Monday, November 28, 2016

The Druze in China

One of the puzzling stories Seabrook relates about the Druze is their belief, not only in reincarnation, but that Druze are instantly reborn, and those Druze who are not reborn in Jabal Druze are reborn in China. In The Druze (1988), Robert Brenton Betts points out that reincarnation is a universal belief among the Druze, and that, while modernist Druze deny it, there is a popular belief in a paradise of some sort in China. These beliefs are easier to understand in context. As early as the eighth century A.D., the Islamic empire had pushed to the borders of China. The famous general Qutaiba ibn Muslim even crossed into that other great empire. There's an interesting article on the history of Islam here, in a a special issue of Saudi Aramco World dedicated to Islam in China. So China has long been on the cognitive map of the Muslim world, but why would Druze reincarnate there? The Druze are an offshoot of Ismaili Shi'a Islam. Their religion holds in high regard al-Hakim bi'Amr Allah, the tenth to eleventh century Fatimid leader known in the west as "the mad Caliph." Among other things, he was the leader of the Shiites, and went so far, some say, as to claim he was a manifestation of the divine. At the age of 36, he went on a journey and disappeared. Many of his followers believed he had fled the earth because of its sinfulness, but would one day return -- an idea very similar to the idea of the Shiite's Hidden Imam, the occulted Imam who would come back at the end of time as the Mahdi. As I write this, Baghdad has banned all vehicles in order to protect Shiite pilgrims headed to Karbala to celebrate the birth of the Twelfth Imam. Some of Hakim's followers believed he fled to China. Betts quotes The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, a book by Claude Conder, the British explorer of Palestine, who claimed that there was a Druze tradition that "El Hakem would re-appear, leading an army from their Holy Land in China, to which the good Druze was carried by angels when he died."