In 1987 the Druze community, at 3 percent of the population the country's third largest religious minority, continued to be the overwhelming majority in the Jabal al Arab, a rugged and mountainous region in southwestern Syria.
The Druze religion is a tenth-century offshoot of Islam, but Muslims view Druzes as heretical for accepting the divinity of Hakim, the third Fatimid caliph of Egypt. The group takes its names from Muhammad Bin Ismail ad Darazi, an Iranian mystic. Druzes regard Jethro, father-in-law of Moses, as their chief prophet and make annual pilgrimages to his tomb in lower Galilee. They also revere Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad, the three most important prophets of Islam.
The Druze have always kept their doctrine and ritual of secret to avoid persecution. Only those who demonstrate extreme piety and devotion and the correct demeanor are initiated into the mysteries. The initiated (uqqal; sing., aqil) are a very small minority and may include women. Most Druzes are juhhal, ignorant ones. Apparently the religion is complex, involving neo-Platonic thought, Sufi mysticism, and Iranian religious traditions.
Endogamy and monogamy are the rule among the Druzes. Until recently, most girls were married between the ages of 12 and 15, and most men at the age of 16 or 17. Women are veiled in public, but, in contrast to Muslim Arab custom, they can and do participate in the councils of elders.
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