The Druze movement sprang from Isma‘ili Shi‘i Islam in the year AH 408/AD 1017, during the time of the sixth Fatimid caliph-imam, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah. Headquartered in Cairo, the movement soon took hold in Mount Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon range, in northern and southern Syria, in and around Damascus and in northern Palestine.
Most of the adherents to this faith were members of those Arabian tribes, such as the Tanukh, Kalb, Kilab and Tayyi’, who had already come under the political and creedal impact of Isma‘ili Fatimid hegemony. Druze epistles were also sent to the Hijaz, to the eastern part of Arabia and to Yemen. They reached as far as India. This suggests that adherents to the Druze movement may have existed in those countries.
The name by which the Druze like to be known is Muwahhidun (sing. Muwahhid), which reflects their central belief in a mystical oneness (tawhid) with the One. Ironically, however, the followers of this movement acquired their popular name, the Druze, from a certain Muhammad ibn Isma‘il al-Darzi (also known as Nashtakin or Anushtagin al-Darazi). He was a high state functionary enrolled in the movement in its early stages, but who came, before long, to have major differences 1 with other of its leaders: this prompted Hamza ibn ‘Ali, the movement’s head, together with Caliph al-Hakim, to expel him from it, causing him to rise up against Hamza ibn ‘Ali and to ally himself with the non-adherents to the faith among the Cairenes. He led an insurrection that ended with his defeat on 29 Dhu l-Hijja AH 409/9 May AD 1019 and his execution on the following day.
In order to understand the Druze faith, we must step back to consider the evolution of Islamic approaches to the Qur’an. As Muslims came into greater contact with Greek philosophy, Persian thought, Indian mysticism, and Jewish and Christian theology, they began to interpret the literal message of the Qur’an in order to gain insight into its deeper ramifications.
This new approach to Islam became more distinctive as Muslims increased their acquaintance with Sufism. An interaction between Greek rationalism and Oriental mysticism, which was intensified by the emergence of Sufi sages, especially in the ninth and tenth centuries AD, prepared the way for the emergence, at the beginning of the eleventh century (fifth century AH), of the Druze movement as an offshoot of the esoteric Isma’ili approach to Islam. Adherents to the movement believed that a third and last stage of Islam had begun: namely, al-haqiqa, ‘self-realization,’ as true a feeling of unity with the One as is humanly possible.
The first stage, al-shari‘a (literal or exoteric Islam), had paved the way for the second one, al-tariqa (inner or esoteric Islam), but now it was the time of al-haqiqa. These three Sufi terms―al-shari‘a, al-tariqa, and al-haqiqa―were used by the Druze synonymously with islam, iman and ihsan (or tawhid), the latter three being common among other Muslims as well, Sunni and Shi‘i alike. (Islam here refers to the first stage, not to the religion as such.)
For the Druze, this last and third stage, variously known as al-haqiqa, ihsan, or tawhid (oneness with the One), is reached by passing through the states of gnostic preparedness instilled during the preceding two stages. It is the nature of tawhid to lead the adherent to behold his or her divine reality where no relative is mystically apart from the absolute and no outward existence is independent of divine reality. The Muwahhid is thus led to identifying him or herself and, consequently, every existing being, with the One. At this stage, the Muwahhid is mystically subsumed into the all-inclusiveness of the One, whose existence is the only real existence.