Imamate was assumed by al-Aziz
Billah, and after al-Aziz, by al-Hakim bi-Amrillah. As heads of the Shi'a
state, the Fatimids promoted allegorical interpretation of revelation
according to mans needs and his readiness for esoteric knowledge. They were
noted for their patronage of learning, philosophy, the sciences, literature,
and the arts. The newly built city in Cairo successfully competed with two
other centers of civilization in the world at that time: Baghdad and
Besides founding al-Azhar, which became the main university of the Islamic
world, the Fatimids also established Dar al-Hikma (The House of Wisdom)
known also as Oar al-'llm (The House of Knowledge). This Oar al-Hikma was
established by the Fatimid Caliph Imam, al-Hakim bi-Amrillah in A.H. 395
IA.D. 10051. It was connected with the Royal Palace and contained a huge
library and many conference rooms. Lectures were given in both atAzhar and
Oar al-Hikma and in many other centers of learning in Cairo and other places
in the Fatimid Empire. Scholastic activities were one of the main interests
of the state. Cairo became a center of scientists, philosophers,
theologians, men of letters, and scholars.
In such an intellectual atmosphere, the Druze Movement started in the year
A.H. 408 IA.D. 10171, during the reign of the sixth Fatimid Caliph and Imam,
al-Hakim bi-Amrillah. It was a result of the intellectual ferment within the
various philosophical and theological schools that had emerged in Islam."
See The Druze Faith Book by Dr. Sami Makarem