Arabism, Islamic history, religion

Alawais and their place in the Islamic world, Part one

This topic threatens to be lengthy so it will be written as a series of  different aspects beginning with recent propaganda. I chose to start here as I need to sound off a bit prior to beginning the research.

Alawai, the word on everyone’s lips

Since the invasion of Syria the word Alawai has been in the public sphere. It serves as a particularly useful propagating tool by which to justify the invasion of a small country by the west. Similar rhetoric was used in Iraq, when Saddam Hussein, the former president, was accused of discriminating against Shia Muslims, even though Ba’ath party doctrine allowed inter-marriage between the two sects. As we know, that privilege was soon dispensed with, when Britain imposed a rather unpopular government on the Iraqi people.

People inevitably blame their lot on unfair treatment by government and others, who don’t share their views on areas as diverse as taxation and sexual orientation. Any sort of democracy, electoral or otherise, is difficult to implement. The achievable goal is to maintain stability, Britain is a prime example. It would be nice to think people would govern themselves but every day occurrences suggest, that at best people don’t want the responsibility and at worse their prejudices and self interest would manifest violently.

In 1990 Sunni, Shia Islam and minority government entered the vocabulary of British people in relation to Iraq. In 2012 it was the Alawai affiliation to the Shia branch of Islam, which got the chattering classes interested. How awful it all was, that a minority group ruled a country so harshly, that electoral democracy was not permitted let alone allowed to flourish.

No-one denies Dr Bashar’s father Hafez Assad was ideologically driven as he wished to reunite Greater Syria under Arabic style communism and would not have an Israeli at any cost. Having said this Hafez al-Assad was also certain, that once his defences dropped another agenda would be imposed and judging from the events of the last few years he was not wrong.

All I can really say is someone once close to me was an Arab nationalist and a Ba’ath supporter and when I visited Syria in 2005 the over-all atmosphere was peaceful. In 2006, shortly after I returned from my second visit I heard about a  pro Israeli demonstration in Kamishli by some of the Kurdish residents.

Sensing impending doom I began to investigate the various religions in the region. I found an internet entry, which described the Alawais as a kind of hybrid group, who followed Ali, possibly the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed and the ”founder” of the Shia branch of Islam. It was a work computer and I didn’t keep the link, in fact I forgot all about it for a few years.

My interest in the Alawais re-emerged as the Syrian situation worsened and was further whetted by the opinions of many Muslims I have spoken to. One Syrian man I met in a mini van at Balbek dropped his voice, when he expressed his dislike for Hizb’allah, there were other passengers outside the van but exclaimed rather hotly, that there were no Shias in Syria. He’d been on a demonstration in Damascus, when he was arrested and returned to Balbek, where his mother owned land.

Another Sunni Syrian friend, who was given refuge in Balbek listed the Alawais separately from the Shias and declared they were all Muslims and as one, he is a lovely young man, who just wants people to get on.  Another female friend of mine, again a Sunni, with a particular interest in religion was quite aghast, when I told her people believed Dr Bashar to be a Shia. Despite her sect she loved Balbek, when she visited there from Syria years ago.

A different line of propaganda

the above description is not intended to be divisive but rather seeks to point out the complexities of the Islamic faith. Author Steve Tamari, in his article ‘Against Orthodoxy: The Story of Alawi Origins’  writes, that the Alawais are regarded as ”heretics” by many Muslims and western religious scholars, who ”absorb the point of view of orthodox Islam”. He cites the view of Israeli author Yaron Friedman, that majority groups often use their prejudices to ”vilify” minorities. Mr. Friedman, who has studied the Alawai faith maintains their views are as authentic as those of other Muslims.

Of course the subject of heresy is not the concern of the British popular press, that concept requires some serious thought. The media simply need to gather support for what I consider to be an invasion not a popular uprising, regardless of what it might have been if there was no outside interference. I cite Mr. Friedman’s  views on the propaganda of heresy, because this is a serious issue for those Syrian regions, e.g. Raqqa, already colonised by radical Islam.

Needless to say M. Tamari in his article, written in 2012, succumbs to the popular view of an evil dictatorship perpetuated by dynastic mentality. I don’t know if he is British but there is no bigger dynasty, than the Tory ”in-crowd”, though they are not all directly related they certainly know about jobs for the boys, old school ties and the ilk, hardly surprising after a 350 year rule.

Alawai beginnings in brief

Unfortunately I don’t possess Mr Friedman’s book entitled ‘NusayriAlawis: An Introduction to the Religion, History, and Identity of the Leading Minority in Syria’ but can access other written sources. Suffice to say the Alawai sect was founded in the 9th century by ibn Nusayri and was named after its founder until the early 20th century, when it was renamed Alawai by those who wished to ”mainstream” its culture.

Next time, more about Mohammed ibn Nusayri


One thought on “Alawais and their place in the Islamic world, Part one

  1. adam abu sirry says:

    please keep in mind the term Nusayri is offensive to the Alawi people. one can not judge a book by its cover but in this case Friedman’s book seem to insult the Alawai people even before you open it. As you stated above the complexity of religion in the ME is deep and rough, so please keep that in mind as you write on. thank you for your thoughts, just found your blog and will try to read it all.
    PS could you post a little about how n why you became interested in the ME / Levant / Greater Syria? Your thoughts are well constructed and it seems you have a good understanding of the area.
    Thank you

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