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

The Alevi constitute the second largest religious community in Turkey (following the Sunnis), and number some 15% (10 million) of the total population . Most Alevis are ethnic and linguistic Turks, mainly of Turkmen descent from Central and Eastern Anatolia. Some 20% of Alevis are Kurds (though most Kurds are Sunnis), and some 25% of Kurds in Turkey are Alevi (Kurmanji and Zaza speakers).

Alevis consider themselves to be part of the wider Shi`a movement, who revere Hadrat Ali (Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law) and the Twelve Imams of his house. Like all extreme Shia, their reverence for Hadrat Ali verges on deification, for which reason classical Sunni ulama classified them as ghulat (exaggerators), outside the orthodox Islamic fold. Alevis are also called Qizilbash (the name of the Turkmen followers of the Safavid Sufi order of the 15th and 16th centuries), and Bektashi (followers of the Anatolian Bektashi Shia Sufi order founded in the 13th century). Further names used signify specific tribal and linguistic identities: Tahtaci; Abdal; Cepni; Zaza; or are names of great men revered by the Alevi: Jafari; Huseyni.

Alevis are distinct from the Arabic speaking Alawis of Syria and Southwest Turkey (Nusayris). Both are extreme Shia (ghulat) communities with similarities in doctrine and practice, but separate historical developments.

Alevis traditionally inhabit rural Central and Eastern Anatolia, in particular the triangle Kayseri- Sivas-Divirgi. Kurdish Alevis are mainly found in Tunceli, Elazig and Mus provinces. On the Mediterranean coast there are some tribal Alevi settlements of Tahtaci and Cepni. Alevi areas are peripheral and underdeveloped, resulting in the migration of Alevis to the large industrialised cities of western Turkey (and to Western Europe, mainly Germany) in relatively larger proportion than rural Sunnis. Alevis in Europe (especially in Germany), experiencing the freedom of a pluralistic society, stimulated new interest in Alevi ethnicity and culture (Alevilik).

Alevism originated out of a complex mix of mystical (Sufi) Islam, Shi`ism, and the rivalry between the Ottoman and Safavid Empires. Some Sufi orders like the Safavi and Bektashi accepted Shi`a reverence for Ali and the Twelve Imams, and their adherents and sympathisers became the Alevis. Alevi opposition to the Sunni Ottomans in the 16th century resulted in geographical and social marginalisation. In order to survive despite majority hostility and persecution the Alevi developed a tight social-religious network, and (like Druze, Shia, and Alawis), dissimulation and secrecy about their religion (taqiya). They form an endogamic (marrying only within their group) religious community that has definite ethnic markers.

The Alevi liturgical language is Turkish, as opposed to Sunni and Twelver Shia use of Arabic. They thus see themselves as the "real Turks", maintainers of true Turkish culture, religion and folklore in face of the Arabizing Ottoman Sunnis.

The dominant Sunni Islam which serves as the generally accepted orthodoxy in the Turkish state branded Alevism as heretical thus encouraging distorted perceptions of Alevis as sectarian "others" - attaching to them a stigma from which they still suffer today. There is still a persistent social gap between Sunni and Alevi in Turkish society nourished by centuries of majority persecution, prejudice and misconceptions. In the eyes of many traditional Sunnis Alevis are unclean, practice immorality and orgies, and are not true Muslims.

Whilst Sunnism and Twelver Shi`ism possess a tradition of authoritative religious scholarship backed by carriers of formal learning, Alevism lacks both and is more a flowing together of various related movements, doctrines, ideas, rituals and traditions in a flexible synthesis, its strength lying in shared local traditions and esoteric interpretations of Islamic belief and practice.

Until the 1980s it looked like Alevism was losing its unique characteristics and was being absorbed into the total of modern Turkish society. Alevi tradition has however shown a capacity for survival, renewing its particularistic traditions in the face of modernisation. The mid 1980s saw the start of a revival of the Alevi community through a reconstruction and transformation of its religious and social structures, a return to its communal identity patterns, and a reformulation of traditions. This process is linked to a politicisation of group members and an assertive reaffirmation of the collective Alevi identity.

The seeming collapse of Kemalism in the 1990s has created new problems and opportunities for Alevis, most of whom had appreciated Ataturk's extreme secularism even though it suppressed Alevi culture, as it ended centuries of Alevi persecution and massacres by the Sunni majority.

An Alevi revival is now flourishing as young Alevis are for the first time in history willing to openly admit their Alevi roots. Not so long ago, they would have denied their being Alevis if asked. Alevis had always practiced their rituals behind closed doors, but in recent years hundreds of Alevi religious societies have been founded, Alevi monasteries have opened in major cities, and Alevi rituals held in public venues in the large cities.


During the great Turkish expansion from Central Asia into Iran and Anatolia in the Seljuk period (11-12th centuries), Turkmen nomad tribes accepted a Sufi and pro-Ali form of Islam that co-existed with some of their pre-Islamic customs. These tribes dominated central and eastern Anatolia for centuries with their religious warriors (ghazi) spearheading the drive against Byzantines and Slavs. Many Armenians converted to Turkmen type Islam while retaining some Christian practices, and some observers believe that heterodox Armenian Christianity exerted a significant influence on the beliefs of the extremist Shi`ite sects.

Sufism stressed esoteric, allegoric and multiple interpretations of scripture combined to intuitive faith and a search for ecstatic experiences, and was spread by wandering dervishes believed to possess bereket (spiritual power) and keramet (miraculous powers) due to their special nearness to God. Dervish founders of tarikat (Sufi orders) were revered as Saints (veli) and called dede, baba, pir, or seyh, their tombs serving as pilgrimage centres.

Following the Seljuks, the Ottomans established their power in western Anatolia and gradually incorporated Eastern Anatolia into their empire. After Timur's victory over the Ottomans in the 15th century, the Ottoman hold on Eastern Anatolia weakened for a while, with autonomous Turkmen states (Ak-Koyunlu, Kara-Koyunlu) fighting each other for hegemony.

The Qizilbash (red-heads) were Turkmen tribes who adhered to the Safavid Sufi Order, whose Sheikhs claimed descent from Ali. Under Isma`il (d. 1524) they became dominant in Eastern Anatolia and conquered Azerbaijan with its capital Tabriz, where Isma`il named himself Shah in 1501 and went on to conquer all of Iran. His missionaries spread a message of revolt against the Sunni Ottomans in Anatolia, claiming that Isma`il was the awaited mehdi (messiah), and Anatolia became the scene of protracted warfare between Ottomans and Safavids.

The Bektashiyya is a Shia Sufi order founded in the 13th century by Haji Bektash Veli, a dervish who escaped Central Asia and found refuge with the Seljuks in Anatolia at the time of the Mongol invasions (1219-23). This order gained a great following in rural areas and it later developed in two branches: the Celebi clan, who claimed to be physical descendants of Haci Bektas Veli, were called Bel Evladlari (children of the loins), and became the hereditary spiritual leaders of the rural Alevis; and the Babagan, those faithful to the path (yol evladlari - children of the way) who dominated the official Bektashi Sufi order with its elected leadership.

Later, the Bektashiya became the order of the Janissary special troops, tolerated by the Ottomans as its monasteries and pilgrimage centres could be manipulated to control its Alevi followers.

After the foundation of the Safavid Persian state, the new Turkmen Shahs gradually rid themselves of their tribal and sectarian origins in their bid to build a unified Iranian state. Twelver Shiism was proclaimed state religion, with a special role for the Safavi Shahs as descendants of Ali and the Imams. This state religion developed into a very different system to the Alevi faith of their Qizilbash troops. Arab Twelver theologians were recruited from Jabal Amil in Lebanon and from Bahrain, and most Iranians were forcibly converted to Twelver Shiism. The Qizilbash tribal troops were gradually disbanded in favour of a regular Iranian slave army.

The Ottomans had accepted Sunni Islam in the 13th century as a means to unifying their empire, and later proclaimed themselves its defenders against the Safavid Shia state and related heretical sects. This created a gap between the Sunni Ottoman ruling elite and the Alevi Anatolian population. Anatolia became a battlefield between Safavids and Ottomans, each determined to include it in their Empire. Ismail instigated a series of revolts culminating in a general Anatolian uprising against the Ottomans, whose Sultan Bayezid mounted a major expedition 1502-1503 which pushed the Safavids and many of their Turkmen followers into Iran. His successor, Sultan Selim I "The Grim", launched a vigorous campaign into eastern Anatolia, utilising a religious edict condemning Alevis as apostates to massacre many. In the summer of 1514 Selim launched another offensive and won the major battle of Chaldiran on the eastern side of the Euphrates, convincing the Safavids to avoid open conflict with the Ottomans for the next century, and enabling him to overcome the last independent Turkmen dynasties in eastern Anatolia in 1515-1517.

Suleyman the magnificent also ruthlessly suppressed Safavid supporters in eastern Anatolia leading three campaigns into northwest Iran. Finally in 1555 the peace of Amasya recognised Ottoman rule over Iraq and Eastern Anatolia and Iranian rule over Azerbaijan and Caucasia.

The Qizilbash in Anatolia were now militarily, politically and religiously separated from their source in Iran, retreated to isolated rural areas and turned inward, developing their unique structures and doctrines. Following the severe persecution and massacres by the Ottomans which went on into the 18th century, Alevis went underground using taqiya, religious dissimulation permitted by all Shi`a groups, to conceal their faith (pretending to be Sunnis) and survive in a hostile environment. Qizilbash and Bektashis shared common religious beliefs and practices becoming intermingled as Alevis in spite of many local variations. Isolated from both the Sunni Ottomans and the Twelver Shi`a Safavids, Alevis developed traditions, practices, and doctrines by the early 17th century which marked them as a closed autonomous religious community. As a result of the immense pressures to conform to Sunni Islam, Alevis developed a tradition of opposition to all forms of external religion.

Some of the differences that mark Alevis from Sunnis are the use of wine for religious ceremonial functions; non-observance of the five daily prayers and prostrations (they only bow twice in the presence of their spiritual leader), Ramadan, and the Haj (they consider the pilgrimage to Mecca an external pretense, the real pilgrimage being internal in one's heart); and non-attendance of mosques.

Alevis were forbidden to proselytise, and Alevism regenerated itself internally by paternal descent. To prevent penetration by hostile outsiders, the Alevis insisted on strict endogamy which eventually made them into a quasi-ethnic group. Alevi taboos limited interaction with the dominant Sunni political-religious centre. Excommunication was the ultimate punishment threatening those who married outsiders, cooperated with outsiders economically, or ate with outsiders. It was also forbidden to use the state (Sunni) courts.

Beliefs and Practices

Alevism was never a unified, monolithic whole, but covers a wide spectrum of concepts and streams. Teachings were reinterpreted independently of any central authorities, contributing to the variety and flexibility of Alevism. Whilst some see it as syncretistic, with unislamic themes integrated into it, others see it as the true uncorrupted Islam.

Alevis regard themselves as true Muslim followers of Haji Bektash who emphasize the role of Ali in addition to the oneness of God and the prophecy of Muhammad. They accept Ali as the only legitimate successor to Muhammad add to the Witness formula (shahade) the words "and Ali is God's Friend". Muhammad and Ali are emanations of the Divine Light - Muhammad is the announcer, Ali the preserver of Divine Truth, and both seem sometime to merge into one divine figure. The veneration of Ali, approaching deification, is a central marker of all streams and Ali is placed above Muhammad with divine characteristics attributed to him as the gate (bab) to esoteric knowledge. As extreme Shias, Alevis believe in the incarnation of the Divine Light in Ali and his descendants the 12 Imams who are seen as infallible and sinless guardians of true Islam.

Alevis venerate Ehlibeyt - the House of the Prophet (Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan, Hussein) - seen as transcendent and superior to all others, and offer them love and reverence (sevgi ve saygi). They reject all enemies of ehlibeyt, especially the Ummayads who are seen as the personification of evil: they imposed Sunnism as the dominant orthodoxy to enslave the masses; distorted true Islam; destroyed the original Quran and pro-Alid Hadiths, and persecuted the Imams.

The Islamic concept of God as patriarchal and authoritarian, judging people by their works, is coupled to the idea of a loving God with whom you can be united by a heartfelt faith and esoteric rites. Alevis have a trinitarian concept of the Godhead consisting of Allah, Muhammad and Ali. God manifested himself in human form (tecelli) cyclically in history, but ultimately and finally in Ali.

God is approached by four different "gates": Shariat (Islamic law) - the Sunni way of external duties; Tariqat (the path) - the inner way of the heart into which Alevis are born; Marifet (knowledge) - the esoteric intuitive knowledge of God to which few people attain; Haqiqat (ultimate truth) - union with God, the highest degree, to which only a very select few (Saints) attain. Each gate has ten makams (stations, duties) which the faithful must master before progresing to the next gate.

Alevis interpret the Quran in an esoteric, allegoric and symbolic (batini) manner, rejecting literal interpretations. In addition to the Quran, Alevis have their holy books called "buyruk" that expound doctrine and ritual and are claimed to have been written by Jafar-i Sadeq, Seyh Safi ad-Din and others. Alevi also have many liturgical hymns called nefes. attributed to Sah Imail and Pir Sultan Abdal.

Alevis concentrate on the inner meaning of religion and repudiate the external forms of Islam and its five pillars. Alevi villages lack mosques except were forcibly built in Ottoman times or induced to build them in order to gain access to government funds in recent decades, and there are no muezzin calls to prayer.

The ultimate eschatological hope is the returning mehdi who is fervently awaited as the Saviour who will set all things right, initiating a new and just world-order. Shah Ismail and Ataturk are seen as mehdis of their time, guiding men in the right way and prefiguring the ultimate mehdi.

Alevis have a Sufi doctrine of the "Perfect Man" (Insan-i Kamil) and salvation lies partly in emulating perfect figures, such as Ali, Haci Bektac, and other Saints.

Central to Alevi faith is the edeb moral code: the ideal Alevi is "master of his hand, his tongue, his loins" ("Eline diline beline sahip olmak") - an ethic that forbids theft, lies, and adultery and is the absolute centre of Alevi behaviour. God is present in every man and every man must seek for "purity of heart" and self-knowledge, piety being measured by lifestyle and not by ritual. Love and forgiveness are seen as important elements in interpersonal relationships.

Alevis practice taqiya, the duty to keep their faith secret and practice dissimulation of their own beliefs and assumption of a majority religion external front seen as obligatory in times of persecution to ensure survival of the community. Alevi men tended to have mustaches which covered their upper lip to help recognise each other and symbolize the secrecy of their creed.

In this century, secularised urban Alevis would hide their Alevism from authorities and neighbours and visit Sunni mosques to escape stigmatization and ensure equal access to state resources and social upward mobility.

Alevi society is divided into two separate endogamous groups, with no intermarriage allowed between them: the spiritual and social elite, the ocak, who claim descent from Ali, Hussein, the 12 Imams, legendary Saints or religious warriors (ghazi) and constitute a priestly caste, and the majority lay members, the talips (disciples). Religious knowledge was passed down orally in the "Saintly" ocak families who were responsible for the religious and social leadership of the community. Most ocakzade (sons of ocak) recognize the ultimate authority of the supreme head of the Celebi in Hacibektas monastery. From these descent lines come the mursits (teachers), dede (grandfathers), pirs (elders), and rehber (guides). They stand in a master-disciple relationship to each other in their hierarchy, and each has specific duties towards the lay community. The dede oversees several villages and visits them annually, the rehber representing him in each village.

The ocak perform the rituals, teach the new generation, initiate the young, mediate in conflicts, and aid talips in need. They are the central authority for the survival of Alevi religious knowledge and identity. Some 10% of Alevis are of ocak lineage. Every lay member has a specific dede as teacher, the relationship between them strengthened by the talip appearing before his dede once a year to be questioned as to his conduct.

Rituals (ibadet) are communal, their aim being unity (birlik) and love (muhabbet) within the community. They express God's love to man, His most perfect creation in whom He manifests himself.

Alevi rituals differ markedly from those of Sunnis: they fast in the month of Muharram for 12 days in memory of Hussein's death at Karbala and the sufferings of the 12 Imams, this fast is called yas, and reaches its climax on the day of Ashura in which symbolic foods are eaten and nefes recited, the early tragedy symbolizing all discrimination and persecution suffered by Alevis since then.

The central ritual of Alevi religious life is the ayn-i cem (cem for short) celebration that is a replay of Muhammad's legendary heavenly journey (mirac) with the assembly of forty (kirklar meclisi), combined with a memorial to the suffering of the Twelve Imams. A sacrificial meal (lokma), a ritual alcoholic drink, nefes hymns accompanied by music on the saz, dance (sema), and the ritual lighting and extinguishing of candles, are elements of the celebration. The ayn-i cem takes place only when distruted outsiders are not present, and is held at night under great secrecy - a fact that opened it to Sunni speculations of immorality. Once a year this ritual is held under the leadership of a dede assisted by a rehber in a private house or a communal building (cemevi) attended by women on almost equal footing with men.

For Alevis, the ayn-i cem is as important as Kurban Bayram (Abraham's Sacrifice) to the Sunnis. This ceremony cannot take place unless all are at peace with each other, a condition attained by the questioning (sorgu, bas okutma) of all initiates to ensure reconciliation in the community. The dede is the chairman but all can take part in the judicial procedures whose aim is reconciliation, not punishment. Punishments include fines, corporal punishment, and excommunication.

After the questioning the real ritual starts: the initiation (nasip alma) of the new generation ssymbolises their progres from Seriat to Tarikat and is likened to a new birth. They enter a master-disciple relationship with a dede and vow (ikrar) to follow the Alevi path (yol). Then comes the ceremony of the twelve services (oniki hizmet) led by the dede, rehbar and elders.

Members of the community approach the dede in pairs, hand in hand, kneeling down and walking on all fours like lambs to kiss the hem of his coat. Sema music is performed and the men and women dance, some dancers going into a trance. Alevi mystical poetry commemorating the martyrs of the Alevi community is recited. The rite culminates with the "putting out of candles", when water is thrown on 12 burning candles to extinguish them in front of officiating elders. People moan, weep, and curse those responsible for the death of Ali and the martyrs.

Other Alevi Holy days are Nevruz, the Persian New Year celebrated on the 9th March, the Khidirellez day on the 6th May in honour of Khidr (Elijah, St, George), and the twelve day Muharram fast culminating in Ashura.

Alevi society has a double structure of kinship to protect it against outside pressures and central government penetration: beyond the blood-kinship of family, each lay person is the disciple (talip) of a spiritual guide from a sacred lineage in a quasi father-child relationship. in addition, two unrelated lay men together with their wives enter into an unrevokable kinship relationship (musahiplik) that demands total solidarity and sharing of all possessions and responsibility for all debts, as well as mutual encouragement and exhortation to walk the Alevi path. It is also called yol kaedesligi (path fraternity) and ahiret kardislegi (other world fraternity) and is deeper than a blood relationship. Intermarriage between the two families is forbidden to the second generation.

A characteristic of Alevi society are the ideals of equality, justice, and respect for all, which give Alevi women a more respected status than that of Sunni women. Alevi women do not need to be veiled and are not as segregated, nor fear polygamy or one-sided divorce. They also partake equally in the religious life of the community.

The main Alevi symbolic heroes are Ali, Hussein, Imam Jafar-i Sadik, all Twelve Imams, Haci Bektas Veli, Sah Ismail, Balim Sultan, Pir Sultan Abdal, and the modern mehdi - Ataturk:

Imam Jafar-i Sadik was the 6th Imam, author of the Buyruk Alevi scriptures and founder of the Jafari madhab.

Haci Bektas Veli (1248-1337 ?) - is pictured as a Turkish thinker, hero, saint, wise man, and miracle worker of `Alid descent who formed a synthesis of Turkish and Islamic civilisations, reforming Islam in a way suitable to his time and culture.

Shah Ismail is seen as a central identification figure, who fought bravely for true Alevism against the evil and cruel Selim I (The Grim) who mercilessly massacred Alevis and whose reign was the darkest in Ottoman history. Ismail is a figure of light, the friend of the poor, and a fighter for Turkish culture - his state was Turkish in its spiritual and literary creation. His defeat at Chaldiran is seen as a new Karbala and the later Safavid Twelver Shia state he founded as a mistake due to his weakness and to external attacks.

Balim Sultan - systematised the Bektashi order rules, and established the order as part of the Ottoman establishment and as order of the Janissary corps.

Pir Sultan Abdal (d. 1550?) - a mystic, poet, and rebel, was the father of folk-singers and the poet of rebellion who identified with the marginalised masses. He led a peasant rebellion against the Ottomans and was killed in the purges of Safavi followers after Chaldiran. His poetry inspired revolutionary Alevi youth in the 1970s, and his famous lines: "Come O people, let us be one, let us be alive, let us be great" became the Alevi slogan.

Relationships with Sunnis

During the Ottoman period Sunnis accused Alevis of syncretism, rebellion, betrayal, and immorality as ghulat heretics. From the dominant Sunni perspective, Alevi interpretations of Muslim traditions were false and they were accused of suspicious practices and beliefs, including sexual orgies and incest. In modern times Sunni nationalism has tried to reduce and relativize the differences between Sunni and Alevi Islam, claiming that Alevism was the Sunni religion of nomadic Turkmen who deviated somewhat from orthodoxy.

Alevis are now trying to overcome the centuries of Sunni prejudice and persecution and assert their own identity. Alevis see Sunni narrowmindedness as originating in Arabia and as contrary to the Turkish national character. Sunna and Hadith were Arab elite innovations to ensure their dominance of Islam and enslave the masses by their manipulation - and the Ottomans followed in their footsteps. All evil developments in Islam are seen as the fault of Arab society and character. Sunnisn is not true Islam, but an aberration that by its strict legalism opposes free, independent thought and is seen as reactionary, bigoted, fanatic, and antidemocratic.

Alevis use Sunnism as the "Other", the opposite pole to Alevism, by which they identify themselves. The Alevis believe that the original Quran does not demand five prayers, nor mosque attendance, nor pilgrimage - the Sunnis distorted early Islam by omitting, misinterpreting, or changing important passages of the original Quran, especially those dealing with Ali and ritual practice. Only Alevis have kept Muhammad's Islam in its pure form, fulfilling his demands for moral purity, love of humanity, and faith in one God, and only they can claim to be the "true Islam." Alevis see themselves in contrast to Sunnis as tolerant and not aggressive xenophobic chauvinists. Sunni nationalism is seen as intolerant, domineering, unwilling to recognise Alevi uniqueness.

Alevis traditionally saw themselves as belonging to the "community of the saved", a chosen people who possess the divine secret knowledge and are superior to the misled Sunnis in their zeal for externals. They trace their roots to the original true revelation of Islam to Muhammad in Arabia, and stress that it was a religion of freedom, equality, and justice. Ali as Muhammad's only true successor and the most perfect of Muslims carried on true Islam and was the representative of the poor and the marginalised. All great Alevi leaders have the typical Alevi characteristics of justice, egalitarianism, humility, and peacefulness. They all were revolutionaries aiming at radical change in society, loyal to ideals, fighting for the final triumph of good over evil. In God's inscrutable providence, good Alevism was forced to an underground existence of dissimulation and retreat due to a powerful onslaught of evil.

In the political arena of today Alevism is seen as a counterforce to Sunnis, ensuring the continued secularism of Turkey. Alevis, who have a great interest in blocking the rising Sunni influence are the main allies of the secularist forces, and are also searching for alliances with moderate Sunnis against the extremists, demanding from the state recognition of Alevism as an official Islamic community equal but different to Sunnism.

Alevi views of Alevism

Alevism is not monolithic, but exhibits a variety of interpretations with no consensus on the dominant mix. The modern Alevi leadership stresses internal harmony, and the development of an integrated ethnic "us" community in an effort to present a common Alevi front against state and Sunnis.

Alevis situationally prioritise various aspects of their identity presenting Alevism as a separate religion, a belief-system, the true Islam, an Islamic Jafari madhab, a Sufi tariqa, an ethnic group, a philosophy, a worldview, a way of life, a political position, a social opposition, a culture, and a civilisation.

Alevism is presented as the religion of reason and wisdom which stresses education, is progressive, stands for secularism, democracy and science, promotes personal and public honesty, and is compatible with modernity.

Since the beginning of the Republican era, the "Turkish thesis" claimed Turkishness as a main marker of Alevism, seen as a specific Turkish religion which succeeded in combining Islam with elements of authentic Turkish culture including Shamanism, thereby developing a faith much more suitable for Turks than Arabic Islam and including authentic Turkish traits such as tolerance, humanitarianism, egalitarianism, and a stress on the inner religion of the heart - traits suppressed by Sunnism. Alevism is viewed as the true preserver of authentic Turkish culture, religion, and language amidst Ottoman pressures to Arabise or Persianise. Turks were a civilised nation in contrast to the primitive and brutal Arabs who tried to dominate Islam and enslave all other people. The Turks are the real guardians and sword of Islam - and the Alevis are the real Turks.

Modern Alevi apologetics trace Alevism back to the founding stage of Islam, refuting the old accusations of Alevi heresy by the Sunni orthodoxy and using Quran and Hadith to defend Alevi doctrine and practice. Ali, Hussein, and other Shia-Alevi heroes are set up as identity figures and role models for the new generation. Haci Bektas Veli and other Alevi saints are used to stress the regional uniqueness of Alevism and its special relationship to "Turkism", and are presented as national heroes fighting for Turkish culture.

Another view sees Alevism as the authentic expression of an Anatolian culture, and sets up an Anatolian cultural mosaic as against specific Turkish nationalism. This mosaic includes the Greeks and Armenians in addition to Turks, Kurds, and Zaza, as an important part of the mix, as they were allied to the Alevis against the Ottoman oppression. In this view Alevism is defiined in more universalist cultural forms, recognising three factors that united in its creation: the local Anatolian heritage; the Central Asian Turkic culture and religion migrating to Anatolia since the 11th century; and the old Anatolian Greek, Roman, and Christian inheritance. A synthesis was created of these three elements with Islam superimposed on the lot creating an Anatolian religion suitable for Anatolian populations.

Alevis also see Alevism as the true Shia Islam of the Jafari madhab, an Islam that can adapt to modernity as it is flexible, adaptable, and tolerant. The Turks accepted Shia Islam on conversion out of a natural sense of equality and justice. Iranian Imami Twelver Shi`ism is seen as an aberrant Shi`ism, as only the Alevis have kept the authentic, original, pure Shiism alive. They stress their separateness from Iranian Twelver Shiism and the revolutionary Iran of today.

Alevism is also presented as a humanistic ideology, as represented by the typical Alevi characteristics of tolerance. love, and respect for all men created in God's image and in whom God manifests himself, regardless of race, religion, or nation. Love, help for those in need, kindness, solidarity, sharing, honesty, self knowledge, freedom, equality, fraternity, democracy - all are seen as unique humanitarian Alevi traits.

Socially Alevism is seen as a positive revolutionary force always fighting against oppression and all forms of evil in society, representing the poor and marginalised nomads, peasants and worker classes in their struggles against their exploiters, and demanding equality and justice. Ali was the defender of the poor and oppressed. Hasan and Huseyn were martyrs in the cause of the dispossessed. Religious differentiation was transformed into political differentiation and Alevism became the representative of socialism, progress, social justice, and a classless society, branding Sunnism as reactionary.

As a revolutionary political ideology Alevism always led the fight for liberation against all tyranny in the succession to Muhammad, upholding the oppressed masses against a Sunnism which served the rich and powerful dominant elites.

There is some tension between folk tradition Alevism and the Bektashi Order, which is a Sufi order founded on Alevi beliefs. In certain Turkish communities other Sufi orders ( the Halveti-Jerrahi and some of the Rifa'i) have incorporated significant Alevi influence. Though generally regarded as a Sunni group historically, some Rifa'is accept the Alevi identity. This is particularly common among Turkish teacher Sherif Baba's Rifa'i Marufi Order, whose worship combines elements of typical Alevi traditions with Sunni practices. They have sometimes identified with the Alevi, with whom they share secularist principles, a general scepticism of extreme orthodoxy, an emphasis on men and women worshipping together, a common group of revered saints such as Hajji Bektash Veli and Pir Sultan Abdal and a deep devotion to the family of the Prophet Muhammad.

Page last updated: Friday, July 11, 2008 16:40:47 -0400