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Anushirvan was kind enough to leave the following in the comments to the post on Turkish Alevi Shiites worrying about their co-religionists in Syria if the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood ever rises to power there. Anushirvan writes a concise report on the two sects in question and how they relates to each other. Well worth the read.
Alevis are a Shi’ite subdenomination, and a heterodox one at that. The basis for Alevis’ most distinctive beliefs is found in the Buyruks (compiled writings and dialogues of Sheikh Safi al-Din (eponym of the Safavi order), Ja’far al-Sadiq (the Sixth Imam), also included are hymns by figures such as Shah Ismail I or Pir Sultan Abdal (a Pir is the leader of a Sufi order), stories of Hajji Bektash Vali (a Persian mystic) and other lore.
The Safavi order was originally a Sufi order with heterodox / syncretic Sufi-Twelver Shi’ite core tenets. Until Shah Ismail I started his policy to convert Iran from Sunnism to predominantly legalistic Twelver Shi’ism, under the influence of Lebanese Shi’ite clerics, invited to Iran by the Shah. Shah Ismail I however is also a key figure revered in Alevi Islam.
Also take note that Alevism celebrates the pre-Islamic Nowruz (New year) festival.
Depending on the particular viewpoint of Sunnis, Alevis are either highly suspect as Muslims or can be considered totally kafir (according to Salafis or mainstream Sunni clergy) based on the fact that they:
1) are Shi’ites
2) retain Sufi elements in their religion
3) retain pre-Islamic ritual practices, which can be designated as “folk elements”
Alevi and Alawi Shi’ism are two different strains of Shi’ism that are closely akin to one another, because both terms, Alawi and Alevi, have the same root, they both refer to Ali Ibn Abu Talib. The particular reverence for Ali is the common core tenet, the prerequisite of all Shi’ism, something that is generally absent from pure Sufism or mainstream Sunni Islam. Some Shi’ism, however, like Alevism, is heavily influenced by overlapping concepts or rituals performed in Sufism. (particularly some mystical elements), which make Alevism heterodox Shi’ism, rather than Shi’ism-influenced Sufism, as in the Bektashi Sufi order that borrows heavily from Alevism in turn)
Although they are separate strains of Shi’ism, Alawi and Alevi Shi’ism have distinct features and some features that overlap one another in turn. In fact, the history of heterodox Shi’ism is closely tied with a geographical area that spans from the border regions of Iran and Turkey all the way through northern Iraq into Syria and Lebanon.
Hence Bektashi Sufism, that incorporates Shi’ite elements, overlaps with
Alevi Shi’ism, that, in turn overlaps with
Alawi Shi’ism, that, in turn, overlaps with
Ismaili Shi’ism, (also found in Syria) that, in turn, overlaps with the Druze religion (although most religious Druze consider themselves a separate religion, some historians give credence to idea that it was rooted in Ismaili Shi’ism as a schismatic movement within that faith)
The relationship between Alevis and Sunnis is one of mutual suspicion and prejudice dating back to the Ottoman period as a consequence of Safavi vs Ottoman enmity. Sunnis have accused Alevis of heresy, heterodoxy, rebellion, betrayal and immorality, and they are distrusted as a fifth column that historically may serve Persian Shi’ite interests ever since.
In today’s political arena Alevis see themselves as a counterforce to Sunni fundamentalism in Turkey. Alevis, who have a great interest in blocking the rising fundamentalist influence, are the main allies of the democratic secularists, and have helped the Atatürk’s Kemalist movement a great deal in the modernization efforts in Turkey. However, but this didn’t exempt them from persecution in later stages, when the emphasis again shifted towards the traditional Shi’ite vs Sunni enmity, even in modern Turkey. They are demanding that the state recognize Aleviness as an official Islamic community equal to, but different from, Sunnism. As of today the Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) only represents and promotes Sunni Islam based on the Hanafi school of law, and does not recognise Alevis.
If the history of Alevism is anything to go by, then it would be a safe assumption that Alawi Shi’ism, with which Alevism shares a few notable commonalities (it can’t really be a coincidence that the Alawite regime is secular-oriented, for one thing) will be equally persecuted should the regime be ousted at the hands of Salafis or Muslim Brotherhood affiliate organisations. All minorities in Syria will consequently be in for a very rough ride, comparable with the unenviable fate of cultural minorities in Erdogan’s Turkey. (including, of course, the Christians)