Druze and the Chouf Mountains

By Ali Karim
This post is part of a series called Lebanon July 2018
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After leaving Mresti, we drove once again through the Chouf mountain roads to another Druze town called Mukhtara, which is the home of Walid Jumblatt, the defacto Druze community leader, and the leader of the Lebanese Progressive Socialist Party. The Jumblatt family have been prominent Druze leaders and active in the political scene, and occasional military involvement and switching alliances as needed to protect Druze interests. Though he has named his son, Taymour as his successor, he remains active on the political scene.

The Jumblatt home is somewhat of a Museum; as it is built over an original Roman temple and still maintains the Roman ruins within the home; houses the car that Walid Jumblatt’s father was assassinated in (a nice antique Mercedes); and provides a meeting location for the local community (Druze and all others) every Saturday in Mukhtara, and every Tuesday in Beirut, to hear issues and resolve problems the local people have. As such, he helps resolve issues before they get out into the legal system. They had guards securing this residence compound, but the guards were all very friendly, spoke some English, and readily escorted visitors to see the residence and compound.

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Walid Jumblatt’s home in Mukhtarra; built over a Roman temple runi, and has a natural spring
Walid Jumblatt’s home in Mukhtarra; built over a Roman temple runi, and has a natural spring
Druze and the Chouf Mountains The community hall where the Jumblatt’s meet with the local people every Saturday
The community hall where the Jumblatt’s meet with the local people every Saturday
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Beautiful view of the Chouf mountains from the Jumblatt’s compound
Beautiful view of the Chouf mountains from the Jumblatt’s compound

From Moukhtara, we drove to Baakleen, on the Chouf mountain roads; the roads were fairly decent

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Local roads
Local roads
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Chouf Mountains scenery
Chouf Mountains scenery

We arrived at Baakleen, which was founded in the 12th century by the Maan emirs. Baakline served as their capital until the early 17th century when its most famous Emir, Fakhreddin II, moved his seat to Deir el Qamar, due to water shortages in Baakline. Today Baakline is an important Druze town and seat of the sect’s religious leader. The beautiful grand Serial, the main administrative building of Baakline before World War II, has been restored and transformed into a public library. In the area around the Serail are some Druze religious buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries, including, ancient tombs, an ancient spring, and a Druze Museum.

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Druze gentleman chilling in Baakleen; traditional white cap
Druze gentleman chilling in Baakleen; traditional white cap

We headed to the Library, where we had read they had good internet; we got there and the building was indeed impressive, with admin offices on the ground floor and the library on the 1st floor. We asked for internet use, and were told it was not for public use, but seeing as we were foreigners, they asked the Director, and he came out, talked to us and said he would arrange it. A staff member came by shortly and gave us the password. The internet was indeed the fastest we had experienced since we left Beirut. So spent an hour or so catching up on emails etc; and checked the Amex situation; still no fraud charges, and still no bill from Babar restaurant. All good so far. We talked to the library staff and they were all Druze; and we got talking about their dress codes, and they said they were all progressive and did not wear the traditional clothes we had seen in Mresti. We were hungry by this time (lunchtime) and asked for a good place for Falafels; they guided us to Abou Samir. So off we went, and had a great lunch there.

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Baakleen Library, where we got great internet
Baakleen Library, where we got great internet
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Abou Samir’s
Abou Samir’s
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Falafel lunch plate at Abou Samir
Falafel lunch plate at Abou Samir

After lunch, we drove to various small towns on the way and stopped at Beit ed-Dine (translates as the “House of Faith” referring to the Druze faith); where there was a large palace complex built by Emir Bashir II of the Shihab dynasty, in 1788. It was built complete with hamams, mosque, gardens, living quarters, and large receiving rooms, all restored. We went to see this palace, and there was a concert and dinner being set up for that night.

The interior of this palace had strikingly similar architecture as what we had seen at Coimbra University in Portugal, with uncanny similarity.

Some scenes below from Beit ed-Dine Palace

Druze and the Chouf Mountains The courtyard of the Palace; looked very similar to the courtyard we had visited in Coimbra University in Portugal.
The courtyard of the Palace; looked very similar to the courtyard we had visited in Coimbra University in Portugal.
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Gardens of the palace with a mosaic from the Roman times
Gardens of the palace with a mosaic from the Roman times

We then went and checked out the famous Mir Amin Palace Hotel in Beit ed-Dine; a castle converted to a 5 star hotel; some pics below

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Beautiful courtyard of the Mir Amin Palace hotel, with the typical Arabic water channel pools
Beautiful courtyard of the Mir Amin Palace hotel, with the typical Arabic water channel pools
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Pool are overlooking the Chouf mountains
Pool are overlooking the Chouf mountains

From Beit ed-Dine, it was a short drive past Moussa Castle, to Deir El Qamar, which was the city that Emir Fakhreddin II moved his capital to, due to water shortages in Baakline. We arrived there in the evening, and stopped for some fresh squeezed juice at a small café in the town, and inquired about internet; no internet anywhere 🙁 . So using the data on the phone, we researched and found a couple of places; called them and booked one room at the Rava bungalows; paying $80 for Bed & Breakfast; no negotiating 🙁 . But they did have slow internet 🙂

So we drove to this B&B, and it was actually individually chalets set on a hillside with a restaurant attached; overlooking the town of Deir El Qamar below; not bad. After freshening up, we headed back into town, where I also needed to get the SIM card topped up, and get some gas.

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Fakhreddin mosque in the central square in Beit el-Dine, built in 1493, the oldest mosque in Lebanon
Fakhreddin mosque in the central square in Beit el-Dine, built in 1493, the oldest mosque in Lebanon
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Chilling at the small souk here before bedtime
Chilling at the small souk here before bedtime

We stopped at a local mobile store, topped up the SIM card for another $10, and found a gas station open; which was manned entirely by Bengali’s. So far, Ethopians, Philipino’s and now Bengali’s; presumably all economic migrants. Dinner was at the Country Gate restaurant; on the hillside to our hotel, with a great view of the valley.

Next morning, after breakfast, we drove back to Deir el Qamar town to see a few more sights before heading off towards Sidon.

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Typical Druze breakfast of eggs fried with goat meat in a porcelain pan, with Manoushe, bread, olives, cheese, btter, marmalade, humus, tomato’s and cucumber.
Typical Druze breakfast of eggs fried with goat meat in a porcelain pan, with Manoushe, bread, olives, cheese, btter, marmalade, humus, tomato’s and cucumber.
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Hotel and restaurant, with small towns across on the other side of the valley on the mountain-sides
Hotel and restaurant, with small towns across on the other side of the valley on the mountain-sides

We had read that the French run kindergarten and library here did have internet, so we headed to the town square, and found this French run school and library above the old Caravanserai/souk.

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Library housed above the ancient caravanserai
Library housed above the ancient caravanserai

The staff here were very gracious and allowed us to use their internet; which again was reliable and fast. We then drove back to Baakleen town, to check out the Hamada (Druze) museum and some ancient Druze cemeteries etc.

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Ancient Druze cemetery, interesting tombstones
Ancient Druze cemetery, interesting tombstones
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Note the intricate carvings on the tomb, and the Arabic inscriptions, also carved in the stone
Note the intricate carvings on the tomb, and the Arabic inscriptions, also carved in the stone
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Ancient spring from the Mamluk times, now unused, and surrounded by modernity
Ancient spring from the Mamluk times, now unused, and surrounded by modernity

We then drove to where the Hamada museum was supposed to be, but there were no signposts. So we parked, and walked around until we found a lady who spoke some English, and she explained that this museum was private and was built around the residence of the Hamada family that owned the Museum. She said she would try and get someone to open and show us around the Museum; hopefully someone who spoke English.

A short while later, an older gentleman showed up, who spoke good English, and brought with him the caretaker of the Museum, who spoke no English. The gentleman introduced himself as a member of the Hamada family, and owner of the residence and the museum and all the artifacts here. He was well educated, well versed, well-travelled, & spoke good english. Refreshing.

First stop was a room full of old documents and books. Some of the documents were written at an angle, and upon inquiring, Mr Hamada informed us that when people of lower standing wrote to people of higher standing, they wrote at a slant, showing respect.

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Slanted writing on old documents, showing respect to the intended recipient; written in Arabic from left to right.
Slanted writing on old documents, showing respect to the intended recipient; written in Arabic from left to right.

We were then showed another set of rooms which were furnished with old typical furniture of the days past; showing how people used to live. Then, we were shown a room where they collected old relics from the past, see below

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Weapons
Weapons
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Pistol
Pistol
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Recognize this?
Recognize this?

We then asked to see the Druze mosque, which we had read was on the grounds and still in use occasionally; fully expecting to be refused. However, Mr Hamada happily obliged. The Druze mosque was very simply furnished, with seating on the floor on cushions and some pictures of their Imams on the walls, and what looked like a mini tombstone we had seen earlier at the cemetery. See below videos

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Outside the Druze mosque, with Mr Hamada on the right and the caretaker on the left
Outside the Druze mosque, with Mr Hamada on the right and the caretaker on the left

We said our thanks and goodbyes to Mr Hamada and the family, and left to drive to Jezzine, where there was supposed to be a high waterfall. We drove through some beautiful countryside

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Chouf countryside
Chouf countryside
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Beautiful small town, nestled in nature
Beautiful small town, nestled in nature
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Jezzine town
Jezzine town
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Jezzine waterfall was at low capacity as it was the dry season; disappointing
Jezzine waterfall was at low capacity as it was the dry season; disappointing
Druze and the Chouf Mountains Stop for coffee and snacks at the Jezzine waterfall
Stop for coffee and snacks at the Jezzine waterfall

After a short stop for coffee; we drove off to Sidon; our next stop.

This is the end of our experience with the Druze community in the Chouf Mountains, so here is a little bit about the Druze from what I learned locally and researched; they separated from Shia Islam at the 6th Fatimid Caliph/16th Shia Imam, al-Ḥākim bi-Amr Allāh; technically making them Ismaili’s as they were followers of Imam Ismail. Story goes that the Druze doctrine was espoused by one Hamza ibn ‘Alī ibn Aḥmad who was an 11th-century Ismaili and founding leader of the Druze and the primary author of the Druze manuscripts. Hamza was well regarded by Imam al Hakim, and given high profile posts; and when he drew up his version of the Druze faith; he was accepted by the Fatimid Caliph al Hakim, as Fatimids were liberal and allowed all religions to flourish.

However, Imam al Hakim, who prayed and meditated regularly, disappeared one day when he went for his regular meditation and was never seen again, probably murdered. It is believed the Druze are waiting for his return to continue to lead them, as they had attached him to Divinity. His son, az Zahir took over the Caliphate and Imamate, and it seems, was not as accepting as his father was of the Druze doctrine, and so Hamza & the Druze went underground to escape persecution.
The Druze faith is a monotheistic and Abrahamic religion based on the teachings of Hamza ibn-‘Ali ibn-Ahmad and Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, and Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. The Epistles of Wisdom is the foundational text of the Druze faith. The Druze faith incorporates elements of Shia Islam’s Ismailism, Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, Pythagoreanism, Hinduism and other philosophies and beliefs, creating a distinct and secretive theology known to interpret esoterically religious scriptures, and to highlight the role of the mind and truthfulness. The faith is closed to outsiders.

I don’t know if any of this is true or not; just something I researched in the references below. If anyone had more light to shed on the Druze and their beliefs, I would love to hear from you.

https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Hamza_ibn-%27Ali_ibn-Ahmad
https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Al-Hakim_bi-Amr_Allah
https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Epistles_of_Wisdom
https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Druze
This one is quite informative https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tqkXfGi8ea8&feature=youtu.be

Druze and the Chouf Mountains Map 4
Map 4
This entry was posted in Lebanon July 2018, Middle East

10 thoughts on “Druze and the Chouf Mountains

  • Nasim Deleon November 14, 2018 at 9:02 am Reply

    You guys did a great job, putting it all together, very well done blog.

    • Ali Karim November 14, 2018 at 8:39 pm Reply

      THanks Naseem; appreciate your feedback. Glad that you enjoyed the blog

  • Mahamud Jinnah November 14, 2018 at 11:45 am Reply

    Very interesting as usual. Good to know that druze are ismailis.
    Look like very friendly people all over.
    I’m impressed by your travel skills. You really go in depth.

    • Ali Karim November 14, 2018 at 8:40 pm Reply

      Hi Mahamud, Many thanks for providing the feedback; appreciate your feedback always

  • Nazneen Adatia November 14, 2018 at 11:46 am Reply

    Hello Ali, thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures. I love them. I think I will be making my way there next year.

    Lot of love.

    Naz.

    • Ali Karim November 14, 2018 at 8:41 pm Reply

      Hi Naz, THanks so much for the feedback; I am so glad this has inspired you to travel there

  • Zubeda Virani November 14, 2018 at 11:47 am Reply

    Ali,
    Your talents are certainly geared in the right direction. You are a brilliant Travelogue writer who, with incredible research, writes and are also a Professional Photographer!
    I give a huge “wow” to you.
    Some of us are unable to reach the level of such visits but truly enjoy the journeys with you.
    Thank you for allowing us to see the World and these remote parts too through your eyes and mind.
    My thanks to Dilshad too. I really enjoyed my journey with you.

    • Ali Karim November 14, 2018 at 8:44 pm Reply

      Wow, thanks so much Zubeda; I am so glad you enjoyed the travels with us.
      I really appreciate that.

  • Zahir Dharsee November 15, 2018 at 10:45 am Reply

    Hi Ali – this is a very good write up. I really enjoyed it. A good insight into the Druze culture and history. Thanks again.

    • Ali Karim November 15, 2018 at 11:14 am Reply

      HI Zahir, thanks so much for providing me valuable feedback; I am so glad you found it useful and interesting.

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