The Druze are a monotheistic, Abrahamic religious group numbering around one million adherents. Most live in Syria and Lebanon, but smaller numbers reside in Israel, Jordan and outside of the Middle East.
The Druze religion developed out of Ismaili Islam in the eleventh century and was heavily influenced by Gnosticism and Greek philosophy. Despite their origins, the Druze consider themselves Unitarians rather than Muslims and see their religion as a continuation of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Some of the aspects that characterize their religion are their esoteric interpretation of religious teachings and their belief in reincarnation.
Being a religious minority, the Druze sought to protect their faith and community by following the principle of taqiya – adapting one’s appearance and practices to the local environment, while shielding one’s inner faith. Historically, the Druze have blended in very well with local populations and have openly adopted local religious and social customs. At the same time, they are one of the most secretive and cohesive religious groups in the Middle East; their scriptures are secret, marriage outside the faith is not permitted and apostasy is equally forbidden.
The initiated and uninitiated
The Druze community is divided into the initiated (uqqal), who have access to the sacred scriptures, and the ‘ignorants’ or uninitiated (juhhal). The latter form the largest part of the community (about 80%). They are not given access to scriptures and generally do not concern themselves with religious issues.
This differentiation is also visible in the way they dressed. The ‘ignorants’ could wear colours, while the initiated wore black and white. Apart from that, their manner of dress did not stand out colourwise from that of other neighbouring communities – in line with the concept of taqiya. Today, uninitiated men often wear Western-style clothing, while the initiated generally maintain the more traditional style.
For the largest part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the male outfit of both the initiated and uninitiated consisted of baggy trousers (sirwal), a waistcoat (jubba or sidriya), a girdle, an overgarment (qumbaz) and a wide cloak (abaya).
Uninitiated men typically wore a skullcap (taqqia) covered with a head cloth (kufiya), kept in place with the aid of a round cord. The initiated shaved their heads and wore a tarbush with a white turban cloth (laffa) wrapped around it. The exact head cover depended on seniority, and special forms of these turbans were worn by the religious leaders.
The customs related to colour equally apply to women. During the nineteenth century, the main components of female attire were the baggy trousers (shintiyan), a long, fitted shirt (qamis), a skirt (tannura), a robe (qumbaz), an overgarment (sabakana) fastened with a belt (shala) and an apron (mamluk).
Especially eye catching was the headdress, which consisted of a cap (tarbush) with a long metal cone (tantur) placed on top and fastened with ribbons. The ensemble was covered with a white veil (mandil or futa).
The tantur was gradually abandoned over the last part of the nineteenth century in favour of the tarbush (without tantur) and veil. The tarbush continued to be worn during much of the twentieth century, decorated with silver and gold coins along the borders. At present, most Druze women, initiated or not, wear only the white veil.