The 118,000-strong Druze community in Israel represents a rich,
ancient culture and faith that has made a great contribution to Israel
over the years. Their towns and holy places, located in beautiful
mountain settings from Mount Carmel in the west to the Upper Galilee and
the Golan Heights in the east, invite visitors to steep themselves in
tradition and enjoy traditional hospitality.
The Druze faith, an offshoot of Islam accented by ancient Greek
philosophy and other traditions, was founded in Fatimid Egypt at the end
of the 10th century. Among the faith’s first leaders were Hamza Ben-Ali
and Mohammad al-Darazi. The popular name of the faith, Druze, stems
from the latter’s name, however the Druze call themselves Al-Muwahidun,
from the Arabic word “unity,” which stresses their monotheism, or
Al-Ma’aruf, which comes from the word “knowledge.” The Druze believe
that Hamza was the last of those chosen by God to reveal God’s truth to
humanity, preceded by Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammed.
Eventually, the center of the faith moved from Egypt to Lebanon and
Syria and gained new believers, particularly in the region around Mount
Hermon. By the mid-11th century, it closed to new members. To this day,
one cannot convert to the Druze faith, which believes that Druze souls
are continuously reincarnated.
To avoid persecution in its early days, the Druze guarded the secrets
of the faith among a select few. To this day these individuals, both
men and women, known as "ukal", are chosen by community leaders based
chiefly on their moral lifestyle, and may then delve into the Druze
sacred books. Druze religious men can be recognized by their shaven
heads, white skullcap and dark pantaloons. Religious women wear dark
dresses and white head-scarves.
Other than life-cycle events, the Druze have few ceremonies. They do
attend a prayer-house, or hilwa, make vows to God for healing and other
needs, and celebrate pilgrimage days to the leaders of their faith,
including Nebi Shueib (Jethro), Nebi Yaf’ouri, Nebi Sabalan, Abu
Abdullah, El-Khader and Nebi Zakariya. Among their prohibitions are
alcohol consumption and gambling. They are fiercely loyal to their
home-countries; in Israel, the Druze young men serve in the Israel
The Druze flag flies at all their holy sites and in their towns,
frequently alongside the Israeli flag. The five colors of the flag are
said to represent the leader Hamza and the four prime proclaimers of the
faith. Another interpretation is that green symbolizes nature; red –
the heart; yellow – wheat; blue – water and sky; and white – purity.
At Druze holy sites, which are almost always open, visitors must
remove their shoes before entering, and dress modestly (long-sleeved
shirts and head coverings are usually to be found near the entrance).
Photographs are prohibited inside.