How Modern Day Sunnis Linked An Alawite Religion With (Shia) Islam

Praise be to Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ), for Allah (سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ) forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

As-salāmu `alaykum, since the outbreak of the war in Syria in 2011 between the Baathist controlled regime and the opposition, a Bakri (“Sunni”) propaganda machine  labeles the conflict as a “struggle between the Alawite Shia-dominated and controlled government and the Sunni opposition.” Beside the obvious nonsense of such statement due to the fact that the Sunni Syrians make up 70%-75% of all Syrians, Alawites 8-10% and Shia Muslims 1-3%, therefore the Syrian Arab Army, Baath Brigades (full of foreign Sunni volunteers) and the famous Shabiha, almost entirely rely upon the pro-Assad Syrian Sunni tribes for their menpower, not to mention that they also hold high governmental positions; the Prime Minister of Syria (previously Minister of Health) Wael Nader al-Halqi, the Minister of Defense and also Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Army and the Armed Forces (previously Special Forces) General Major Fahd Jassem al-Freij, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and Major General Mohammad al-Shaar, an Interior Minister, are some of the Sunni Muslims in the positions of power, let us analyze the fact on how Shia is the Alawite religion and therefore the so-called ‘Syrian regime.’

Origin and general history

The Alawites, also known as Alawis (ʿAlawīyyah Arabic: علوية‎‎) adhere to a syncretistic religion that incorporates Gnostic, neo-Platonic, Islamic, Christian and other elements. Alawite beliefs have never been confirmed by their modern religious authorities, because adherents tend to conceal their beliefs due to historical persecution at the hands of Sunni “Muslims”.

The origin of the Alawites is disputed. Local folklore suggests that they are descendants of the followers of Hasan al-Askari (d. 873) and his pupil, Ibn Nusayr (d. 868). For this reason, Alawites are sometimes called “Nusayris” (Nuṣayrīyyah Arabic: نصيرية‎‎), though this term has come to have derogatory connotations in the modern era; another name, “Ansari” (al-Anṣāriyyah), is believed to be a mistransliteration of “Nusayri”. The Alawi religion seems to have been organised by a follower of Muhammad Ibn Nusayr known as Al-Khaṣībī, who died in Aleppo about 969 AD. In 1032 Al-Khaṣībī’s grandson and pupil, al-Tabarani, moved to Latakia (then controlled by the Byzantine Empire). Al-Tabarani influenced the Alawite faith through his writings and by converting the rural population of the Syrian Coastal Mountain Range.

Theology and beliefs 

Their theology is based on a divine triad, or trinity, which is the core of Alawite belief. The triad comprises three emanations of the one God: the supreme aspect or entity called the “Essence” or the “Meaning” (both being translations of ma’na), together with two lesser emanations known as his “Name” (ism), or “Veil” (hijab), and his “Gate” (bab). These emanations have manifested themselves in different human forms over several cycles in history, the last cycle of which was as Ali (the Essence/Meaning), Muhammad (the Name) and Salman the Persian (the Gate). Alawite belief is summarised in the formula: “I turn to the Gate; I bow before the Name; I adore the Meaning”.

Other supposed beliefs and practices include: frequently being given Christian names; burying the dead in sarcophagi above ground; observing Nowruz, Epiphany, Christmas and the feast days of John Chrysostom and Mary Magdalene; the only religious structures they have are the shrines of tombs; the alleged book Kitab al Majmu, which is supposedly a central source of Alawite doctrine; the belief that women do not have souls; majority of Syrian Alawite women do not observe head covering (hijab) on a day to day basis; alcohol consumption is also acceptable; for the religious ceremonies, they meet weekly in a mixed gatherings on Thursdays; the belief in reincarnation(for the main features of Alawi religious doctrine and organization, see René Dussaud, Histoire et religion des Nosairis (Paris: Bouillon, 1900); Encyclopaedia of Islam, 1st ed., s.v. “Nusairi” (Louis Massignon); Heinz Halm, Die islamische Gnosis: die extreme Schia und die Alawiten (Zurich: Artemis Verlag, 1982), 284-355; Matti Moosa, Extremist Shiites: The Ghulat Sects (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1988), 255-418; and Fuad I. Khuri, Imams and Emirs: State, Religion and Sects in Islam (London: Saqi Books, 1990), 136-41, 198-202.)

Persecution, genocide and the war in Syria

From the beginning of the Alawite religion, they faced persecution. According to Gregory Bar Hebraeus (1226 – 30 July 1286), who was a catholicos (Chief bishop of Persia) of the Syriac Orthodox Church in the 13th century, many Alawites were killed when the Crusaders initially entered Syria in 1097; however, they tolerated them when they concluded they were not a truly Islamic sect.

In the 14th century, the Alawites were forced by a Sunni Mamluk ruler Baibars to build mosques in their settlements, to which they responded with token gestures described by the Muslim traveler Ibn Battuta (February 25, 1304 – 1368 or 1369):

Every village built a mosque far from the houses, which the villagers neither enter nor maintain. They often shelter cattle and asses in it. Often a stranger arrives and goes to the mosque to recite the [Islamic] call to prayer; then they yell to him, ‘Stop braying, your fodder is coming.’ ” – Ibn Battuta, as quoted by Daniel Pipes (1992). Greater Syria. Oxford University Press. p. 161. ISBN 9780195363043.

One of the most famous godfathers of Sunni terrorism, Ibn Taymiyya’, issued a fatwa about Alawites (whom he called “Nusayris” from the name of their founder):

“the Nusayris are more infidel than Jews or Christians, even more infidel than many polytheists. They have done greater harm to the community of Muhammad than have the warring infidels such as the Franks, the Turks, and others. To ignorant Muslims they pretend to be Shi’is, though in reality they do not believe in God or His prophet or His book…Whenever possible, they spill the blood of Muslims…They are always the worst enemies of the Muslims…war and punishment in accordance with Islamic law against them are among the greatest of pious deeds and the most important obligations.” – Ibn Taymiyyah, as quoted by Daniel Pipes (1992). Greater Syria. Oxford University Press. p. 163. ISBN 9780195363043.

After the region was taken over (1517-1918) from the Sunni Mamluk Empire by the Ottoman Empire, the persecution of Alawites intensified. The Ottomans attempted to convert them to Sunni “Islam”. Alawites were marginalized and made into a cast of poor peasant-serfs for their local Sunni landowners. (Field, Michael (1 March 1996). Inside the Arab World -. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674455214.) Alawites were not allowed to testify in court until after World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. They rose up against the Ottomans on several occasions, and maintained their autonomy in their mountains.

The establishment of the French Mandate of Syria marked a turning point in Alawi history. It gave the French the power to recruit Syrian civilians into their armed forces for an indefinite period and created exclusive areas for minorities, including an Alawite State. The Alawite State was later dismantled, but the Alawites continued to be a significant part of the Syrian army. Since Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970, the government has been dominated by a political elite led by the Alawite Al-Assad family. During the Sunni Islamist uprising in Syria in the 1970s and 1980s the establishment came under pressure. Even greater pressure has resulted from the Syrian Civil War.

Not suprisingly, the struggle of Sunni Islamists to rule exclusively over Syria like in the past, is justified with the historical “scholarly” opinions of their learned. Ibn Taymiyya’s fatwa on Alawites as “more infidel than Christians and Jews” has been recited after 800 years by Muslim Brotherhood affiliated scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi and the Syrian “moderate” rebel leader of Jaysh al-Islam, Zahran Alloush in their campaign of cleansing Syria from pro-Assad Sunni loyalists and Alawite men, women and babies.

(Shia) Islam and Alawite religion, temporary marriage of Realpolitik

Despite fairly modern Sunni Islamist propaganda, that runs contradictionary to the Sunni fatwas and actions of the past, that links Alawism to (Shia) Islam, historically Shias never considered Alawites to be a part of their faith. Purely for political reasons, some of the modern day Shia scholars and/or politicians, ruled that the Alawites are (Shia) Muslims (notice the difference, not Twelver Shias but just Shia Muslims) such as Lebanese cleric Musa al-Sadr and Iranian religious and political leader Ruhollah Khomeini. It’s noteworthy that the Sunni Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini issued a fatwa recognizing them as part of the Muslim community. (Talhamy, Y. (2010). “The Fatwas and the Nusayri/Alawis of Syria”. Middle Eastern Studies 46 (2): 175–194. doi:10.1080/00263200902940251.)

Many Sunnis, and some of the Western political analists, assume that the majority Shia Iran backed the Syrian regime because of the ruling elite’s ‘Shi’ism’, however such notion is not only denied officially by Iran and Assad, but also runs contradictionary to the simple logical and historical facts:

(…)Without Iran’s help, the regime would likely have collapsed. Some believe Tehran has backed Syria to the hilt because of their common religious roots. Both ruling cliques claim affinity with the heterodox Shia, who are a minority in an Islamic world populated by orthodox Sunnis. But Iran’s Syrian strategy derives less from spurious religious ties than it does from geopolitical factors. Surrounded by hostile pro-Western nations, Iran needs all the allies it can find to ensure that its regional interests are protected.

Little binds the Iranian Shia, known as Twelvers, with the Alawi Shia who rule Syria. The ninth-century founder of the Alawi sect was an adherent of the eleventh of the Twelvers’ religious leaders. He promoted doctrines that were incompatible with Twelverism and was declared an infidel by medieval Twelver scholars. Later Alawi theologians went even farther, abrogating many of Islamic laws such as fasting during the month of Ramadan while advocating the non-Islamic concept of the transmigration of souls. They went so far as to deify Muhammad’s cousin Ali, claiming that he was the true recipient of the prophetic message. They adopted Christian and pagan holidays.

These teachings did not sit well with medieval Twelver scholars. The tenth-century Twelver heresiographer Abu Muhammad al-Hassan ibn Musa al-Nawbakhti claimed the Alawi founder propagated the un-Islamic belief of the transmigration of souls and permitted homosexual relations. Jurists such as the eleventh-century scholar Muhammad bin al-Hassan al-Tusi accused the Alawis of heresy and cursed them for permitting what was forbidden.

This suited the Alawis. They believed they were the true holders of the original Islamic message, and had little affection for Muslims who refused to follow them. The Twelvers viewed them as enemies, and in 1834 raised troops for the Ottomans to quash an Alawi revolt.

Sometimes Alawis did not even identify as Muslims. When European travelers began visiting Syria in the eighteenth century, Alawis informed them they were Christians. Isolated in their mountain strongholds, they had little interaction with Muslims. But modernity shattered these walls. To prevent missionaries from claiming them as lost Christians, the Ottomans asserted they were Muslims. Mosques were built. But the Alawis rejected these attempts of integration into the Islamic community. When the French ruled Syria, they too tried to incorporate them into the Islamic fold. Twelver judges were imported to establish courts. But the Alawis rebuffed them as well. In 1948, Alawi students went to the Twelver center of Najaf, Iraq to learn their doctrines. But after being ridiculed and scorned, most quickly returned home.

In the 1960s, Alawis officers took power in Syria. But they did not establish cordial ties with Iran. Instead, it was the Iran-Iraq war that proved a turning point. Tehran was an international pariah, rejected by the West and fearful of Soviet communism. It was desperate for allies. The Syrian president detested his Iraqi counterpart and saw the war as an opportunity to weaken him. Iran bolstered a flailing Syrian economy in 1982 by providing free oil. But religious ties between the Alawis and Twelvers were as strained as ever. A 1985 American diplomatic cable noted that Twelver scholars “view the Alawis as heretical and despicable.” Indicative of the abyss between them, Twelvers sought to proselytize among the Alawis. Six preachers were arrested for doing so in 1996.

But even shared adversaries could not overcome the abyss separating them. When Iran flexed its muscles in the Middle East, Syria often recoiled. After Iranian gains against Iraq alarmed Saudi Arabia in 1986–1987, Syria sought to restrain Tehran. In 1987, Syrian forces clashed with Hezbollah, as its gains threatened the fragile balance between Lebanon’s myriad sects. Syria was never comfortable with the Iranian-Hezbollah strategy of kidnapping Westerners in Lebanon. And Damascus exposed the existence of American weapons sales to Tehran in what became known as the Iran-Contra affair.

When Iran made claims on several islands controlled by the United Arab Emirates in 1995, Syria backed the tiny nation. And Syria was never comfortable with Iran’s attempt to export its revolution to other Shiite communities. During the past decade, Damascus has allied with Sunni Arab nations in criticizing Tehran’s links to Shiite groups in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Economic ties between the two countries were never robust. In 2007, Iranian-Syrian trade only amounted to about one-third of Washington’s commercial exchanges with Damascus. One area where the two cooperated was tourism. Iranians constituted approximately 20 percent of all tourists to Syria. Most are pilgrims, who visit Shiite religious shrines that hold no religious importance to Alawis.

Iran and Syria built a defensive alliance based on mutual adversaries and fears. Historically apprehensive of American and Israeli designs in the Middle East, they share limited interests beyond their anti-Western ideology. But even this was not enough to persuade Syria to put both feet in the Iranian camp. Damascus always tried to keep Tehran at a comfortable distance, so as to not alienate Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries.

Today, Iran fears the fall of the Alawi regime would result in a Sunni government, which would ally with its rival Saudi Arabia. It worries about the regional isolation that would ensue. Iran also dreads the spread of the Wahhabi ideology that Riyadh propagates. The virulent anti-Shiite doctrines that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) endorses were born in Saudi madrasas.

Equally worrying is that a Sunni Syria would prevent Tehran from sending arms to Hezbollah. An Alawi fall would wipe out the regional gains that it has carefully cultivated for almost forty years.

Though not wed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Tehran cannot afford to see the Alawis relinquish power. For this reason, it will stubbornly cling to the status quo, refusing to make any tangible concessions during negotiations. The Sunni government that Saudi Arabia aspires to install in Damascus is anathema to Tehran, and must be prevented at all costs.

It is this fear of Sunnis that brings Iran and Syria together. Their defensive alliance is built on interests. (…) – Barak Barfi, The Real Reason Why Iran Backs Syria.

Ironically, for a compendium of historical hostile Twelver references to the Alawis, one can see the clandestine publication of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Nadhir, from 22 October 1980.

Many prominent Shi’ite clerics from Najaf (Iraq) and Qom (Iran) have never supported the Syrian regime, with majority even forbidding their followers to fight in Syria. Four prominent Najaf clergymen — Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Sheikh Ishaq al-Fayyad, Seyed Mohammad Sa’id al-Hakim and Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi — were quoted by Asharq Alawsat as adopting a unified stance in 2013: “Individuals who go to Syria for jihad are disobeying the commands of religious authorities.” In Qom (Iran), no prominent clerics have issued fatwas in support of sending Shiite fighters to Syria. In April 2017, powerful Iraqi Shi’ite warlord Muqtada al-Sadr called on the Syrian president to step down from power.

Conclusion

For political and secterian reasons, the modern day Sunni terrorists threw Alawites and (Shia) Muslims into one bucket to give their Sunni campaign of terror some legitimacy. One can clearly see that the Alawites historically were never considered Muslims by the Shias, Christians and Sunnis alike, as well as they never considered themselves as a part of an Islamic nation, not to even mention (Shia) Islam. The alliance of Damascus and Tehran is purely political, and has nothing to do with faith. It is the modern day Sunni terrorists with their secterian ideology that linked the Alawite religion with (Shia) Islam, and the Syrian secular regime that rely on the Sunni masses to ally with the Shia majority Iran.

***

And do not mix the truth with falsehood or conceal the truth while you know [it]. [2:42]

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