Divisive rhetoric has been around in the Lebanese media for a long time. Is it appropriate to speak of the Druze as being detached from the Muslim Umma? Perhaps this question can be best answered by highlighting the Druze appearance within Islamic history, in all its richness and diversity.
I’ve always been asked whether I’m a Muslim and I often had to reiterate the fact that I belong to a Muslim minority. It’s a constant issue being a Druze learning and working in a diverse country like Lebanon.
Questions about the Druze abound: Who are the Druze? Do they have their own religion? Their own book? Their own prophets? Are they a Muslim minority? Do they constitute a religion of their own? These fundamental questions are even asked by members of the Druze community itself.
A historical view of the Fatimid caliphate and its hierarchy will answer these questions and show that the origin of the Druze is rooted in the Islamic Umma.
During my undergraduate study, I was enrolled in a course on the History of Arab People mostly on the history of Islam and Islamic communities. The instructor back then illustrated the Fatimid caliphate beautifully in a simple diagram. This inspired me to better understand the hierarchy of the caliphs and identify the Druze community among the other Shia sects in the organizational chart below.
The Fatimid caliphate which descended from Imam Ali and Fatimah, the Prophet Muhammad’s Daughter, existed from 909 to 1171 AD. It was officially founded by al-Mahdi bi-Allah, the first caliph of the Fatimid Dynasty who ruled from 909 to 934 AD. He was succeeded by al-Qaim bi Amr-Allah (934 – 946 AD), al-Mansour bi-Allah (946 – 953 AD), al-Mouiz li-Din Allah (953 – 975 AD), al-Aziz (975 – 996 AD) and al-Hakim (996 – 1021 AD) respectively.
Al-Hakim was also succeeded by several caliphs. However, we conclude with al-Hakim bi Amr-Allah as he was the 6th caliph of the Fatimid caliphate and the 16th Imam of the Ismaili succession who disappeared in 1021 AD and under whose rule, the Druze emerged.
The diagram here illustrates the rule of the Fatimid Caliphate. It highlights Imam al-Hussein’s succession under which the Fatimid caliphate was established. Hence, it doesn’t track the descendants of Imam Ali’s two other sons: Imam Hassan and Mohammad Ibn al-Hanafiyya. It also doesn’t take into account the Fatimid caliphs that followed al-Hakim bi Amr-Allah as the diagram concentrates on the emergence of the Druze.
In the diagram, one can see visually how Druze stemmed from the Islamic ‘Shia’ Fatimid caliphate and specifically from the Ismaili branch of Shiism.
While the divisions among the Fatimid groups are beyond the scope of this article, the caliphate declined due to internal schisms and divisions till it was later destroyed in 1171 AD at the hands of Saladin al-Ayubi who established the Ayyubid Dynasty on the ruins of the Fatimid caliphate. Despite these earlier rifts, the Druze are indeed a Muslim minority. Attempts to dissociate Druze from their fellow Islamic communities emanates from ignorance of Islamic history or from a desire to exclude and isolate the Druze.
New World Encyclopedia, Fatimids Caliphate, Retrieved from https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Fatimids_Caliphate
Revolvy, Fatimid Caliphate, Retrieved from https://www.revolvy.com/page/Fatimid-Caliphate?cr=1
Facts And Details, Fatimid Empire, Retrieved from http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat55/sub393/entry-5839.html#chapter-3