What is Alevism and what we learn from the Alevis

Alevism worship and attribute deities to Ali, grandson and son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and for this reason, Alevis have often been classified as Shiite Muslims. However, the Alevis claim that their religion is different from Islam, and that this faith developed in Anatolia, is based on shamanic and Zoroastrian beliefs that date back 6,000 years. But the most interesting aspects that can be seen in this spiritual doctrine are similarities with key concepts, fundamental to most religions, and above all we find the approach to the Divinity for men through an ascetic path (traceable to the teachings of Jesus), the worship of angels and a form of Trinity (between GOD, Mohammed and Ali).

History and etymology

Alevism (Turkish: Alevilik, and Kurdish: Rêya Heqî) is an Islamic tradition whose adherents follow the Alevi (bāṭenī) mystical teachings of Haji Bektash Veli, and who reported and taught the teachings of Ali and the Twelve Imams. Unlike the majority doctrines in Islam, the Alevis have no binding religious dogmas, and teachings are transmitted from one spiritual leader to the next.

Alevis are found primarily in Turkey and make up about 10%-15% of the population. There are various estimates of the ethnic composition of the Alevi population, but it is generally believed that a large part of the population is of Kurdish origin. Alevism however remains the second largest Islamic denomination in Turkey, second only to the Hanafi Sunnis.

History

After Prophet Mohammed’s death, a dispute arose as to who should be his rightful successor. The Islamic community was divided into those who adhered to Abu Bakr, who later became the Sunnis, and those who sided with Ali, now called the Shiites. At the same time, people who sided with Ali were called Alevis, defined as “those who worship Ali and his family.” Therefore, some authors use Shiism as a synonym for Alevism, incorporating Turkish beliefs present during the 14th century, mixed with Shiite, Sunni, and Sufi beliefs that were adopted by some Turkish and later Kurdish tribes. A unique philosophy, a faith, a way of life, a culture, a teaching and a social formula peculiar to Anatolia that is anthropocentric, i.e. in which the figure of man and woman are central, and rooted more for the respect and veneration of nature.

A unique philosophy, faith, way of life, culture, teaching, and social formula peculiar to Anatolia that is anthropocentric, that is, in which the figure of man and woman are central, and rooted more for respect and veneration of nature.

Etymology

The term “Alevi” originated in reference to Ali, Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law, and the name represents a Turkish form of the word ‘Alawi (Arabic: علوي) “of or pertaining to Ali.” But another interesting point of view, which does not exclude the first explanation, is that of the Ishikists, who claim that “Alevi” is derived from “Alev” (“flame” in Turkish) in reference to the fire that is widely used in Alevi rituals. According to them, the use of candles is based on chapter 24 of the Qur’an, 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).

 

Beliefs

According to scholar Soner Çağaptay, Alevism is a “relatively unstructured interpretation of Islam.” Journalist Patrick Kingsley says that for some Alevis, 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 to all. Alevis commonly profess the Islamic shahada, but adding “Ali is the friend of GOD.”

The basis of the Alevis’ most distinctive beliefs is found in the Buyruk, the compiled writings and dialogues of Sheikh Safi-ad-din Ardabili, and other relevant personalities of the time. Also included are the hymns (nefes) of figures such as Shah Ismail or Pir Sultan Abdal, the stories of Hajji Bektash, and other traditions.

GOD, ALLAH

Medallions representing Ali ibn Abu Talib (right) and Husayn ibn Ali (left) in Hagia Sophia, Istanbul

In Alevi cosmology, GOD (ALLAH in Arabic) is also called Al-Haqq (the Truth), He created life, therefore the created World can reflect His Being. Alevis believe in the unity of GOD, Muhammad and Ali, but it is not a trinity composed of GOD and the historical figures of Muhammad and Ali, but rather as representations of GOD’s light (and not GOD Himself), being neither independent of GOD nor separate characteristics of Him.

Spirits and Hereafter

Alevis believe in the immortality of the soul and the literal existence of supernatural beings. They also believe in good and evil angels (melekler), and thus in Satan who is the one who encourages man’s evil desires (nefs). Alevis, believe in the existence of spiritual creatures, such as jinn (cinler) and the evil eye.

Although among the Alevis there is no recognized narrative of creation, it is generally accepted that GOD created the five archangels, who were invited into the presence of GOD. Inside they found a light representing the light of Muhammad and Ali, and according to the Quranic story, one of the archangels refused to prostrate himself before the light, claiming that the light is a created body like himself and therefore inappropriate to worship. He thus remained in the service of GOD, but refused the final test and thus returned to darkness. From this primordial decline, emerged the devil’s enmity toward Adam (the human race of believers). The archangels constitute the same four archangels in orthodox Islam, and the fifth archangel namely Azazil (Satan, the Devil) who fell from grace, and therefore not included among the canonical archangels apart from this story.

The twelve Imams

The Twelve Imams are part of a common Alevi belief, in which each Imam represents a different aspect of the World, equal to the interpretation of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. They are realized as twelve services or On İki Hizmet that are performed by members of the Alevi community, and it is believed that each Imam is a reflection of Ali ibn Abu Talib, the first Imam of the Shiites. It is believed that the twelfth Imam has been kept hidden and represents the Messianic Era.

Plurality

There are two sides of creation, one from a spiritual center to plurality, the other from plurality to the spiritual center. Plurality is the separation of pure consciousness from the Divine source. It is seen as a curtain that alienates creation from the Divine source and an illusion he calls the Zāherī or esoteric side of reality. The hidden or true nature of creation is called the bāṭenī or esoteric.

The plurality of nature is attributed to the infinite potential energy of Kull-i Nafs when it takes bodily form by descending into being from GOD. During the Cem ceremony, the cantor or aşık sings:

All of us, living or lifeless, come from One, this is ineffable, Sultan.
Because loving and falling in love has been my destiny since immemorial time.

 

This is sung as a reminder that the reason for creation is love, so that followers can know themselves, and others, and that they can love what they know.

The perfect human being

Although it is common to refer to Ali and Haji Bektash Veli or the other Alevi Saints as manifestations of the perfect human being, this concept is also identified with our true identity as pure consciousness, hence the Qur’anic concept of human beings not having original sin, being pure and perfect consciousness. The task of humanity’s life is to fully realize this state while still in the material human form.

The perfect human being is also defined in practical terms as one who is in full moral control of his 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. Those who have attained this kind of enlightenment are also called “eren” or “münevver” (mūnavvar).

An educational poem

من داها نسنه بيلمه زه م / Mən daha nəsnə bilməzəm, // I don’t know any other object,

آللاه بير محممد على́دير / Allah bir Məhəmməd Əlidir. // GOD s unique Muhammad-Ali.

اؤزوم غوربتده سالمازام / Özüm qürbəttə salmazam, // can’t let out my own essence to places far from my homeland,

آللاه بير محممد على́دير / Allah bir Məhəmməd Əlidir. // GOD s unique Muhammad-Ali.

اونلار بيردير، بير اولوبدور / Onlar birdir, bir olubdur, // They are unique, a single One, [i.e. Haqq-Muhammad-Ali]

يئردن گؤيه نور اولوبدور / Yerdən göyə nur olubdur, // it’s a nūr [GOD’s Light] from Earth to Sky,

دؤرد گوشه ده سيرر اولوبدور، / Dörd guşədə sirr olubdur, // It’s a mysterious occult secret in every corner of the square,

آللاه بير محممد على́دير / Allah bir Məhəmməd Əlidir. // GOD s unique Muhammad-Ali.

ختايى بو يولدا سردير / Xətai bu yolda sirdir, // Khata’i in this tariqah is a mysterious occult secret,

سرين وئره نلر ده اردير / Sirrin verənlər də ərdir, // Those reveal their own secret are private as well,

آيدا سيردير، گونده نوردور / Ayda sirdir, gündə nurdur, // The mystery of the Moon, the light of the Sun,

آللاه بير محممد على́دير / Allah bir Məhəmməd Əlidir. // GOD s unique Muhammad-Ali.

(poem written by the Shaykh of the tariqah Safaviyya Ismail I)

Conclusions

Conclusions are very easy to be drawn by anyone and without influencing any thought but simply considering how much Truth and how many similarities and parallels there are between this doctrine and the others. We are all children of the same GOD, called to accomplish eternal deeds through our elevation, and to do this we simply need to desire it and to desire the good of our neighbors, that verily are our own selves.

 


References

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