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The Alevi and Alawi are two different Shia sects sharing common name. The Alevis are concentrated in Turkey. The Alawis are concentrated in Syria.

Alawis believe in the absolute unity and transcendence of God who is undefinable and unknowable. God however reveals himself periodically to man in a Trinitarian form. This has happened seven times in history, the last and final revelation being in 'Ali, Muhammad, and Salman al-Farisi. (Salman was a Persian disciple and close companion of Muhammad).

The first person of this Trinity ('Ali) represents the Meaning of the Deity (Ma'na) which is the inner essence of God. The second person (Muhammad) is the Name or the Veil of Deity (Ism, Hijab) - its outward manifestation. The third person (Salman) is the Gate (Bab) of the Deity, through whom the true believer can gain an entrance to the mystery of the Godhead as revealed in 'Ali.

The first person, the Ma'na, is the real substance of God, the source and meaning of all things. The other two are derived from him and inferior to him. They are emanations of the Ma'na's light. In 'Alawi theology 'Ali is thus placed above Muhammad in the hierarchy of the trinity. All attributes and names of God are given to 'Ali and worship is directed to him.

Muhammad emanated from the light of 'Ali's essence, and 'Ali taught him the Quran. Muhammad's role as Ism (Name = Logos?) was to create and sustain the universe, and as Veil (Hijab) to reveal 'Ali to mankind. Muhammad is thus the intermediary between man and God.

Salman in turn emanated from Muhammad and is the only Door (Bab) which leads to the Ma'na through the Ism. He also appeared as the angel Gabriel to guide Muhammad into the Quran. He is also called the Holy Spirit and the Universal Soul, the third person in the 'Alawi Trinity.

The 'Alawi profession of faith states: "I testify that there is no God but 'Ali ibn-Talib the one to be worshipped, no Veil but the Lord Muhammad worthy to be praised, and no Gate but the Lord Salman al-Farisi the object of love".

The mystery of the Trinity is the centre of 'Alawi worship and rites. It is symbolised by the three letters AMS (Arabic 'Ain, Mim, Sin) standing for 'Ali, Muhammad and Salman. These three are one and it is blasphemy to try and separate them. Meditating on the relationship between the three persons of this Trinity is part of 'Alawi religious practice.

Out of the Bab emanated the five Lords of the Elements (Aytam - incomparable ones), who are also identified with real historical figures. These powers (hierarchies) under Salman, are the creators and sustainors of this universe. Below them are five further spiritual ranks. All these heavenly beings appeared in human form and are personified in Nusairi notables.

In addition to the hierarchies, the 'Alawis also revere many prophets and apostles. The total number of hierarchies, apostles and prophets is said to be 124,000.

Light is the very essence of God, so the 'Alawis worship the sun and the moon seeing them as the abodes of 'Ali, Muhammad and Salman. Actually there are two divisions within the 'Alawis: The Shamsiya (from the Arabic Shams, meaning sun), identify 'Ali with the sun and Salman with the moon. The other group, the Qamariyah (from Qamar, the moon), identify 'Ali with the moon and Salman with the sun. Prayers are said facing the sun.

The heavens are worshipped as God's abode. 'Alawi worship of sun, moon and sky can be traced back to the Sabean sect, an ancient Aramaic community of upper Mesopotamia (Harran) who worshipped the sun, moon and the five planets. They believed that God had one essence but was multiple in his manifestations.

Like Twelver Shi'ites, the 'Alawis believe in the twelve Imams from 'Ali down to Muhammad the Mahdi, each of whom had a Gate (Bab) who served as the pathway leading believers to the Imam. The twelfth Imam disappeared leaving no Bab. This position was then claimed by ibn-Nusayr the founder of the 'Alawi faith. The Imams are seen as pre- existent heavenly spirits around God's throne who later descended to earth in physical bodies to lead humans in praise back to God.

The 'Alawi feasts include the general Muslim feasts of 'Id al-Fitr ( but without the fast of Ramadan) and 'Id al-Adha (without the pilgrimage to Mecca). From Shi'a Islam they celebrate 'Id al-Ghadir that commemorates 'Ali's nomination as successor to Muhammad, and the 'Ashura that commemorates the martyrdom of Hussein, 'Ali's son, at Karbala.

The Persian Nawruz (New Year, held in Spring and symbolising the change from cold to heat), and the Mihrajan (signifying the change from heat to cold in the Autumn), are also celebrated by the 'Alawis revealing the strong Persian links of their religion.

Christian feast days such as Christmas, Epiphany (the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist), Pentecost and Palm Sunday are celebrated. Also the feasts of Saint John the Baptist, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Barbara and Saint Mary Magdalene.

The 'Alawis also celebrate a ceremony resembling the mass (Quddass), where wine and bread are consecrated and partaken of by the male initiates. The wine especially is considered to be the very essence of God ('Ali), transsubstantiated by the mass and offered to the believer. It is called "The Servant Of Light" ('Abd al-Nur). Vines are treated with great respect in 'Alawi culture.

The main 'Alawi Holy Book is the "Kitab al-Majmu'" compiled by al-Khasibi and containing 16 Suras. Other sacred books are: Kitab al-Mashaykha (manual for Sheikhs), Kitab Majmu' al-'Ayad (Book of Feasts) and Kitab Ta'lim al-Diyana al-Nusayriyyah, the 'Alawi chatechism.

The 'Alawis believe in the transmigration of souls (metempshychosis, reincarnation). Unbelievers (Muslims, Christians, Jews) return as animals, whilst 'Alawis are reincarnated in other 'Alawis and eventually can reach the state of luminous stars!

Another important 'Alawi principle is that of Taqiya - religious dissimulation, practiced also by Shi'as and the Druze. 'Alawis may pretend to adhere outwardly to the majority religion in order to ensure their own survival. This also means keeping the 'Alawi religion and its principles hidden from outsiders.

The Alawi dominated goverment of Syria has been making steady progress in making the Alawi sect conform to Islamic beliefs. The Alawi dominated government killed over 10,000 Muslims in Hama in 1982 and since has moved towards including Islam in daily life in Syria.

 

 


 Page last updated: Friday, November 25, 2005 22:04:51 -0500