Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 April 2010
Since its origins, Shiism has crystallized, or had a reputation for crystallizing, resistance, social protest and revolution within Muslim society. Accordingly, the history of Shiites under a self-professedly Sunni regime like the Ottoman sultanate has almost always been understood as one of opposition, endurance and bloodshed, for which salient events such as the martyrdom of individual free-thinking scholars or the deportation of entire tribes seem to provide ample evidence. Away from the spotlight of histoire événementielle, however, the mundane day-to-day experiences of Shiite communities under Ottoman rule testify to the contingency and flexibility of the early modern state's rapport with its heterodox constituency. From Deli Orman to the Tihama, the Ottoman Empire encompassed countless non-Sunni sectarian groups which formed local majorities, participated in rather than protested against the reigning order and were quite often co-opted into the structures of local government.
The coastal highlands of Syria are home to the most written-about examples of heterodox home-rule under imperial dominion (Map 1). Since the Middle Ages, Druze tribal chiefs from the Shuf mountain south-east of Beirut enjoyed formal recognition as ‘emirs’ in return for their fealty and tribute to the Ayyubid, Mamluk and Ottoman states. Starting in the seventeenth century, the Druze Ma'n dynasty took numerous Maronite and other Christian populations from the Shuf and adjoining parts of the coastal range under its wing, forging an increasingly autonomous commercial and political enclave which the Great Powers would later help detach from Ottoman sovereignty.