Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya: Defending Druze Identity in Suwayda’

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Emblem of Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya, using the familiar colours associated with the Druze sect.

Although the Druze originate from a sect within Shi’i Islam, the religious movement evolved over time such that the Druze identity is deemed separate from that of the Shi’a. The same has been true of the Alawites, though as is well known, a number of efforts have been made in the recent past to bring the Alawites into the fold of mainstream Shi’i Islam, such as Musa Sadr’s fatwa in 1974 that recognized the Alawites as Shi’a- a trend of identification strengthened by the post-1979 alliance between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Assad dynasty. More recently, extensive Iranian and pro-Iranian Shi’a militia involvement on the ground in the Syrian civil war has given rise to claims of further Shi’ification trends targeting the Alawite community in particular, such as the opening of husseiniyas (Shi’i centres) in the Damascus and Latakia areas.

Less well known is that allegations of Shi’ification efforts also exist with respect to the Druze community in Syria. It seems that primarily in response to these developments has come the emergence of the Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya (“The Arab Druze Identity Movement”), also known as the Harakat al-Difa’ ‘an al-Hawiya al-Druziya (“The Movement to Defend Druze Identity”), which first appears to have come on the scene in late 2015 (c. October 2015). Ethnically speaking, the ‘Arab’ aspect has long been a strong component of Druze identity.

Unsurprisingly, given the context in which this movement has emerged, it is highly critical of the regime and those associated with it. However, it is also consistent in its opposition to attempts to alter Druze identity (real and perceived), and so has also drawn attention (approvingly quoting independent Druze opposition activist-in-exile Maher Sharf al-Din) to the treatment of the Druze in Jabal al-Summaq in Idlib at the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra, which has not only implemented forced conversions to Sunni Islam but has also confiscated property of those from the area who fled to/live in regime-held areas and are thought to work with the regime, while altering the demographics with an influx of Turkmen people. This contrasts with the reluctance of anti-regime Druze in Lebanon associated with Walid Jumblatt to admit these realities, playing up instead the false idea that some kind of agreement to protect the Druze was reached with Jabhat al-Nusra (a falsehood recently repeated by Fabrice Balanche).

In addition, in late December 2015, Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya criticized an alleged Christian missionary campaign targeting the Druze in Suwayda’:

“We have avoided until now- out of respect for our Christian people in the Jabal [Jabal al-Druze/Arab: Suwayda’ province]- talking about the financed and provocative missionary campaign that some of the churches in Suwayda’ are undertaking, exploiting the abundant wealth that has been poured out on them because of the crisis on one hand, and the chronic state of need for aid that many of the families are suffering from on the other…but what the St. George Greek Orthodox church (Suwayda’- Tariq Qanawat) is doing infringes on all ethics of shared co-existence and mutual respect between the Druze of the Jabal and its Christians! For this church and others besides it from the churches in Suwayda’ have begun imposing as a condition on the families benefiting from their aid that the children of those families must attend Gospel missionary lessons! And the families that refuse to send their children are barred from the aid! To this degree we have been shown disdain and considered goods for division between one front wanting to ‘Shi’ify’ us, takfiri movements wanting to ‘Sunnify us’, and churches whose clergymen- though not daring to raise their heads in the rest of the Syrian provinces- nonetheless in Suwayda’ infringe on our identity in this public manner in the heart of our abode!”

However, as mentioned above, the movement’s concerns at the present time primarily focus on the Shi’ification efforts. A central personality that surrounds this controversy is that of Hezbollah commander Samir Quntar, who was of Lebanese Druze origin and was killed in an Israeli airstrike in the Jaramana area of Damascus in late December 2015, alongside Farhan Sha’alan, a National Defence Force commander in Jaramana originally from the Druze village of Ein Qiniyya in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Sha’alan’s Druze identity is not in dispute.

photo (26)
The village of Ein Qiniyya (author’s photo).

Procession in Ein Qiniyya following the Israeli airstrike in Jaramana: note the focus is primarily on commemorating Farhan Sha’alan rather than Quntar.

In contrast, Quntar is known to have married a Shi’i woman- something forbidden among the Druze as it constitutes marriage outside of the sect and is therefore subject to ostracism. Further, Quntar is alleged to have converted to Shi’i Islam. During his time in Syria, Quntar seems to have been used in Hezbollah outreach to the Druze populations, as embodied, for instance, in his visiting the staunchly pro-regime Quneitra Druze village of Hadr (opposite Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights) multiple times. Extensive tribute was paid to Quntar and the ‘resistance’ cause associated with him by Hikmat al-Hijri, one of the three mashayakh al-‘aql of Suwayda’. The mashayakh al-‘aql, it should be noted, are all co-opted by the regime. The commemoration of Quntar by them and other pro-regime Druze was criticized by Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya:

“The insistence of the regime (and its tools from the mashayakh [al]-‘aql and others besides them) on establishing religious and popular mourning for the Shi’i convert Samir Quntar in Suwayda’…comes in the context of conditioning the Druze to the idea of accepting a portion of them converting to Shi’i Islam without being ostracised in society!”

The movement attacked Quntar for recruiting Syrian Druze to Hezbollah (who were also allegedly subjected to Shi’ification): “On the neck of the ‘Shi’i convert’ Samir Quntar is the blood of dozens of Druze youth he recruited in the Hezbollah militia and were killed outside their areas.”

A somewhat similar position of non-acknowledgement of/disdain for Quntar appears to have been taken by the third-way reformist Rijal al-Karama [and its ‘religious/political wing’ Mashaykh al-Karama] founded by the assassinated Sheikh Waheed al-Bal’ous. As one member of Rijal al-Karama from Suwayda’ put it to this author, “Yes. Samir was Shi’i and he married a Shi’i woman. Everyone in Suwayda’ who has karama does not acknowledge him.”

Besides the eulogies for Quntar, the movement highlights the existence of a Shi’ification office in Suwayda’ city: “The centre for conversion to Shi’i Islam in Suwayda’ city: the name of the office is the Liwa Zain al-Abidain, whose base is on the Tariq Qanawat. And this centre has managed to convert dozens of the Druze to Shi’i Islam. We have come to know two of them from the house of Abu Maghdhab and four from the house of al-Mahithawi. And the names of the rest will be realized soon so that they may understand that betrayal is not a point of view!”

The existence of Shi’ification offices, as in the case of the Alawites, is unsurprisingly tied to Iran. As the Rijal al-Karama member said to this author, “There are recruitment offices for the interest of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Suwayda’ that are calling for conversion to Shi’i Islam.” In this context, Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya also refers to a perceived threat from Iranian expansionism to Druze identity: “In the recent years the Iranian project to infringe on the identity of Jabal al-Druze has emerged as one of the most dangerous projects that we face because it wants to adopt through strategy what the rest of the projects were incapable of taking up by force. And in the future we don’t know what project of which state we will face, but so long as we are weak and lack the political project it will be suggested to all states that have projects that it will be easy to subject us to affliction!” Relevant to this narrative is the claim by Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya that Iran is trying to alter the demographics of Suwayda’ through an influx of Shi’a from the Hawran area in southern Syria, using Christian and Druze real estate agents to sell property and land for the interests of Iran.

Politically, where does the Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya stand? To begin with, the group denies that its agenda is particularly religious, but rather that it is aiming to defend the Druze identity as a cultural and civil identity. The group also denies an affiliation with the Rijal al-Karama movement, but it does appear that an associate of Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya is Sheikh Marwan Kiwan of Bayraq Al Kiwan, one of the Rijal al-Karama factions. Indeed, from the beginning he has been approvingly quoted by the group, affirming that “the Khomeinists (replacing the Wahhabis) are the first danger threatening our existential identity, not only culturally speaking…”. There is a clear sense of solidarity with Rijal al-Karama elsewhere in the group’s posts: for instance, in an attack on a Druze sheikh called Aymenn Zahr al-Din (Abu Khaz’ali), Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya accuses him of promoting Shi’i Islam through providing accommodation to Shi’i proselytizers and taking financial support from Iran, while “establishing a military militia whose sole mission is to stand against the Youth and Mashayakh al-Karama movement!”

As for the vision for a future Syria, the movement- like most actors in the Syrian civil war on the rebel and regime sides- rejects the notion of partitioning Syria, but suggests that a federal model of governance might be appropriate. In terms of its activities, the evidence would suggest that while the movement is present on the ground in Suwayda’ (something corroborated by the Rijal al-Karama member), it is still in a nascent stage and not able to mobilize in order to organize demonstrations or form a militia wing. Accordingly, the group’s significance as a political actor should not be overstated, but its existence does highlight some real Syrian Druze concerns of Iranian-led attempts to Shi’ify their identity- a trend worth monitoring for the future as a potential popular grievance alongside conscription avoidance and concerns regarding corruption and services provision for more third-way Druze actors to exploit.


Update (7 March 2016): a member of the Rijal al-Karama-affiliated militia Bayraq al-Fakhr says the following with regards to Shi’ification:

“It is possible that there is a pull towards conversion to Shi’i Islam but it is not in open form. Through a number of means: in recent times there has been the spread of Shi’i songs and nasheeds in [one] way. There has been the purchase of lands of the province and it has come to us that that it is for people outside Suwayda’ affiliated with Iran. There was an attempt some time ago to build a husseiniya. The recruitment of a number of youth of the province in Shi’i militias like Liwa Abu al-Fadl al-Abbas, frequent visits by Shi’i religious men to Suwayda’. These are clear matters and God knows what is hidden. But my information about this situation is weak.”

As for Samir Quntar, he adds the following:

“From the nationalist perspective, Quntar resisted Israel in the past and was held as a prisoner in its prisons. But in the ongoing war in Syria, he joined with the Shi’a against the Sunnis and perhaps he had a role in encouraging conversion to Shi’i Islam among the ignorant [i.e. non-religious] Druze youth. From the religious perspective, Samir was married to a Shi’i woman and was therefore outside our religion.”

The source added that the officials of Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya could respond to this author better on the subject of Shi’ification than he. Further, he affirmed that Shi’ification is not really an issue currently affecting Rijal al-Karama:

“We are not against the Shi’a, Sunnis,Christians or any religion. All religions are for the worship of God. But we are against anyone who attacks us or leads us to conflict with sect against sect. With regards to Shi’ification, it does not have an effect on us. He who wants to become Shi’i, let God make it easy for him.”

So, to emphasize as before, this issue of Shi’ification in Suwayda’ is still a matter of some controversy and does not yet rank with conscription avoidance and concerns regarding corruption as a focal point of popular anger and resentment. It is nonetheless a trend worth keeping an eye on for the future, having the potential to increase the influence of actors like Harakat al-Hawiya al-Arabiya al-Druziya and influence the agenda of the likes of Rijal al-Karama.

Comments (17)

Majedkhaldoun said:

Mr. Tamimi
Druze has nothing to do with Shiaa, your lack the informations about Druze origin , it would be better if you study the history more, further you did not mention the principles of Druze, which contrast with Shiaa and that is a shame, nor you mentioned the reason why some Druze in Syria suppoert Assad, this is very disappointing article
I study the Druze as some members of my family converted to Druze, I lived among them for six months , Mr. Khalil , previously minister in Lebanon , was and still a friend of mine and we talk and visit frequently
Druze are honest and trustworthy people, they do not lie, they are forbidden to lie , in contrast to Shiia whose 95%of their religion depends on lying
The mistake in Druze religion is to attribute their religion to Mohammad Al Derzi a Persian man who moved from Iran to Tunisia and converted , but the origin of Druze go back to a Jewish man from Yemen who converted to Islam , later he moved to Mecca, he spread the ideas that Islam as mentioned in Quraan is to believe in God and do good,,denounce bad deeds, however he believed in Quraan and God and Muhammad , the prophet , except he does not pray , fast or pay Zakat , and do not go for pilgrimage to Mecca, he was later expelled from Mecca and moved to Tunis , there , he spread his teaching and one of his student was Mohammad the Taylor,Derzi.

March 6th, 2016, 2:24 pm


ALAN said:

Keynote at 2016 Saudi Arabia Summit organized by Code Pink in Washington DC

March 6th, 2016, 4:35 pm


Ghufran said:


March 6th, 2016, 10:27 pm


Ghufran said:

Polls archive- SC

Could the recent successes of IS, Nusra, and various rebel groups spell the eventual downfall of the regime?

Yes — The regime is growing tired and is weakening, and if the fight continues much longer, it will fall. (14%, 138 Votes)

No — Despite a reduction in territory it controls, the regime will continue to exist in certain areas that the rebels will never take. (67%, 657 Votes)

Not sure — The fight is too close to call and it is still too difficult to know what the outcome will be. (18%, 179 Votes)

Total Voters: 974

March 6th, 2016, 11:21 pm


ALAN said:

Turkey is fully responsible for the continuation of hostilities in Syria’s Aleppo and Idlib provinces as Ankara ensures steady supply of weapons to terrorists and keeps shelling groups of Kurdish militia fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra, or Nusra Front militants and what the West is doing is a clear violation of the spirit of the ceasefire and of upcoming peace talks. It is also a reaffirmation of the West’s disingenuous commitment to fighting terrorism – clearly using it as a tool to fight its ba

March 7th, 2016, 3:18 pm


ALAN said:

Odd how nobody ever suggests stopping these US wars of conquest which made these people refugees in the first place!

U.S. Supplies ISIS Through Turkey

March 7th, 2016, 4:13 pm


Akbar Palace said:

Apartheid NewZ

In 2010, El Al, Israel’s national airline, named one of its Boeing 767 airplanes Daliyat al-Karmel. Sheikh Muafak Tarif, leader of the Druze community, was presented with a miniature model of the plane at a special ceremony.


March 7th, 2016, 9:21 pm


ALAN said:

Were a US proxy regime to be installed in Damascus, the rights and liberties of Syrian women might well be following the same “freedom-threatening path” as that of Afghan women under the US-backed Taliban regime and continuing under the US-NATO occupation.
Happy women day…..

March 8th, 2016, 11:25 am


Ghufran said:

March 8, 1963 is the day when albaath ended political life in Syria and hijacked secular parties. Few years after albath was taken over by military officers. 1966 was the year when alawite officers become a major force in albaath party. In 1970 albaath was again transformed when Assad became president and slowly Syria descended into becoming a kingdom.

March 8th, 2016, 11:25 am


Ghufran said:

March 8th is a regular working day in Syria now and not a holiday. I think syrians should mourn not celebrate the day when albaath took over political life in Syria. Albaath will dissolve itself or at best be just another party that compete for votes instead of winning by default. That was the case before 1963. Baathist then had more support and won seats in the parliament as an opposition party.

March 8th, 2016, 5:27 pm


mjabali said:

Druze and Alawite share lots of the same beliefs…They also competed for the same people by the days of al-Dirzi and the other major Da’ia….

March 8th, 2016, 8:21 pm


Ghufran said:

Isis has terrorists from 40 countries, at the top are saudi thugs. Syrians are less than 2% of total members according to documents seized from isis, 70% are Arabs, Turks are at the top for non Arab terrorists in isis. The stats are not inclusive but they give a good idea of who are those terrorists at isis:
أظهرت الوثائق الصادرة عن تنظيم “الدولة” والبالغ عددها 1736 وثيقة تحت مسمى “بيانات مجاهد”، أن الملتحقين بالتنظيم ينتمون إلى ما يناهز 40 جنسية،
ويشكل حملة الجنسيات العربية الأغلبية بين منتسبي التنظيم، وفق لبيانات الوئائق، حيث يهيمن العرب على أكثر من 72 ٪، ويأتيفي مقدمتهم السعوديون بنسبة تقارب 27%، ثم التونسيون بنسبة 21% تقريبا.
ويستحوذ حملة الجنسية المغربية على المرتبة الثالثة، يلهيم المصريون، ثم الأتراك الذي يشكلون أكبر جنسية غير عربية في التنظيم، بناء على معطيات الوثائق المحللة.
ولا يمثل السوريون إلا نسبة 1.7% من المدونين في وثائق “بيانات مجاهد”،
وما ينسحب على حملة الجنسية السورية، يمكن أن يقال في حق أصحاب الجنسية العراقية، الذين لا تتخطى نسبتهم 1.2%، علما أن الوثائق التي بحوزة “زمان الوصل” تغطي المعابر الشمالية مع تركيا، وليس فيها ذكر لأي معبر في المنطقة الشرقية المحاذية للعراق.
أما الجنسيات غير العربية، فتتنوع لتشمل بمروحتها: الفرنسيين، الألمان، البريطانيين، الأندونيسيين، الأذريين، الأوزبك، الإيرانيين، الكنديين، الشيشانيين، الروس.. وبين هؤلاء من يحمل الجنسية الأجنبية لكن له أصولا عربية، وبينهم من هو بالفعل أجنبي (غير عربي) الجنسية والأصل.

March 9th, 2016, 12:27 pm


Ghufran said:

Most non Syrians who speak to the media or write on blogs like this one are blabbers who drink their latte while making “smart” statements about the war. We own this war and the devastation it caused, send money to syrians in need and ignore most of those who can only talk. Refugees in particular could not care less about speeches, they need food and shelter and kids need to go to school. It is disgusting to hear some Syrians making fun of refugees instead of trying to help.

March 9th, 2016, 5:59 pm


ALAN said:

Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of aiding sarin gas delivery to rebels after fresh chemical attacks
“Our sources inside the rebel groups have confirmed that toxic substances were used. We also have verified information that sarin gas was delivered to them from Turkey. All signs point to the fact that these factions were using banned weapons, but we cannot access the launching area, as it is located on the front between the Turkish and rebel forces,” Xelil told RT by Skype from Rojava in Syria.

March 10th, 2016, 12:35 am


majedkhaldoun said:

federalization of Syria will not work, as 75% of Syrians are on one side and the other 25% are divided to five other sects, and most areas are mixed, Arabs and Kurds are mixed in the north East, Alawi and Sunni are mixed in northwest , Christians and Muslems live side by side , , and they will not agree to one Ruler if they got their partial independence, Turkemen will certainly like to join Turkey, and Druze are small minority so Sweida can not survive alone in the mountain, Jabal Al Arab, Dividing Syria will serve the interest of major power, only,
Dividing Syria will force Iraq to divide , and Kurds in Syria will join the Kurds in Iraq and Sunnis Arab in Iraq will join with Sunnis Arab in Syria, Division like this will not be approved by Iran who will be sepearted from HA in Lebanon by Sunni state

March 11th, 2016, 11:30 am


Ghufran said:

Syria can not be divided and should not be divided. Things will get better when the war stops and Assad family leaves politics. For any agreement to survive locals need to have more power and elections must be held. Most sunnis and alawites want to be citizens of Syria and not a small sectarian entity. Kurds will not be able to have an independent state as long as Turkey is one country and Christians have no interest in taking sides, they want peace and freedom like most Syrians. The insurgence of Nusra and isis hurt sunnis politically more than any other sect, that led some to conclude, wrongfully, that the two terrorist organizations were made in the regime’s kitchen. The sticky point is not just Assad it is what to do with the army and security forces, both need reform but starting from scratch is not an option.

March 12th, 2016, 1:34 am


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