The news that George Clooney, the perpetual bachelor, had gotten engaged to Amal Alamuddin, a stunning Arab beauty, who (ahem, ahem) is also a badass brainy Oxford-educated international human rights lawyer—pardon us, barrister—has now officially gone viral. Here and here and here.
On social media, many professional women, in their 30s and 40s, have expressed joy that Clooney was wedding a brainy (Ok, and stunning) professional woman.
Many human rights activists see this as an opportunity to bring attention to catastrophes like Syria.
Many Arabs are naturally seeing this as a confirmation of the attractiveness of Arabs. [Just check out the outburst of pride on FB!]
There is the perhaps to-be-expected satirical reports Israel would now order strikes on “hot Lebanese women”.
And yet there remains the question: what religion is Ms. Amal Alamuddin? The reports are mixed, some proclaiming her as Muslim, and some not.
Here are the facts:
*Ms. Alamuddin comes from a Druze background.
The Druze started out as a medieval off-shoot of the Ismaili sect of Shi’ism.
*Druze prefer to refer to themselves as the “People of Divine Unity” or “The Monotheists.”
*They are primarily a gnostic movement. As was the case with a number of other esoteric and gnostic movements in medieval Islam, they divided the human community to the select few who are initiated in the mysteries and the uninitiated masses. They prefer to refer to themselves as possessing secret, mystical knowledge (‘irfan), in a parallel way to what Sufis and philosophers claim.
*The one to two million Druze in the world used to be concentrated in Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. Along with many other Syrians, the Syrian Druzes have been displaced. Many are living today as refugees.
* The origin of the Druze goes back to Egypt. While Egypt today is largely seen as the epicenter of the Arab Sunni world, the origins of Egypt’s Muslim heritage actually go back to the Shi’i tradition. (Likewise, Iran which today is the center of the Shi’i world was for much of its history the seat of Sunni learning.) In the 10th century, the Fatimid Dynasty established an Ismai’ili Shi’i realm in Egypt. Cairo was built as their capital, and the formidable Al-Azhar University—arguably the oldest university in the world—was initially started as a center of Shi’i learning.
The full articulation of the Druze teachings go back to the sixth Fatimid caliph, al-Mansur, more commonly known as al-Hakim bi Amr Allah (r. 996–1021 CE). It is hard to be certain of al-Hakim’s actual teachings, because there are so many polemical accounts which portray him as having made claims to divinity. But some of these may well be attempts to retrospectively dismiss him.
After al-Hakim, Hamza ibn Ali, claimed particular access to Qur’anic and Biblical wisdom. The name Druze refers to a follower of Hamza named Al-Darazi who eventually came to proclaim himself as the “imam” instead of Hamza. The teachings of the Druze reflects many of the notions of the Isma’ilis, including that of cycles of revelation and inspiration revelation.
So here is the ultimate question: Are the Druze Muslims?
It depends on whom you ask. Probably a decent analogy would be to that of whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) are Christians. Today increasingly many Christians (including some evangelicals) have moved in that direction. What remains indisputable is that the Druze had their origin among a distinct Shi’i gnostic movement, and the doctrines and practices of the Druze would be incomprehensible apart from this wider Islamic tradition. It may be even useful to compare the Druze with the Baha’i movement, another much more recent offshoot of Shi’ism.
So, is George Clooney married to a Muslim? Is this part of the Muslim plot to Take. Over. The world?
The cruel Muslim(ish) plot to take over the world by snatching the person the headlines keep calling “the world’s most eligible bachelor”?
Let’s take a deep breath, and relax. Congratulations to the lovebirds. And let us hope that they can be a small part of bringing the attention of the human rights community and activists to Syria, which is so urgently in need of healing. And wish them a long life of love, companionship, friendship, joy, and delight.
Some of the above information has been obtained from an encyclopedia entry on the Druze, which provides more details on their practices.