Alawite

From Academic Kids

Note: The terms Alawi and Alevi although related refer to different religious groups, the latter based in Turkey.

Template:Islam The Alawites form a Middle Eastern religious group prominent in Syria.

Alawites call themselves Alawi (Template:Lang-ar), after Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad. The term Alawi was recognized by the French when they occupied the region in 1920. Historically they had been called Nusairis, Namiriya, or Ansariyya. Nusayri had become a term of abuse and they preferred to be called Alawis to show their reverence for Ali. To avoid confusion, this article uses the modern term.

History

The Origin of the Alawites is in dispute. According to some sources they were originally Nusayri, a sect that broke ties with Twelver Shiites in the 9th century. The Alawites trace their origins to the eleventh Shia Imam, Hasan al Askari (d.873), and his pupil Ibn Nusayr (d.868). Nusayr proclaimed himself the "bab" or door (representative) of the 11th Imam. The sect seems to have been organised by a follower of Ibn Nusayr's known as al-Khasibi who died in Aleppo in about 969. Al-Khasibi's grandson al-Tabarani moved to Latakia on the Syrian coast. There he refined the Nusayri religion and, with his pupils, converted much of the local population. Today Alawites exist as a minority, but politically powerful, religious sect in Syria.

In the 10th century, Alawites were established during the Hamdanid dynasty of Aleppo but they were driven out when the dynasty fell in 1004. In 1097 Crusaders initially attacked them but later allied with them against the Ismailis. In 1120 the Alawites were defeated by the Ismailis and Kurds but three years later they fought the Kurds successfully. In 1297 Ismailis and Alawites tried to negotiate a merger, but it came to nothing.

Alawites were actively persecuted under Mameluke rule from 1260 onwards. When the Ottoman Empire took control of Syria in 1516, the Turks are said to have killed over 90,000 Alawites. Afterwards, Alawites were regarded as outcasts and the empire sent Turks to settle their lands. Reportedly some of the Turks converted to become Alawites. After Alawites attacked the Ismaili village of Masyaf in 1832, the Pasha of Damascus sent troops against them.

After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syria and Lebanon came under French mandate. The French gave autonomy to Alawites and other minority groups and accepted Alawites into their colonial troops. Under the mandate, many Alawite chieftains supported the notion of a separate Alawite nation and tried to convert their autonomy into independence. A territory of "Alaouites" was created in 1925. In May 1930 was created the Government of Latakia, that lasted until 28 February 1937.

In 1939 a portion of northwest Syria, the Sanjak of Alexandretta, now Hatay, that contained a large number of Alawites, was given to Turkey by the French, greatly angering the Alawite community and Syrians in general. Zaki al-Arsuzi, the young Alawite leader from Antioch in Iskandarun (later named the Hatay by the Turks) who led the resistance to the annexation of his province to the Turks, later became a founder of the Ba'ath Party along with Michel Aflaq. After World War II, when the Alawite provinces were united with Syria, Alawite followers of Sulayman al-Murshid tried to resist integration. He was captured and hanged by the newly independent Syrian government in Damascus in 1946.

Syria became independent on April 16, 1946. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War over Palestine, Syria endured a succession of military coups in 1949, the rise of the Ba'ath Party, and unification of the country with Egypt in the United Arab Republic in 1958. The UAR lasted for three years and broke apart in 1961, when a secretive military committee, which included a number of disgruntled Alawite officers, including Hafiz al-Asad and Salah Jadid, helped the Ba'ath Party take power in 1963. In 1966, Alawite-oriented military officers successfully rebelled and expelled the old Ba'ath that had looked to Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar for leadership. They promoted Zaki al-Arsuzi as the "Socrates" of their reconstituted Ba'ath Party.

In 1970, then-Air Force Colonel Hafez al-Assad took power and instigated a "correctionist movement" in the Ba'ath Party. In 1971 al-Assad became president of Syria. Alawite status was significantly improved and in 1974 Imam Musa al-Sadr, leader of Twelver Shiites of Lebanon proclaimed that he accepted the Alawites as real Muslims. Until that time, Muslim authorities - both Sunni and Shiite - had refused to recognize them as true Muslims. The Assads have been vigilant in promoting religious toleration.

The Syrian-Sunni majority did not appreciate Alawite power and the Muslim Brotherhood tried to assassinate Assad in June 25, 1980. Assad answered by sending troops to the Brotherhood stronghold in the town of Hama. The Syrian Army practically wiped out the Brotherhood sympathizers in the Hama Massacre during which over 10,000 were killed. Since the Hama uprising and its suppression, Syria has been an island of stability in the region.

After the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad maintained the outlines of his father's regime. Although Alawites predominate among the top military and intelligence offices, the civilian government and national economy is largely led by Sunnis. The Assad regime is careful to allow all the religious sects a share of power and influence in the government.

Religion

Theologically, Alawites today claim to be Twelver Shiites, but traditionally they have been designated as “extremists – ghulat” and outside the bounds of Islam by the Muslim mainstream for their love of Ali ibn Abi Talib or Ali. They have only one holy book, the Qur'an, but insist that without the knowledge of the family of the Prophet Muhammad, the Qur'an is empty without its true meaning. Alawites study the book of Jafaar al-saadaq (al-hefat al-shariif) which has been translated into French and printed. This was done in Beirut in the mid-nineteenth century by an Alawite convert to Christianity, who was later killed by a fellow Alawite for his disloyalty. The Alawite religion has many similarities to Isma’ilism. Alawis believe in Ali as the true Successor of Prophet Mohammed as well as an esoteric reading of the Qur'an. Unlike Ismailis, Alawis regard Ali as the the purpose of life & the divine knowledge of the prophet Mohammed. As such, Ali is the "True Caliph"; Muhammad, whom Ali is his brother, is the "father of muslims"; and Salman the Persian is the "door of knowledge" Alawi catechism is expressed in the formula: "I turn to the door of knowledge; In order for the father to provide me with a key; Thus receiving the reward which is the knowledge of 'Ali'." An Alawi prays in a manner patterned after the shahada: "I testify that there is no God but Allah, Mohammed is his messenger & Ali ibn Abi Talib his Wali (Protector)."

The Alawite religion is believed to be secret because of the lack of knowledge about Alawites. Alawites do not accept converts or the publication of their texts which is passed down from scholar to scholar. The vast majority of Alawites know precious little about the contents of their sacred texts or theology which is guarded by a small class of male initiates.

Because only one book has been translated, outsiders know little about Alawite theology and much nonsense is repeated on web pages. Hanna Batatu’s last book has a short but reliable section on Alawite doctrine, theology and recent debates within the community. How sincere is this rejection of bida` or innovation? There is no way to tell, but it has a long tradition within the community. The French tried to pressure leading Alawite Shaykhs to declare the Alawite religion a separate, non-Muslim religion during the early 1920s but they lost their battle because many religious leaders refused to do so. After all, Alawites declare themselves to be Muslims in their catechism and believe that Muhammad is God’s messenger.

The Alawite religion seems to be based on Gnosticism and Neo-Platonism. According to Alawi belief, all persons at first were stars in the world of light but fell from the firmament through the passion of jealousy. The material world is a place of danger, enemies and impurity. The essential evil of this present existence can be escaped by the help of the divine creator. Every Alawite has within his soul a bit of the light of the divine creator, which can be accessed and lead him on the right path and salvation. Faithful Alawites believe that all who put forth towards their soul shall receive their due reward from allah, Alawites believe that their rewards are not financial gain or property but true knowledge of the Prophets of Allah. Also Infidels are reborn as animals which is witnessed in the holy Quran.

Because of the highly syncretistic nature of the religion, scholars have claimed that Alawism is related to Christianity because they have a strong love for jesus and the former prophets of God but alawites say that all the prophets were muslims and that knowledge is like the sea it nevers ends. Alawites also study the scriptures of aristotle, socrates as well as alexander the great.

Alawites try to follow the prime example left by the Leader Of Believers Ali Ibn Abi Talib. Ali lived out of the eye of the public. Like Ali the alawites are too called names and rejected by the common, Like Ali the alawites also keep to themselves & Like Ali they say that they too "worship Allah in private & not for show" apperently that is more pure.

Although Alawites recognize the five pillars of Islam, They do not believe that anyone has the privilege of practising them because they are too pure to be performed by "any" soul. Alawites believe that there is no back door entrance to the gates of heaven eg. Follow the five pillars and you receive the keys to heaven. But instead believe that to devote your life the way that prophet Muhammed would have permitted by following the example of the leader of the believers Imam Ali.

The insistence on conformism has brought rich political rewards – Alawites enjoy all the rights of Muslims in Syria and can hold the office of President, which must be filled by a Muslim according the constitution. Nevertheless, Alawites have paid a steep price for political success for a share of political power and equality in the nation.

Alawis who have speculated on the success are considerably more optimistic about the percentage of Syrians who considered them Muslim than are their Druze counterparts. Several claim that 50% of Syrians or more accepted them as Muslims. The reason Alawis give for their success is that they try harder than the Druze to be like Sunni Muslims and to assimilate to the textbook version of Islam. One native of Latakia, an Alawi woman who is in her thirties with an advanced degree, gave the following explanation:

"We are accepted as Muslims because we have worked hard to be accepted. Some Alawis cover their hair and wear hijab, either for personal reasons or for humblness to allah. We don’t eat ham, We fast – we don’t eat during Ramadan. We have built mosques in our major towns. But we believe that praying at home for ones own soul not for show is what allah deems pure. Many muslims go to mosques to show that they pray whereas alawites know that God knows there true intentions and it is more pure to talk to allah personally though Many Alawis go to Friday prayer and to the Hajj. My grandfather was a modern shaykh who encouraged everyone to pray at the mosque in Jable. The charitable foundation established and run by Jamil al-Asad (the brother of former President Hafiz al-Assad) finances hundreds of Alawis to go on Hajj, and the women working for the organization wear the hijab. Hafiz al-Asad prayed in Mosque and fasted always. When his mother and son died, he prayed for them in Mosque. He built the Na`isa mosque in Qardaha, his home town, in the name of his mother. All these things are proof to the doubters that we try hard to be part of Islam. They accept it. We have succeeded, God willing."

Today, most Alawites only know the tenets of Sunni Islam because they are taught them in mandatory religion classes from first grade through twelfth grade. Syrian school texts do not mention the word Alawite once or refer to diversity of belief and practice in Islam. The introduction of the state school system into the Alawite region during the last 50 years has transformed the religious identity of Alawites. Although they know they are different from Sunnis, they don’t know exactly how. Most will tell you about the popular religious ceremonies their families engage in, which include annual visits to saints’ shrines, the sacrificing of sheep, and wearing of talismans.

Evidently, the Asads go to great lengths to make sure that the different tribes are equally represented in top military posts, just as they try to divvy out government posts among the various religious and ethnic groups of Syria.

Population

In Syria, Alawites live in the mountains along the Mediterranean coast. Latakia and Tartous are the region's principal cities. They are also concentrated in the plains around Hama and Homs. Today Alawites live in all the great cities of Syria. Estimates about their exact numbers range from 3.5 to 3.8 million or about 25% of the Syrian population. Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, is an Alawite.

There are also less than 200,000 Alawites who live in Lebanon and others who live in the Hatay, Adana, and Mersin of southern Turkey. The Alevis of Turkey are different from Syria’s Alawites, though they share the same name. Turkey’s Alevis are descended from the Kizilbash, a Sufi-Shi`a offshoot with connections to early Safavid Iran, whereas the Alawites are Nusayris.

ar:علوية de:Nusairier fr:Alaouites he:עלאווים it:Alauiti nl:Alevieten ja:アラウィー派 pl:Alawici (wyznanie)

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