Arabic: ¢alawī (singular), ¢alawīya (plural)
Adherent to the Islamic sect of Alawism, stemming from the Twelver Shi’is. They live in Syria, mainly in the mountains near the city of Latakia, but many also live in the cities of Hama and Homs, and in recent decades there has been a migration to Damascus.
Alawites can, confusingly, be referred to as Nusayris, which mainly is a reflection of the historical origins of Alawism.
Their exact number is not known, but estimated to be between 1.5 and 2.5 million. Most of them live from agriculture, but the Alawites are also central in the leadership of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad being an Alawite (similar to his late father, Hafez).
The Alawites are not Alevi, another religion, which usually is classified as a Shi’i-originated branch of Islam, with some 21 million adherents, mainly in Turkey.
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.