Despite being an esoteric community of about a million adherents, the Arabic-speaking Druze (Arabic sg. darzī – pl. durūz) are considered to be an ethno-religious people in the first place. Their native homeland with high concentrations of Druze people roughly cover the Syria’s southern al-Suwaydāʾ Governorate, Lebanon’s al-Shūf Mountains and parts of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, making them a substantial minority and a significant political player in all three countries. Druze representation in Levantine society and the existence of fixed communities bring about the need for a certain degree of public visibility, which is most often characterized by imagery, symbolism and clothing. As far as symbolism goes, this esoteric community has lift the veil on one of its major theological credal beliefs, embodied by a five-pointed, five-colored star.
The Druze religion is considered by many to be a proper faith, co-existing with Islam and Christianity without identifying with any of both religions. In reality, the Druze believers adhere to a syncretic blend of elements, mixing parts of Isma’ilism, Hinduism, Neoplatonism and Gnosticism together in a monotheistic setting. Without going too much into detail, we’ll explore some key elements of their creed in order to understand their colored star, which is the subject of this read.
The Druze faith traces its origins back to the eccentric 11th century Egyptian Fatimid caliph al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh (r. 996–1021 AD). Some theologians around al-Ḥākim proclaimed him to be of a divine nature, a claim contested by the contemporary Fatimid religious establishment in Cairo. Considered to be mere heretics, the movement soon died out in Egypt, but continued to flourish in the Levant as a result of intense proselytism up until 1043, after which the Druze closed the gates of conversion and withdrew into social isolation up till this day (out-marriage and conversion/recantation still being two controversial elements within the community).
An important figure in the religious development of the Druze faith was Ḥamzah ibn ʿAlī, a contemporary of al-Ḥākim who systematized the movement’s ideas and inspired the daʿwah (preaching) to go far outside of Egypt’s borders. Since al-Ḥākim was considered the embodiment of the One, ibn ʿAlī presented himself as the direct human link to the One. He established a set of metaphysical principles, or ḥudūd, that would span the distance between the One and the community of Druze believers. Each of these cosmic principles was represented by a contemporary of his. You can read more about these principles in detail in this tweet.
For our topic, it’s interesting for us to learn that each of these Neoplatonic concepts wasn’t only embodied by a person, but also represented by a specific color, totaling an amount of five colors, i.e. green, red, yellow, white and blue as stated by Samy Swayd, in his Historical Dictionary of the Druzes (2015). Those five colors are equally divided within a five-pointed star. According to Eric B. Shiraev and David A. Levy in their Cross-Cultural Psychology: Critical Thinking and Contemporary Applications (2013), the principle of al-ʿAql (nous) is green and faces upward. Al-Nafs (anima mundi) is red. Al-Kalima (logos) is yellow. Al-Sābiq (precedent) is blue and is considered to be the star’s right wing. Al-Tālī (immanence) is white and is considered to be the star’s left wing.
Hence, the 5-pointed and 5-colored star represents the combination of each of these cosmic principles into one religious symbol representative of the Druze faith, creed and community. It also serves as a visual marker to identify Druze presence and society, like the big colored star erected on the Shrine/Tomb of Job (Ayyūb) in Lebanon‘s al-Shūf district, a historical monument maintained by the Druze community. Since iconography is frowned upon among the Druze, this star and the corresponding flag are the two most distinct exoteric (ẓāhir) symbols of this esoteric (bāṭin) people.
Despite a long tradition of military involvement with the Israeli Army and a significant political and paramilitary role during the Lebanese Civil War, the use of these Druze colors has always been less important than brandishing the colors and emblems of the prime political or military group. Only with the Arabic Spring and the onset of the Syrian Civil War, Druze have become increasingly more invested in publicly showing their proper colors as means of identification, representation and ethno-religious nationalism. Several Druze militias operating in Syria’s al-Suwaydāʾ Governorate, mostly under the banner of the Rijāl al-Karāma (Men of Dignity) movement resorted to the use of proper Druze imagery in order to identify themselves, most notably the five Druze colors and the five-pointed star.
Omer Sayadi (*1993) is a former student of the Catholic University of Leuven with a special love for the Middle East and North Africa. After receiving his Master’s degree in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, he’s working with both refugees from the region as well as foreigners seeking to learn the Dutch language. He wrote columns on Islam in Europe and migration, and started MENA Symbolism as a means of combining everything history, politics, symbolism and society in one place.