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'Alawites in the Muslim World
May 2007 version

'Alawites are an offshoot of Shi'ites. Some other Muslims, particularly in Syria and Lebanon, accept them as Muslims, but others consider themheretics (ghali) and outside of Islam. 'Alawites have seven pillars of Islam, including Jihad and devotion to 'Ali,who is divine. 'Alawites believe in drinking wine, and they have something similar to a communion service. Tens of thousands of 'Alawites have been killed by other Muslims, but today 'Alawites are in control in the country of Syria.

Who are these people? What do the following have in common: a persecuted people, wild outlaws, a battery-powered electric messiah, and control of the country of Syria today. Who is it that believes in a "Trinity", whose Supreme manifestation is Muhammad, ‘Ali, and Salman al-Farisi? The purposes of this paper are to give both Muslims and non-Muslims a different perspective on the world of Islam, break down stereotypes about Muslim people, and perhaps, through a brief glimpse of the strange ways of the ‘Alawites, you might find some deep things to ponder. We will answer all of these questions, but in order to do so, we have to go back and understand a few things about their origin.

Origin of the ‘Alawite People

There is actually great disagreement on the origin of the ‘Alawite people. They prefer the name ‘Alawi (follower of ‘Ali), but they were for a long time called Nusayris. Some think the Nusayri were descendents from the Nazerini in Syria Roman historian Pliny mentioned in History 5:23. The ‘Alawites are composed of a number of tribes, some of which were native to northwest Syria; other tribes emigrated from Iraq in the 12th century. In 1516, the Ottoman Emperor Selim I "The Grim" killed over 9,400 mainly ‘Alawite Shi’ites with the blessing of the Sunni religious leaders. He settled many Turks in the ‘Alawite homelands of northeast Syria, but over time, many of them joined the ‘Alawites also.

The ‘Alawites tried to set up their own country, first called "The ‘Alawite State", and then changed to "Sanjak of Latakia", from 1920-1936. Today there are up to 3 1/2 million ‘Alawites, and they control the country of Syria.

History of their Religion

According to themselves, this Shi’ite group came from God, and their religion is what Mohammed and ‘Ali taught. According to question 44 of the Druze Catechism, they split off from the Druze because they worshipped ‘Ali, when they really should be worshipping Lord al-Hakim (996-1021 A.D.) who is visible God to the Druze.

According to Patrick Seale, in Asad : The Struggle for the Middle East, Univ. of Ca. Press 1968, p.8, "Like the related sects of the Druze and Isma’ilis, the Nusayris were a remnant of the Shi’i upsurge which had swept Islam a thousand years before. They were islands left by a tide which had receded."

Some trace the teachings of the ‘Alawites to Muhammad ibn Nusayr an-Namiri (c.850 A.D.), who called himself the Gate (Bab) to Truth. It apparently evolved through the teachings of Husayn ibn Hamdan al-Khasabi (c.970 A.D.). When the Shi’ites lost power, ‘Alawites were killed by Crusaders, Mamelukes, Ottomans, and ‘Alawites also fought among themselves. As a side note, there was a Sunni ‘Alawiyya dynasty of Morocco, but it is unrelated.

Conflict Over the ‘Alawite Religion

‘Alawites are an offshoot of Twelver Shi’ites. They were recognized by the Lebanese Twelver Shi’ite leader Imam al-Sadr in 1974 as legitimate Muslims, after the ‘Alawite Hafez Assad was elected to power in Syria in 1971. His son, Bashar is likewise an ‘Alawite. Other, smaller groups also believe in the deification of ‘Ali, and these groups along with ‘Alawites are called ‘Alawi.

Ibn Taimiya/Taymiyya (d. 1328), orthodox Muslim scholar and founder of Wahhabism, issued a fatwa (legal judgment) against the ‘Alawites with rather harsh language. He said they were not trustworthy, "they were greater infidels than the Christians and Jews…greater even than idolators." He authorized Jihad against them, saying it was legal to take their property and blood, unless they show repentance.

In 1097 the Crusaders initially massacred a group of Nusayris, but when they heard they were not true Muslims, the Crusaders tolerated them and even aided them in fighting the Isma’ilis. In 1120, the Kurds and Isma’ili Muslims defeated 25,000 Nusayris, but in 1123 the Nusayris with the help of some defecting Isma’ilis defeated the Kurds. In 1291, ‘Alawite and Isma’ili leaders met unsuccessfully to try to merge together. The Egyptian (Muslim) Mameluke rulers persecuted them from 1260 to 1518. When the Ottomans took over Syria, starting in 1516, they persecuted the ‘Alawites too. In 1832, after the Nusayri attacked the Ismai’li village of Masyaf, the Pasha of Damascus sent thousands of troops to fight them. They were also persecuted in 1870 and 1877. The French pacified ‘Alawi lands from 1918-1922. After ‘Alawites massacred some Christian nuns on 4/27/1924, the French killed more ‘Alawites. Under Sliman Murshad, many ‘Alawites fought against the Nationalist Syrian troops, until Sliman was hung in 1946. ‘Alawites are 8-12% of the Syrian population today. They are 65% of the population in the Latakia regions of east Syria and a small part of south Turkey.

After Hafez Assad had been in power, the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood (Ikwan) almost assassinated Assad on 6/26/1980. Many of the Ikwan were in the town of Hama, and the government sent 500 Syrian troops to punish them. The Ikwan killed all of them. All the mosques of Hama blared out that the guerilla war against Assad was over, now was time to openly support the Ikwan and drive out the "infidels". The streets of Hama were too narrow for tanks, so Assad’s brother ordered the artillery flatten the town, and then sent in troops to kill everyone else. Between 20,000 and 38,000 people were killed. An ‘Alawite told me that Assad’s brother was expelled from Syria for this. However, Syria has not had any trouble with Sunni holy warriors since.

Summary: Non-Alawite Muslims are not all agreed whether the ‘Alawites are genuine Muslims or not. ‘Alawites claim to follow the essential teachings of Islam, but there are obviously wide differences in interpretation. In a similar manner, all Muslims claim to follow the teachings of Jesus, yet few have read them and know of the intrinsic contradictions between the Prince of Peace (that is, Jesus) and Islam. While many Muslims considered ‘Alawites as ghulat (a cult) farther from Mohammed’s teachings than even Christians and Jews, some might consider Islam a ghulat with respect to Jesus’ teaching.

Beliefs of ‘Alawite Islam

Secrecy: ‘Alawites have tried to keep their inner teaching and rituals secret, somewhat like the masons or Mormons. One of their rituals is a communion, including drinking wine. Like Catholics, they believe that the wine is transubstantiated into deity, Allah.

The Five Pillars of Islam: the creed, prayer, alms, pilgrimage, fasting during Ramadan, are believed only as symbols and there is no need to practice them. They have two other pillars:

Jihad, or holy struggle/war, was also considered the sixth pillar by the Kharijites.

Worship of ‘Ali, (called Waliya), is the seventh pillar. This involves not only devotion to ‘Ali, but also struggle against ‘Ali’s enemies.

A "Trinity": Almost all Shi’ites (Zaydis excepted) believe ‘Ali, the son-in-law of Mohammed, was the rightful first caliph. However, ‘Alawites go further and believe ‘Ali is a member of an appearance of a "Trinity" of Allah. Most Muslims deny any Trinity. Like the other Isma’ilis, Allah has appeared in a threeness at least seven times. The last appearance was Mohammed, ‘Ali and Saliman al-Farisi. "al-Farisi" means "the Persian". Saliman was the one who suggested digging a large trench around part of Medina at the Battle of the Trench.

Seven Cycles: ‘Alawites believe Allah appeared in seven cycles of three parts.
























Saliman al Farisi

Note that Noah and Seth are together, even though they lived over a millennia apart.

Reincarnation: People who deny ‘Ali will be punished by being reincarnated into animals.

Attending Mosque is not important to most ‘Alawites. However, they do have ceremonies in the famous Ummayad mosque in Damascus.

Holidays: Like both Sunnis and Shi’ites, they celebrate the sacrificial feast Id al-Azha. Like other Shi’ites, they celebrate the festivals of Idr i-Fitr, Idr i-Kabir, and Ashura. They also celebrate Christmas and Epiphany. They also celebrate Nawruz, which is the New Year of the Zoroastrians. Other Shi’ites celebrate this also, teaching this was the day Mohammed gave the Caliphate to ‘Ali.

Astrology: While Mohammed was against astrology, ‘Alawites use astrology; perhaps they were influenced by Zoroastrians here. They believe the stars in the Milky Way are actually the deified souls of believers.

Old Nusayri theology said women do not have souls and are not reincarnated: The Encyclopedia of Islam New Edition continues: "Women are excluded from this because they are born of the sins of devils; for this reason, they are not entitled to participate in the rights of men (Sulayman, Bakura, 61)." This too differs markedly from Mohammed, where he taught the majority of the inhabitants of Hell were women (Bukhari vol.2 book 18 ch.9 no.161 p.91-92; vol.1 book 6 ch.8 no.301 p.181, and vol.1 book 2 ch.21 no.28 p.29). However in modern times, an 'Alawite told me that today they do in fact believe women have souls.

Wine: ‘Alawites in Syria drink wine. The National Geographic Magazine has a picture of two Syrian men in traditional Arab dress drinking wine together. However, an 'Alawite told me they do not believe in getting drunk.

Persecuted: As recently as 1978 buildings in Kahramanmaras were burned and 111 Alevis (similar to Syrian 'Alawites except Turkish) were killed by other Muslims. (AP Jan. 12, 2007)

‘Alawite Sects

The ‘Alawites themselves are divided into five sects, the Sun Sect (Shamsiyya), the Moon Sect (Qamari), the Murshids named after their Messiah, Sliman Murshid/Murshad, the Haidariyya, and the Ghaibiyya. All agree on the ‘Alawite "fundamentals", but when the divine manifestation of God, ‘Ali ibn Abi/Abu Talib, left earth, the Sun and Moon sects disagree on whether he now lives in the sun or in the moon. The Moon sect is made up of six tribes of ‘Alawites. The majority of ‘Alawites belong to the sect of their religion that their parents and tribe belonged to. However, probably a majority of people in the world belong to a religion simply because it is their family’s tradition. Lots of people today are looking for a tradition; how many are looking for the True God?

Sliman Murshad, the Electric Messiah

Sliman Murshad was born sometime before 1900. He proclaimed himself the Messiah; many 'Alawites followed him, though it should be mentioned that many did not; and his beliefs are not representative of all 'Alawites. Like Mohammed, Sliman apparently had symptoms that appeared like epileptic fits. Like Mohammed, his followers claimed he did miracles too. For example, he would secretly bury food in a mud wall, and when he hit the wall hard, food would come out for the villagers to eat. His legs would glow in the dark, because he painted them with phosphorus. The phosphorus would glow when he would literally light up, because he had lights connected to a small battery he carried. He led a rebellion against the government of Syria, he was supported some by the French, and was finally hung by the Syrians in 1949.

Most curiously, even some people who were suing Sliman, and did not believe him to be any kind of Messiah, were sad to see him killed because he promoted the cause of ‘Alawite autonomy. Anyway, after that time, many ‘Alawites joined the army and the Syrian Baath political party. (The Iraqi Baath political party is not ‘Alawite.) In 1971, Hafiz/Hafez Assad became the President of Syria, and his son Bashar rules today.

Is your religion true, or does it too need "batteries" to keep on going. Jesus said, "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). Just as bugs fly into bug lights and die when they should seek to fly by the sun, people’s souls go to Hell when they seek the "bug light" that needs phosphorus and batteries, when they should seek the true light of God.

If you are tired of religions that need props, coercion, or traditions to keep alive and fired up, look to Jesus who transforms us. You do not need long books of commentaries or hadiths on all the finer legalisms of ritual religion; these too are bug lights, when you need God. God does not allow His word to become corrupted, and if you believe that, then trust in God’s word, the Bible.

The Attractiveness of the ‘Alawite Faith

Why are people ‘Alawite Muslims? Some might think it is because this allows one to be a Muslim (with its corresponding benefits in a Muslim society) and not have to do all the rituals and go to the mosque very much. One can also drink alcohol as an ‘Alawite Muslim. But there is more to it than that.

In orthodox Islam, Allah is nearly unknowable. In Sunni Islam, if you want to know all that pleases and displeases Allah, you "vicariously observe" everything Mohammed did as written in the traditions (Sunnah) preserved in the hadiths. The hadiths are in a sense more influential than the Qur’an, because there is so much more that is spelled out in all those volumes. Shi’ite Islam has its own teachings of Ja’far and others, but for practical application they listen to the imams. ‘Alawites have a great respect for Mohammed and ‘Ali, and so they worship them as Allah. ‘Alawites want to know God, and they think they can by substituting Mohammed, ‘Ali, and Salman al-Farisi as a Trinity. A problem with this is that Mohammed and ‘Ali never claimed to be God, one with God, or claimed to forgive sins. They never accepted worship or the title of Lord, or allowed others to call them God.

The True God is knowable in the Old Testament. It shows how God interacted with kings, judges, and commoners. Of course, in the New Testament, God is even more knowable since Jesus came to earth.

Contrast with the Bible

Secret teachings are a part of the ‘Alawite religion. Christianity has deep truth that was only known through God’s revelation. However, God has revealed all He wants us to know. There is no Christian doctrine, experience, or practice Christians teach today that is not readily available for non-Christians to hear or read. Paul in Ephesians 3:9-10 said his mission was "to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known…" (NIV)

Worship of others is expressly forbidden in the first of the Ten Commandments. "But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:3 NIV)

Reincarnation: The Bible teaches reincarnation is wrong; Hebrews 9:27 says that man is destined to die once. In 2 Samuel 12:22-23 David said of his dead baby: "I will go to him [the grave] but he will not return to me." (NIV) Reincarnation does not make sense, since we all go to Heaven or Hell after death. Ecclesiastes 11:3 also shows that "wherever a tree falls, there it will lie."

Astrology, trusting heavenly bodies for advice about the future is wrong according to the Bible in Leviticus 19:26; 22:27; Deuteronomy 18:11-14; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3,5; 2 Chronicles 33:3-6.

Women: In the Bible men and woman have different roles. However, in regard to value, Galatians 3:28 shows that there is neither male nor female in Christ Jesus; all believers have the privilege of being children of God.

Wine: The Old Testament shows that drinking wine is acceptable, but Ephesians 5:18 commands us not to be drunk. ‘Alawites drink wine, but I have no evidence that they believe in getting drunk either.

Gospel for ‘Alawites (and everyone else)

God is Greater than Our Thoughts: ‘Alawites rightly believe God is more complex than just Allah, but they worship Mohammed, ‘Ali, and Saliman al-Farisi as God. It is amazing that they would worship Mohammed, who taught he was not God, and not worship Jesus, when centuries before He and the early Christians had taught that Jesus was God. Jesus did not show that He was God merely in some abstract sense, but He accepted worship, forgave sins, which only God could forgive, and accepted others calling Him God too.

God Created Us: How you ever stopped to wonder why God created human beings at all? The Qur’an does not directly answer, but the Bible provides a number of reasons.

· We were created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7; 62:3) to proclaim His praise (Isaiah 43:21) as His witnesses (Isaiah 43:10)

· God loves us and delights in us (Zephaniah 3:17)

· As a Father loves His children (Malachi 1:6; 1 John 3:1), God cares for us. (Psalm 8:4; Nahum 1:7; 1 Peter 5:7)

· God wants us to live with Him forever (Revelation 21:3; 2 Corinthians 5:4)

· Our joy (Philippians 3:1) and light will be God (Revelation 21:23-25; John 1:5,7-9) which is better than looking forward to wine (Psalm 4:7)

· We are created in Christ Jesus to do works (Ephesians 2:10)

We have a purpose, and do not let religion, or anything else, stop you from fulfilling our purpose.

People run from God’s Truth: We have no reasons to look down on ‘Alawites who believe ‘Ali lives today on the sun, or the ones who believe ‘Ali lives on the moon, because haven’t most people, at one time or another choose to believe something just because they wanted to, without caring foremost about the truth? Not only do people prefer to believe crazy, made-up doctrines, but people do not want to believe that God’s way is the best way. When someone who knows the truth about God decides to do drugs, get drunk, be immoral, or chase money as their idol, is their thinking any more rational than the ‘Alawites? No, we all are in the same boat without God, and God not only needed to reveal the truth, but He has to guide people to it, as people are so prone to chase after the deceptions of this life.

There is one way, God’s way: Though we have all turned aside from God and followed our pet deceptions, God was not through with us. While we were still God’s enemies, God sent His son Jesus Christ to die for us, as Romans 5:10-11 shows. Mere prophets came to teach; Jesus not only taught like other prophets, He came to die to our sins (John 1:29; 1 Timothy 2:6; 1 John 2:2). Jesus said in John 14:6 "I am the way and the truth and the life. None comes to the Father except through me."

We must seek God: Jesus told us we had to seek Him in Matthew 7:7-12. Mt 7:14 adds, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that lead to life, and only a few find it."

We must confess Jesus as Lord: "if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Any-one who trust in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’" (Rom 10:9-13)

References and Web Links Valid as of 2/3/2002

www.gospelcom.net/apologeticsindex/a21.html has a number of pages relating to Islam and the Mideast.

http://www.lexicorient.com/e.o/alawites.htm gives information on ‘Alawite beliefs.

http://flagspot.net/flags/sy-alw20.html shows the flag of the ill-fated Alawite State (from 1920-1936). It has a 12-point star.

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