Islam / Orientations /
Islamic sect, stemming from the Twelver Shi'is. The Alawism must not be confused with Alevism, another religion, which usually is classified as a Shi'i-originated branch of Islam, with some 21 million adherents, mainly in Turkey.
Alawites crawling around the grave of Hüseyin Gazi.
|Alawites by country
Figures in 1000.
Last column: % Alawites of the population
*) Calculated for the total population of North Africa and the Middle East, approx. 460,000,000.
Their name is a recent one earlier they were known as Nusairis, Namiriya or Ansariyya. The names 'Nusairi' and 'Namiriya' came from their first theologian, Muhammadu bni Nusairi n-Namiri. The name 'Ansariyya' came from the mountain region in Syria where this sect lived.
In their view, Ali, cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, is the bearer of divine essence, and he is the second most elevated prophet (next to Muhammad).
Alawism has 7 pillars to its teachings. Five of these are similar to those of other Muslims, (the creed, the prayers, alms, pilgrimage to Mecca and fasting during the month of Ramadan), but the Alawites consider these as symbols, and therefore they do not practice what other Muslims consider as duties. The other 2 pillars are jihad, holy struggle, and waliya (devotion to Ali, and struggle against his enemies).
The Alawites celebrate the same festivals as most other Shi'is, like Id al-Fitr, Id al-Kabir and Ashura. But they also celebrate some of the same festivals as the Christians, like Christmas and Epiphany, as well as Nawruz, which originally is the Zoroastrian New Year.
Through their history, the Alawites have often been in conflict with the rulers as well as other Muslims, who often have claimed that they are not Muslims. The Alawites consider themselves to be moderate Shi'i Muslims.
857: Muhammadu bni Nusair claims to be the gate (Bab) or representative to the 10th imam among the Shi'is, Ali al Hadi.
10th century: The sect is firmly established by Husayn ibn Hamdan al-Khasibi, during the Shi'i Hamdanid dynasty of Aleppo.
1004: The Hamdanid dynasty falls, and the Alawites are driven out of Aleppo, and centuries of hardship begin.
12th century: The Alawites are badly treated by Crusaders.
1971: The Alawite Hafez al-Assad becomes president of Syria. This brought an end to the Alawites being outcasts in Syrian society. Since then their status has significantly improved, as have their living standards.
1974: The Lebanese leader of the Twelver Shi'is, Imam Musa al-Sadr, issues a legal decision saying that the Alawites are Shi'i Muslims.