Alevism (/æˈlɛvɪzəm/; Turkish: Alevilik or Turkish: Anadolu Aleviliği/Alevileri, also called Qizilbash, or Shī‘ah Imāmī-Tasawwufī Ṭarīqah, or Shīʿah-ī Bāṭen’īyyah) is a syncretic, heterodox, and local Islamic tradition, whose adherents follow the mystical (bāṭenī) teachings of Ali, the Twelve Imams and a descendant—the 13th century Alevi saint Haji Bektash Veli. Alevis are found primarily in Turkey among ethnic Turks and Kurds, and make up between somewhere between 10 and 40% of Turkey's population, the largest faith after Sunni Islam.
After the death of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a dispute arose about his legitimate successor. The Islamic community was divided into those who adhered to Abu Bakr, named Sunnis, and those who sided with Ali, called Shia. Concurrently, people who sided with Ali were called Alevis, defined as "those who adore to Ali and his family". Therefore, some authors use Shiism synonymously with Alevism. However, Alevism is not Shiism, even though it is influenced by it and although they share some common beliefs with the Twelver Shia, their rites and practises are different from Shiism. Thus Alevism incorporates Turkish beliefs present during the 14th century such as shamanism and animism, mixed with Ghulat Shia and Sufi beliefs that were adopted by some Turkish tribes, and later integrated with Sunnism.
In Turkey, Ja'faris, Alavids, Kaysanites, Qarmatians, Fatimid Ismailis, Nizaris, Qizilbashes (also known as Türk Alevileri), Nusayris (also known as Arab Alevileri) and Pamiris (also known as Pamir Alevileri) are collectively known as Aleviler ("Alevis"). Alawism and Alevism are two distinct sects.
Some of the differences that mark Alevis from mainstream Muslims are the use of cemevi halls rather than mosques; worship ceremonies that feature music and dancing, and where both women and men participate; non-observance of the five daily salat prayers and prostrations (they only bow twice in the presence of their spiritual leader), Ramadan, and the Hajj (considering true pilgrimage to be an internal one). Alevis have some links with Twelver Shia Islam (such as importance of the Ahl al-Bayt, the day of Ashura, the Mourning of Muharram, commemorating Karbala), but do not follow taqlid towards a Marja' "source of emulation". Some practices of the Alevis are based on Sufi elements of the Bektashi tariqa.
A minority viewpoint is that of the Ishikists, who assert, "Alevi" was derived from "Alev" ("flame" in Turkish) in reference to fire which is extensively used in Alevi rituals. 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).")
According to scholar Soner Cagaptay, Alevism is a "relatively unstructured interpretation of Islam". Journalist Patrick Kingsley states that for some self-described Alevi, their religion is "simply a cultural identity, rather than a form of worship".
Many teachings are based on an orally transmitted tradition, traditionally kept secret from outsiders (but now widely accessible). Alevis commonly profess the Islamic shahada, but adding "Ali is the friend of God".
The basis for Alevis' most distinctive beliefs is found in the Buyruks (compiled writings and dialogues of Sheikh Safi-ad-din Ardabili, 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.
In Alevi cosmology, God is also called Al-Haqq (the Truth) or referred to as Allah. God created life (can) and gave part of Himself that is the soul, so the created world can reflect His Being.
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.They do not worship god because they are scared of him they worship god because of their everlasting love. The exact meaning of this trinity is blurred. Some consider Haqq at the highest rank, with Muhammed and Ali equal below created from His light. Others consider them all to be one and the same.
|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:
Ali Muhammed'dir uh dur fah'ad, Muhammad Ali, (Ali is Muhammad, Muhammad is Ali)
Despite the different description of God, there can't be found a trace of God ruling based on fear. Accordingly, God will not judge the people by their acts of worship and there is no literal hell or heaven with material punishments or pleasures. However Alevism commonly believes in the immortality of the soul. Alevis, who believe in a literal existence of supernatural beings, also believe in good and bad angels (melekler), basically the same as Orthodox Islam, and also in spirits (Cinler). However Alevis, who do not believe in the supernatural regard Satan as a metaphor for human's evil desires (nefs). Alevis, who believe in a literal existence of spiritual creatures, often adhere to superstitions.
Like orthodox Islam, most Alevis acknowledge at least four scriptures revealed from heaven. However they differ in regard of the authencity. While most Muslims consider the scriptures preceding the Quran to be altered or corrupted, many Alevis hold, the Quran known by today, is not the original either. Additionally, Alevis don't mind to look to other religious books outside the four major ones as sources for their beliefs including several hadiths, Nahjul Balagha and Buyruks. Alevism also acknowledges the Islamic prophets (peygamber). However those Alevis, who do not believe in the supernatural, refuse the miracles attributed to them.
|"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".|
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:
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.
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).
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.
Sources differ on how important formal doctrine is among contemporary Alevi. According to scholar Russell Powell there is a tradition of informal "Dede" courts within the Alevi society, but regarding Islamic jurisprudence or fiqh there has been "little scholarship on Alevi influences" in it.
Other sources put more emphasis on creed and doctrine. Alevīs follow Tasawwufī-Batiniyya aqidah (creed) of Maymūn’al-Qāddāhī according to one source ( Dede İzzettin Doğan). In contrast the Sunni majority of Turkey's population follows Maturidi aqidah of the Hanafi fiqh and Ash'ari aqidah of the Shafi'i fiqh. According to another source, Alevi aqidah (creed or theological convictions) 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.
Qizilbash and the Bektashi Order 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 mainstream Twelver Shias and Sunnis are the non-observance of the five daily Salat prayers and prostrations (they only bow twice in the presence of their spiritual leader), fixed ritual donation for Zakat, 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, performing religious services instead in their own Cem-houses. Some beliefs of Shamanism still are common amongst the Qizilbash-Alevi-Turks in villages.
Alevis accept Twelver Shi‘a beliefs about Ali and the Twelve Imams. Moreover, 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, Iran, and Lebanon. In particular, much of mystical language in the Alevi tradition is inspired by Sufi traditions. Some sources link Alevism in particular to the heterodox syncretic Sufi group known as the Bektashi Order, which is also Shi'ite.
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.
Similarities with the Alawite sect in Syria exist. Both are viewed as heterodox, syncretic Islamic minorities, whose names both mean "devoted to Ali," (the son-in-law and cousin of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, and fourth caliph following Muhammad as leader of the Muslims), and are located primarily in the Eastern Mediterranean, Neither pray in mosques or support clerics, and both have a loathing of Sunni Islamist extremism. Like mainstream Shia they are known as "Twelvers" as they both recognize the Twelve Imams. However unlike mainstream Shia they both consider Imam Ali to embody the divine.
How the two minorities relate is disputed. According to scholar Marianne Aringberg-Laanatza, "the Turkish Alevis... do not relate themselves in any way to the Alawites in Syria." However journalist Jeffrey Gettlemand claims that both Alevi and the less than one million Alawite minority in Turkey "seem to be solidly behind Syria’s embattled strongman, Bashar al-Assad" and leary of Syrian Sunni rebels. DW journalist Dorian Jones states that Turkish Alevis are suspicious of the anti-Assad uprising in Syria. "They are worried of the repercussions for Alawites there, as well as for themselves."
Some sources (Martin van Bruinessen and Jamal Shah) mistake Alawites living in Turkey to be Alevis (calling Alevis "a blanket term for a large number of different heterodox communities"), but others do not, giving a list of the differences between the two groups. These include their liturgical languages (Turkish or Kurdish for Alevi, Arabic for Alawites). Opposing political nationalisms, with Alawites supporting their ruling dictatorship and considering Turks (including Alevis) an "opponent" of its Arab "historic interests". (Even Kurdish and Balkan Alevi populations pray in Turkish.) Unlike Alevis, Alawites not only traditionally lack mosques but do not maintain their own places for worship, except for shrines to their leaders. Alevi "possess an extensive and widely-read religious literature, mainly composed of spiritual songs, poems, and epic verse." Their origins are also different: The Alawite faith was founded in the ninth century by Abu Shuayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr. Alevis began among 14th century mystical Islamic dissenters in Central Asia, and represent more a movement than a sect.
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).
The following are major crimes that cause an Alevi to be declared düşkün (shunned):
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.
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 Âşık 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:
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 the twelve ministers of the cem.
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.
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.
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.
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 annual charitable donation as there is in Sunnism (2.5% of possessions above a certain minimum). 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."
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. However, Alevi philosophies, customs, and rituals are appreciably different than those of mainstream, orthodox Ja'fari-Twelver Shi‘ah. According to more orthodox Shia Muslims, Alevis are labeled as "Batiniyya" groups since Alevis praise Ali beyond what mainstream Shia Muslims expect. According to Alevis, Ali and Muhammad are likened to the two sides of a coin, or the two halves of an apple.
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.
The relationship between Alevis and Sunnis is one of mutual suspicion and prejudice dating back to the Ottoman period. Hundreds of Alevis were murdered in sectarian violence in the years that preceded the 1980 coup, and as late as the 1990s dozens were killed with impunity. While pogroms have not occurred since them, the Erdogan has declared “a cemevi is not a place of worship, it is a center for cultural activities. Muslims should only have one place of worship.”
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 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, and 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.
According to one source, "little research" has been done on the religion or ethnic and historical background of the Alevis, but what is available, suggests that they are "of peoples predating the Turkish invasion of Anatolia".
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.
According to Eren Sarı, Alevi saw Kemal Atatürk as a Mahdi "savior sent to save them from the Sunni Ottoman yoke". However, pogroms against Alevi did not cease after the establishment of Atatürk's republic. In attacks against leftists in the 1970s, ultranationalists and reactionaries killed many Alevis. Malatya in 1978, Maraş in 1979, and Çorum in 1980 witnessed the murder of hundreds of Alevis, the torching of hundreds of homes, and lootings.
When he came to power in 2003, then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan initially promised to strengthen the rights of minorities. In 2007 he began an “Alevi opening,” and has protected Alevi from massacres. But the Erdogan government also emphasizes the teaching of Sunni doctrine in public schools, has placed few Alevis in government positions such as governor or police chief; and while it spends large sums for the construction of Sunni mosques, refuses to classify cemevis as official places of worship, let alone pay for their construction. In October 2013, tens of thousands of Alevis protested the lack of Alevi rights in a series of reforms introduced by Erdoğan. In 2015 a cemevi was confiscated and repurposed as a mosque, despite the presence of another mosque a few hundred metres away. In 2016 the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that Alevis in Turkey "were subjected to a difference in treatment for which there was no objective and reasonable justification."
Most Alevi live in Turkey, where they are a minority and Sunni Muslims the majority. The size of the Alevi population is likewise disputed, but most estimates place them somewhere between 8 and 10 million people or about 12% of the population. Estimates of the percentage of Turkey's population that are Alevi include between 10–20%, 33%, and as much as 40%. Scattered minorities live in Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Caucasus, Greece, Iran and the Turkish Diaspora.
Most Alevis come from Kizilbash or Bektashi origin, according to Minorityrights.org. The Alevis (Kizilbash) are traditionally predominantly rural and acquire identity by parentage. Bektashis, however, are predominantly urban, and formally claim that membership is open to any Muslim. The groups are separately organized, but subscribe to "virtually the same system of beliefs".
The Alevi population has been estimated as follows:
A Turkish scholar working in France has distinguished four main groups among contemporary Alevis, which cautiously show their distinctive features in modern Turkey.
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.
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 al-Mawjud وحدة الوجود, the "Unity of Being" that was formulated by Ibn Arabi. This has often been labeled as pantheism, although creation explained like Wahdat al-wujud panentheism. It becomes Wahdat al-Mawjud the unity of Haqq-Kosmos-Human . 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 Al-Mawjud 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.
Bektashis hold that the Qur'an has two levels of meaning: an outer (Zāher ظاهر) and an inner (bāṭen باطن). They hold the latter to be superior and eternal and this is reflected in their understanding of both the universe and humanity, which is a view that can also be found in Ismailism and Batiniyya.
Bektashism is also initiatic and members must traverse various levels or ranks as they progress along the spiritual path to the Reality. First level members are called aşıks عاشق. They are those who, while not having taken initiation into the order, are nevertheless drawn to it. Following initiation (called nasip) one becomes a mühip محب. After some time as a mühip, one can take further vows and become a dervish. The next level above dervish is that of baba. The baba (lit. father) is considered to be the head of a tekke and qualified to give spiritual guidance (irshad إرشاد). Above the baba is the rank of halife-baba (or dede, grandfather). Traditionally there were twelve of these, the most senior being the "dedebaba" (great-grandfather). The dedebaba was considered to be the highest ranking authority in the Bektashi Order. Traditionally the residence of the dedebaba was the Pir Evi (The Saint's Home) which was located in the shrine of Hajji Bektash Wali in the central Anatolian town of Hacıbektaş (Solucakarahüyük).
The Kizilbash (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 mahdi (messiah), and Anatolia became the scene of protracted warfare between Ottomans and Safavids.
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, Qizilbash and Bektashi 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, all members of Alevism developed a tradition of opposition (ibāḥa) to all forms of external religion.
من داها نسنه بيلمه زه م / Mən daha nəsnə bilməzəm, // I don't know any other object,
اؤزوم غوربتده سالمازام / Özüm qürbəttə salmazam, // I can't let out my own essence to places far from my homeland,
اونلار بيردير، بير اولوبدور / Onlar birdir, bir olubdur, // They are unique, a single one, i.e. Haqq-Muhammad-Ali,
Alevi religious services, referred to collectively as cem or âyîn, include spiritual exercises that incorporate elements of zikr ("remembrance" or recitation of God's names, in this case without controlled breathing, but with some elements of body posturing) and sema (ritual dance). The latter is accompanied by sung mystical poetry in the vernacular, and by the sacred ritual instrument known as bağlama or saz (a plucked folk lute with frets).
Such music is performed by specialists known as zâkir, aşık, sazende or güvende, depending on regional usage. They are recruited from Alevi communities and descended from dede lineages. Many are also known to be poet/minstrels (aşık, ozan) who perpetuate the tradition of dervish-lodge (tekke) poets such as Yunus Emre (13th century), Nesîmî (14th century), Pir Sultan Abdal, Hatâ'î and Genç Abdal (16th century) and Kul Himmet and Kul Hüseyn (17th century). The poetry was composed in the Turkish vernacular and follows the principles of folk prosody known as hece vezne in which the focus is the number of syllables.
The specialized sacred musical repertoire of Alevi musicians includes
The dances are performed by couples, and choreographies employ circle and line formations as well as arrangements where couples face one another, thus synchronizing their movements more closely. As the tempo of the music increases, the figures become more complex and intense. There are many regional variants of sema, but the most widespread and important are the Dance of the Forty (Kırklar Semahı) and the Dance of the Cranes (Turnalar Semahı).
The âyîn-î-cem can be heard on the JVC CD Turkey – An Esoteric Sufi Ceremony. The recording was made in Istanbul in 1993, and the ceremony includes in an order typical of a cem: a deyiş that reiterates the line of descent of the sect in a historical framework, two divas (one based on the poetry of Hatâ'î, and the other on the poetry of Kul Himmet), prayer formulas, the ill-Âllâh genre that incorporates the tahlîl formula into the poem to create an atmosphere of zikr while sect members create rhythmic intensity by hitting their knees in time to the music and sway their bodies slightly, the Dance of the Forty (Kırklar Semah), the Dance of the Cranes (Turnalar Semahı) and prayer formulas.
Alevis have a significant role in Turkish music and poetry. Pir Sultan Abdal, a 16th-century Alevi poet whose poems and songs often contain spiritual themes, is revered as a saint and hero. Important figures are the Sufi poet Yunus Emre, widely regarded as having been Alevi, and Kaygusuz Abdal. Their poems shape Turkish culture up to now, and are also performed by modern artists. Songs attributed to these poets have been embraced by left-wingers in the 20th century. The aşık bards are also influenced by Alevi tradition.
Many of the major traditional musicians in Turkey are Alevi, including Arif Sağ, Musa Eroğlu, Neşet Ertaş, Erdal Erzincan, Aşık Mahzuni Şerif, Aşık Feyzullah Çınar, Aşık Veysel Şatıroğlu, Ali Ekber Çiçek, Sabahat Akkiraz, Belkıs Akkale, and Ulaş Özdemir. Other non-Alevis, such as Ruhi Su, have recorded many Alevi songs. Mercan Dede, an artist whose music combines electronic and traditional Sufi elements, has made some songs involving Alevi themes in cooperation with singer Sabahat Akkiraz.
In Islamic theology, al-Insān al-Kāmil (Arabic: الإنسان الكامل), also rendered as Insān-i Kāmil (Persian/Urdu: انسان کامل) and İnsan-ı Kâmil (Turkish), is an honorific title to describe the prophet Muhammad. The phrase means "the person who has reached perfection", literally "the complete person". It is an important concept in Islamic culture of the prototype human being, pure consciousness, one's true identity, to be contrasted with the material human who is bound by one's senses and materialism. The term was originally used by Sunni Sufis and is still used by them, but it is also used by Alawis and Alevis. This idea is based upon a hadith, which was used by Ibn Arabi, that states about Prophet Muhammad: "I was a prophet when Adam was between water and clay."
The Sunni Islamic scholar Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki, has published a Sirah on Muhammad as al-Insān al-Kāmil. Al-Jili was the author of an Arabic text entitled al-Insān al-Kāmil. Ismailis believe that each Imam is a perfect man.This concept is often explained as the esoteric meaning behind practicing the Sharia, as well as explaining the Qur'anic concept of human beings not having original sin, because the centre of consciousness is pure and perfect. However, esoteric explanations (known as Batini Ta'wil) are commonplace and varied among Alevis due to the plurality of meanings.Alevi history
The History of the Shī‘ah Imāmī Alevī Ṭarīqah or The History of the Alevism is that of a community of Shia Muslims of Anatolia and neighbouring regions.Alians
The Alian Kızılbaşī community (in Turkish Alyanlar or Tajiklar), are a Shi`a order, similar to the Sufi Mevlevi, who live in several regions of Bulgaria. Alians revere the name "Ali" carried by their circle of 12 Ministers (awliya’), which they consider an emanation of God. They follow the mystical rituals of the wandering dervishes.Baba (Alevism)
An Alevi and sunni religious leader related to a Dede in Sufism.Babai revolt
The Babai revolt was an insurrection in the Sultanate of Rûm in the thirteenth centuryBektashi Order
The Bektashi Order (Albanian: Tarikati Bektashi; Turkish: Bektaşi Tarîkatı), short for Shī‘ah Imāmī Alevī-Bektāshī Ṭarīqah is a Sufi dervish order (tariqat) named after the 13th century Alevi Wali (saint) Haji Bektash Veli from Khorasan, but founded by Balım Sultan. The order, whose headquarters is in Tirana, Albania, is mainly found throughout Anatolia and the Balkans, and was particularly strong in Albania, Bulgaria, and among Ottoman era Greek Muslims from the regions of Epirus, Crete and Macedonia. However, the Bektashi order does not seem to have attracted quite as many adherents from among Bosnian Muslims, who tended to favor more mainstream Sunni orders such as the Naqshbandiyya and Qadiriyya. The order represents the official ideology of Bektashism (Turkish: Bektaşilik).
In addition to the spiritual teachings of Haji Bektash Veli, the Bektashi order was later significantly influenced during its formative period by the Hurufis (in the early 15th century), the Qalandariyya stream of Sufism, and to varying degrees the Shia beliefs circulating in Anatolia during the 14th to 16th centuries. The mystical practices and rituals of the Bektashi order were systematized and structured by Balım Sultan in the 16th century after which many of the order's distinct practices and beliefs took shape.
A large number of academics consider Bektashism to have fused a number of Shia and Sufi concepts, although the order contains rituals and doctrines that are distinct. Throughout its history Bektashis have always had wide appeal and influence among both the Ottoman intellectual elite as well as the peasantry.Buyruks
The Buyruks are a collection of spiritual books providing the basis of the Alevi value system. The word buyruk in Turkish means "command". Topics addressed in the Buyruks include müsahiplik "spiritual brotherhood" and a wide range of Alevi stories and poems. The story of Haji Bektash Veli is found in them.
The Buyruks also contain Quranic verses, the sayings of Ali and the Twelve Imams, as well as sayings and songs written by Yunus Emre, Pir Abdal Musa, Pir Sultan Abdal, and Ismail I, known by his pen name, Khata'i.Cemevi
A cemevi or cem evi (pronounced and sometimes written as djemevi; meaning literally "a house of gathering" in Turkish or more precisely, "house of [the religious ritual called] cem") is a place of fundamental importance for Turkey's Alevi-Bektashiyyah tariqa populations and traditions. Alevi organizations such as Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli Anadolu Kültür Vakfı describe cemevis as places of worship, and ask for this to be officially recognized.
However, according to the Directorate of Religious Affairs of Turkey, cemevis are not places of worship (because Laïcité in Turkey cannot allow by laws any one of those like Imambargah, Khalwatkhana, Mejlis, Musallah or Tekkes except Sunni and Ja'fari-Shi’ite mosques as Muslim worship places) in the strict sense of the term.Dargah
A dargah (Persian: درگاه dargâh or درگه dargah, also in Urdu and Bengali: দরগাহ dorgah) is a shrine built over the grave of a revered religious figure, often a Sufi saint or dervish. Sufis often visit the shrine for ziyarat, a term associated with religious visits and pilgrimages. Dargahs are often associated with Sufi eating and meeting rooms and hostels, called khanqah or hospices. They usually include a mosque, meeting rooms, Islamic religious schools (madrassas), residences for a teacher or caretaker, hospitals, and other buildings for community purposes. The same structure, carrying the same social meanings and site of the same kinds of ritual practice, is called maqam in the Arabic-speaking world.Dede (religious figure)
A dede is a socio-religious leader in the Islamic Alevi and non-islamic Ishiki community. It is one of the 12 ranks of Imam in Alevism. The institution of dede is the most important of all the institutions integral to the social and religious organization of the Anatolian Alevis. Although much weakened as a result of the socio-economic transformation experienced in Anatolia towards the end of the nineteenth century, and particularly due to accelerated migration from the rural to the urban areas after the foundation of the Republic of Turkey, it played a primary role in the survival of Alevism until today.
The institution of dedes is based on a three tiered hierarchy:
RehberIn some regions this hierarchy is modified in such a way that the Pir and Murshid change places. This is exclusively a functional hierarchy, as all involved come from a dede family. They fulfill functions that are complementary in nature, and would be meaningless in isolation from each other. The dede families, all of them called ocakzâdes, have distributed these duties among themselves.An Alevi dede focuses on the mystical Islamic teachings of the Twelve Imams, the Buyruks (mainly the Imam Câfer-i Sadık Buyruğu) and Haji Bektash Veli.Düşkünlük Meydanı
The resolution of Alevi community disputes or problems in a Dushkunluk Meydani (Turkish: Düşkünlük Meydanı) or 'People's Court' presided over by the Alevi dede.Haji Bektash Veli
Haji Bektash Veli or Ḥājī Baktāš Walī (Persian: حاجی بکتاش ولی ، Ottoman Turkish: حاجی بکتاش ولی, romanized: Hacı Bektaş-ı Veli, Albanian: Haxhi Bektash Veliu) was an Alevi Muslim mystic, saint, Sayyid, humanist, and philosopher, who lived from 1209 to 1271. He lived and taught from approximately 1209 to 1271 in Anatolia. He is revered among Alevis for an Islamic understanding that is esoteric (spiritual), rational, progressive, and humanistic. Alevi and Bektashi Muslims believe the path of Haji Bektash is the path of ʿAli ibn Abu Talib, since Ali was the source of Bektash's teachings. His original name was "Sayyid Muhammad ibn Sayyid Ibrāhim Ātā". He was one of the figures who flourished in the Sultanate of Rum and had an important influence on the Turkish nomads of Asia Minor. He is also referred to as the Sultan of Hearts and the Derwish of the Derwishes. Haji Bektash Veli was a descendant of Musa Kazim, the Seventh Imam of the Athnā‘ashariyyah Shi'a Muslim sect.Haqq–Muhammad–Ali
Haqq–Muhammad–Ali refers to a holy communion (ittihad) in Alevism that involves Haqq (‘Truth’ referring to the divine nature of Allah), Muhammad ('Yol' or Sunnah referring to the Jem (Alevism)) and Ali (‘Nūr’ referring to the Awliya).Ishikism
Ishik or Ishik Alevism (Işık Aleviliği), also known as Chinarism (Çınarcılık), is a new syncretic religious movement among Alevis who have developed an alternative understanding of Alevism and its history. These alternative interpretations and beliefs were inspired by Turkish writer Erdoğan Çınar with the publication of his book Aleviliğin Gizli Tarihi (The Secret History of Alevism) in 2004.Jem (Alevism)
The central Alevi communal worship service is called a cem (Turkish: Cem or Âyîn-i Cem, meaning amass, gather-together, congregation or assembly meeting), which is performed in special houses called as Cem Evi. Alevis believe that the Jem has its roots in an original worship and teaching meeting of forty spiritual individuals Kirklar Majlisi (Turkish: Kırklar Meclisi) led by Ali. It takes place in a Cem EviMurshid (Alevism)
A Murshid is one of the 12 ranks of Imam in Alevism.Pir (Alevism)
In Alevism, a Pir meaning Elder is one of the 12 ranks of Imam in Alevism. The rank of Dede or Ana are selected from among the Pirs.Rehber (Alevism)
In Alevism, a Rehber also known as Murshid is one of the 12 ranks of Imam in Alevism. A Rehber assists the Pir, provides information to the newcomers and prepares them for commitment to the Alevi path or Tariqat.
Crucial figures and influences
Part of a series on Islam
1Salafism (Ahl-i Hadith & Wahhabism)
2Sevener-Qarmatians, Assassins & Druzes
3Alawites, Qizilbash & Bektashism; 4Nukkari
5Ajardi, Azariqa, Bayhasiyya, Najdat & Sūfrī
6Bahshamiyya, Bishriyya & Ikhshîdiyya
7Alevism, Bektashi Order, Qalandariyya & various Sufi orders
|Part of a series on Islam|
|The influences of the Muslim sects on the Alevī faith throughout Anatolia and the Balkans|
|Part of a series on Shīa Islam
Branches / sects
States / region
|The historical emergence of the Alevī Ṭarīqah|
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