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Alawi

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Alawi

    The Alawi are a minority Muslim sect in northwest Syria and Turkey. Their name comes from the term Alawiyun, meaning follower of Ali—Ali ibn Abi Talib, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. The Alawi believe in a version of Shi'i faith as inspired by Muhammad ibn Nusayr , a follower of one of the imams. They are called ghulat by other Muslims, which means “exaggerators” or “extremists.” The Alawi believe foremost in the oneness of God. They hold that God appeared on earth seven times in human form and that Ali is the last and most perfect manifestation. They believe that God has three personalities: Ali, Muhammad, and Salman al-Farisi, a Persian companion of Muhammad who helped him defend the city of Medina.

    The Alawi interpret the Qur'an and Muhammad's teachings allegorically with good and evil symbolized by light and darkness. Worship of light serves as a major part of their religious system. For Alawis, the sun's light symbolizes the mystery of God. A group of Alawis called the Shamsis believes that Ali lives in the sun; another group, the Qamaris, asserts that Ali lives in the moon, the dark spots of which indicate his presence.

    The Alawi also have faith in the existence of countless worlds, the most divine of which is the al-Alam al-Nurani, or World of Light, inhabited by spirits. Humans live in the al-Alam al-Turabi, or Earthly World. The Alawi believe in reincarnation among people, plants, and animals. They hold that, after death, the soul of a faithful Alawi passes into another human body and that the soul of a wicked person passes into the body of an unclean or predatory animal. As a persecuted minority, the Alawi keep their beliefs secret and avoid exposing them to outsiders. They place great importance on rites that initiate them into the mysteries of their religion.

    The Alawi celebrate many Muslim festivals, including Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Like other Shi'is, they commemorate the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, whom they consider divine and comparable to Jesus Christ. Alawis also celebrate Persian festivals, especially Nawruz, which marks the beginning of spring. In addition, they participate in some Christian festivals, including the Epiphany, Pentecost, Palm Sunday, and the feast days of the saints John Chrysostom, Barbara, and Mary Magdalene. The Alawi also attend Mass, but instead of believing that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ, they view the wine as the manifestation of Ali. See also Ali ibn Abi Talib ; Calendar, Islamic; Shi'i Islam; Syria.

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