Druze in Syria, a His­tory of Cul­tural and Social Inte­gra­tion

ARA News

By: Rwaida al-​Harfoush

Strict reli­gious tra­di­tions couldn’t influ­ence Druzes’ social rela­tions with other com­po­nents of the Syr­ian community.

Syria is a coun­try that wit­nessed var­i­ous cul­tural groups over thou­sands of years of his­tory. Ances­tors had gone, but the sig­nif­i­cant cul­tural val­ues and char­ac­ter­is­tics they estab­lished and inher­ited were con­tin­u­ously revived from gen­er­a­tion to another. Over cen­turies, new set­tlers from dif­fer­ent ter­ri­to­ries resorted to Syria for cer­tain rea­sons, includ­ing famine and wars. A cul­tural diver­sity was founded due to mul­ti­ple immi­gra­tion move­ments, and the devel­op­ment of Syria into a state opened the door for the emer­gence of a spirit of unity between the dif­fer­ent reli­gious and eth­nic groups.


His­tor­i­cally speak­ing, Syria was referred to as land of Diony­sius (god of wine) dur­ing the Hel­lenis­tic period, basi­cally because of its agri­cul­tural wealth in the field of grapes and pro­duc­tion of wine. In the late nine­teenth cen­tury, his­to­rian William Wadding­ton iden­ti­fied Dionysian as Sweida –name of the cur­rent south­ern area in Syria, basi­cally pop­u­lated by Druze reli­gious group. Dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages, the area was repeat­edly con­quered by Ghas­sa­nies, Umayyad and Abba­cies’, until it was pop­u­lated in the eigh­teenth cen­tury by immi­grants from other Syr­ian cities such as Aleppo and Edlib, and neigh­bor­ing coun­tries such as Lebanon and Pales­tine. After­wards, the south­ern area of Syria started to prosper. 

Druzes in Syria, mainly based in Sweida province and Jabal al-​Arab region, are basi­cally Arabs with dis­tinct cul­tural cus­toms and reli­gious rit­u­als. Orig­i­nally, Druze reli­gion emerged from the philo­soph­i­cal and Sufi holy books writ­ten dur­ing antiq­uity in Greece. There is a strong belief in the spirit as a main rea­son for human cre­ation, and entails that the spirit, once cre­ated, con­tin­u­ous its eter­nal jour­ney from one body to another after the phys­i­cal death. Druzes also believe that peo­ple from first day of cre­ation until the end remain the same because of the Rein­car­na­tion, and those approved to belong to this cer­tain reli­gion stay com­mit­ted to its teach­ings through the rit­ual of read­ing a holy let­ter derived from their prophets dur­ing their sacred meet­ings to be con­stantly reminded with the impos­si­bil­ity of chang­ing their reli­gious beliefs and that no one is allowed in the group. There­fore, some con­straints are imposed even on the social activ­i­ties includ­ing mar­riage –Druze men and women are only allowed to get mar­ried to some­one from the same reli­gious group. Any vio­la­tion of such rit­u­als and tra­di­tions will most likely lead to the exclu­sion of the ‘perpetrator’. 

How­ever, these strict reli­gious tra­di­tions couldn’t influ­ence Druzes’ social rela­tions with other com­po­nents of the Syr­ian com­mu­nity. That is also illus­trated in their tra­di­tional songs that tell about the love of the home­land regard­less of reli­gious beliefs. Dur­ing the Ottoman occu­pa­tion to Syria, peo­ple of Jabal al-​Arab region –Includ­ing Sweida city– refused to fol­low the orders of Ali Basha –Ottoman ruler of Bilad al-​Sham –to join the mil­i­tary ser­vice, and they rebelled against Ottomans dur­ing a cru­cial war that lasted about nine months. In spite of the bru­tal­ity of the Ottoman troops and lead­ers, peo­ple didn’t give up until accom­plish­ing inde­pen­dence in Syria in 1918, before the French occu­pa­tion of the coun­try. In a rebel­lion against the lat­ter occu­pa­tion, a promi­nent Druze leader Sul­tan al-​Atrash emerged to lead the Syr­ian rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies until achiev­ing inde­pen­dence for Syria in 1947. How­ever, al-​Atrash refused to occupy any offi­cial posi­tion after inde­pen­dence, argu­ing that the mis­sion of him and his com­rades was to attain free­dom for Syria, not to gain any per­sonal benefits.

Over decades of the rule of Assad fam­ily in Syria, Druzes saw a remark­able decline on dif­fer­ent lev­els, espe­cially eco­nom­i­cally, but the group sur­vived through devel­op­ing their region agri­cul­tur­ally by them­selves, beside the sup­port of Druzes abroad. More­over, the rel­a­tively dif­fi­cult eco­nomic sta­tus of a large num­ber of Druze fam­i­lies, some of them moved to set­tle in other cities; the fact that strength­ened their rela­tions with the rest of the Syr­i­ans and encour­aged res­i­dents of other cities to resort to the Druze areas, to exchang­ing knowl­edge and ways of life with them, and sur­vived together in good and bad conditions.


Source: ARA News

(Editing by: Adib Abdulmajid)


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