For the Alaouite dynasty of Morocco see: Alaouite Dynasty, for the former state now in Yemen see Alawi (sheikhdom)

ayr]] | population = More than 3 million | region1= | pop1 = About 2.5 million | region2= | pop2 = An estimated 100.000 | region3= | pop3 = Tens of thousands, in regions that were formerly part of Syria | region4= Israel | pop4 = About 2000 live in Ghajar, a village in the Golan Heights | region5= | pop5 = There is a considerable Alawi community in Australia, but the exact number is unclear | rels = Shia Islam | scrips = Qur'an, Kitab al Majmu | langs = Arabic, Turkish}}

The Alawis (‘Alawīyyah) — also known as Nuayrī (), an-Naīriyyah, and al-Anāriyyah, or in English as Alawites — are a sect of Shī‘ah Islam prominent in Syria. Alawi is not to be confused with Alevi, a different religious sect based in Turkey, although they share the same etymology, and may share a common origin.

The Alawis take their name from ‘Alī ibn Abī ālib, cousin and son-in-law of Muammad, who was the first Shi'a Imam and the 4th and last "Rightly Guided Caliph" of Sunni Islam.



Alawi women in Syria, early 20th century

The origin of the Alawis is disputed. The Alawis themselves trace their origins to the eleventh Imām, Hassan al-‘Askarī (d. 873), and his pupil ibn Nuayr (d. 868).

The sect seems to have been organised by a follower of Muayr known as al-Khasibi, who died in Aleppo in about 969. Al-Khasibi's grandson, al-Tabarani, moved to Latakia on the Syrian coast. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syria and Lebanon came under French mandate. The French recognized the term "Alawi" when they occupied Syria in 1920. The French gave autonomy to the Alawi and other minority groups and accepted them into their colonial troops. Under the mandate, many Alawi chieftains supported the notion of a separate Alawi nation and tried to convert their autonomy into independence. A territory of "Alaouites" was created in 1925. In May 1930, the Government of Latakia was created; it lasted until February 28, 1937, when it was incorporated into Syria. File:Latakiya-sanjak-Alawite-state-French-colonial-flag.svg In 1939, a portion of northwest Syria, the Sanjak of Alexandretta, now Hatay, that contained a large number of Alawis, was given to Turkey by the French, greatly angering the Alawi community and Syrians in general. Zaki al-Arsuzi, the young Alawi leader from Antioch in Iskandarun (later renamed Hatay by the Turks) who led the resistance to the annexation of his province to the Turks, later became a founder of the Ba'ath Party along with the Eastern Orthodox Christian schoolteacher Michel Aflaq. After World War II, Salman Al Murshid played a major role in uniting the Alawi province with Syria. He was executed by the newly independent Syrian government in Damascus on December 12, 1946 only three days after a hasty political trial.

Syria became independent on April 16, 1946. Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syria endured a succession of military coups in 1949, the rise of the Ba'th Party, and unification of the country with Egypt in the United Arab Republic in 1958. The UAR lasted for three years and broke apart in 1961 , when a group of army officers seized power and declared Syria independent again; a further succession of coups ensued until a secretive military committee, which included a number of disgruntled Alawi officers, including Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid, helped the Ba'th Party take power in 1963. In 1966, Alawi-oriented military officers successfully rebelled and expelled the old Ba'ath that had looked to the Christian Michel Aflaq and the Sunni Muslim Salah al-Din al-Bitar for leadership. They promoted Zaki al-Arsuzi as the "Socrates" of their reconstituted Ba'ath Party.


The Assad family

In 1970, then-Air Force Colonel Hafez al-Assad took power and instigated a "Correctionist Movement" in the Ba'ath Party. In 1971, al-Assad became president of Syria, a function that the Constitution allows only a Muslim to hold. Then, in 1974, Imam Musa Sadr, leader of the Twelver Shi'ites of Lebanon and founder of the Amal Movement, proclaimed that '‘Alawīs are the brothers of the Shi'ites. Under the dictatorial but secular Assad regime, religious minorities were tolerated, political dissent was not.

After the death of Hafez al-Assad in 2000, his son Bashar al-Assad maintained the outlines of his father's regime. Although the Alawis predominate among the top military and intelligence offices, the civilian government and national economy is largely led by Sunnis, who represent about 70% of Syria's population. The Assad regime is careful to allow all of the religious sects a share of power and influence in the government. Today the Alawis exist as a minority but politically powerful sect in Syria.

Beliefs of the AlawisEdit


Zulfiqar, a stylized representation of the sword of Ali


Alawis celebrating a festival in Banyas, Syria, during World War II

Theologically, modern Alawis claim to be Twelver Shi'ites, but traditionally they have been designated as "extremists" ( ghulat) and outside the bounds of Islam by the Muslim mainstream for their high level of devotion to Ali.

The Alawi faith is a somewhat esoteric version of Shia Islam. The Alawis believe Ali is the true successor of Muhammad as well as in an esoteric reading of the Qur'an.

The Alawis do not accept converts or openly publish their texts, which are passed down from scholar to scholar. The vast majority of the Alawis (the Ammah) know little about the contents of their sacred texts or theology, which are guarded by a small class of male initiates (the Khassah). For initiation, a person must be at least 15 and cannot be a non-’Alawī.

Although the Alawis recognize the five pillars of Islam, they do not believe that anyone has the privilege of practicing them because they are too pure to be performed by "any" soul. The Alawis believe that there is no back door entrance to the gates of Heaven (i.e. follow the five pillars and you receive the keys to heaven). Instead they believe that one should devote his life the way that the prophet Muhammad would have permitted by following the example of Ali.


Traditionally Alawis live in the mountains along the Mediterranean coast of Syria; Latakia and Tartous are the region's principal cities. Alawis are also concentrated in the plains around Hama and Homs. Today, the Alawis also live in all major cities of Syria. They were never estimated at more than 20% of the Syrian population (which would be about 3 million people if true today). Imami Twelver Shī‘a comprise an additional 10% of the population.


Alawi man in Latakia, early 20th century

Before 1953, they had reserved seats in the Syrian Parliament, like all other religious communities. After that, including for the 1960 census, there were only general Muslim and Christian categories, without mention of subgroups in order to reduce "communalism" (taïfiyya).

There are an estimated 100,000 Alawis who live in Lebanon, where the Taif Agreement of 1989 gave them two reserved seats in the Parliament due to the efforts of their leader Ali Eid. The Alawis are recognized as one of the 18 official Lebanese sects. They live mostly in Tripoli and small villages in Akkar.

There are 2 million Alawis who live in the Hatay, Adana and Mersin provinces of Southern Turkey.

There are also about 2000 Alawis living in the village of Ghajar, split between Lebanon and the Israeli occupied Golan Heights, alongside Druze.


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