Origins of the Druze People and Religion, by Philip K. Hitti, , at sacred-texts.com
Feudal Organization:When we catch our first clear glimpse of the Druze people we find them livingas they are still living todayin small village communities at Wādi-al-Taym and southern Lebanon, organized into a feudal state of society. These village communities were under the control of local sheikhs, themselves subordinate to one or more amīrs (princes), and the whole system bound together under a singular form of theocracy. This is still a distinguishing feature of Druze national life.
The early Druze communities flourished at the foot of Mt. Hermon, and in the southern part of Western Lebanon overlooking Beirūt and Sidon. They were in every case agricultural, and subsisted wholly on the produce of the land. Commerce and industry had no attraction to them. These same conditions prevail almost unchanged among the Druzes until the present day. In the lists of the leading merchants of Aleppo, Damascus, Beirūt and Sidon, one would search in vain for a Druze name. Perhaps the greatest merchants that the Druze nation ever produced are Druze immigrants in the United States.
Part Played during the Crusades:In the early period of the Crusading era, the Druze feudal power was in the hands of two families: the Tanūkhs and the Arislāns. From their fortresses in the Gharb district 1 of southern Lebanon, the Tanūkhs led their incursions into the Phoenician coast and finally succeeded in holding Beirūt and the maritime plain against the Franks.
After the middle of the twelfth century, the Man family superseded the Tanūkhs in Druze leadership. The origin of the
family goes back to a prince Man who made his appearance in the Lebanon in the days of the Abbāsid Caliph al-Mustarshid (1118-1135 A.D.), and died in 1149 in the days of Sultan Nūr-al-Dīn of Damascus. The Mains chose for their abode the Shūf district in the southern part of Western Lebanon, overlooking the maritime plain between Beirūt and Sidon, and made their headquarters in Baaqlīn, which is still to the present day the leading Druze village. They were invested with feudal jurisdiction by Sultan Nūr-al-Dīn and furnished respectable contingents to the Moslem ranks in their struggle against the Crusaders.
Having cleared Syria from the Franks, the Mamlūk Sultans of Egypt turned their attention to the schismatic Moslems of Syria; and in the year 1305, al-Malik al-Nāṣir inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Druzes at Kasrawān 1 and forced outward compliance on their part to orthodox (Sunni) Islam. Later under the Ottoman Turks they were again chastised severely at Ayn-Ṣawfar, in 1585, for having attacked and robbed near Tripoli a body of Janizaries on their way to Constantinople carrying to the imperial treasury taxes collected from Egypt and Syria.
The Druze Power at its Height:With the advent of the Ottoman Turks and the conquest of Syria by Sultan Selīm I, in 1516, the Mans threw in their lot with the conquering invaders and were immediately acknowledged by the new suzerain as the feudal lords of southern Lebanon. Druze villages spread and prospered in that region, which under Min leadership so flourished that it acquired the generic appellation of Jabal Bayt-Man (the mountain of the Man family) or Jabal al-Durūz. The latter title, however, has since been usurped by the Ḥawrān region which, since the middle of the nineteenth century, has proven a haven of refuge to Druze emigrants from Lebanon and has become the headquarters of Druze power.
Under Fakhr-al-Dīn ibn-Man II (1585-1635) the Druze dominion increased until it included almost all Syria extending from the edge of the Antioch plain in the north to Ṣafad in the south
with a part of the Syrian desert dominated by Fakhr-al-Dīn's castle at Tadmur (Palmyra), the ancient capital of Zenobia. The ruins of this castle still stand on a steep hill overlooking the town and greet the eye of the passer-by.
Fakhr-al-Dīn became too strong for his Turkish sovereign in Constantinople. He went so far in 1608 as to sign a commercial treaty with Duke Ferdinand I of Tuscany containing secret military clauses. The Sultan then sent a force against him, and he was compelled, in 1614, to flee the land and seek refuge in the courts of Tuscany and Naples. 1
Fakhr-al-Dīn was the first ruler in modern Lebanon to open the doors of his country to foreign Western influences. Under his auspices the French established a khān (hostel) in Sidon, the Florentines a consulate, and the Christian missionaries were admitted into the country. Beirūt and Sidon, which Fakhr-al-Dīn beautified, still bear traces of his benign rule.
Banu-Shihāb, the Last Feudal Chiefs:As early as the days of Saladin, and while the Mans were still in complete control over southern Lebanon, the Shihāb tribe, originally Ḥijāz Arabs but later domiciled in Ḥawrān, advanced from Ḥawrān, in 1172, and settled in Wādi-al-Taym at the foot of Mt. Hermon. They soon made an alliance with the Mans and were acknowledged the Druze chiefs in Wādi-al-Taym. At the end of the seventeenth century (1697), the Shihābs succeeded the Mans in the feudal leadership of Druze southern Lebanon, though, unlike them, they professed Sunni Islam. Secretly, they showed sympathy with Druzism, the religion of the majority of their subjects. Because of their blood relationship to the Quraysh, the family of the Prophet Muḥammad, the Shihāb, next to the Quraysh, is the noblest family in the Arabic world.
The Shihāb leadership continued till the middle of the last century and culminated in the illustrious governorship of al-Amīr Bashīr (1788-1840) who, after Fakhr-al-Dīn, was the greatest
feudal lord Lebanon produced. Though governor of the Druze mountain, Bashīr was a crypto-Christian, and it was he whose aid Napoleon solicited in 1799 during his campaign against Syria.
Having consolidated his conquests in Syria (1831-1838), Ibrāhīm Pasha, son of the viceroy of Egypt, Muḥammad Ali Pasha, made the fatal mistake of trying to disarm the Christians and Druzes of the Lebanon and to draft the latter into his army. This was contrary to the principles of the life of independence which these mountaineers had always lived, and resulted in a general uprising against the Egyptian rule. The uprising was encouraged, for political reasons, by the British. The Druzes of Wādi-al-Taym and Ḥawrān, under the leadership of Shibli al-Aryān, distinguished themselves in their stubborn resistance at their inaccessible headquarters, al-Laja, lying southeast of Damascus. It is in this same place that the Druzes have for the last two years held out, against the French, under Sultan Pasha al-Aṭrash.
Druzes and Christians Grouped in Political Rather than Religious Parties:The conquest of Syria by the Moslem Arabs in the middle of the seventh century introduced into the land two political factions later called the Qaysites and the Yemenites. The Qaysite party represented the Ḥijāz and Bedouin Arabs who were regarded as inferior by the Yemenites who were earlier and more cultured emigrants into Syria from southern Arabia. The party lines in the Lebanon obliterated racial and religious lines and the people grouped themselves regardless of their religious affiliations, into one or the other of these two parties. The sanguinary feuds between these two factions depleted, in course of time, the manhood of the Lebanon and ended in the decisive battle of Ayn-Dārah, in 1711, which resulted in the utter defeat of the Yemenite party. Many Yemenite Druzes thereupon emigrated to the Ḥawrān region and thus laid the foundation of Druze power there.
The Civil War of 1860:The Druzes and their Christian Maronite neighbors, who had thus far lived as religious communities on amicable terms, entered a period of social disturbance
in the year 1840 which culminated in the civil war of 1860. For this disturbance the Sublime Porte in Constantinople was, in a great measure, responsible. The Sultan, realizing that the only way to bring the semi-independent people of the Lebanon under his direct control was to sow the seeds of discord among the people themselves, inaugurated in the mountain a policy long tried and found successful in the Ottoman provincesthe policy of "divide and rule." The civil war of 1860 cost the Christians some ten thousand lives in Damascus, Zaḥlah, Dayr-al-Qamar, Ḥāṣbayya and other towns of the Lebanon. The European powers then determined to interfere and authorized the landing in Beirūt of a body of French troops under General Beaufort dHautpoul whose inscription can still be seen on the historic rock at the mouth of the Dog River. Following the recommendations of the powers, the Porte granted Lebanon a local autonomy, guaranteed by the powers, under a Christian governor. This autonomy was maintained until the Great War.
Besides Wādi-al-Taym, the southern part of Western Lebanon and Ḥawrān, the Druzes today occupy a few villages in al Jabal al-Ala, 1 Mt. Carmel in Palestine, and Ṣafad. Their districts in southern Lebanon are al-Matn and al-Shūf, and their leading villages are: Ālayh, Bayṣūr, al-Shuwayfāt, Abayh, Baaqlīn, and al-Mukhtārah. They number in all Syria and Palestine about 117,000.
5:1 The district lying to the west of Beirūt. The ruins of one of these fortresses still crown a little hill near Saraḥmūl.
6:1 This region is today entirely occupied by Christians.
7:1 For a biography of Fakhr-al-Dīn, see H. F. Wuestenfeld, Fachreddin, der Drusenfürst, und seine Zeitgenossen (Göttingen, 1866).
9:1 In the vicinity of Aleppo.