Alevism or Alevi (/'ælɛvij/, also /æˈlɛviː/ or /əˈleɪviː/, Turkish: Alevîlik or Turkish: Anadolu Alevîliği/Alevileri, also called as Qizilbash, Spiritual Shiism or Shī‘ah Imāmī-Tasawwufī Ṭarīqah) is a mystical branch of Islam whose adherents are followers of Ali, the Twelve Imams and their descendant, the 13th century Alevi saint Haji Bektash Veli. Having some links with Twelver Shia Islam (like the importance of the Ahl al-Bayt, the day of Ashura, the Mourning of Muharram, commemorating Karbala, etc.), the practices of the Alevis are based on Sufi elements of the Bektashi tariqa. Alevism is seen as one of the two main branches of Islam in Turkey, the other being the majority Sunni Islam.
Controversy regarding the definition
Some sources link Alevism to Shia Islam and particularly to the heterodox syncretic sufi group known as the Bektashi Order. According to these sources, Alevism is closely related to Bektashism: commonalities include the veneration of the Alevi saint Haji Bektash Veli, a Turkish or Iranian saint from Khorasan of the 13th century. Many Alevis refer to an "Alevi-Bektashi" tradition, but this identity is not universally adopted, nor is the combined name used by non-Turkish Bektashis (e.g., in the Balkans). In addition to its religious aspect, Alevism is also closely associated with Turkish folk culture.
Alevis follow the bāṭenī (mystical) teachings of Muhammad, the Quran, his Ahl al-Bayt, The Twelve Imams and their descendant Alevi saint and sufi master Haji Bektash Veli. For this reason it's also referred to as Shīʿah-ee Bāṭen’īyyah. Most of the believers live in Turkey, with some scattered minorities in Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Caucasus, Greece, Iran and the Turkish Diaspora.
Alevi definition of the presidency of Alevi-Islam Religion Services
|“||What's Alevism, what's the understanding of Islam in Alevism? The answers to these questions, instead of the opposite of what's known by many people is that the birthplace of Alevism was never in Anatolia. This is an example of great ignorance, that is, to tell that the Alevism was emerged in Anatolia. Searching the source of Alevism in Anatolia arises from unawareness. Because there was not even one single Muslim or Turk in Anatolia before a specific date. The roots of Alevism stem from Turkestan – Central Asia. Islam was brought to Anatolia by Turks in 10th and 11th centuries by a result of migration for a period of 100–150 years. Before this event took place, there were no Muslim and Turks in Anatolia. Anatolia was then entirely Christian. We Turks brought Islam to Anatolia from Turkestan. —Professor İzzettin Doğan, The President of Alevi-Islam Religion Services||”|
"Alevi" is generally explained as referring to Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad. The name represents a Turkish form of the word ‘Alawi (Arabic: علوي) "of or pertaining to Ali". According to Ishikists' assertion, on the other hand, it was derived from "Alev" ("flame" in Turkish) in reference to fire which is extensively used in Alevi rituals. However, traditional Islamic Alevi's claim that the name Alevi is linked to Ali, just like the word Musevi is linked to Musa (Moses), Isevi is linked to Isa (Jesus) and Mevlevi is linked to Mevlana (Rumi). According to them the use of candles is based on Quran chapter 24, verses 35 and 36: "God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The example of His light is like a niche within which there is a lamp, the lamp is encased in a glass, the glass is like a radiant planet, which is lit from a blessed olive tree that is neither of the east nor of the west, its oil nearly gives off light even if not touched by fire. Light upon light, God guides to His light whom He pleases. And God sets forth examples for the people, and God is aware of all things. (Lit is such a Light) in houses, which God has permitted to be raised to honor; for the celebration, in them, of His name: In them is He glorified in the mornings and in the evenings, (again and again)."
Even though the term Alevi is thought to be simply the Turkish derived form of Arabic ‘Alawī, the Arab form of the term today refers to the distinct group of the Arabic-speaking Alawites of Syria.
Alevi used to be grouped as Kızılbaş ("redheads"), a generic term used by Sunni Muslims in the Ottoman Empire for the various Shia sects from the 15th century. Many other names exist (often for subgroupings), among them Tahtacı "Woodcutters", Abdal "Bards" and Çepni.
| Part of a series on Islam|
Including: 1 Ahmadiyya, Qutbism & Wahhabism|
2 Alawites, Assassins, Druzes & Qizilbash
3 Azariqa, Ajardi, Haruriyyah, Najdat & Sufriyyah
4 Alevism, Bektashi Order & Qalandariyya
Alevi Islamic School of Theology (Madhhab)
In Turkey, Shia Muslim people belong to the Jafari Islamic school, which tracks back to the sixth Shia Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (also known as Imam Jafar-i Sadiq), are called as the Ja'farīs, who belong to Twelver Shia. Although the Alevi Turks are being considered as a part of Twelver Shia Islam, they are different than the Jafarī Muslims in their convictions and beliefs.
- "The Alevi-Turks" has a unique and perplex conviction tracing back to Kaysanites and Khurramites which are being considered as Ghulat Shia Islam. According to Turkish scholar Abdülbaki Gölpinarli, the Qizilbash (Red-Heads) of the 16th century – a religious and political movement in Azerbaijan that helped to establish the Safavid dynasty – were spiritual descendants of the Khurramites.
- Among the members of the "Qizilbash-Tariqa" who are considered as a sub-sect of the Alevis, two figures firstly Abu Muslim Khorasani, who assisted Abbasid Caliphate to beat the Umayyad Caliphate but later eliminated and murdered by Caliph Al-Mansur and secondly Babak Khorramdin who incited a rebellion against Abbasid Caliphate and consequently was killed by Caliph al-Mu'tasim, are highly respected. This belief provides strong clues about their Kaysanites Shia and Khurramites origins. In addition, Safaviyya Tariqa leader Shāh Ismāʿīl is a highly regarded individual in the belief of Alevi-Qizilbash-Tariqa associating them with the Imamah (Shia Twelver doctrine) conviction of Twelver Shia Islam.
- Their aqidah (theological conviction) is based upon a syncretic fiqh system called as Batiniyya-Sufism/Ismailism which incorporates some sentiments of Sevener-Qarmatians, originally introduced by Abu’l-Khāttāb Muhammad ibn Abu Zaynab al-Asadī, and later developed by "Maymun al-Qāddāh" and his son "ʿAbd Allāh ibn Maymun", and Mu'tazila with a strong belief in The Twelve Imams.
- Not all of the members believe that the fasting in Ramadan is obligatory although some Alevi-Turks performs their fasting duties partially in Ramadan.
- Some beliefs of Shamanism still are common amongst the Qizilbash-Alevi-Turks in villages.
- On the other hand, Bektashis has a conviction of Batiniyya Ismailism and Hurufism with a strong belief in the The Twelve Imams.
- In conclusion, Qizilbash-Alevi-Bektashis are not the followers of Ja'fari jurisprudence, even though they can be considered as members of different Shia-Tariqat all looks like sub-classes of Twelver-Shia Islam. Their conviction includes Batiniyya-Hurufism and Qarmatian-Isma'ilism sentiments.
- They all may be considered as special groups not following the Ja'fari jurisprudence, like Nusayris (Alawites) who are in the class of Ghulat Twelver Shia Islam, but a special Batiniyya belief somewhat similar to Isma'ilism in their conviction.
- In conclusion, Twelver branch of Shia Muslim population of Turkey is composed of Mu'tazila aqidah of Ja'fari jurisprudence madhhab, Tasawwufī-Batiniyya aqidah of Maymūn’al-Qāddāhī fiqh of the Alevīs, and Cillī aqidah of Maymūn ibn Abu’l-Qāsim Sulaiman ibn Ahmad ibn at-Tabarānī fiqh of the Alawites, who altogether constitutes nearly one third of the whole population of the country. (An estimate for the Turkish Alevi population varies between Seven and Eleven Millions. Over 85% of the population, on the other hand, overwhelmingly constitute Maturidi aqidah of the Hanafi fiqh and Ash'ari aqidah of the Shafi'i fiqh of the Sunni followers.)
The following poem is (one) source to be concerned:
Harabî sen İmam Câfer'e bağlan // Harabi (thou) follow (the path of) Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq
Başka mezhepleri etme vazife // Do not make any other Madh'hab (Islamic school) to duty.
—Edip Harabi, ~1900, Istanbul
Alevi beliefs are hard to define, since Aleviness is a diverse movement without any central authority, and its boundaries with other groups are poorly demarcated. Many teachings are based on an orally transmitted tradition, traditionally kept secret from outsiders (but now widely accessible).
The basis for Alevis' most distinctive beliefs is found in the Buyruks (compiled writings and dialogues of Sheikh Safi-ad-din Ardabili (eponym of the Safavi order), Ja'far al-Sadiq (the Sixth Imam), and other worthies). Also included are hymns (nefes) by figures such as Shah Ismail or Pir Sultan Abdal, stories of Hajji Bektash and other lore.
|"Alevi-Bektashis acknowledge they are from Ahl al Kitab" by stating that the last four holy books (Quran, Gospel, Torah and Psalms) has the same degree of importance in guiding people to the Divine Truth. This confession is pronounced in Turkish: "Dört kitab'ın Dördü de "Hâkk""|
Four valid books in Islam, namely Psalms, Torah, Gospel, and Qur'an are all the "Righteous"
|Quran Surah 2 verse 136 says: "We believe in Allah, and in that which has been sent down on us and sent down on Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac and Jacob, and the Tribes, and that which was given to Moses and Jesus and the Prophets, of their Lord; we make no division between any of them, and to Him we surrender".|
Allah, Muhammad and Ali
|Part of a series on|
|God in Islam|
Alevis believe in the unity of Allah, Muhammad, and Ali, but this is not a trinity composed of God and the historical figures of Muhammad and Ali. Rather, Muhammad and Ali are representations of Allah's light (and not of Allah himself), being neither independent from God, nor separate characteristics of Him.
|Left side: Ali ibn Abi Talib, Center: Muhammad, Right side: Allah. (Reflections of the Qizilbash-Bektashi belief)|
In Alevi writings are many references to the unity of Muhammad and Ali, such as:
For some, the linking of the three seems polytheistic and not in line with monotheistic Islamic teachings, but Alevis counter that such people do not understand The bāṭenī meaning of the Alevi equation of Allah-Muhammed-Ali.
The Twelve Imams
|The Fourteen Infallibles|
The Twelve Imams are part of another common Alevi belief. Each Imam represents a different aspect of the Universe. They are realised as twelve services or On İki Hizmet which are performed by members of the Alevi community. Each Imam is believed to be a reflection of Ali ibn Abu Talib, the first Imam of the Shi'ites, and there are references to the "First Ali" (Birinci Ali), Imam Hasan the "Second 'Ali" (İkinci Ali), and so on up to the "Twelfth 'Ali" (Onikinci Ali), Imam Mehdi. The Twelfth Imam is hidden and represents the Messianic Age.
There are two sides to creation, one from a spiritual centre to plurality, another from plurality to the spiritual centre. Plurality is the separation of pure consciousness from the divine source. It is seen as a curtain alienating creation from the divine source and an illusion which called the Zāherī or the Exoteric side to reality. The hidden or true nature of creation is called the bāṭenī or the esoteric.
The fact of plurality in nature is attributed to the infinite potential energy of Kull-i Nafs when it takes corporeal form as it descends into being from Allah. During the Cem ceremony, the cantor or aşık sings:
- "All of us alive or lifeless are from one, this is ineffable, Sultan.
- For to love and to fall in love has been my fate from time immemorial."
This is sung as a reminder that the reason for creation is love, so that the followers may know themselves and each other and that they may love that which they know.
The perfect human being
Linked to the concept of the Prototypal Human is that of the "Perfect Human Being" (Insan-i Kamil). Although it is common to refer to Ali and Haji Bektash Veli or the other Alevi saints as manifestations of the perfect human being, the Perfect Human Being is also identified with our true identity as pure consciousness, hence the Qur'anic concept of human beings not having original sin, consciousness being pure and perfect. The human task is to fully realise this state while still in material human form.
The perfect human being is also defined in practical terms, as one who is in full moral control of his or her hands, tongue and loins (eline diline beline sahip); treats all kinds of people equally (yetmiş iki millete aynı gözle bakar); and serves the interests of others. One who has achieved this kind of enlightenment is also called "eren" or "münevver" (mūnavvar).
The Alevi spiritual path (yol) is commonly understood to take place through four major life-stages, or "gates". These may be further subdivided into "four gates, forty levels" (Dört Kapı Kırk Makam). The first gate (religious law) is considered elementary (and this may be perceived as subtle criticism of other Muslim traditions).
- killing a person
- committing adultery
- divorcing one’s wife
Most Alevi activity takes place in the context of the second gate (spiritual brotherhood), during which one submits to a living spiritual guide (dede, pir, mürşid). The existence of the third and fourth gates is mostly theoretical, though some older Alevis have apparently received initiation into the third.
Cem and Cemevi
The central Alevi corporate worship service is the Cem ceremony. Alevi worship and other social activities take place in assembly houses (Cemevi). The ceremony's prototype is the Muhammad's nocturnal ascent into heaven, where he beheld a gathering of forty saints (Kırklar Meclisi), and the Divine Reality made manifest in their leader, Ali.
During the Cem ceremony the ashik plays the Bağlama whilst singing spiritual songs, some of which are centuries old and well known amongst Alevis. Every song, called a Nefes, has spiritual meaning and aims to teach the participants important lessons. One such song goes thus:
- "Learn from your mistakes and be knowledgable,
- Don't look for faults in others,
- Look at 73 different people in the same way,
- God loves and created them all, so don't say anything against them."
A family of ritual dances characterized by turning and swirling, is an inseparable part of any cem. Samāh is performed by men and women together, to the accompaniment of the Bağlama. The dances symbolize (for example) the revolution of the planets around the Sun (by man and woman turning in circles), and the putting off of one’s self and uniting with God.
The Rite of Integration (görgü cemi) is a complex ritual occasion in which a variety of tasks are allotted to incumbents bound together by extrafamilial brotherhood (müsahiplik), who undertake a dramatization of unity and integration under the direction of the spiritual leader (dede).
The love of the creator for the created and vice versa is symbolised in the Cem ceremony by the use of fruit juice and/or red wine [Dem] which represents the intoxication of the lover in the beloved. During the ceremony Dem is one of the twelve duties of the participants. (see above)
At the closing of the cem ceremony the Dede who leads the ceremony engages the participants in a discussion (chat), this discussion is called a sohbet.
There are twelve services (Turkish: On İki hizmet) performed by attendees of the cem.
- Dede: This is the leader of the Cem who represents Muhammad and Ali. The Dede receives confession from the attendees at the beginning of the ceremony. He also leads funerals, Müsahiplik, marriage ceremonies and circumcisions. The status of Dede is hereditary and he must be a descendant of Ali and Fatima.
- Rehber: This position represents Husayn. The Rehber is a guide to the faithful and works closely with the Dede in the community.
- Gözcü: This position represents Abu Dharr al-Ghifari. S/he is the assistant to the Rehber. S/he is the Cem keeper responsible for keeping the faithful calm.
- Çerağcı: This position represents Jabir ibn Abd-Allah and s/he is the light-keeper responsible for maintaining the light traditionally given by a lamp or candles.
- Zakir: This position represents Bilal ibn al-Harith. S/he plays the bağlama and recites songs and prayers.
- Süpürgeci: This position represents Salman the Persian. S/he is responsible for cleaning the Cemevi hall and symbolically sweeping the carpets during the Cem.
- Meydancı: This position represents Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman.
- Niyazcı: this position represents Muhammad ibn Maslamah. S/he is responsible for distributing the sacred meal.
- İbrikçi: this position represents Kamber. S/he is responsible for washing the hands of the attendees.
- Kapıcı: this position represents Ghulam Kaysan. S/he is responsible for calling the faithful to the Cem.
- Peyikçi: this position represents Amri Ayyari.
- Sakacı: represents Ammar ibn Yasir. Responsible for the distribution of water, sherbet (sharbat), milk etc..
Newruz "New Day" is the Persian New Year observed on 21 March (the Spring equinox) as a celebration of newness and reconciliation. It is celebrated by many modern Turkic peoples as well. Apart from the original beliefs of the Zoroastrians regarding the New Year, Alevis also celebrate and commemorate the birth of Ali, his wedding with Fatima, the rescue of Yusuf from the well, and the creation of the world on this day. Various cem ceremonies and special programs are held.
Mourning of Muharram
The Muslim month of Muharram begins 20 days after Eid ul-Adha (Kurban Bayramı). Alevis observe a fast for the first twelve days. This is called "Turkish: Muharrem Mâtemi", "Turkish: Yâs-ı Muharrem" or "Turkish: Mâtem Orucu" (Mourning of Muharram). This culminates in the festival of Ashura (Aşure), which commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn at Karbala. The fast is broken with a special dish (also called aşure) prepared from a variety (often twelve) of fruits, nuts, and grains. Many events are associated with this celebration, including the salvation of Husayn's son Ali ibn Husayn from the massacre at Karbala, thus allowing the bloodline of the family of Muhammad to continue.
The solstice and equinox celebrations and their confusion with historical and human incarnations are very well mirrored in Christian religious, and even political, celebrations, e.g. May Day and Christmas, and more closely still with Celtic traditions.
Hıdırellez honors the mysterious figure Khidr (Turkish: Hızır) who is sometimes identified with Elijah (Ilyas), and is said to have drunk of the water of life. Some hold that Khidr comes to the rescue of those in distress on land, while Elijah helps those at sea; and that they meet at a rose tree in the evening of every 6 May. The festival is also celebrated in parts of the Balkans by the name of "Erdelez," where it falls on the same day as Đurđevdan or St. George's Day.
Khidr is also honored with a three-day fast in mid-February called Hızır Orucu. In addition to avoiding any sort of comfort or enjoyment, Alevis also abstain from food and water for the entire day, though they do drink liquids other than water during the evening.
Note that the dates of the Khidr holidays can differ among Alevis, most of whom use a lunar calendar, but some a solar calendar.
Müsahiplik (roughly, "Companionship") is a covenant relationship between two men of the same age, preferably along with their wives. In a ceremony in the presence of a dede the partners make a lifelong commitment to care for the spiritual, emotional, and physical needs of each other and their children. The ties between couples who have made this commitment is at least as strong as it is for blood relatives, so much so that müsahiplik is often called spiritual brotherhood (manevi kardeşlik). The children of covenanted couples may not marry.
Krisztina Kehl-Bodrogi reports that the Tahtacı identify müsahiplik with the first gate (şeriat), since they regard it as a precondition for the second (tarikat). Those who attain to the third gate (marifat, "gnosis") must have been in a müsahiplik relationship for at least twelve years. Entry into the third gate dissolves the müsahiplik relationship (which otherwise persists unto death), in a ceremony called Öz Verme Âyini ("ceremony of giving up the self").
The value corresponding to the second gate (and necessary to enter the third) is âşinalık ("intimacy," perhaps with God). Its counterpart for the third gate is called peşinelik; for the fourth gate (hâkikat, Ultimate Truth), cıngıldaşlık or cengildeşlik (translations uncertain).
Many folk practices may be identified, though few of them are specific to the Alevis. In this connection, scholar Martin van Bruinessen notes a sign from Turkey's Ministry of Religion, attached to Istanbul's shrine of Eyüp Sultan, which presents
...a long list of ‘superstitious’ practices that are emphatically declared to be non-Islamic and objectionable, such as lighting candles or placing ‘wishing stones’ on the tomb, tying pieces of cloth to the shrine or to the trees in front of it, throwing money on the tomb, asking the dead directly for help, circling seven times around the trees in the courtyard or pressing one’s face against the walls of the türbe in the hope of a supernatural cure, tying beads to the shrine and expecting supernatural support from them, sacrificing roosters or turkeys as a vow to the shrine. The list is probably an inventory of common local practices the authorities wish to prevent from re-emerging.
Other, similar practices include kissing door frames of holy rooms; not stepping on the threshold of holy buildings; seeking prayers from reputed healers; and making lokma and sharing it with others.
Ziyarat to sacred places
While some Alevis do not recognize an obligation to go on pilgrimage to Mecca (and some do, but not according to Sunni orthodox rituals), performing ziyarat and du'a at the tombs of Alevi-Bektashi saints or pirs is quite common. Some of the most frequently visited sites are the shrines of Şahkulu and Karacaahmet (both in Istanbul), Abdal Musa (Antalya), Battal Gazi (Eskişehir), the annual celebrations held at Hacıbektaş (16 August) and Sivas (the Pir Sultan Abdal Kültür Etkinlikleri, 23–24 June).
In contrast with the traditional secrecy of the Cem ceremony ritual, the events at these cultural centers and sites are open to the public. In the case of the Hacibektaş celebration, since 1990 the activities there have been taken over by Turkey's Ministry of Culture in the interest of promoting tourism and Turkish patriotism rather than Alevi spirituality.
Some Alevis make pilgrimages to mountains and other natural sites believed to be imbued with holiness.
Alevis are not expected to give Zakat in the Orthodox-Islamic mode, and there is no set formula or prescribed amount for charity like Sunnism (2,5%). Rather, they are expected to give the 'excess' according to Qur'an verse 2:219. A common method of Alevi almsgiving is through donating food (especially sacrificial animals) to be shared with worshippers and guests. Alevis also donate money to be used to help the poor, to support the religious, educational and cultural activities of Alevi centers and organizations (dergâh, vakıf, dernek), and to provide scholarships for students.
In contrast to the Bektashi tariqa, which like other Sufi orders is based on a silsila "initiatory chain or lineage" of teachers and their students, Alevi leaders succeed to their role on the basis of family descent. Perhaps ten percent of Alevis belong to a religious elite called ocak "hearth", indicating descent from Ali and/or various other saints and heroes. Ocak members are called ocakzades or "sons of the hearth". This system apparently originated with Safavid Persia.
Alevi leaders are variously called murshid, pir, rehber or dede. Groups that conceive of these as ranks of a hierarchy (as in the Bektashi tariqa) disagree as to the order. The last of these, dede "grandfather", is the term preferred by the scholarly literature. Ocakzades may attain to the position of dede on the basis of selection (by a father from among several sons), character, and learning. In contrast to Alevi rhetoric on the equality of the sexes, it is generally assumed that only males may fill such leadership roles.
Traditionally Dedes did not merely lead rituals, but led their communities, often in conjunction with local notables such as the ağas (large landowners) of the Dersim Region. They also acted as judges or arbiters, presiding over village courts called Düşkünlük Meydanı.
Ordinary Alevi would owe allegiance to a particular dede lineage (but not others) on the basis of pre-existing family or village relations. Some fall instead under the authority of Bektashi dargah (lodges).
In the wake of 20th century urbanization (which removed young laborers from the villages) and socialist influence (which looked upon the Dedes with suspicion), the old hierarchy has largely broken down. Many Dedes now receive salaries from Alevi cultural centers, which arguably subordinates their role. Such centers no longer feature community business or deliberation, such as the old ritual of reconciliation, but emphasize musical and dance performance to the exclusion of these. Dedes are now approached on a voluntary basis, and their role has become more circumscribed – limited to religious rituals, research, and giving advice.
According to John Shindeldecker "Alevis are proud to point out that they are monogamous, Alevi women worship together with men, Alevi women are free to dress in modern clothing, Alevi women are encouraged to get the best education they can, and Alevi women are free to go into any occupation they choose.
In the view of Australian anthropologist Sevgi Kilic, while Alevi women do not experience gender segregation in the private and public domain they are subject to traditional male values about women's sexuality and constructed within the honor/shame paradigm. This ethnography is the first on Alevi women in Turkey and argues that Alevi identity is complex, diverse and rich in its theory and practice.
According to Kilic, while rural Alevi women subscribe to traditional conservative views about women's status in the family, these ideas are rapidly changing within an urban environment. Alevi women are not required to wear a headscarf or other bodily coverings. According to Kilic this is because Alevi identity is very much focused on the internal rather than the external representation and covering women's hair or concealing the female body in and of itself cannot legitimize women's moral, social, political and economic worth. Thus an unveiled Alevi woman cannot impugn her honour or her communities'. Alevi women's bodies are what Kilic calls paradoxically 'neutral' and acts as an "ideology of difference."
Relations with other Muslim groups
Alevis are classified as a sect of Shia Islam, as Alevis accept Twelver Shi‘a beliefs about Ali and the Twelve Imams, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini decreed Alevis to be part of the Shia fold in the 1970s. There are, however, Alevi philosophies, customs, and rituals that are appreciably different than those of Twelver Shias in Iraq and Iran. According to more orthodox Sunni Muslims, Alevis are labeled as "ghulat" groups, since Alevis praise Ali beyond what mainstream Muslims would expect. He and Muhammad are likened to the two sides of a coin, or the two halves of an apple.
Sufi elements in Alevism
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Sufism and Tariqat
Despite this essentially Shi‘i orientation, much of Aleviness' mystical language is inspired by Sufi traditions. For example, the Alevi concept of God is derived from the philosophy of Ibn Arabi and involves a chain of emanation from God, to spiritual man, earthly man, animals, plants, and minerals. The goal of spiritual life is to follow this path in the reverse direction, to unity with God, or Haqq (Reality, Truth). From the highest perspective, all is God (see Wahdat-ul-Wujood). Alevis admire Mansur Al-Hallaj, a 10th-century Sufi who was accused of blasphemy and subsequently executed in Baghdad for saying "I am the Truth" (Ana al-Haqq).
There is some tension between folk tradition Aleviness 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.
Relations with Sunnis
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The relationship between Alevis and Sunnis is one of mutual suspicion and prejudice dating back to the Ottoman period. Sunnis have accused Alevis of heresy, heterodoxy, rebellion, betrayal and immorality. Alevis, on the other hand, have argued that the Quran does not demand five prayers, nor mosque attendance, nor pilgrimage, and that the Sunnis distorted early Islam by omitting, misinterpreting, or changing the meaning of verses from the Quran with fabricated hadith, especially those dealing with Ali and ritual practice.
Alevis claim that Sunni nationalism is intolerant, domineering, and unwilling to recognize Alevi "uniqueness."
Alevis use Sunnism as the "Other", the opposite pole to Alevism, by which they identify themselves. The Alevis claim that they have kept 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 allegedly 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. They profess that Ali is 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. According to the Alevis, good Alevism was forced to an underground existence of dissimulation and retreat due to a powerful onslaught of evil.
Main differences with other Muslim sects
- Qizilbash and Bektashi tariqah 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 Hajj (they consider the pilgrimage to Mecca an external pretense, the real pilgrimage being internal in one's heart); and non-attendance of mosques.
Furthermore, during the period of Ottoman Empire, 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.
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.
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 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.
The size of the Alevi population is likewise disputed, but most estimates place them somewhere between 8 and 10 million people, primarily in Turkey.
The Alevi population has been estimated as follows:
- 12,521,000 according to Sabahat Akkiraz, a MP from CHP.
- "approx. 15 million..." —Krisztina Kehl-Bodrogi.
- In Turkey, 15 % of Turkey's population (approx. 10.6 million) —David Shankland
- "Most Alevi writers and spokespersons claim that Turkey's population today is one-third Alevi-Bektashi, or more than 20 million. Lower estimates range from 10 to 12 million." —John Schindeldecker.
- "The Alevi constitute the second-largest religious community in Turkey (following the Sunnis), and number some 25% (15 million) of the total population (Alevis claim 30%–40%). 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 Sunni), and some 25% of Kurds in Turkey are Alevi (Kurmanji and Zaza speakers)." —David Zeidan.
- "15 to 20 million..." —Olli Rehn, from the 1996 (Camiel) "Eurlings Report" to the European Commission (on the suitability of Turkish accession to the EU).
- "...a world total of between 15 and 25 million adherents. There is no independent data for their numbers, so these statistics are estimates or conjectures." —"Alevism," from The Encyclopedia of the Orient.
- In June 2008, several Turkish newspapers reported that the Turkish military had commissioned three universities to research the ethnic demography of Turkey. The study was done in 2000 and included all ethnic groupings. According to the results, the Alevi population of Turkey, including those who currently reside in Europe, is around 10 million.
- Conglomeration of syncretic beliefs: A wide variety of academic sources define Alevism as a syncretic religion, combining diverse religious beliefs, which developed from Islam, Buddhist-influenced Turkic shamanism, and some elements of Christianity. According to Turkish university research conducted in 2005 by a researcher named Soner Cagaptay, 44% of respondents who called themselves "Alevis" self-identify as Muslim and 56% do not. Nevertheless, one should be aware of the fact that the university survey which was conducted at a specific location may not reflect the accurate results all the time, and there exists a high probability that the group who had been surveyed might belong to the non-Muslim Ishikists. Moreover, one should always bear in mind that some members of the non-muslim communities like Kurdish Yâresân (Ahl-i Haqq) and Ishik-Alevis define/identify themselves under the title of Alawism as well. Henceforth, it is always possible either to enlarge or to shrink the borders of the Alevism with respect to which of these definitions are going to be used.
- Alevis have been subjected to persecution (often deadly) for centuries. Due to this fact, some have been assimilated. It is not clear how effective the above study is in including those who might be more timid about advertising their Alevi origins.
- Some of the Kurdish Alevis speak Kurmanji or Zazaki. Some Alevis are Azeris. Despite universalist rhetoric and in contrast with Islam in general, or the Bektashi order, Alevi communities do not generally acknowledge the possibility of conversion to Aleviness.
- Alevi communities are concentrated in central Anatolia, in a belt from Çorum in the west to Muş in the east. The only province within Turkey with an Alevi majority is Tunceli, formerly known as Dersim. Beginning in the 1960s, many Alevis have migrated to the large cities of western and southern Turkey – and to western Europe, especially Germany – and are now heavily urbanized.
- There is also a native 3000 Alevi community in Western Thrace, Greece.
- The first congregation is mainly represented by the urban area population and emerged during the period of the Republic of Turkey. For many decades, this group of people belonged to the political left and presumed the Aleviness just as an outlook on the individual human life rather than a religious conviction by persistently renouncing the ties of the Batiniyya-Alevism with Twelver political branch of Shia Islam. The followers of this congregation, who later turned out to be the very stern defenders of the Erdoğan Çınar hold ritual unions of a religious character and have established cultural associations named after Pir Sultan Abdal as well. According to their philosophy, human being should enjoy a central role reminiscent of the doctrine of Khurramites, and as illustrated by Hurufi phrase of God is Man quoted above in the context of the Trinity.
- The second group of people, who adopted some aspirations of Christian mysticism, is more directed towards heterodox mysticism and stands closer to the Hajji Bektashi Brotherhood. According to the philosophy developed by this very last group of congregation, Christian mystic St Francis of Assisi and Hindu Mahatma Gandhi are being supposedly considered as better believers of God than those of Muslims as it should expectedly be in that manner, since the concept of God in Islam has already been embodied by the supreme authority of Allah.
- The third group regards themselves as true Muslims and are prepared to cooperate with the state. It adheres to the way of Jafar as-Sadiq, the sixth Imam. Its concept of God is closer to that of orthodox Islam, but like the two groups already mentioned it considers the Quran to have been manipulated by the early Sunni Caliphs in order to eliminate Ali.
- The fourth is said to be under active influence from official Iranian Shi'a to be confirmed adherents to Twelver and to reject Bektashism and folk religion. It follows Sharia and opposes secular state power.
The Bektashiyyah 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 Haji Bektash Veli, were called Bel evladları (children of the loins), and became the hereditary spiritual leaders of the rural Alevis; and the Babağan, those faithful to the path (yol evladları - children of the way) who dominated the official Bektashi Sufi order with its elected leadership.
Bektashiyyah doctrine: Bektashism and Hurufism
The Bektashi Order is a Sufi order and shares much in common with other Islamic mystical movements, such as the need for an experienced spiritual guide – called a baba in Bektashi parlance – as well as the doctrine of "the four gates that must be traversed": the "Sharia" (religious law), "Tariqah" (the spiritual path), "Marifa" (true knowledge), "Haqiqah" (truth).
Bektashism places much emphasis on the concept of Wahdat-ul-Wujood وحدة الوجود, the "Unity of Being" that was formulated by Ibn Arabi. This has often been labeled as pantheism, although it is a concept closer to panentheism. Bektashism is also heavily permeated with Shiite concepts, such as the marked veneration of Ali, The Twelve Imams, and the ritual commemoration of Ashurah marking the Battle of Karbala. The old Persian holiday of Nowruz is celebrated by Bektashis as Imam Ali's birthday.
In keeping with the central belief of Wahdat-ul-Wujood the Bektashi see reality contained in Haqq-Muhammad-Ali, a single unified entity. Bektashi do not consider this a form of trinity. There are many other practices and ceremonies that share similarity with other faiths, such as a ritual meal (muhabbet) and yearly confession of sins to a baba (magfirat-i zunub مغفرة الذنوب). Bektashis base their practices and rituals on their non-orthodox and mystical interpretation and understanding of the Qur'an and the prophetic practice (Sunnah). They have no written doctrine specific to them, thus rules and rituals may differ depending on under whose influence one has been taught. Bektashis generally revere Sufi mystics outside of their own order, such as Ibn Arabi, Al-Ghazali and Jelalludin Rumi who are close in spirit to them.
Batiniyya and Ismailism
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