Sunday, March 13, 2011


Atlantis (in Greek, Ἀτλαντὶς νῆσος, "island of Atlas") is a legendary island first mentioned in Plato's dialogues Timaeus and Critias.

In Plato's account, Atlantis was a naval power lying "in front of the Pillars of Hercules" that conquered many parts of Western Europe and Africa 9,000 years before the time of Solon, or approximately 9600 BC. After a failed attempt to invade Athens, Atlantis sank into the ocean "in a single day and night of misfortune".

Scholars dispute whether and how much Plato's story or account was inspired by older traditions. Some scholars argue Plato drew upon memories of past events such as the Thera eruption or the Trojan War, while others insist that he took inspiration from contemporary events like the destruction of Helike in 373 BC[1] or the failed Athenian invasion of Sicily in 415–413 BC.

The possible existence of a genuine Atlantis was discussed throughout classical antiquity, but it was usually rejected and occasionally parodied by later authors. As Alan Cameron states: "It is only in modern times that people have taken the Atlantis story seriously; no one did so in antiquity".[2] While little known during the Middle Ages[citation needed], the story of Atlantis was rediscovered by Humanists in the Early Modern period. Plato's description inspired the utopian works of several Renaissance writers, like Francis Bacon's "New Atlantis". Atlantis inspires today's literature, from science fiction to comic books to films. Its name has become a byword for any and all supposed advanced prehistoric lost civilizations.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Druze

The Druze (Arabic: درزي, derzī or durzī‎, plural دروز, durūz, Hebrew: דרוזים‎ druzim) are a religious community found primarily in Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, whose traditional religion is said to have begun as an offshoot of Islam, but is unique in its incorporation of Gnosticism, Neoplatonism and other philosophies, similar to other followers of Ismaili Shi'a Islam.[8]
Theologically, Druze consider themselves "an Islamic Unist, reformatory sect".[9][10] The Druze call themselves Ahl al-Tawhid "People of Unitarianism or Monotheism" or al-Muwaḥḥidūn "Unitarians, Monotheists."


The Druze people reside primarily in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.The Israeli Druze are mostly in Galilee (81%) and around Haifa (19%).[4] The Jordanian Druze can be found in Amman and Zarka; about 50% live in the town of Azraq, and a smaller number in Irbid and Aqaba. The Golan Heights, the mountainous region in the south of Syria, is home to about 20,000 Druze.[2] The Institute of Druze Studies estimates that 40%–50% of Druze live in Syria, 30%–40% in Lebanon, 6%–7% in Israel, and 1%–2% in Jordan.
Large communities of expatriate Druze also live outside the Middle East in Australia, Canada, Europe, Latin America, the United States, and West Africa. They use the Arabic language and follow a social pattern very similar to the other East Mediterraneans of the region.
There are thought to be as many as 1 million Druze worldwide, the vast majority in the Levant or East Mediterranean.


Origin of the name
The most plausible theory of the origin of the name Druze is that it derived from the name of Anushtakīn ad-Darazī, one of the early leaders of the faith. However, the Druze consider ad-Darazī a heretic who practiced ghuluww (Arabic, "exaggeration"), which refers to the belief that God was incarnated in human beings, especially ‘Ali and his descendants. Ad-Darazī was a dā‘ī ("missionary") who first preached an unorthodox version of the faith to outsiders in 1016. He claimed to be the true leader of the faithful rather than Hamza ibn ‘Ali (the appointed leader) and also that al-Hakim and his ancestors were incarnations of God.
Although he is considered a renegade by the Unitarian community, the name "Druze" is still used for identification and for historical reasons. Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah executed ad-Darazi in 1018 for his teachings.
Some authorities see in the name "Druze" a descriptive epithet, derived from Arabic dâresah ("those who study"). Others have speculated that the word comes from the Arabic-Persian word Darazo (درز "bliss") or from Shaykh Hussayn ad-Darazī, who was one of the early converts to the faith.[18] In the early stages of the movement, the word "Druze" is rarely mentioned by historians, and in Druze religious texts only the word Muwaḥḥidūn ("Unitarian") appears. The only early Arab historian who mentions the Druze is the 11th century Christian scholar Yahyá ibn Sa‘īd al-Antākī, who clearly refers to the heretical group created by ad-Darazī rather than the followers of Hamza ibn ‘Alī.[18] As for Western sources, Benjamin of Tudela, the Jewish traveler who passed through Lebanon in or about 1165, was one of the first European writers to refer to the Druzes by name. The word Dogziyin ("Druzes") occurs in an early Hebrew edition of his travels, but it is clear that this is a scribal error. Be that as it may, he described the Druze as "mountain dwellers, monotheists, who believe in "soul eternity" and reincarnation."

Early history
The Druze faith began as a movement in Ismailism that was mainly influenced by Greek philosophy and gnosticism and opposed certain religious and philosophical ideologies that were present during that epoch.
The faith was founded by Hamza ibn ‘Alī ibn Ahmad, a Persian Ismaili mystic and scholar. He came to Egypt in 1014 and assembled a group of scholars and leaders from across the Islamic world to form a new Unitarian movement. The order's meetings were held in the Raydan Mosque, near the Al-Hakim Mosque.
In 1017, Hamza officially revealed the Druze faith and began to preach his doctrine. Hamza gained the support of the Fātimid Caliph al-Hakim, who issued a decree promoting religious freedom prior to the declaration of the divine call.
Remove ye the causes of fear and estrangement from yourselves. Do away with the corruption of delusion and conformity. Be ye certain that the Prince of Believers hath given unto you free will, and hath spared you the trouble of disguising and concealing your true beliefs, so that when ye work ye may keep your deeds pure for God. He hath done thus so that when you relinquish your previous beliefs and doctrines ye shall not indeed lean on such causes of impediments and pretensions. By conveying to you the reality of his intention, the Prince of Believers hath spared you any excuse for doing so. He hath urged you to declare your belief openly. Ye are now safe from any hand which may bringeth harm unto you. Ye now may find rest in his assurance ye shall not be wronged. Let those who are present convey this message unto the absent so that it may be known by both the distinguished and the common people. It shall thus become a rule to mankind; and Divine Wisdom shall prevail for all the days to come.
Al-Hakim became a central figure in the Druze faith even though his own religious position was disputed among scholars. John Esposito states that al-Hakim believed that "he was not only the divinely appointed religio-political leader but also the cosmic intellect linking God with creation.", while others like Nissim Dana and Mordechai Nisan state that he is perceived as the manifestation and the reincarnation of God or presumably the image of God.
Some Druze and non-Druze scholars like Samy Swayd and Sami Makarem state that this confusion is due to confusion about the role of the early heretical preacher ad-Darazi, whose teachings the Druze rejected as heretical.These sources assert that al-Hakim refused ad-Darazi's claims of divinity,and ordered the elimination of his movement while supporting that of Hamza ibn Ali.
Al-Hakim disappeared one night while out on his evening ride - presumably assassinated, perhaps at the behest of his formidable elder sister Sitt al-Mulk. The Druze believe he went into Occultation with Hamza ibn Ali and three other prominent preachers, leaving the care of the "Unitarian missionary movement" to a new leader, Bahā'u d-Dīn.

Persecution during the Fatimid times
Al-Hakim was replaced by his underage son, ‘Alī az-Zahir. The sect founded by Hamzah ibn ‘Alī, which was prominent in the Levant, North Africa, Egypt, Arabia, Iraq, Persia, Yemen, and other parts of the Near East, acknowledged az-Zahir as the Caliph, but followed Hamzah as its Imam. The young Caliph's regent, Sitt al-Mulk, ordered the army to destroy the movement in 1021.At the same time, Bahā' ad-Dīn as-Samuki assumed leadership of the Druze.
The killing ranged from Antioch to Alexandria, where tens of thousands of Druze were slaughtered by the Fatimid army.The largest massacre was at Antioch, where 5000 Druze religious leaders were killed, followed by that of Aleppo.The massacres are well described in the remaining scriptures written by as-Samuki, which recorded how the Fatimid army brutally put to death infants, women, and men.

The closing of the faith
Az-Zahir finally agreed to leave the Druze alone in 1026 — notably, three years after Sitt al-Mulk's death — and as-Samuki sent feelers and missionaries deeper into the Levant.
After two decades of building strong new communities in the Levant, as-Samuki declared that the sect would no longer accept new pledges in 1043, and since that time proselytization has been prohibited.

During the Crusades
It was during the period of Crusader rule in Syria (1099–1291) that the Druze first emerged into the full light of history in the Gharb region of the Chouf Mountains. As powerful warriors serving the Muslim rulers of Damascus against the foreign invaders, the Druze were given the task of keeping watch over the crusaders in the seaport of Beirut, with the aim of preventing them from making any encroachments inland. Subsequently, the Druze chiefs of the Gharb placed their considerable military experience at the disposal of the Mamluk rulers of Egypt (1250–1516); first, to assist them in putting an end to what remained of Crusader rule in coastal Syria, and later to help them safeguard the Syrian coast against Crusader retaliation by sea.
In the early period of the Crusader era, the Druze feudal power was in the hands of two families, the Tanukhs and the Arslans. From their fortresses in the Gharb district (modern Aley Province) of southern Mount Lebanon, the Tanukhs led their incursions into the Phoenician coast and finally succeeded in holding Beirut and the marine plain against the Franks. Because of their fierce battles with the crusaders, the Druzes earned the respect of the Sunni Muslim Caliphs and thus gained important political powers. After the middle of the twelfth century, the Ma’an family superseded the Tanukhs in Druze leadership. The origin of the family goes back to a Prince Ma’an who made his appearance in the Lebanon in the days of the ‘Abbasid Caliph al-Mustarshid (1118 AD-1135 AD). The Ma’ans chose for their abode the Chouf district in the southern part of Western Lebanon, overlooking the maritime plain between Beirut and Sidon, and made their headquarters in Baaqlin, which is still a leading Druze village. They were invested with feudal authority by Sultan Nur-al-Dīn and furnished respectable contingents to the Muslim ranks in their struggle against the Crusaders.

Persecution during the Mamluk and Ottoman period
Having cleared Syria of the Franks, the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt turned their attention to the schismatic Muslims of Syria. In 1305, after the issuing of a fatwa by the Hanbali Sunni scholar Ibn Taymiyyah calling for jihad against the Druze, Alawites, Ismaili, and twelver Shiites, al-Malik al-Nasir inflicted a disastrous defeat on the Druze at Keserwan and forced outward compliance on their part to orthodox Sunni Islam. Later, under the Ottoman Turks, they were severely attacked at Ayn-Ṣawfar in 1585 after the Ottomans claimed that they assaulted their caravans near Tripoli.
Consequently, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were to witness a succession of armed Druze rebellions against the Ottomans, countered by repeated Ottoman punitive expeditions against the Chouf, in which the Druze population of the area was severely depleted and many villages destroyed. These military measures, severe as they were, did not succeed in reducing the local Druze to the required degree of subordination. This led the Ottoman government to agree to an arrangement whereby the different nahiyes (districts) of the Chouf would be granted in iltizam ("fiscal concession") to one of the region's amirs, or leading chiefs, leaving the maintenance of law and order and the collection of its taxes in the area in the hands of the appointed amir. This arrangement was to provide the cornerstone for the privileged status which ultimately came to be enjoyed by the whole of Mount Lebanon in Ottoman Syria, Druze and Christian areas alike.

Ma’an dynasty
Main article: Maan family

Fakhreddin castle in Palmyra
With the advent of the Ottoman Turks and the conquest of Syria by Sultan Selim I in 1516, the Ma’ans were acknowledged by the new rulers as the feudal lords of southern Lebanon. Druze villages spread and prospered in that region, which under Ma’an leadership so flourished that it acquired the generic term of Jabal Bayt-Ma’an (the mountain of the Ma’an family) or Jabal al-Druze. The latter title has since been usurped by the Hawran 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 Fakhreddin II, the Druze dominion increased until it included almost all Syria, extending from the edge of the Antioch plain in the north to Safad in the south, with a part of the Syrian desert dominated by Fakhreddin's castle at Tadmur (Palmyra), the ancient capital of Zenobia. The ruins of this castle still stand on a steep hill overlooking the town. 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 to flee the land and seek refuge in the courts of Tuscany and Naples in 1614.
In 1618 political changes in the Ottoman sultanate had resulted in the removal of many enemies of Fakhr-al-Din from power, signaling the prince's triumphant return to Lebanon soon afterwards.
In 1632 Ahmad Koujak was named Lord of Damascus. Koujak was a rival of Fakhr-al-Din and a friend of the sultan Murad IV, who ordered Koujak and the sultanat navy to attack Lebanon and depose Fakhr-El-Din.
This time the prince decided to remain in Lebanon and resist the offensive, but the death of his son Ali in Wadi el-Taym was the beginning of his defeat. He later took refuge in Jezzine's grotto, closely followed by Koujak who eventually caught up with him and his family.
Fakhr-al-Din finally traveled to Turkey, appearing before the sultan, defending himself so skillfully that the sultan gave him permission to return to Lebanon.
Later, however, the sultan changed his orders and had Fakhr-al-Din and his family killed on 13 April 1635 in Istanbul, the capital city of the Ottoman Empire, bringing an end to an era in the history of Lebanon, a country which would not regain its current boundaries, which Fakhr-al-Din once ruled, until Lebanon was proclaimed a republic in 1920.
Fakhr-al-Din 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 Christian missionaries were admitted into the country. Beirut and Sidon, which Fakhr-al-Dīn beautified, still bear traces of his benign rule.

Shihab Dynasty
Main article: Shihab family

Druze woman wearing a tantur, Chouf, Lebanon - 1870s
As early as the days of Saladin, and while the Ma’ans were still in complete control over southern Lebanon, the Shihab tribe, originally Hijaz Arabs but later settled in Ḥawran, advanced from Ḥawran, in 1172, and settled in Wadi-al-Taym at the foot of Mt. Hermon. They soon made an alliance with the Ma’ans and were acknowledged as the Druze chiefs in Wadi-al-Taym. At the end of the seventeenth century (1697) the Shihabs succeeded the Ma’ans in the feudal leadership of Druze southern Lebanon, although they professed Sunni Islam. Secretly, they showed sympathy with Druzism, the religion of the majority of their subjects.
The Shihab leadership continued until the middle of the 19th century and culminated in the illustrious governorship of Amir Bashir Shihab II (1788–1840) who, after Fakhr-al-Din, was the most powerful feudal lord Lebanon produced. Though governor of the Druze Mountain Bashir 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), Ibrahim Pasha, son of the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad 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 Egyptian rule. The uprising was encouraged, for political reasons, by the British. The Druzes of Wadi-al-Taym and Ḥawran, under the leadership of Shibli al-Aryan, distinguished themselves in their stubborn resistance at their inaccessible headquarters, al-Laja, lying southeast of Damascus.

Qaysites and the Yemenites
Main article: Battle of Ain Darra

Meeting of Druze and Ottoman leaders in Damascus, about the control of Jebel Druze
The conquest of Syria by the Muslim 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 Ḥijaz and Bedouin Arabs who were regarded as inferior by the Yemenites who were earlier and more cultured emigrants into Syria from southern Arabia. Druzes and Christians grouped in political rather than religious parties so the party lines in 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 Ain Dara in 1711, which resulted in the utter defeat of the Yemenite party. Many Yemenite Druzes thereupon immigrated to the Hawran region and thus laid the foundation of Druze power there.

Civil War of 1860
Main article: 1860 Lebanon conflict
The Druzes and their Christian Maronite neighbors, who had thus far lived as religious communities on friendly terms, entered a period of social disturbance in the year 1840, which culminated in the civil war of 1860. For this disturbance the Ottoman Sultan was, in a great measure, responsible. The Sultan, realizing that the only way to bring the semi-independent people of 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 provinces, the policy of "divide and rule".
Also, after the Shehab dynasty converted to Christianity, the Druze community and feudal leaders came under attack from the regime with the collaboration of the Catholic Church, and the Druze lost most of their political and feudal powers. Also, the Druze formed a strong ally with Britain and allowed Protestant missionaries to enter Mount Lebanon, creating tension between them and the Catholic Maronites, who were supported by the French.
The Maronite-Druze conflict in 1840-60 was an outgrowth of the Maronite Christian independence movement directed against the Druze and Ottoman-Turks. The civil war was not therefore a religious war, except in Damascus where it spread and where the population was anti-Christian. The movement culminated with the 1859-60 massacre and defeat of the Christians by the Druzes, who were aided by the Turks. The civil war of 1860 cost the Christians some ten thousand lives in Damascus, Zahle, Deir al-Qamar, Hasbaya and other towns of Lebanon.
The European powers then determined to intervene and authorized the landing in Beirut of a body of French troops under General Beaufort d’Hautpoul, whose inscription can still be seen on the historic rock at the mouth of Nahr al-Kalb. French intervention on behalf of the Maronites did not help the Maronite national movement since France was restricted in 1860 by Britain which did not want the Ottoman Empire dismembered. But European intervention pressured the Turks to treat the Maronites more justly.[32] Following the recommendations of the powers, the Ottoman Porte granted Lebanon local autonomy, guaranteed by the powers, under a Christian governor. This autonomy was maintained until World War I.

Modern history

In Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, the Druze have official recognition as a separate religious community with its own religious court system. Their symbol is an array of five colors: green, red, yellow, blue, and white. Each color pertains to a symbol defining its principles: green for Aql "the Universal Mind", red for Nafs "the Universal Soul", yellow for Kalima "the Truth/Word", blue for Sabq "the Potentiality/Cause", and white for Talī "the Actuality/Effect". These principles are why the number five has special considerations among the religious community; it is usually represented symbolically by a five-pointed star.

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