Have you ever heard of the Druze people? Well maybe you have, but probably not, as neither had I until I ended up staying with a couple of great friends, Natali and Alex in their home in Haifa in Israel. We hit backpacking pretty hard again in Israel, going through towns and cities a lot faster than we had before and then came a…Druze Festival. Natali found the opportunity to get a guided tour of a Druze Village or Town, called Isfiya. Isfiya is a village in the northern part of Israel that has a high population of Druze people. Intrigued? Well we were as we headed to discover more about this secret religion and explore Isfiya Druze Village in Israel!
Who are the Druze community?
The Druze community are a secret religion. The religion itself is safely guarded and only those that are Druze know about it. It actually started as a splinter religion based on Shia Islam and it follows the seven pillars of Ismailism ( I won’t go into the seven pillars, but Wiki as ever gives a decent overview here). However it’s distinctly not Islam, it’s not a Muslim religion and it’s certainly not Jewish. Yet here I was in Israel exploring a religion other than the main two in this region!!
Where is Isfiya Druze Village?
If you check the Tourist Israel site (a fantastic resource), they have some information on Druze Hospitality as well as some details and directions to the villages that are Druze. I’ve included the below quote from them: “The Druze village of Isfiya is located on the top of the Carmel Mountain commanding a panoramic view of the surrounding green hills. The village has a rich tradition of openness, hospitality, and warmth that is characteristic of the Druze community. Its special location and rich ethnic tradition and culture have proved especially attractive for travelers and tourists.”
And with that quote in mind, we set off in a car with my Israeli friends Natali, Alex and Oksana and my girlfriend Panny Yu. We left Haifa early morning and took the short, scenic drive up the hills to Isfiya Druze village. The drive was short. The tour of the Druze Village was free…
How to get a Free Tour of Isfiya Druze Village?
Isfiya Druze Village is obviously an open village. Anyone can go and walk around. It’s a free world (at least in this part of Israel!!). BUT every so often the Druze people invite locals and tourists to come in and enjoy a FREE guided tour of their village. We were quite lucky to be there when this free tour was going on!
Our tour was on September 21st 2013 at 11.15 am and was given by Badeea Mansour, a member of the Druze community and a resident of Isfiya. The entire tour was conducted in Hebrew, however Badeea was able to speak to me in English during the tour and my friends Alex and Natali also translated for me.
On arrival at the meeting point for the tour we are given a free brochure guide to Isfiya Druze Village! The guide includes lots of information and also has a map of the entire village. It’s all written in Hebrew however.
What happened on the Isfiya Druze Village Tour?
We start off walking down the streets of Isfiya past houses where the Druze people live. We notice they are different to normal Jewish and Muslim homes. We visit one of the houses and sit down for a chat and are then led on a tour while being given an insight into this secret religion…
We admire the views from Isfiya over the spectacular countryside from the edge of the town.
We see the religious building (equivalent of a church), which features the Druze Star above it. The Druze star is the same colours as the Druze flag.
We are explained the meaning of the impressive Druze Flag. The green is for nature, the red is for love, the yellow is for the sun, the blue is the sky and sea and the white is for purity. At least that’s the best translation I can get from the tour we did. Hope it’s right! Each colour also represents a famous person in Druze history.
We head to the main square and see some arts and crafts.
What secrets can Don’t Stop Living share with you about this secret religion and the Druze community in Isfiya?
OK so it’s a secret religion and we’re not meant to ever know all about it, but I did throw some questions into the mix, normally translated via my friend Natali. I’ll list these things in point form, some of them are of course not really “secret” and are known facts but it’s interesting none the less:
– Druze kids use iPhones, Facebook and all that. They’re just as active on them as Jews and Muslims in Israel and Palestine. There’s a Druze group on “the Book”.
– There is normally a well inside a Druze house.
– Isfiya was a Jewish village over 2000 years ago.
– Isfiya offers good views over Akko and up to the Lebanon border.
– There are two types of Druze people
1. Druze people who are religious.
2. Druze people who are not religious.
– Only 30% of Druze population are religious.
– Older religious Druze guys shave their heads and grow a beard.
– Religious Druze guys have white domed hats and moustaches.
– Religious Druze women cover their heads with a white cloth (or black or grey).
– Isfiya has a Druze population of around 12,000. There are around 64 Druze families here. There are also Jews and Muslims that live here.
– Druze people believe that the world was NOT built in 7 days.
– Druze people believe that genetically it is not possible that we came from Adam and Eve.
– The Druze people have been offered their own “country” in the past but declined.
– The Druze people are loyal to the country they reside in.
– The Druze people can be found in Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, USA, Canada, Venezuela and a few other countries.
– Syria currently has the highest Druze population in the world.
– In 1956 the Druze youth served the Israeli Army for 3 years. The Druze based in Israel continue to be loyal to the Israeli government.
– The 8 points on the Druze Star are for infinity.
– The village of Isfiya has 6 Druze representatives around the world
– The rules of the religion are in a book which can only be read and accessed by the religious Druze.
– The central square in Isfiya is called El Mazul square and we assemble there at the end of the tour.
– Those religious Druze who read the rules are not allowed to tell these rules to anyone else. They are secret.
– No Druze has ever broken the rule and told the rules that are in this book. You read that correctly.
– You cannot get out of being a Druze. You cannot become a Druze. It’s all done through inheritance.
– The Druze religion has been closed for 1000 years or more. No newbies, nobody kicked out. As well as being secret, it’s also a closed religion.
– Druze believe in reincarnation.
– Druze believe that the soul is infinite and the body is temporary.
– Druze believe that in death, the body goes to an unborn baby and the soul remains.
– Druze males are circumcised like Arabs.
– Druze have a religious place of worship.
– Religious Druze don’t eat pork, or drink alcohol or smoke tobacco.
– Non religious Druze can eat pork, drink alcohol and smoke tobacco.
– A religious Druze will stay a religious Druze forever.
The Rest of the Tour of Isfiya: Self Guided
After the guided tour and being left off in the square (El Mazul Square) in the town, we were allowed to explore the town on our own, which we did. We headed down a steep hill to a mini-market and festival area. This was like a rural area with greenery and trees and horses.
Here there was also a spring, a small pool.
There was a market selling some street food.
I bought some fried bread, almost like a thin and crispy mini pizza.
Then we got a bus back up to the village centre. This bus was free and completely included as part of the fun day exploring Isfiya!
After that we had lunch in the town of Isfiya before heading home to Haifa where we stayed. Lunch was actually salad and local cola!
All in all this Druze village tour was a really cool experience and something I really recommend doing when you are in Israel or Syria. It totally gets you off the main tourist trail for a start and is an insight in what is still a very closed and secret religion! Thanks to the Druze guys for letting us experience a snippet of their lifestyle.
Here are my videos from visiting Isfiya Druze Village, Israel: