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date: 28 March 2017

The Alawis

Summary and Keywords

The ʿAlawis are adherents of an Islamic sect, the origin of which can be traced back to 9th-century Iraq. They are an offshoot of early Shiah Islam with ancient Iranian, Christian, and Gnostic influences. Outsiders often call them “Nusayri,” after the sect’s founder Ibn Nusayr. Practically all ʿAlawis are Arabs. Their total number is about four million, among which some 2.5 million reside in Syria, where they constitute roughly 12 percent of the population. Many ʿAlawi beliefs and rites are still kept secret by the community, being revealed only to initiate male members. One key element in their faith is the belief in a divine triad that has manifested itself to the ʿAlawi community in seven cycles. Other characteristics are an extraordinary veneration for Muhammad’s son-in-law ʿAli, the belief in the transmigration of the soul, and a very large number of holy shrines, which are frequent in all regions settled by ʿAlawis. Because of the esoteric nature of the ʿAlawi religion and the scarcity of authentic written sources, many details of their creed are subjects of vigorous public and scholarly discussion.

For many centuries, the ʿAlawis were an economically weak, socially marginalized, and persecuted group whose heartland was western Syria. The public rise of the community began with the establishment of the French mandate over Syria after World War I and reached its zenith when the ʿAlawi Hafiz al-Assad became president of Syria in 1971. Since then, the disproportionate political and economic influence of the ʿAlawis in Syria has fueled confessional conflicts with the Sunni majority, which culminated in the civil war that began in 2011.

Keywords: Islam, sects, Shiah, gnosis, Syria, Turkey, saint veneration, metempsychosis

The sect’s most common designation, ʿAlawiyyah, is derived from the Arabic term ʿAlawi, which can be translated “adherent of ʿAli.” It thus reflects the ʿAlawis’ respect for and affinity with ʿAli b. Abi Talib, the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad. However, “ʿAlawi” is a rather recent designation, not being attested until the early 20th century. During the previous millennium, the term used most often by far in both Oriental and Western sources for this group was “Nusayri.” It is widely agreed that this designation can be traced back to the eponymous founder of the sect, Muhammad Ibn Nusayr an-Namiri, who lived in the 9th century. Today most ʿAlawis reject the label “Nusayris,” which they regard as pejorative. Nevertheless, it is still widely used, not only in (mostly polemic) Arabic and Turkish publications, but even in scientific Western works. A third and likewise pejorative term, especially common in Turkey, is fallah. This word originally designated peasants in general and not the adherents of the ʿAlawi faith in particular; but because almost all the inhabitants on the Syrian coast outside the larger towns were ʿAlawi farmers, the term came to mean both “ignorant rustic” and “heretic ʿAlawi.” In their own religious books the ʿAlawis usually call themselves al-muwahhidun “the monotheists,” ahl at-tawhid “the people of monotheism,” or simply al-muʾminun “the believers.”1

Throughout their long history the ʿAlawis have always been regarded by their Sunni neighbors as a heretical sect, or even as infidels outside the Islamic community. For many centuries, the ʿAlawis mainly lived in the remote coastal mountains of Syria, which provided them with protection from the numerous persecutions and are still often called the “Mountains of the ʿAlawis.” Thus the ʿAlawis were an isolated group, a tribal and agriculture society living in tradition-bound conditions. This isolation was significantly reinforced by their strict endogamy, which still generally obtains among them today. In the course of the 19th century many ʿAlawis migrated to the Cilician Plain, settling in and between the Turkish towns of Adana and Mersin. About the same time, larger ʿAlawi groups moved from the mountains to the fertile lands around Hamah and Homs. Only during the second half of the 20th century did many, particularly educated, ʿAlawis move to Syria’s big cities, especially Damascus, Latakia, and Homs, where they often live in separate neighborhoods. Due to the harsh economic conditions in the mountains, there was also significant ʿAlawi emigration to Latin America in the 19th and early 20th centuries; and from the 1970s on, a large number of ʿAlawis left Turkey for Central and Western Europe, especially Germany. Basically all ʿAlawis speak Arabic as their mother tongue. Until recently, this was also true of the ʿAlawi communities in Southern Turkey: only among the younger generations is a tendency to Turkish monolingualism evident.2

Because no official statistics are available from any country, the number of ʿAlawis can only be estimated. Most probably they do not exceed more than 4 million worldwide. Approximately 2.5 million of them live in Syria, where they constitute about 12 percent of the population. A maximum of 1 million ʿAlawis are in the three Turkish provinces of Mersin, Adana, and Hatay (the latter was part of Syria until 1939). Not more than 100,000 ʿAlawis live in northern Lebanon. The rest reside in Europe and Latin America.

Historical Background

In spite of the increasing number of reliable sources available to the researcher, certain periods of the pre-modern history of the ʿAlawi sect are still obscure.3 One problem in reconstructing ʿAlawi history is that works written by members of the sect for a public audience are apologetic and/or romanticizing, and external Muslim sources about them are rare and usually hostile. The origins of ʿAlawism certainly go back to 9th century Iraq and are quite clearly linked to Muhammad Ibn Nusayr, who was in contact with both the 10th and the 11th Imam of the Shiah. His teachings were fundamentally influenced by the doctrines of ultra-Shiite groups who preached the divinity of ʿAli and the other imams and were called “exaggerators”4 (Arabic ghulat) by their rivals and by Muslim heresiographers.5 According to his own writings, Ibn Nusayr was the intimate messenger (bab) of the Imams, from whom he claimed to have received secret knowledge. He attracted believers who were mostly middle and upper class intellectuals. Little is known about Ibn Jundab and al-Junbulani, who led the sect after Ibn Nusayr’s death in c. 864, and who transmitted its mystical traditions.6 Of special importance, however, is the fourth leader, al-Husayn Ibn Hamdan al-Khasibi (d. 969), who not only enabled the communities’ survival, but also was one of its most influential scholars. He was convinced that he was leading “the real Shia” and began to preach openly mystical Shiism in Sunni Baghdad, where he was soon imprisoned. After his escape from jail, he went to the town of Harran (today in southern Turkey). Tradition has it that a group of fifty-one men rallied around him, calling themselves “the monotheists.” The political change in favor of the Shiite Buyids allowed al-Khasibi to return to Baghdad. Before long, he settled in Aleppo, where he enjoyed the support of the Hamdanid ruler Sayf ad-Dawlah, who was likewise Shiite. His experience in Iraq prompted him to employ in Syria the principle of taqiyyah, that is, the hiding of one’s real faith, which to this day has been the ʿAlawis’ main strategy for ensuring their survival.7 Al-Khasibi was a true intellectual, a prolific author and gifted poet whose collection of poems (diwan)—which was added to by later authors—is an important source for the early development of ʿAlawism. He died c. 969 and was buried in Aleppo. His tomb reputedly was in the Sufi convent (takiyya) known as Sheikh Yabraq,8 which was destroyed in the Syrian civil war in 2013.9

After al-Khasibi, accounts of the Iraqi branch of the sect disappear from the sources, but it probably existed until the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. In Syria, the Byzantine re-conquest of large parts of the country and the collapse of the Shiite Hamdanid dynasty were severe setbacks for the ʿAlawis. Nevertheless, during the 10th and 11th centuries they managed to build up new communities in Aleppo, Beirut, Tiberias, and, above all, in the mountainous hinterland of the Syrian coast.10 It is unclear which faith the rural population of that region belonged to before they converted to ʿAlawism. Presumably they were Christian, pagan, or rather superficially Islamized communities. The 11th century brought forth some charismatic and educated ʿAlawi leaders, among them the members of the Banu Shuʿbah in Harran, who were influenced by Greek philosophy,11 and at-Tabarani (d. c. 1035), who contributed many essential works to the ʿAlawi tradition, most notably the influential Majmuʿ al-aʿyad, often referred to as the “Book of Feasts.”12 At the turn of the 12th century, both large-scale missionary work and common leadership of the sect terminated; transmission and development of the ʿAlawi doctrine thereafter were in the hands of local, semi-learned sheikhs, who often competed against each other. This transformation from a mainly urban and intellectual to a rural and tribal society had great impact on the quality of ʿAlawi teachings and religious works. Moreover, the 12th century brought very unstable conditions to the region, and the ʿAlawis suffered indiscriminately under the Ismailis, the Crusaders (who called them Nossorites), and later the Ayyubids, who saw themselves as the restorers of the true Sunni faith after Shiite Fatimid rule. The situation improved in the early 13th century with the advent of Emir Makzun, who consolidated ʿAlawi rule over the mountains with the help of a large Bedouin army from Jabal Sinjar in Iraq. These soldiers stayed in the country and their descendants constitute a part of the local population.13 Only a few decades later, ʿAlawi territory was conquered by the Mamluk Sultan Baybars, who severely persecuted all Shiite groups; but his efforts to force the ʿAlawis to accept Sunni Islam were unsuccessful. In 1317, an uprising with both social and religious roots shook the region around the town of Jablah; but it seems that, above all, economic reasons restrained the Mamluk rulers from crushing the ʿAlawis completely.14

At the beginning of the 14th century, the influential Sunni scholar Ibn Taymiyyah issued several formal legal opinions (fatwa) declaring the ʿAlawis to be infidels. Ibn Taymiyya’s three fatwas, and two others from Ottoman times,15 had great influence upon how the ʿAlawis were (and still are) seen by the Sunni majority. Because the Alawis were considered infidels, the Sunnis were allowed to seize ʿAlawi property, to sell them as slaves, and even to kill them.

After the Ottoman conquest in 1516, Sultan Selim I launched another unsuccessful attempt to “Islamize” the ʿAlawis. On the whole, however, the four hundred years of Ottoman rule over ʿAlawi territory were indirect, routine, and to a certain extent ambiguous.16 On one hand, the ʿAlawis appeared in census lists as Muslims and ʿAlawi men were conscripted into the Ottoman army. In the 19th century, some ʿAlawis even gained high posts: Kara Mehmed Pasha, for instance, became grand admiral of the Ottoman navy.17 On the other hand, the ʿAlawis, as the largest non-orthodox group in the region, were under suspicion, in particular by local officials. There is no evidence of systematic persecution because of religion, however, by Ottoman authorities: the numerous military assaults upon ʿAlawi villages were mainly reactions to local uprisings, which on their part were often the result of ruthless tax collection. ʿAlawi impoverishment was less the consequence of external factors than of internal rivalry among tribal confederations and religious fragmentation.18 The latter was the result of the split of the ʿAlawis into two major sub-sects: the Haydariyyah, named after Sheikh ʿAli Haydar (15th century) and also known as the Shamaliyyah, “the northern one,” or the Shamsiyyah,“the solar one”; and the Kilaziyyah, named after Sheikh Kalazu (d. 1602/1603) and called the Qibliyyah, “the southern one,” or Qamariyyah, “the lunar one.”19 All this fueled mutual raiding, which in turn provoked Ottoman military action against the mountaineers. ʿAlawi communities on the coast, from Lebanon to Cilicia, did not face these problems and suffered less from state-sponsored repression than from social discrimination by the surrounding Sunni majority.

A turning point in modern ʿAlawi history was the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Politically, it resulted in the division of the ʿAlawi territory because Cilicia and, in 1939, the region of Antioch (today called Hatay) became parts of the Turkish Republic, while the French were awarded the mandate over Syria. The secular, anti-religious politics of Kemal Atatürk oppressed many rites of the ʿAlawis who, as Arabs, also suffered for decades under Turkish nationalism.20 Thousands of ʿAlawis left Cilicia for Syria, which had become a French Mandate. The French authorities applied a policy of “divide and rule” and thus supported ethnic and religious minorities in order to weaken National Syrian identity. In 1922, the French founded a “State of the Alawites,” which covered the whole of Western Syria where the ʿAlawis comprised about two-thirds of the population.21 Although not all tribal chiefs were comfortable collaborating with the French, this accommodation had several important repercussions. The first was that ʿAlawi sheikhs attempted to unify their leadership and reform their religious creeds and practices. Another was the necessity to set up institutions, such as courts with ʿAlawi judges. For want of an alternative legal system, “mainstream,” Jaʿfari, Shiite law was adopted. The 1936 treaty between France and Syria made it clear that the State of the Alawites had no future, so the ʿAlawi sheikhs renewed their efforts toward integration into the Muslim ummah by emphasizing their affiliation with Twelver Shiism. Soon afterwards, ʿAlawis began to study in Shiite centers of learning such as an-Najaf in Iraq and Qom in Iran. Later Musa Sadr, the influential leader of the Lebanese Shiites, officially declared the ʿAlawis to be Shiites. This trend became even stronger after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and certainly played a role in establishing the still-existing political alliance between Syria, the Lebanese Hizbollah, and Iran.22

In the 1930s, when many ʿAlawi religious leaders still favored ʿAlawi autonomy in cooperation with the French, educated young ʿAlawis began to support Arab nationalism and thus were prone to secularism and to leftist or socialist ideas.23 Moreover, many ʿAlawi men enlisted in the armed forces to escape poverty and elevate their social status; when Syria became independent in 1946, only 10 percent of the population, but almost 25 percent of the army, was ʿAlawi. The instability of the country, with its resulting coup d’état, strengthened the role of the army and thus indirectly of the ʿAlawis. ʿAlawi officers had a much higher degree of solidarity than their Sunni peers, who were often victims of internal purges. The great turn in ʿAlawi socio-political status came with the Baathist coup of 1963, led by the nationalistic left and the military, both disproportionately dominated by ʿAlawis. The coup was headed by the powerful Military Committee of five men, three of them ʿAlawis. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to say that the ʿAlawis as a religious sect gained power in 1963. Such a view would overemphasize the role of ethnicity in the establishment of an ʿAlawi ruling elite in Syria, ignoring patronage politics and especially the fact that the ʿAlawi officers regarded themselves as Arab-Syrian nationalists, not representatives of the ʿAlawi community. In 1971, however, when the ʿAlawi Hafiz al-Assad officially became president of Syria, a sense of solidarity developed among the hitherto fragmented ʿAlawi community. Although political and economic power still remained in the hands of a few clans regardless of religious affiliation, intra-ʿAlawi solidarity began to have a vital role in the distribution of wealth. The ʿAlawi elite of Syria made serious efforts to develop their home region in Western Syria, where more roads, hospitals, universities, power plants, and factories were built than in any other region of the country.24 All this naturally strengthened the bond between the ruling ʿAlawi class and the bulk of ʿAlawis who had stayed in their home region, which still remains the center and source of ʿAlawi communal power.

Syrian leadership has vigorously avoided any association with the ʿAlawi community. The designation “ʿAlawi” was banned from all official contexts, and even the Mountains of the ʿAlawis were renamed the “Coastal Mountains.” Books on ʿAlawi history or faith were suppressed, and the Shiization of Alawi identity was increasingly propagated. Hafiz al-Assad himself went to Mecca, and he and his son Bashar prayed in the Mosque of the Umayyads in Damascus in the attempt to prove that they are “real” Muslims.25 Thus, the political influence of the ʿAlawis in Syria during the past few decades has been more an unspoken reality than an overt rule of a minority. This, however, has not ameliorated the religious hatred, the main element in the Syrian civil war that began in 2011. Syrian authorities still avoid speaking about ʿAlawi-Sunni conflicts, using more neutral terms like “sectarianism”; but ʿAlawis have increasingly become subject to threats and attacks by Sunni Muslims, and their death-toll among the war’s victims has been disproportionately high. Although the ʿAlawis have never uniformly supported the regime, they are associated with it by most Syrians and thus have few alternatives to being loyal to it because the current government’s collapse most likely would lead to the massive persecution of ʿAlawis by extremist Islamists.26

The ʿAlawi Creed

The ʿAlawi belief system is highly complicated because it is derived from mystical Shi’ism, which itself is based on both Islamic principles and ideas taken from Gnostic, neo-Platonic, Zoroastrian, and Christian doctrines. Any description of the ʿAlawi creed must be read with the caveat that ʿAlawism is an esoteric religion that conceals the core of its doctrine from outsiders. Another problem for the impartial depiction of ʿAlawi beliefs is that many details found in publications on the ʿAlawis are based on semi-reliable travel accounts27 and on old manuscripts and may not always faithfully reflect the reality of today’s believers.28 Furthermore, there are sometimes contradictions in these old books that make it difficult to present a concise and general description of all aspects of ʿAlawi belief. The works written by ʿAlawis for non-ʿAlawi readers usually downplay deviant features of their creed on the basis of the principle of taqiyyah mentioned above.

ʿAlawi cosmology29 posits an eternal deity of shadeless light that is completely abstract and cannot be depicted. The deity is comparable to the sun in that He radiates light and heat forever. This One God is called “the Essence” (maʿna). He is not a creator deity but brings new creatures into being by emanation. His first emanation was the “Name” (ism), who made the deity nameable and describable. Another designation for the “Name” is “Veil” (hijab), because one of his duties is to hide the divine Essence. The “Name” for his part emanated the “Gate” (bab), which enables access to the deity for those who possess the secret knowledge— the ʿAlawis. God and his two hypostases form the Divine Triad, which is often referred to as the “ʿAlawi Trinity.” According to ʿAlawi works, the text of the Muslim basmalah, the phrase “in the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate,” refers to this Triad, which then emanated the “Five Peerless” (aytam, literally “orphans”), who are said to have created the world at the behest of the Essence. Moreover, they in their turn emanated a group of creatures called the “People of the Ranks” (ahl al-maratib), who are divided into the exalted ranks of the world of light and the inferior ranks of the material world. The first group is guided by the twelve “Leaders” and the twenty-eight “Nobles.” Most of these numbers are of high symbolic significance in Shiah Islam, particularly the five Ahl al-Kisa’30 and the twelve Imams. However, there are also speculations that these numbers were influenced by the astral cult of the Sabians of Harran, and that they correspond to the five then-known planets, the twelve months of the year, and the twenty-eight days of the lunar month.31 The total number of the “People of the Ranks” is 124,000, which corresponds to the number of prophets in Islam and of the planks in Noah’s Ark, upon each of which a prophet’s name was written.32

All these are, of course, emanations of the Eternal God; but the further they are from the original light, the less perfect they are. Doubt and pride are two of their principal failings, hindering them from recognizing the true God, who reveals Himself to them in disguise. With every sin, the light becomes weaker; and from the sins of the believers emerge evil creatures, the enemies of God—like the devil and other wicked spirits who inhabit a parallel cosmos of shade. Some ʿAlawi sources claim that female beings were created from the sins of the devils.33 Due to a complicated process variously described in different ʿAlawi works, a large number of heavenly creatures were cast from the ideal world of light and thrown into the evil material world. This fall is usually referred to as the habta (fall) and “day of the shadows,” because it was only then that the light began to throw shadows. On earth, souls are confined to mortal bodies but still possess a kernel of the divine light and therefore constitute the chosen community of the monotheists, the ʿAlawis. The goal of the faithful is to leave the earthly jail and return to the divine world of light. But this is a long and painstaking journey, during which the soul must pass through more than one body. This doctrine has resulted in the ʿAlawi idea of metempsychosis or transmigration of the soul (tanasukh).34 The belief in metempsychosis is characteristic of several Shiite sects including (though with significant differences) the Ismailis and the Druzes. Although transmigration of the soul is certainly a pre-Islamic concept, its existence in Shiite ghulat sects is probably connected to the belief in the eternal nature of the Imams, above all their disappearance and return.35 For ʿAlawi scholars metempsychosis explains why even the most perfect believer is not exempt from suffering in this world: pain and grief are the result of the sins in a former life. The sources disagree about the number of rebirths every soul must go through but concur that the number is smaller for the good and much higher for the wicked. Hence, it is widely believed that saints and sheikhs escape rather quickly from the cycle of rebirth, or are even spared from it entirely.36 Gnosis, the knowledge of the divine secrets, is the only way back to the world of light; but repeated metempsychosis keeps the soul in the jail of the body. Sinful humans are gradually degraded by stages of transmigration into animals and eventually into stones or dust—a stage from which no escape is possible. Thus the path of Gnosis leads (back) to heaven, while the deteriorating stages of metempsychosis terminate in hell. The body is compared to a tomb from which the soul can only be saved by following the path of knowledge. A common belief is that the stars are the souls of ʿAlawis who have returned to the world of light.

Although Sunni theologians have always particularly condemned the belief in the migration of the soul as heresy, it is one of the very few ʿAlawi religious principles that they do not conceal. The reason is that they are convinced that the Qur’an itself teaches the concept of metempsychosis. In particular, they cite Surah 2, 243: “Did you not think of those who went forth from their homes in thousands, fearing death? God said to them, ‘Die!’ And then He restored them to life.” Nor do the ʿAlawis believe that transmigration of the soul is contradictory to the Islamic doctrine of Judgment Day, which is also part of their creed. It will bring an end to the cycles of birth and rebirth and decide the ultimate fate of those who have not yet found the way back to the world of light.37

The cyclic transmigration of the souls is paralleled by a rather complicated cyclic theory of the history of the universe. Most ʿAlawi sources mention five (or six) pre-human cycles followed by seven cycles that began with Adam. Their scholars give differing lengths for these cycles (called qubbah “dome”).38 It must be emphasized that the ʿAlawi conception of time is not cyclical in the sense that they see the history of the universe as an eternal recurrence. It is rather a sequence of a limited number of successive cycles with a clear beginning and a clear ending, resembling a necklace made of spirals. In each of the seven Adamitic periods, the Divine Triad and its emanations appear to mankind in various manifestations and under different names. The variety of personalities who are incarnations of the deity are, however, outward appearances and are perceived as such by those whose knowledge is restricted to the exoteric (zahir). Only the possessors of the esoteric knowledge (batin), the ʿAlawis, can perceive all these figures as personifications of the one and only God. To avoid confusion and plurality of the Essence, it is not permitted to venerate God in any but His manifestation during the current Islamic cycle.

The incarnations of the Divine Triad in the still ongoing “Muhammadan cycle” are ʿAli (maʿna), Muhammad (ism/hijab), and Salman al-Farisi (bab), who was one of the most valued Companions of the Prophet and a fervent supporter of ʿAli. According to the esoteric principles of ʿAlawism, the person regarded as the divine messenger in the doctrines of the exoteric faiths is only the tongue of the “true Essence,” whose identity is only revealed to the possessors of the secret knowledge. For example, in the Mosaic cycle, the Essence was not Moses, but Joshua, and in the Christian cycle not Jesus, but Simon Peter. Many ʿAlawi religious books contain long lists of names of the historical or mythical figures who acted as emanations of the Deity. These lists are particularly detailed for the last, the Islamic, cycle. Five men, who historically were loyal partisans of ʿAli, are regarded as manifestations of the “Five Peerless,” guided by Miqdad Ibn Aswad. The Twelve Imams39 of Shiah Islam are incarnations of the “Twelve Leaders,” each accompanied by a “Gate.” The eponymous founder of the ʿAlawi religion, Muhammad Ibn Nusayr, is regarded as the Gate of the tenth Imam, ʿAli al-Hadi, and the Name of the eleventh Imam, Hasan al-ʿAskari.40

The person of ʿAli is of paramount importance in the ʿAlawi creed; but it would be a complete misunderstanding to think that they venerate the historical ʿAli Ibn Abi Talib, the cousin of Muhammad, as God. This is the spiritual ʿAli, who in ʿAlawi works is often called the “Commander of the Bees,”41 the first and the last being, the person who perfectly combines the manifest and hidden aspects of religion. He is the savior of mankind and thus the highest and most venerable figure through whom the divine Essence appears.42

In accordance with the dualistic principles of ʿAlawism, the world of light is shadowed by the world of darkness inhabited by the opponents of the righteous. In that world, personifications of evil appear in cycles parallel to those of the material word. Hence ʿAlawi authors postulate an evil counterpart to every personality, but do not list them in detail except for the last cycle. The evil triad in the Mosaic cycle was Pharaoh, Haman, and Korah, well-known evildoers in both the Bible and the Qur’an. In the Islamic cycle, the fierce enemies of the historical ʿAli, the rightly guided caliphs of the Sunnis, are regarded by the ʿAlawis as manifestations of the evil. ʿUmar, the main opponent of ʿAli, is called the “devil of the devils.” Because evil rulers dominate the material world, the persecution of the ʿAlawi community will last until their escape back to the world of light.43

The Role of the Sheikhs and Religious Initiation

ʿAlawi religious life is based on and organized by the sheikhs, who are highly respected by all members of the community. The position of sheikh is usually hereditary and requires special education with other sheikhs. The sheikhs preserve the ʿAlawi doctrine, possess and read the secret scripts, and preside over weddings, divorces, and burials. Sometimes they are also asked to execute inheritance or are consulted concerning personal problems. The sheikhs are also the representatives of the community to state authorities. ʿAlawi sheikhs in Turkey, for instance, have tried several times to protect ʿAlawi pupils from compulsory Sunni Islam religious classes. In Syria, most influential sheikhs openly propagate the identity of ʿAlawism with mainstream Twelver Shiah, which may well have effectively changed the religious attitude of many ʿAlawi believers, especially among the younger generation.

Most sheikhly families are relatively wealthy because they traditionally receive the alms tax (zakat) from the believers. They are also remunerated for their routine duties as well as for such special services as writing amulets. The sheikhs are regarded as “notables,” whom the people regard with respect and honor. Many of the ʿAlawi saints were sheikhs; soon after their decease, the tombs of influential local sheikhs often become places of pilgrimage.44

Another important duty of the sheikhs is the initiation of the young members of the community.45 This is a long process of introduction to the fundamental mysteries of the ʿAlawi religion. Initiation is only possible for men with no psychological disabilities. Women are never taught the secret aspects of their religion because they are not regarded as sufficiently spiritual or reliable to be trusted with the esoteric beliefs. There seem to be regional differences for initiation: in Turkey practically every man with ʿAlawi parents can be initiated, whereas among Syrian ʿAlawis there seems to be a sharp division between specialists (khassah) and the common people (ʿammah).46 The number of young initiates has drastically decreased recently, particularly among urban ʿAlawis.

Initiation usually commences after maturity and occurs in stages likened to engagement, marriage, conception, gestation, and birth.47 It is followed by tuition in how to think and speak in a logical way. Hence, the process of ʿAlawi initiation symbolizes the creation of a “new gnostic being,” a “complete man” whose salvation from the evil material world becomes possible through right understanding of the true religion.

Every initiate needs a sheikh as mentor who will become his spiritual father (or spiritual uncle among the Turkish ʿAlawis). Instruction usually takes place at the sheikh’s home. First the young man learns the exoteric doctrines (zahir) of ʿAlawism. He must swear not to tell the secret knowledge to any outsider under penalty of perpetual transmigration of the soul and consequent eternal exile from the world of light. Only then is the initiate allowed to drink from the holy wine that represents the divine light and is called the “Servant of Light.” The second stage starts with a spiritual wedding and is compared to pregnancy, hence usually lasts nine months. During that time the initiate learns the core esoteric elements (batin) of the religion and has to memorize the Dustur, a holy text including prayers, blessings, declaration of belief, and other items.48 Instruction seems to be mostly oral, but sometimes is reinforced by a kind of written catechism.49 The final stage, called “the period of breast-feeding,” lasts for one to two years and during it the novice gradually consolidates his knowledge and is allowed to begin speaking in the secret meetings of the believers.50

Rites and Feasts

ʿAlawism is regarded by its adherents as the only true faith because they observe both the manifest and the hidden commandments of Islam. In spite of widespread accusations by their Sunni compatriots, the ʿAlawis do not ignore the “Five Pillars of Islam”; but they give to them allegorical explanations that significantly alter the meaning of some of them.51 The ʿAlawi statement of faith recites the names of the Divine Triad. ʿAlawi fasting in Ramadan includes abstention not only from eating and drinking during daytime, but also from speaking. Alms tax paid to the sheikhs can also be a spiritual gift. ʿAlawis do not perform the pilgrimage to Mecca: the hajj is seen as an allegory of the soul’s journey in search of knowledge. The five daily prayers are usually performed in private because there are no mosques in ʿAlawism. The noon prayer is regarded as the first; and every prayer is dedicated to a holy person, such as Hasan and Husayn. The number of prostrations in all obligatory and facultative prayers is fifty-one, the number of al-Khasibi’s disciples.

In addition to the everyday prayers, there are communal prayers on special days. For these, the men meet in congregational places or private homes. The congregation does not face the direction of Mecca but toward the sheikh, who faces the believers. The men normally pray while sitting, and therefore ʿAlawi congregational places typically have large numbers of chairs. The prayers are preceded by an obligatory ablution with incensed water. The texts to be recited are mainly chosen from the above-mentioned Dustur and consist of sixteen prayers (called surah), which are, however, uniquely ʿAlawi and not taken from the Qur’an.52 Prayers and poems by al-Khasibi, at-Tabarani and other sheikhs of the sect are also read.53 There are a few rites performed during the prayers, such as the drinking of the holy wine, called “Servant of the Light,”54 and mutual hand shaking. The prayers last up to two hours and are always followed by a ritual meal, which is paid for by the man who issued the call to prayer.55

Presently, few ʿAlawis except the sheikhs observe the everyday prayers or fast during Ramadan. The sheikhs also more scrupulously observe dietary taboos, which are more rigorous than those of the Sunni Muslims. Raw meat and meat from female mammals are forbidden. Pork is strictly taboo. ʿAlawis—like all Shiites—do not to eat rabbits, hares, fish without scales, and seafood. Some sources state that the meat of porcupines, gazelles, and hedgehogs, as well as some vegetables like okra, pumpkins, and tomatoes, are also prohibited, though at present these particular taboos are rarely if ever observed.56 The consumption of alcohol is not ritually forbidden; wine in fact has a role in ʿAlawi liturgy.

The ʿAlawi calendar of religious holidays differs from that of other Muslim sects both in number and significance.57 ʿAlawi sources give the number of annual feasts as twelve; but often a greater or lesser number of feasts are actually celebrated. Most holidays have both a publicly known meaning and a secret esoteric meaning, the latter of which is, for the ʿAlawis, the real significance of the feast. For obvious reasons the ʿAlawis are reluctant to reveal the secret meanings of the feasts to their Sunni compatriots. In order to attract new believers from different faiths, the leaders of ʿAlawism, during its formative period, incorporated non-Muslim holidays into their festival calendar. This did not end in medieval times: several Christian holidays, such as the Feast of Barbara and the Feast of John the Baptist,58 seem to have been added much later and only in regions where the ʿAlawis had closer contact with Christians. Hence, the dates of several ʿAlawi feasts are fixed according to the Christian or Iranian solar calendars rather than the Islamic lunar calendar used for common Muslim holidays.59 The ʿAlawi year starts with the month of Ramadan, which usually is the ninth month. The feast at its end corresponds to the common Muslim “Festival of Breaking the Fast” and is dedicated to Muhammad, who on that day was emanated as the “Name” of the Divine Triad. The most important of all ʿAlawi holidays is the “Feast of the Pond” on the 9th of the Islamic month Rabiʿ al-awwal: it is an important feast among all Shiite sects. For the ʿAlawis it commemorates the day when, at the Pond of Khumm (north of Mecca), Muhammad himself declared ʿAli to be the “Divine Essence.”60 The vernal and autumnal equinoxes are likewise feast days, though they are celebrated not on their astronomical dates but on April 4 and October 16, respectively. March 17 is a holiday dedicated to Ibn Nusayr; and on December 24, the ʿAlawis celebrate the birth of Jesus. It seems that this feast resembles Christmas on the surface only, because it reflects genuine ʿAlawi rather than Christian concepts of Jesus.61

Sacred Places

Because of their theologically inferior position, women are officially excluded from all ʿAlawi religious rites, including funerals. This is, however, not reflected in everyday life, in which ʿAlawi womenfolk are treated with great respect. On the whole, young ʿAlawi women enjoy more freedom with regard to such matters as clothing and social contacts with men than do many women of the region’s Sunni majority. The spiritual life of ʿAlawi women focuses almost exclusively on the sanctuaries, the abundance of which is a characteristic feature of all regions inhabited by the group.62 Typically the sanctuaries are white or green cubic buildings with a dome and are located on hilltops next to springs, near caves, or in the vicinity of old and visually striking trees. The presence of a tomb is a requisite for almost every ʿAlawi sanctuary, though for the believer it is completely irrelevant whether this is a real tomb or just a cenotaph where nobody actually is buried, because they think that the presence of the saint’s spirit alone secures a place’s sacredness. The persons venerated at ʿAlawi shrines are always male, among them prophets, imams, the mythical al-Khadir “the Green,” famous figures of ʿAlawi history, and deceased sheikhs. The sanctuaries are prominent landmarks; they meet important social needs as gathering places for the community, and they play a key role in local identity. At sanctuaries, people take and fulfill vows, offer sacrifices, meet for common meals, talk about future weddings, and much else. Particularly in Turkey, ʿAlawi shrines are often richly decorated with flags, pictures of ʿAli’s famous double-tongued sword, and posters depicting the Twelve Imams, ʿAlawi sheikhs, or even Jesus and Mary.

During the past three decades in both Turkey and Syria, ʿAlawi sanctuaries have enjoyed a veritable boom. New ones have been erected as the result of orders from the saint in a dream or beams of light radiating from the sky onto a certain spot. Numerous existing shrines have been significantly improved and enlarged. All this is contrary to the tendency in most Sunni societies, where places of popular worship are in decline. There are certainly several reasons for the increase in ʿAlawi sanctuaries; but one of the most important is that, besides their religious functions, the sanctuaries emphasize the self-identity of the ʿAlawi minority. The increased visibility and prominence of ʿAlawi sanctuaries in the “sacred landscape” of southern Turkey and western Syria is both a manifestation of growing ʿAlawi self-confidence and their response to the increasing Islamization of Syrian and Turkish societies. Just as the lack of ʿAlawi mosques had been in the eyes of the Sunnis a symbol of the ʿAlawis’ heretical faith, so now the erection of ʿAlawi shrines is, in part, their attempt to counter accusations of heresy by building sacred places that outwardly and increasingly resemble mosques. This is particularly true in Syria, where some ʿAlawi shrines even have minarets. The special importance of the sanctuaries for the identity of the ʿAlawi community is demonstrated by the fact that they have been favored targets of Islamist groups during the Syrian civil war.

Characteristic Elements and Possible External Influences

During the emergence of ʿAlawism, Iraq was a crossroads for ideas, including Greek philosophy (particularly Neoplatonism), Zoroastrism and Manichaeism, Gnosticism, and the beginnings of Islamic mysticism. All these ideas had great influence on the numerous Shiite groups called “the Exaggerators” (ghulat in Arabic), of which very few survived besides the ʿAlawis. Typically Gnostic elements in ʿAlawism are the importance of esoteric knowledge (batin), the transmigration of the soul, explicitly misogynic traits, and the concept of docetism—that is, the belief that all acts, and particularly sufferings of holy persons, are not real but mere appearances.

Most of these ideas originated in Neoplatonism, which is often referred to in early works of the sect, especially by authors living in Harran. A further hint of the impact of Greek philosophy on early ʿAlawism is that Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are regarded as the personifications of the Divine Triad in the so-called “Greek cycle.”63 The influence of Iranian thought appears in the dualistic elements of ʿAlawism, though their scholars vehemently reject the notion that both good and evil existed from the very beginning; for them, evil emerged later and is restricted to the material world. It is very likely that originally the ʿAlawi creed was not secret,64 and thus initiation was only later adopted from secret societies, mystical orders, and Gnostic circles.65 The principle of allegorical interpretation of the Qur’an (taʾwil) enabled ʿAlawi scholars to make all these concepts compatible with Islam. Because ʿAlawis stress the importance of both esoteric and exoteric principles, they do not practice a strict antinomianism.66 As for the influence of Christianity on ʿAlawism, Yaron Friedman67 argues convincingly that this was over-estimated in the previous studies by M. Bar-Asher.68 The ʿAlawi concept of the Divine Triad significantly differs from the Christian concept of the Trinity and Christian views on Jesus. What remains of Christian influence are superficial, purely “decorative,” elements such as the names of some feasts like Christmas, though the festival calendar in general, and the true meanings of the feasts in particular, are distinctively ʿAlawi.69

The origins of the sect are thus in the mystical circles around the last Shiite imams, whose traditions form the core of ʿAlawi theology, which is clearly based on Islamic beliefs though enriched by ideas from other cultures. Because the latter is true for Islam as a whole as well as for other religions like Judaism and Christianity, the term “syncretistic religion” must be used with caution for ʿAlawism.

Review of the Literature

As more original sources concerning the ʿAlawi religion became available during the 19th century, Western scholars became increasingly fascinated by its “exotic and esoteric” character. The first comprehensive description of the faith was by the British missionary S. Lyde.70 It was followed by the work of the French Orientalist R. Dussaud,71 which covered both the history and the belief system of the ʿAlawis and was based on a greater number of sources than Lyde. Important background information on the geographical, historical, and sociological setting of ʿAlawism was provided by J. Weulersse, who included a chapter on popular ʿAlawi beliefs.72 During the following decades newly discovered manuscripts resulted in a revision of the hypothesis that ʿAlawism was strongly influenced by pagan beliefs. Louis Massignon compiled a list of the ʿAlawi works known as of 1938,73 and Rudolph Strothmann edited and analyzed a number of pivotal manuscripts.74 These sources enabled Massignon and Heinz Halm to prove that ʿAlawism was inextricably linked to the ultra-Shiite ghulat sects that emerged in 8th- and 9th-century Iraq.75 This was corroborated by the detailed studies of Meir Bar-Asher,76 who stresses the syncretistic character of ʿAlawism.77 The latter was challenged by Yaron Friedman in his comprehensive monograph on ʿAlawi history and religion based on previous studies and on several new primary sources available for the first time since 2006 (silsilat al-Turath).78

In recent years, research on the ʿAlawi communities of Turkey has increased, particularly focusing on anthropological subjects such as saint veneration and sacred places. G. Procházka-Eisl and S. Procházka provide a detailed study on the ʿAlawi community in southern Turkey (Adana, Mersin), including the community’s identity and social structure, whose changes are described by the same authors.79 L. Prager analyzes the sacred places in Turkish Hatay and their interreligious dimension.80 G. Fartacek does the same for a number of ʿAlawi sacred places in Syria.81

Because, from the 1960s onwards, persons belonging to the ʿAlawi faith, especially the Assad family, gained considerable power in Syria, more and more studies were dedicated to the role of sectarianism in Syrian politics and society.82 H. Batatu describes the structure of the Syrian armed forces and the role of ʿAlawis therein.83 Closely related to the ʿAlawi’s political influence are the efforts of the community’s leaders to integrate their sect into mainstream Islam. This was analyzed by several scholars, all of whom provide insights into the gradual approach of ʿAlawism to mainline Shiism.84 F. Balanche wrote one of the very few works dealing with how the Syrian regime uses the ʿAlawi community of Western Syrian to secure its power.85

An objective for future research on ʿAlawism will be to supplement the immense knowledge about medieval and pre-modern ʿAlawi belief systems with well-based studies on the community’s present beliefs and practices. A first attempt was made by Patrick Franke, who urged Western scholars to give more attention to the emic perspective of today’s ʿAlawism.86 Another important topic for future research will be the impact of the ongoing civil war in Syria on the ʿAlawi community and its religious attitudes within and outside Syria.87

Primary Sources

All known primary sources relevant for the study of ʿAlawism, including those written prior to Ibn Nusayr, are listed with annotations and short summaries in Appendix 1 of Y. Friedman’s book.88 Many of these primary sources are still unedited and only available as manuscripts. A collection of many important ʿAlawi works was published by Abu Musa and Shaykh Musa.89 The pseudonymous editors are clearly opponents of ʿAlawism, but the authenticity of the texts is beyond doubt. The description of ʿAlawism by the renegade Sulayman al-Adhani, which appeared in the second half of the 19th century, is one of the most influential sources for the ʿAlawi religion and is cited in virtually every Western study on the subject.90 The former Ottoman official Muhammad Ghalib at-Tawil of Adana is the author of the first and most comprehensive history of the ʿAlawis written by a member of the community; although it is a strange mix of historical fact and mythical interpretation, it is widely referred to in both ʿAlawi and in Western works. 91

Further Reading

Balanche, Fabrice. La Région Alaouite et le Pouvoir Syrien. Paris: Karthala, 2006.Find this resource:

Bar-Asher, Meir M., and Aryeh Kofsky. The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion. An Enquiry into Its Theology and Liturgy. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston-Köln: Brill, 2002.Find this resource:

Dam, Nikolaos van. The Struggle for Power in Syria: Politics and Society under Asad and the Baʿth Party. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 1996.Find this resource:

Firro, Kais M. “The ʿAlawīs in Modern Syria: From Nuṣayrīya to Islam via ʿAlawīya.” Der Islam 82 (2005): 1–31.Find this resource:

Friedman, Yaron. The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria. Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2010.Find this resource:

Moosa, Matti. Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects. Syracuse, NY: University Press, 1987.Find this resource:

Olsson, Tord. “The Gnosis of Mountaineers and Townspeople. The Religion of the Syrian Alawites, or the Nuṣairīs.” In Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives, edited by Tord Olsson, Elisabeth Özdalga, and Catharina Raudvere, 167–183. Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1998.Find this resource:

Procházka-Eisl, Gisela, and Stephan Procházka. The Plain of Saints and Prophets: The Nusayri-Alawi Community of Cilicia (Southern Turkey) and Its Sacred Places. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 2010.Find this resource:

Sardar, Ziauddin, and Robin Yassin-Kassab. Critical Muslim 11: Syria. London: C. Hurst, 2014.Find this resource:

Winter, Stefan H. “The Nuṣayrīs before Tanzimat in the Eyes of Ottoman Provincial Administrators, 1804-1834.” In From the Syrian Land to the States of Syria and Lebanon, edited by Thomas Philipp and Christoph Schumann, 97–112. Beirut-Würzburg: Ergon, 2004.Find this resource:


(1.) For a more detailed analysis of the sect’s designation see Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets: The Nusayri-Alawi Community of Cilicia (Southern Turkey) and Its Sacred Places (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 2010) 19–23; and Bruno Paoli, “La Diffusion de la Doctrine Nusayrie au IVe/Xe siècle d’après le Kitāb Ḫayr al-ṣanīʿa du cheikh Ḥusayn Mayhūb Ḥarfūš,” Arabica 58 (2011): 23–24.

(2.) Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, “The Arabic Speaking Alawis of the Çukurova: The Transformation of a Linguistic into a Purely Religious Minority,” in Linguistic Minorities in Turkey and Turkic-Speaking Minorities of the Peripheries, ed. Christiane Bulut (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, forthcoming).

(3.) The best and most comprehensive description of ʿAlawi history up to the 15th century is found in Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs: An Introduction to the Religion, History and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria (Leiden, The Netherlands, and Boston: Brill, 2010), 5–66.

(4.) This term is more appropriate than “extremists,” which is used in some Western studies.

(5.) Cf. Matti Moosa, Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects (Syracuse: University Press, 1988), xiii-xxiii. However, in some ʿAlawi sources, the term is used in a positive way as “the zeal for God” (see Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī, 206–208).

(6.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs,16–19.

(7.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 32.

(8.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 33; and Julia Gonnella, Islamische Heiligenverehrung im urbanen Kontext am Beispiel von Aleppo (Syrien), (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1995), 242–243.

(9.) Another tradition locates his grave next to the famous Aleppean sanctuary Mashhad ad-Dikka, where al-Muhassin, the stillborn child of the Imam al-Husayn, was buried. For this place see Julia Gonnella, Islamische Heiligenverehrung,196–197.

(10.) Bruno Paoli, “La diffusion de la doctrine nusayrie,” 32.

(11.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 45–47.

(12.) Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 111–114.

(13.) Bruno Paoli, “La Diffusion de la Doctrine Nusayrie,” 40, esp. fn. 106.

(14.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 62–63.

(15.) Yaron Friedman, “Ibn Taymiyya’s Fatāwā against the Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī sect,” Der Islam 82 (2005): 349–363; Yvette Talhamy, “The Fatwas and the Nusayri/Alawis of Syria,” Middle Eastern Studies 46 (2010): 175–194.

(16.) Stefan H. Winter, “The Nuṣayrīs before Tanzimat in the Eyes of Ottoman Provincial Administrators, 1804-1834,” in From the Syrian Land to the States of Syria and Lebanon, ed. Thomas Philipp and Christoph Schumann (Beirut and Würzburg: Ergon, 2004), 97–112; Yvette Talhamy, “The Nusayri Leader Ismaʿil Khayr Bey and the Ottomans (1854-58).” Middle Eastern Studies 44 (2008): 895–908.

(17.) Stefan H. Winter, “The Nuṣayrīs before Tanzimat,” 97–112.

(18.) Dick Douwes, “Knowledge and Oppression: The Nuṣayriyya in the Late Ottoman Period,” in La Shīʿa nell’Impero Ottomano (Rome: Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, 1993), 149–169; Stefan H. Winter,“The Nuṣayrīs before Tanzimat,” 97–112.

(19.) For the main theological difference between these two groups see Matti Moosa, Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects (Syracuse: University Press, 1988), 337–341. A third group, the Murshidiyyah, emerged in the 20th century. For its history see Patrick Franke, Göttliche Karriere eines syrischen Hirten: Sulaimān Muršid (1907-1946) und die Anfänge der Muršidiyya. (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 1994).

(20.) Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, “The Arabic Speaking Alawis of the Çukurova,” (forthcoming; see endnote 2 for complete information).

(21.) For the Alawi history under the French mandate cf. Sabrina Mervin, “L’«entité alaouite», une création française,” in Le Choc Colonial et l’Islam. Les Politiques Religieuses des Puissances Coloniales en Terre d’Islam, ed. Pierre-Jean Luizard (Paris: La Découverte, 2006), 343–358; Sabrina Mervin, “ʿAlawīs, Contemporary Developments,” in Encyclopaedia of Islam: Three, ed. Gudrun Krämer, Denis Matringe, John Nawas, Everett Rowson (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2011).

(22.) Martin Kramer, “Syria’s Alawis and Shi‘ism,” in Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution, ed. M. Kramer (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987), 237–254; Kais M. Firro, “The ʿAlawīs in Modern Syria: From Nuṣayrīya to Islam via ʿAlawīya.” Der Islam 82 (2005): 1–31.

(23.) Among the founders of the socialist Baath Party was the Alawi Zaki al-Arsuzi.

(24.) Fabrice Balanche, La région Alaouite et le Pouvoir Syrien (Paris: Karthala, 2006).

(25.) Peter Clark, “The Roots of the Syrian Crisis,” in Critical Muslim 11: Syria, ed. Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab (London: Hurst, 2014), 3–20.

(26.) Rasha Omran, “The Sect as Homeland,” in Critical Muslim 11: Syria, ed. Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab (London: Hurst, 2014), 39–49.

(27.) Bruno Paoli, “L’Alaouite de Syrie vu par l’autre, Itinéraires de l’ignorance,” in D’un Orient l’autre: Actes des Troisièmes Journées de l’Orient, Bordeaux, 2-4 Oct 2002, ed. Jean-Louis Bacqué-Grammont, Angel Pino, and Samaha Khoury (Paris and Louvain: Peeters, 2005), 267–284.

(28.) Patrick Franke, “Die syrischen Alawiten in westlicher Forschung: Einige kritische Anmerkungen,” in Sprache, Mythen, Mythizismen. Festschrift für Walter Beltz zum 65. Geburtstag am 25. April 2000, ed. Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan and Jürgen Tubach (Halle, Germany: Institut f. Orientalistik, 2004), 219–270.

(29.) For more details cf. Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis: Die extreme Schia und die ‛Alawiten, (Zürich and Munich: Artemis, 1982), 298–303; Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 43–88; Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 91–114.

(30.) These are Muhammad, his daughter Fatima, her husband ʿAli, and their two sons Hasan and Husain, as reported in A. S. Tritton, “Ahl al-Kisāʾ,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., ed. P. Bearman, et al. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015).

(31.) Cf. René Dussaud, Histoire et Religion des Noṣairîs (Paris: Émile Bouillon, 1900), 94–96.

(32.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 93.

(33.) Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis, 300f.; Tendler Krieger, Bella, “Marriage, Birth, and Bāṭinī taʾwīl: A Study of Nuṣayrī Initiation Based on the Kitāb al-Ḥāwī fī ʿilm al-fatāwī of Abū Saʿīd Maymūn al-Ṭabarānī.” Arabica 58 (2011), 60.

(34.) For details see Rudolf Strothmann, “Seelenwanderung bei den Nuṣairī,” Oriens 12 (1959): 89–114; and Rainer Freitag, Seelenwanderung in der islamischen Häresie (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz, 1985).

(35.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī, 102–103.

(36.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 107; Procházka-Eisl, Gisela, and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets, 119.

(37.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 110.

(38.) Some medieval Alawi sources postulate the existence of several eons, each consisting of shorter cyclical periods (Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 110–112).

(39.) Some Alawi treatises speak of only eleven imams, regarding al-Hasan al-‛Askari as the last, leaving his son Muhammad only as Mahdi (cf. the discussion in Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion,30, fn. 114).

(40.) Cf. Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 15. According to another common tradition Ibn Nusayr was the Gate of the 11th Imam, cf. the Alawi catechism in Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 183.

(41.) The bees are symbolic for the true believers; thus ʿAli’s two titles, amir al-muʾminin “Commander of the Faithful” and amir an-nahl “Commander of the (swarm of) bees” actually express the same idea. Cf. Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 124–125.

(42.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 132.

(43.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 120–123.

(44.) Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets, 126–128.

(45.) For descriptions cf. Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis, 303–315; and Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 210–221. For a good analysis of the underlying concept cf. Bella Tendler Krieger, “Marriage, Birth, and bāṭinī taʾwīl,”53–75.

(46.) See the discussion in Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets, 90–92.

(47.) The “sexualization” of the transmission of knowledge is very well dissected in Bella Tendler Krieger, “Marriage, birth, and bāṭinī taʾwīl,” 54–63.

(48.) For a summary of a Dustur see Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 295–297.

(49.) For a translation of such a catechism see Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 163–199.

(50.) See Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 214.

(51.) See Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 130–142, for a detailed discussion.

(52.) Cf. Sulaymān Al-Adhanī, Kitāb al-bākūra as-sulaymāniyya fī kashf asrār ad-diyāna an-nuṣayriyya. (Beruit, c. 1862–1863), 7–34, which gives the text of all sixteen surahs.

(53.) For an overview see Matti Moosa, Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects Syracuse, NY: University Press, 1988), 398–405. A description of the rites, prayers and hymns of a feast is found in Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis, 337–355 (a German translation from al-Adhani’s book).

(54.) For details, see Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 195–196 and Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 213.

(55.) Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets, 94–95.

(56.) Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets, 86f.

(57.) For details see Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 111–151 (covers only feasts of Muslim origin); Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 152–173; for today’s practice in Turkey, Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets, 92–108.

(58.) See Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis, 335–336.

(59.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 152.

(60.) For the Twelver Shiites, it is the day when Muhammad, shortly before his death in 632, openly declared that Alī was to become his successor as leader of the Muslim community. For details see L. Veccia Vaglieri, “G̲h̲adīr K̲h̲umm.” Encyclopaedia of Islam, 2d ed., ed. P. Bearman, et al. (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2015).

(61.) Thus, it cannot be taken as a proof for the Christian impact on ʿAlawism. See the discussion in Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 161–162, 225–233.

(62.) For Alawi saint veneration in general, and in Southern Turkey in particular, see Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets. An analysis of Alawi sacred places in Syria is found in Gebhard Fartacek, Pilgerstätten in der syrischen Peripherie. Eine ethnologische Studie zur kognitiven Konstruktion sakraler Plätze und deren Praxisrelevanz (Vienna: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2003); several shrines are also described in Rudolf Kriss and H. Kriss-Heinrich, Volksglaube im Bereich des Islam. vol. 1 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1960). For sanctuaries around Antioch see Laila Prager, “Alawi Ziyara Tradition and Its Interreligious Dimensions: Sacred Places and Their Contested Meanings among Christians, Alawi and Sunni Muslims in Contemporary Hatay (Turkey)” The Muslim World 103 (2013): 41–61.

(63.) Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis, 301.

(64.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 151.

(65.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 211.

(66.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 131.

(67.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 225–230.

(68.) Meir M. Bar-Asher, “Sur les éléments chrétiens de la religion Nuṣayrite-‛Alawite.” Journal Asiatique 289 (2001): 185–216; Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky. The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 2002.

(69.) Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 111.

(70.) Samuel Lyde, The Asian Mystery Illustrated in the History, Religion, and Present State of the Ansaireeh or Nusairis of Syria (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1860).

(71.) René Dussaud, Histoire et religion des Noṣairîs (Paris: Émile Bouillon, 1900).

(72.) Jacques Weulersse, Le pays des Alaouites, 2 vols. (Tours, France: Arrault, 1940).

(73.) Louis Massignon, “Esquisse d’une bibliographie Nusayrie,” in Opera Minora de Louis Massignon, vol. 1 (Beirut: Dar al-Maaref, 1963), 641–649. This volume was first published in 1938.

(74.) Rudolf Strothmann, Abū Saʿīd Maymūn b. al-Qāsim Aṭ-Ṭabarānī: Kitāb sabīl rāḥat al-arwāḥ wa-dalīl as-surr wa-l-afrāḥ ilā fāliq al-aṣbāḥ al-marūf bi-Majmūʿ al-aʿyād. Der Islam 27 (1944) [covers the whole volume]; Rudolf Strothmann, Esoterische Sonderthemen bei den Nusairi: Geschichte und Traditionen von den Heiligen Meistern aus dem Prophetenhaus. (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1958); Rudolf Strothmann, “Seelenwanderung bei den Nuṣairī,” Oriens 12 (1959): 89–114.

(75.) Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis, 284.

(76.) Meir M. Bar-Asher and Aryeh Kofsky, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī Religion, 2002.

(77.) Meir M Bar-Asher, “Sur les éléments chrétiens de la religion Nuṣayrite-‛Alawite.” Journal Asiatique 289 (2001): 185–216; Meir M. Bar-Asher, “The Iranian Component of the Nuṣayrī religion,” Iran 41 (2003): 217–227.

(78.) Yaron, Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawīs, 225–230.

(79.) Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, The Plain of Saints and Prophets; Gisela Procházka-Eisl and Stephan Procházka, “The Arabic Speaking Alawis of the Çukurova,” (forthcoming; see endnote 2 for complete information).

(80.) Laila Prager, “Alawi Ziyara Tradition and Its Interreligious Dimensions: Sacred Places and their Contested Meanings among Christians, Alawi and Sunni Muslims in Contemporary Hatay (Turkey)” The Muslim World 103 (2013): 41–61.

(81.) Gebhard Fartacek, Pilgerstätten in der syrischen Peripherie: Eine ethnologische Studie zur kognitiven Konstruktion sakraler Plätze und deren Praxisrelevanz (Vienna: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2003).

(82.) For instance, Daniel Pipes, “The Alawi Capture of Power in Syria,” Middle Eastern Studies 25 (1989): 429–450; Nikolaos van Dam, The struggle for power in Syria: Politics and society under Asad and the Baʿth Party. (London and New York: Tauris, 1996).

(83.) Hanna Batatu, “Some Observations on the Social Roots of Syria’s Ruling Military Group and the Causes for its Dominance,” Middle East Journal 35 (1981), 331–344.

(84.) Gregor Voss, ʿAlawīya oder Nuṣairīya? Schiitische Machtelite und sunnitische Opposition in der Syrischen Arabischen Republik: Untersuchungen zu einer islamisch-politischen Streitfrage (PhD diss., University of Hamburg, 1987); Sabrina Mervin, “ʿAlawīs, contemporary developments,” Encyclopaedia of Islam, Three, ed. Gudrun Krämer; Denis Matringe; John Nawas; Everett Rowson. Brill Online, 2011; Martin Kramer, “Syria’s Alawis and Shi‘ism,” in Shi’ism, Resistance, and Revolution, ed. M. Kramer (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1987), 237–254. Kais M Firro, “The ʿAlawīs in Modern Syria: From Nuṣayrīya to Islam via ʿAlawīya,” Der Islam 82 (2005): 1–31.

(85.) Fabrice Balanche, La région alaouite et le pouvoir syrien (Paris: Karthala, 2006).

(86.) Patrick Franke, “Die syrischen Alawiten in westlicher Forschung: Einige kritische Anmerkungen,” in Sprache, Mythen, Mythizismen. Festschrift für Walter Beltz zum 65. Geburtstag am 25. April 2000, ed. Armenuhi Drost-Abgarjan and Jürgen Tubach (Halle, Germany: Institut f. Orientalistik, 2004), 219–270.

(87.) As some articles in Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab, Critical Muslim 11: Syria. (London: Hurst, 2014) have already done.

(88.) Yaron Friedman, The Nuṣayrī-ʿAlawī, 2010.

(89.) Abū Mūsā and Shaykh Mūsā, eds., Silsilat at-turāth al-ʿAlawī. Rasāʾil al-ḥikma al-ʿAlawiyya, 6 vols. (Lebanon: Diyār al-ʿAql, 2006).

(90.) Sulaymān Al-Adhanī, Kitāb al-bākūra as-sulaymāniyya fī kashf asrār ad-diyāna an-nuṣayriyya, (Beruit: n.d., c. 1862–1863). English translation by E. E. Salisbury in Journal of the American Oriental Society 8 (1864): 227–308.

(91.) Amīn Ghālib Aṭ-Ṭawīl Muḥammad, Taʾrīkh al-ʿAlawiyyīn, (Beirut: Dār al-Andalus, 1966). This work was originally published in Latakia, 1924.