||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (August 2012)|
Zulfiqar, a stylized representation of the sword of Ali, is an important symbol for Alawites
|Regions with significant populations|
|Lebanon||An estimated 100,000-120,000|
|Lebanon/Golan Heights||2,100 live in Ghajar|
|Australia||Alawites comprise 2% of Lebanese born people in Australia|
|Qur'an, Nahj al-Balagha|
|The Fourteen Infallibles|
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The Alawites, also known as Alawis, Nusayris and Ansaris (ʿAlawīyyah (Arabic: علوية), Nuṣayrī (Arabic: نصيريون), and al-Anṣāriyyah) are a prominent mystical religious group centred in Syria who follow a branch of the Twelver school of Shia Islam. They were long persecuted for their beliefs by the various rulers of Syria, until Hafez al-Assad took power there in 1970.
Today they represent 12% of the Syrian population and for the past 50 years the political system has been dominated by an elite led by the Alawite Assad family. During the Syrian civil war, this rule has come under significant pressure.
Until fairly recently, Alawites were referred to as "Nusairis", after Abu Shu'ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr (d. ca 270 h, 863 AD) who is reported to have attended the circles of the last three Imams of the prophet Muhammad's line. This name is considered offensive, and they refer to themselves as Alawites.[page needed] They have allegedly "generally preferred" to be called Alawites, because of the association of the name with Ali ibn Abi Talib, rather than commemorating Abu Shu'ayb Muhammad Ibn Nusayr. In September 1920 French occupational forces instituted the policy of referring to them by the term Alaouites.
In official sources they are often referred to as Ansaris, as this is how they referred to themselves, according to the Reverend Samuel Lyde, who lived among Alawites in the mid-19th century. Other sources state that "Ansari", as referring to Alawites, is simply a Western mis-transliteration of "Nosairi".[page needed]
The origin of the Alawites is disputed. The Alawites themselves trace their origins to the followers of the eleventh Imām, Hassan al-'Askarī (d. 873), and his pupil ibn Nuṣayr (d. 868). The sect seems to have been organised by a follower of Muḥammad ibn Nuṣayr known as al-Khasibi, who died in Aleppo about 969. In 1032 Al-Khaṣībī's grandson and pupil al-Tabarani moved to Latakia, which was then controlled by the Byzantine Empire. Al-Tabarani became the perfector of the Alawite faith through his numerous writings. He and his pupils converted the rural population of the Syrian Coastal Mountain Range to the Alawite faith.
Under the Ottoman Empire 
Under the Ottoman Empire they were often ill treated, and they resisted an attempt to convert them to Sunni Islam. The Alawites were traditionally good fighters, revolted against the Ottomans on several occasions, and maintained virtual autonomy in their mountains. In his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence wrote:
"The sect, vital in itself, was clannish in feeling and politics. One Nosairi would not betray another, and would hardly not betray an unbeliever. Their villages lay in patches down the main hills to the Tripoli gap. They spoke Arabic, but had lived there since the beginning of Greek letters in Syria. Usually they stood aside from affairs, and left the Turkish Government alone in hope of reciprocity."
On the other hand, throughout the 18th century a number of Alawite notables were engaged as local Ottoman tax farmers (multazim). In the 19th century, some Alawites also supported the Ottomans against the Egyptian occupation (1831–1840), while individual Alawites made careers in the Ottoman army or as Ottoman governors. In the early part of the 20th century, the mainly Sunni notables sat on wealth and dominated politics, while Alawites lived as poor peasants. Alawites were not allowed to testify in court until after World War I.
French Mandate period 
After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Syria and Lebanon came under a French mandate. On December 15, 1918, prominent Alawite leader Saleh al-Ali called for a meeting of Alawite notables in the town of Sheikh Badr, and urged them to revolt and expel the French from Syria. When the French authorities heard of the meeting, they sent a force in order to arrest Saleh al-Ali. Al-Ali and his men ambushed them, and the French forces were defeated and suffered more than 35 casualties. After the initial victory, al-Ali started to organize his Alawite rebels into a disciplined force, with its own general command and military ranks, which resulted in the Syrian Revolt of 1919.
In 1919, Al-Ali retaliated to French attacks against rebel positions by attacking and occupying al-Qadmus, from which the French conducted their military operations against him. In November, General Henri Gouraud mounted a full-fledged campaign against Saleh al-Ali's forces in the An-Nusayriyah Mountains. They entered al-Ali's village of al-Shaykh Badr and arrested many Alawi notables. Al-Ali fled to the north, but a large French force overran his positions and al-Ali went underground.
Alawite State 
When the French finally occupied Syria in 1920, they recognized the term Alaouites, i.e. "Alawites", gave autonomy to them and other minority groups, and accepted them into their colonial troops. On 2 September 1920 an Alawite State was created in the coastal and mountain country comprising Alawite villages; the French justified this separation with the "backwardness" of the mountain-dwelling people, religiously distinct from the surrounding Sunni population. It was a division meant to protect the Alawite people from more powerful majorities. Under the mandate, many Alawite chieftains supported the notion of a separate Alawite nation and tried to convert their autonomy into independence. The French encouraged Alawites to join their military force, in part to provide a counterweight to the Sunni majority, which was more hostile to their rule. According to a 1935 letter by the French minister of war, the French considered the Alawites, along with the Druze, as the only "warlike races" in the mandate territories, as excellent soldiers, and the communities from where they could recruit their best troops.
The region was both coastal and mountainous, and home to a mostly rural, highly heterogeneous population. During the French Mandate period, society was divided by religion and geography: the landowning families of the port city of Latakia, and 80% of the population of the city, were Sunni Muslim. However, more than 90% of the population of the province was rural, 62% being Alawite peasantry. In May 1930, the Alawite State was renamed "the Government of Latakia", the only concession the French made to Arab nationalists until 1936. There was a great deal of Alawite separatist sentiment in the region, as evidenced by a letter dating to 1936 and signed by 80 Alawi notables and was addressed to the French Prime Minister stating that "Alawite people rejected attachment to Syria and wished to stay under French protection." Among the signatories was Sulayman Ali al-Assad, the father of Hafez al-Assad who would later become president of the country, and grandfather of Bashar al-Assad, the current president. However, these political views could not be coordinated into a unified voice. This was attributed to the majority of Alawites being peasants "exploited by a predominantly Sunni landowning class resident in Latakia and Hama". Nevertheless, on 3 December 1936 (effective in 1937), the Alawite State was re-incorporated into Syria as a concession by the French to the Nationalist Bloc, the party in power of the semi-autonomous Syrian government.
In 1939 a portion of northwest Syria, the Sanjak of Alexandretta, now Hatay, that contained a large number of Alawites, was given to Turkey by the French following a plebiscite carried out in the province under the guidance of League of Nations which favored joining Turkey. However, this development greatly angered the Alawite community and Syrians in general. In 1938, the Turkish military had gone into Alexandretta and expelled most of its Arab and Armenian inhabitants. Before this, Alawite Arabs and Armenians were the majority of the province's population. Zaki al-Arsuzi, the young Alawite leader from Iskandarun province in the Sanjak of Alexandretta, who led the resistance to the annexation of his province to the Turks, later became a co-founder of the Ba'ath Party along with the Eastern Orthodox Christian schoolteacher Michel Aflaq and Sunni politician Salah al-Din al-Bitar when his Arab Ba'ath merged with their Arab Ba'ath Movement . After World War II, Salman Al Murshid played a major role in uniting the Alawite province with Syria. He was executed by the newly independent Syrian government in Damascus on December 12, 1946 only three days after a hasty political trial.
After Syrian independence 
Syria became independent on April 17, 1946. In 1949, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Syria endured a succession of military coups and the rise of the Ba'ath Party. In 1958, Syria and Egypt were united through a political agreement into the United Arab Republic. The UAR lasted for three years. In 1961, it broke apart when a group of army officers seized power and declared Syria independent anew.
A further succession of coups ensued until, in 1963, a secretive military committee, which included a number of disgruntled Alawite officers, including Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid, helped the Ba'ath Party seize power. In 1966, Alawite-affiliated military officers successfully rebelled and expelled the old Ba'ath that had looked to the founders of the Ba’ath Party, the Greek Orthodox Christian Michel Aflaq and the Sunni Muslim Salah al-Din al-Bitar, for leadership. They promoted Zaki al-Arsuzi as the "Socrates" of their reconstituted Ba'ath Party.
In 1970, then Air Force General, Hafez al-Assad, an Alawite, took power and instigated a "Correctionist Movement" in the Ba'ath Party. The coup of 1970 ended the political instability that had lasted since the arrival of independence. Robert D. Kaplan has compared Hafez al-Assad's coming to power to "an untouchable becoming maharajah in India or a Jew becoming tsar in Russia—an unprecedented development shocking to the Sunni majority population which had monopolized power for so many centuries." In 1971, al-Assad declared himself president of Syria, a position the constitution at the time allowed only for Sunni Muslims to hold. In 1973, a new constitution was adopted that omitted the old requirement that the religion of the state be Islam and replaced it with the statement that the religion of the republic's president is Islam. Protests erupted when this was known. In 1974, in order to satisfy this constitutional requirement, Musa Sadr, a leader of the Twelvers of Lebanon and founder of the Amal Movement who had earlier sought to unite Lebanese Alawites and Shi'ites under the Supreme Islamic Shi'ite Council without success, issued a fatwa stating that Alawites were a community of Twelver Shi'ite Muslims. Under the authoritarian but secular Assad government, religious minorities were tolerated more than before, but political dissidents were not. In 1982 when the Muslim Brotherhood mounted an anti-government Islamist insurgency, Hafez Assad staged a military offensive against them which has since been referred to as the Hama massacre.
The Alawites derive their beliefs from the Prophets of Islam, from the Quran, and from the books of the Imams from the Ahlulbayt such as the Nahj al-Balagha by Ali ibn Abu Talib. Alawites are self-described Shi'ite Muslims, and have been recognised as such by Shi'ite authorities such as Ayatollah Khomeini and the influential Lebanese Shi'ite cleric Musa al-Sadr of Lebanon. The prominent Sunni Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni also issued a fatwah recognizing them as part of the Muslim community in the interest of Arab nationalism. Some Sunni scholars such as Ibn Kathir, on the other hand, have categorized Alawites as pagans in their religious works and documents. At least one source has compared them to Baha'is, Babis, Bektashis, Ahmadis, and "similar groups that have arisen within the Muslim community".
Some tenets of the faith may be secret and known only to a select few Alawis.  Alawis may have integrated doctrines from other religions (syncretism), in particular from Ismaili Islam and Christianity. Alawis are reported to celebrate certain Christian festivals, "in their own way", including Christmas, Easter, and Palm Sunday. The claim that Alawis believe Ali is a deity has been contested by scholars. By some accounts, Alawis believe in reincarnation.
Some sources have suggested that the non-Muslim nature of some of the historical Alawite beliefs, notwithstanding, Alawite beliefs may have changed in recent decades. In the early 1970s a booklet entitled "al-`Alawiyyun Shi'atu Ahl al-Bait" ("The Alawites are Followers of the Household of the Prophet"), was issued in which doctrines of the Imami Shi'ah were described as Alawite, and which was "signed by numerous `Alawi` men of religion".
A scholar suggests that factors such as the high profile of Alawites in Syria, the strong aversion of the Muslim majority to apostasy, and the relative lack of importance of religious doctrine to Alawite identity may have induced Syrian leader Hafez al-Assad and his successor son to press their fellow Alawites "to behave like 'regular Muslims', shedding or at least concealing their distinctive aspects".
Alawites have their own scholars, referred to as shaikhs, although more recently there has been a movement to bring Alawism and the other branches of Twelver Islam together through educational exchange programs in Syria and Qom.
Some sources have talked about "Sunnification" of Alawites under Baathist Syrian leader and Alawite Hafiz al-Assad. Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies, writes that Hafiz al-Assad "tried to turn Alawites into 'good' (read Sunnified) Muslims in exchange for preserving a modicum of secularism and tolerance in society." On the other hand Al-Assad "declared the Alawites to be nothing but Twelver Shiites". In a paper on "Islamic Education in Syria", Landis wrote that "no mention" is made in Syrian textbooks controlled by the Al-Assad regime, of Alawites, Druze, and Ismailis or even Shi`a Islam. Islam was presented as a monolithic religion. Ali Sulayman al-Ahmad, chief judge of the Baathist Syrian state, has stated: “We are Alawi Muslims. Our book is the Quran. Our prophet is Muhammad. The Ka`ba is our qibla, and our religion is Islam.”
Traditionally Alawites have lived in the Alawite Mountains along the Mediterranean coast of Syria. Latakia and Tartous are the region's principal cities. Today Alawites are also concentrated in the plains around Hama and Homs. Alawites also live in all major cities of Syria. They have been estimated to constitute about 12% of Syria's population—2.6 million people of Syria's 22 million population.
There are four Alawite confederations—Kalbiyya, Khaiyatin, Haddadin, and Matawirah—each divided into tribes. Alawites are concentrated in the Latakia region of Syria, extending north to Antioch (Antakya), Turkey, and in and around Homs and Hama.
Before 1953, Alawites held specifically reserved seats in the Syrian Parliament like all other religious communities. After that, including for the 1960 census, there were only general Muslim and Christian categories, without mention of subgroups in order to reduce "communalism" (taïfiyya).
There are an estimated 100,000 to 120,000 Alawites in Lebanon, where they have lived since at least the 16th century. They are recognized as one of the 18 official Lebanese sects, and due to the efforts of their leader Ali Eid, the Taif Agreement of 1989 gave them two reserved seats in the Parliament. Lebanese Alawites live mostly in the Jabal Mohsen neighbourhood of Tripoli, where they number 40,000–60,000, and in 15 villages in the Akkar region, and are mainly represented by the Arab Democratic Party. Their Mufti is Sheikh Assad Assi. The Bab al-Tabbaneh, Jabal Mohsen clashes between pro-Syrian Alawites and anti-Syrian Sunnis have haunted Tripoli for decades.
There are also about 2000 Alawites living in the village of Ghajar, split between Lebanon and the Golan Heights. In 1932, the residents of Ghajar were given the option of choosing their nationality and overwhelmingly chose to be a part of Syria, which has a sizable Alawite minority. Prior to the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the residents of Ghajar were counted in the 1960 Syrian census. When Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in 1967, Ghajar remained a no-man's land for two and a half months.
In order to avoid confusion with Alevis, Alawites prefer the self-appellation Arap Alevileri ("Arab Alevis") in Turkish. The term Nusayrī, which used to exist in (often polemical) theological texts is also revived in recent studies. In Çukurova, they are named as Fellah and Arabuşağı, the latter considered highly offensive by Alawites, by the Sunni population. A quasi-official name used particularly in 1930s by Turkish authorities was Eti Türkleri ("Hittite Turks"), in order to conceal their Arab origins. Today, this term is almost obsolete but it is still used by some people of older generations as a euphemism.
The exact number of Alawites in Turkey is unknown, but there were 185,000 in 1970 (this number suggests circa 400,000 in 2009). As Muslims, they are not recorded separately from Sunnis in ID registration. In the 1965 census (the last Turkish census where informants were asked their mother tongue), 180,000 people in the three provinces declared their mother tongue as Arabic. However, Arabic-speaking Sunni and Christian people are also included in this figure. Alawites traditionally speak the same dialect of Levantine Arabic with Syrian Alawites. Arabic is best preserved in rural communities and Samandağ. Younger people in Çukurova cities and (to a lesser extent) in İskenderun tend to speak Turkish. Turkish spoken by Alawites is distinguished by Alawites and non-Alawites alike by its particular accents and vocabulary. Knowledge of the Arabic alphabet is confined to religious leaders and men who have worked or studied in Arab countries.
Alawites show a considerable pattern of social mobility. Until 1960s, they used to work bound to Sunni aghas around Antakya and were among the poorest folk in Çukurova. Today, Alawites are prominent in economic sectors such as transportation and commerce. A large professional middle-class had also emerged. In recent years, there has been a tendency of exogamy, particularly among males who had attended universities and/or had lived in other parts of Turkey. These marriages are highly tolerated but exogamy of women, as in other patrilineal groups, is usually disfavoured.
Alawites, like Alevis, mainly have strong leftist political preferences. However, some people in rural areas (usually members of notable Alawite families) may be found supporting secularist conservative parties such as True Path Party. Most Alawites feel discriminated by the policies of the Presidency of Religious Affairs in Turkey (Diyanet İşleri Başkanlığı).
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