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A term derived from the name of the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad, `Ali ibn Abi Talib (d. 661), `Alawiyah was applied originally to those who supported `Ali’s exclusive right to lead the Muslim community after the death of the Prophet in 632. The tenth-century Shi`i writer al-Nawbakht-1 called them al-Shi’ah al-`Alawiyah in his Firaq al-Shi `ah (The Shi’ah Sects, Najaf, 1969, p. 66). These Shi’i (Partisans of `Ali) were also called `Alawiyun. According to a Shi`i source, the Prophet is reported to have told `Ali, “At the Day of Resurrection you and your partisan [Shi`ah] shall come riding on she-camels of light shouting: We are the followers of `Ali [`Alawlyfin]!” (Al-Shaykh ‘Abbas al-Qumm-1, Safinat al-bihar [The Ship of Seas], Qom, 1935, vol. 2, p. 253). Throughout history the term `Alawiyah has been generally used to include all the Shi`ah, whether orthodox or heterodox, who place `Ali and his descendants the imams at the center of their religious system. Thus, there is no contradiction in the fact that the Zaydiyah of Yemen, an orthodox school of thought, and the Ithna `Ashariyah (Twelvers), considered moderate Shi`i, are both `Alawiyah. Likewise, heterodox Shi’i groups, such as the Kizilbash, Takhtajis, and cepnis of Turkey, the Mutawilah (Mutawallis) of Lebanon, the Shabak and Sarliyah-Kaka’iyah ofIraq, and the `Ali Ilahis or Ahl-i Haqq (People of the Truth) of Iran, are considered `Alawiyah. However, in modern times the terms `Alawiyah, `Alawlyfin, `Alawites, and `Alids exclusively denote the Nusayriyah, an extremist Shi’i school of thought whose adherents live in the northwestern mountain range of Syria (al-`Alawlyfin Mountain). The major city of al-`Alawiyah district is alLadhiqiyah (Latakia), famous for its choice tobacco. The term Nusayriyah is derived from the name Muhammad ibn Nusayr, a follower of the eleventh Shl’i imam, al-Hasan al-`Askari (d. 873). At first, Ibn Nusayr claimed to be the bab (“gate”) of this imam and privy to the divine mysteries of the twelve Shi`i imams. But he went further, proclaiming the apotheosis of al`Askari, who therefore condemned him. The teachings of Ibn Nusayr led to the growth of a school of thought originally called al-Namirlyah because of Ibn Nusayr’s association with the Arab tribe of this name. But since the time of Abu `Abd Allah al-Husayn ibn Hamdan alKhusaybi (d. 957), the great propagandist of this school, it has been known as Nusayriyah.

In the nineteenth century, because of harsh living conditions, the `Alawiyah, who were mostly farmers, began to leave their mountain abode and seek employment in other parts of Syria. Many of them engaged in menial work and were despised by the Sunni Muslim majority. In the wake of World War I, the French occupiedSyria, and in 1922 they established Dawlat al-`Alawiyin (the `AlawiyunState) for the `Alawiyah, whom they called `Alawiyun (Followers of ‘Ali). Under the French mandate, young `Alawi men readily enlisted in the newly established Syrian army, while the Sunni majority, who hated the French imperialists, shunned military service. When the Arab Socialist (Ba’th) party was established in the 1940s, many `Alawis joined. By the middle 1960s they occupied key positions in both army and government; in 1970, Hafez al-Assad, a high-ranking `Alawi military officer, overthrew the government in a coup d’etat, and in February 1971 he became the first `Alawi president of Syria.

The `Alawiyah are extremist Shi`is, known as ghulat (exaggerators), whose religious system separates them from Sunni Muslims. The fundamental article of their religion is the absolute oneness of God, but they do not attempt to define his existence or attributes either philosophically or theologically. Like another group of ghulat, Ahl-i Haqq, they believe that God appeared on earth seven times in human form, and that `Al! is the last manifestation of the deity and the consummate reality in whom all previous manifestations found their ultimate end and completion. But this God who appeared in seven forms has three personalities, corresponding to a trinity comprised of ‘Ali, also called the Ma’na (Meaning or Causal Determinant), Muhammad (God’s ism, or “name”), and Salman al-Farisi (God’s bab). This God `Ali, the creator of heaven and earth, also created Muhammad and charged him to preach the message of the Qur’an. Thus, Muhammad cannot be homologous with `Al! in his divinity; he occupies an inferior position in the trinity. Like the Ithna `Ashariyah the `Alawiyah believe that the twelve imams possess divine knowledge and have babs who transmit this knowledge to the faithful of their generation. When the twelfth and last imam, Muhammad (the Mahdi), disappeared at the end of the ninth century, Ibn Nusayr claimed to be his bab, as he had done before with his father al-Askarl. The ‘Alawiyah maintain that every generation should have an imam to uphold the Shi’i faith.

Worship of light forms is an essential part of the ‘Alawiyah religious system, which probably has its origin in the astral religion of the Sabaeans. This light, symbolized by the sun, is the mystery of God; thus ‘Ali is surrounded by light and dwells in the sun (shams). Those who hold this belief are called Shamsis. The Qamaris, however, believe that the God `All dwells in the moon (qamar), and that the black spots which appear on the moon are the embodiment of the worshiped ‘Ali, who carries his famous sword Dhu al-Fiqar (that which has splitting power).

One of the unique doctrines of the `Alawiyah concerns spiritual hierarchies. They believe that there are countless worlds known to God, chief among them al`Alam al-Nurani (World of Light), inhabited by spirits of many ranks, including the Aytam (Incomparables), Naqibs (Princes), Najibs (Excellent Ones), Mukhtassun (Peculiars), Mukhfisun (Pure in Faith), and Mumtahanun (the Tried), who correspond to the ranks of angels. They also acknowledge al-`Alam al-Turabi (Earthly World), where men reside. They believe in the metempsychosis of human beings, animals, and plants. At death the soul of a good `Alawi will pass into another human body, while that of a wicked one will pass into an unclean or predatory animal. The `Alawiyah are very secretive, refusing to divulge their beliefs to strangers. They resort to taqiyah (dissimulation) to preserve their ancient religion, especially the belief in the principles of good and evil, symbolized by light and darkness, which depends on an allegorical interpretation of the Qur’an and the traditions of the prophet Muhammad. For this reason, initiation into the mysteries of this school is an extremely important ceremony which may have its origins in Sufism and Hikmat al-Ishraq (Neoplatonism). [See also Taqiyah.]

The `Alawiyah celebrate many of the Muslim festivals, like `Id al-Fitr and `Id al-Adha. Like the rest of the Shi’ah, they observe `Ashura’ to commemorate the martyrdom of the imam al-Husayn, whom they regard as divine and liken to Jesus Christ. They also celebrate Persian festivals, chiefly the Nawruz (New Year), because of their belief in the superiority of the Persians over the Arabs. They believe that after the Arabs rejected `All, he appeared as the Ma’na in the person of the Persian Sassanian kings. They also celebrate some Christian festivals including Epiphany, Pentecost, Palm Sunday, and the feasts of St. John the Baptist, St. John Chrysostom, St. Barbara, and St. Mary Magdalene. The `Alawiyah also celebrate Mass, including consecration of bread and wine, albeit in a ShM context. In the Mass the great mystery of God is the sacrament of the flesh and blood which Christ offered to his disciples at the Last Supper, but the `Alawiyah maintain that the mystery of faith is ‘Ali the light, who is manifested in the wine. This indicates that they may have Christian origins; at the least, they were greatly influenced by their Christian neighbors.

[See also `Ali ibn Abi Talib; Ithna `Asharlyah; Shi`i Islam, historical overview article.]

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MATTI MOOSA

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/alawiyah/
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