The Question Of Alevi Minority In Turkiye And Its Religious Identity

Yves here. This post how inattentive the mainstream media is to religious and cultural that play into geopolitics. Or to the extent that they merit a mention, they are force-fitted into simplistic stereotypes. Here, the fact that Turkiye was pretty much never set to be admitted to the EU is based on antipathy for Muslims and brown people generally, aided and abetted by shoehorning Muslims into Sunni or Shia boxes. As far as I can tell, the history and current status of the large Alevi sect is not even considered in these discussions. In modern era, the Alevis fared comparatively well in Turkiye when secularism was on the rise, but like (but less visibly to most of the West) the Alevis face discrimination, which would have had to be addressed were Turkiye to pursue EU membership.

Admittedly as the post shows, Turkiye citizens on the whole are not so hot on the EU either, but perhaps less in-your-face dislike might have generated better reciprocal feeling in Turkiye.

By Dr. Vladislav B. Sotirovic, Ex-University Professor, Research Fellow at the Centre for Geostrategic Studies, Belgrade, Serbia


Up to now, not once expressed by Turkiye’s President R. T. Erdoğan a possibility to organize a national referendum on Turkish membership to the European Union (the EU) opened many questions of different nature followed by old and new problems.

A current European political concern is reflected in many controversial issues and one of those the most important is facing the EU about whether or not to accept Turkiye as a full member state (being a candidate state since 1999). Turkiye is, on one hand, governed as a secular democracy by moderate Islamic political leaders, seeking to play a role of the bridge between the Middle East and Europe. However, Turkiye is, on other hands, almost 100% Muslim country with a rising tide of Islamic radicalism (especially since the 2023 Israeli aggression on Gaza and ethnic cleansing of the Gazan Palestinians), surrounded with the neighbors with a similar problem.

There are two fundamental arguments by all of those who are opposing Turkish admission to the EU: 1) Muslim Turkish citizens (70 million) will never be properly integrated into the European environment that is predominantly Christian; and 2) In the case of Turkish accession, historical clashes between the (Ottoman) Turks and European Christians are going to be revived. Here we will refer only to one statement against Turkish accession: it “would mean the end of Europe” (former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing) – a statement which clearly reflects the opinion by 80% of Europeans polled in 2009 that Turkiye’s admission to the EU would not be a good thing. At the same time, there are only 32% of Turkish citizens who had a favorable opinion of the EU and, therefore, the admission process, for which formal and strict negotiations began already in 2005, is very likely to be finally abortive.

Islamic Fundamentalism and Turkiye’s Admission to the EU

The question of Turkish admission to the EU is by the majority of Europeans seen through the glass of Islamic fundamentalism as one of the most serious challenges to the European stability and above all identity that is primarily based on the Christian values and tradition. Islamic fundamentalism is understood as an attempt to undermine existing state practices for the very reason that militant Muslims (like ISIS/ISIL/DAESH) are fighting to re-establish the medieval Islamic Caliphate and the establishment of theocratic authority over the global Islamic community – the Umma. Nevertheless, religious fundamentalism first came to the attention of the Western part of the international community in 1979 when a pro-American absolute monarchy was changed with a Shia (Shiia) Muslim anti-American semi-theocracy in Iran. In other words, Iranian Shia Muslim clerics, who were all the time the spiritual leaders of the Iranians, became now their political leaders too. The Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 prompted possibilities of similar uprisings in other Muslim societies followed by pre-emptive actions against them by other governments.

What can be the most dangerous scenario for Turkiye from the European perspective if the accession negotiations failed is, probably, Turkish turn towards the Muslim world followed by rising influence of Islamic fundamentalism which can be properly controlled by the EU if Turkiye would become a member state of the club? That is, probably, the most important “security” factor to note regarding the EU-Turkish relations and accession negotiations. Namely, following the 9/11 terror attacks (on Washington and New York), it was becoming more and more clear that it was better to have (Islamic) Turkiye inside the EU rather than as a part of an anti-Western bloc of Muslim states.

In general, for the Western governments and especially for the US and Israeli administrations, Shia Muslims became seen after the 1979 Iranian Islamic (Shia) revolution as the most potential Islamic fundamentalists and the religious terrorists. Therefore, the oppression of Shia minorities by the Sunni majorities in several Muslim countries are deliberately not recorded and criticized by the Western governments. The case of Alevi people in Turkiye is one of the best examples of such policy. However, at the same time, the EU administration is paying a full attention to the Kurdish question in Turkiye even requiring the recognition of the Kurds by the Turkish government as an ethnocultural minority (as different from the ethnic Turks). Why the Alevi people are in this respect discriminated by the EU’s minority policy in Turkiye? The answer is because the Kurds are Sunni Muslims but Alevis are considered as a Turkish faction of (militant) Shia Muslim community within the Islamic world.

In the next paragraphs, I would like to put more lights on the question who are Alevi people and what is Alevism as a religious identity taking into account the fact that religion, undoubtedly, has become increasingly important in both the studies and practice of both international relations and global politics. We have to keep also in our minds that religious identity was predominant in comparison to national or ethnic identities for several centuries being the crucial cause of political conflicts in many cases.

What is Alevism?

The Alevi people are those Muslims who believe in Alevism that is, in fact, a sect or form of Islam. Especially in Turkiye, Alevism is a second common sect of Islam. The number of Alevi people is between 10−15 million. A name of the sect comes from the term Alevi what means “the follower of Ali”. Some experts in Islamic studies claim that Alevism is a branch of Shi’ism (Shia Islam), but, as a matter of fact, the Alevi Umma is not homogeneous and Alevism cannot be understood without another Islamic sect – Bektashism. Nevertheless, Alevi culture produced many poets and folk songs alongside with the fact that Alevi people are experiencing many every-day life problems to live according to their belief in Islam.

The Alevis (Turkish: Aleviler or Alevilik; Kurdish: Elewî) are a religious, sub-ethnic, and cultural community in Turkiye representing at the same time the biggest sect of Islam in Turkiye. Alevism is a way of Islamic mysticism or Sufism that is believing in one God by accepting Muhammad as a Prophet, and the Holy Qur’ān. Alevi people loves Ehlibeyt – the family of Prophet Muhammad-, unifying prayer and supplication, prayer in their language, to prefer free person instead of Umma (Muslim community), to prefer to love God instead of God’s fear, to overcome Shariareaching to real world, believing to Holy Qur’ān’s genuine instead of shave. Alevism has found its cure in human love; they believe that people are immortal because a person is manifested by God. Women and men are praying together, in their language, with their music that is played via bağlama, with semah. Alevism is an entirety of beliefs that depends on Islam’s rules which based on the Holy Qur’ān, according to Muhammad’s commands; by interpreting Islam with universal dimension, it opens new doors to earth people. The Alevi system of belief is Islamic with a triplet composed by Allah, Muhammad, and Ali.

There are many strong arguments about the relationship between Alevism and Shi’ism. Some researchers say that Alevism is a form of Shi’ism but some of them say that Alevism is sectarian. We have to keep in mind that Shi’ism is a second common type of Islam in the world after Sunnism. This is a branch of Islam which is called as the Party of Ali for the reason that it recognizes Ali’s claim to succeed his cousin and father-in-law, the Prophet Muhammad, as the spiritual leader of Islam during the first civil war in the Islamic world (656−661). In most of the Islamic countries the Sunnis are in majority, but the Shi’ites comprise some 80 million believers, or, in other words, around 13% out of all world’s Muslims. The Shi’ites are predominant in three countries: Iran, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. However, Alevism cannot be understood as identical to Sufism that is the mystical aspect of Islam which arose as a reaction to strict religious orthodoxy. Sufis seek personal union with God and their Christian Orthodox counterparts in the Middle Ages were the Bogumils.

Undoubtedly, Alevism has some similar issues with Shi’ism but, at the same time, there are a lot of differences concerning a general practicing of Islam. However, in some Western literature, Alevism is presented as a branch of Shi’ism, or more specifically, as a Turk or Ottoman way of Shi’ism.

Split Within Muslims

We have to keep in mind on this place that the Islamic expansion in the 7th and 8th centuries was accompanied by political conflicts which followed the death of the Prophet Muhammad, and the question of who is entitled to succeed him is splitting up the Muslim world up today. In other words, when the Prophet died, a caliph (successor) was chosen to rule all Muslims. However, as the caliph lacked prophetic authority, he enjoyed secular power but not an authority in religious doctrine. The first caliph was Abu Bakr who is considered together with his three successors as the “rightly guided” (or orthodox) caliphs. They ruled according to the Quran and the practices of the Prophet, but, thereafter, Islam became split up into two antagonistic branches: Sunni and Shia.

The Sunni-Shia division basically started when Ali ibn Abi Talib (599−661), Muhammad’s son-in-law and heir, assumed the Caliphate after the murder of his predecessor, Uthman (574−656). The Civil war was ended with the defeat of Ali with the victory of Uthman’s cousin and governor of Damascus, Mu’awiya Ummayad (602−680) after the Battle of Suffin. However, those Muslims (like the Alevi people, for instance) who claimed that Ali was the rightful calif took the name of Shiat Ali – the “Partisans of Ali”. They believe that Ali was the last legitimate caliph and, therefore, the Caliphate should pass down only to those who are direct descendants of the Prophet Muhammad through his daughter, Fatima, and Ali, her husband. Ali’s son, Hussein (626−680), claimed the Caliphate, but the Ummayads killed him together with his followers at the Battle of Karbala in 680. This city, today in contemporary Iraq, is the holiest of all sites for Shia Muslims (Shi’ism). Regardless to the fact that the Prophet’s Muhammad’s family line was ended in 873, the Shia Muslims believe that the last Muhammad’s descendant did not die as he is rather “hidden” and will return. Those basic Shia interpretations of the history of Islam are followed by the Alevi people and, therefore, many researchers are simply considering Alevism as a faction of the Shi’ism.

The dominant branch of Islam is Sunni. The Sunni Muslims, differently to their Shia opponents, are not demanding that the caliph has to be of a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. They are also accepting the Arabic tribal customs in government. According to their point of view, a political leadership is in the hands of the Muslim community as such. Nevertheless, as a matter of fact, the religious and political power in Islam was never again united into a political community after the death of the fourth caliph.

Alevism in Islam

Alevi people believe in one God, Allah, and, therefore, Alevism, as a form of Islam, is a monotheistic religion. Like all other Muslims, the Alevis understand that God is in everything around in nature. It is important to notice that there are those Alevis who believe in good and bad spirits (and kind of angels), and, therefore, they often practice superstition in order to benefit from good ones and to avoid harm from bad ones. For that reason, for many Muslims, Alevism is not a real Islam as it is more a form of paganism imbued with Christianity. However, a majority of Alevis do not believe in these supernatural beings saying that it is an expression of Satanism.

The essence of Alevism is in the fact that Alevis believe that according to the original text of the Quran, Ali, Muhammad’s cousin, and son-in-law, was to be the Prophet’s successor as God’s vice-regent on earth or caliph. However, they claim that the parts of the original Quran related to Ali were taken out by his rivals. According to Alevis, the Quran, as a fundamental holy book for all Muslims, should be interpreted esoterically. For them, there are much deeper spiritual truths in the Quran than the strict rules and regulations that appear on the lateral surface. However, most Alevi writers will quote individual Quranic verses as an appeal for authority to support their view on a given topic, or to justify a certain Alevi religious tradition. The Alevis generally promote the reading of the Quranrather in the Turkish language than in Arabic, stressing that it is of the fundamental importance for a person to understand exactly what he or she is reading what is not possible if the Quran is read in the Arabic. However, many Alevis do not read the Quran or other holy books, nor base their daily beliefs and practices on them as they consider these ancient books to be irrelevant today.

The Alevis are reading three different books. If according to their opinion, there is not a proper information in the Quran, as the Sunnis corrupted the authentic words of Muhammad, it is necessary to reveal original Prophet’s messages by alternative readings. Therefore, Alevi believers are looking to (1.) the Nahjul Balagha, the traditions and sayings of Ali; (2.) the Buyruks, the collections of doctrine and practices of several of the 12 imams, especially Cafer; and (3.) the Vilayetnameler or the Menakıbnameler, books that describe events in the lives of great Alevis such as Haji Bektash. Except for these basic books, there are some special sources to participate in the creation of Alevi theology like poet-musicians Yunus Emre (13−14th century), Kaygusuz Abdal (15th century), and Pir Sultan Abdal (16th century).

The foundation of Alevism is in the love to Prophet and Ehlibeyt. Twelve Imams are godlike glorified by the Alevis. Waiting for the last Imam’s (Muslim religious leader) reappearance, the Shia Muslims established a special council composed of 12 religious scholars (Ulema) that elect a supreme Imam. For instance, Ayatollah (“Holy Man”) Ruhollah Khomeini (1900−1989) enjoyed that status in Iran. Most Alevis believe that the 12th Imam, Muhammed Mehdi, grew up in secret to be saved from those who wanted to exterminate the family of Ali. Many Alevis believe Mehdi is still alive and/or he will come back to earth one day. According to Alevis, Ali was Muhammed’s intended successor, and therefore the first caliph, but competitors stole this right from him. Muhammed intended for the leadership of all Muslims to perpetually stem from his family line (Ehli Beyt) by beginning with Ali, Fatima, and their two sons, Hasan and Hüseyin. Ali, Hasan, and Hüseyin are considered the first three Imams, and the other nine of the 12 Imams came from Hüseyin’s line. Just to remind ourselves, the names and approximate dates of the birth and death of the 12 Imams are:

İmam Ali (599-661)
İmam Hasan (624-670)
İmam Hüseyin (625-680)
İmam Zeynel Abidin (659-713)
İmam Muhammed Bakır (676-734)
İmam Cafer-i Sadık (699-766)
İmam Musa Kâzım (745-799)
İmam Ali Rıza (765-818)
İmam Muhammed Taki (810-835)
İmam Ali Naki (827-868)
İmam Hasan Askeri (846-874)
İmam Muhammed Mehdi (869-941)

For the Alevis, to be a really good person is an inalienable part of their life philosophy. It is important to notice that the Alevis are not turned to the Black Stone (Kaaba) which is in Mecca in the Sunni Saudi Arabia, and, as it is known, the Muslim community’s member is supposed to visit it for Hajj at least once in the life. Alevis’ first fasting is not in Ramadan, it is in Muharram and it takes 12 days not, 30 days. The second fasting for them is after the Feast of Sacrifice for 20 days and another one is the Hizir fast. In Islam, there is a rule, if a person has enough money, he/she should give to a poor person a specific amount but the Alevis prefer to donate money to Alevi organizations but not to the individuals. As they don’t go to Mecca for Hajj, they visit some mausoleums, like of Haji Bektaş, (in Kırşehir), Abdal Musa (in Tekke Village, Elmalı, Antalya), Şahkulu Sultan (in Merdivenköy, İstanbul), Karacaahmet Sultan (in Üsküdar, İstanbul) or Seyit Gazi (in Eskişehir).



Haji Bektash (Bektaş) Wali was a Turkmen who was born in Iran. After graduated, he had moved to Anatolia. He educated a lot of students and he and his students had served a lot of religious, economic, social, and martial services in Ahi Teşkilatı. Haji Bektash started gradually to be popular among the Ottoman elite military detachment – the Janissaries. Nevertheless, he was not of the Alevi origin but he adopted the rules of the Alevi believers into his personal life. That sect, or a form of Islam, was founded in the name of Haji Bektash Wali whose members depend on the love of Ali and twelve imams. Bektashism was popular in Anatolia and the Balkans (especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Albania) and it is still alive today.

Over the course of time, Bektashism became improved by taking some features of old beliefs of Anatolia and Turkish culture. However, Bektashism is the most important part of Alevism as many rules of Bektashism are incorporated in Alevism. For the Alevi believers, the mausoleum of Haji Bektash Wali in Nevşehir in Anatolia is an important point of the pilgrimage. Finally, in Turkiye, Bektashism and Alevism, in fact, cannot be treated as different concepts of the Islamic theology.

Problems and Difficulties of Alevis in the Ottoman history and Turkiye

When the Ottoman state was established at the end of the 13th century and at the beginning of the 14th century, it did not have sectarian frictions within Islam. At that time, Alevis occupied a lot of chairs in state institutions. The Janissaries (originally Sultan’s bodyguard) were members of Bektashism what means that even Sultan tolerated in full such way of the interpretation of the Quran and the early history of Islam.

However, how the Ottoman state was involved in the process of imperialistic transformation by the annexing surrounding provinces and states, Sunnism was getting more and more important because the Sunni Muslims were becoming a clear majority of the Ottoman Sultanate and, therefore, Sunnism was much more useful for the state administration and the system of governing.

The Ottoman state became on the East involved into the chain of conflicts with the Safavid Empire (Persia, today Iran, 1502−1722) – a country with a clear majority of those Muslims who expressed Shi’ism that is a form of Islam very similar to Alevism. The Alevi group, who complained to go being more Sunni in the Ottoman Sultanate, became sympathizing Safavid Shah İsmail I (1501−1524) and his state as it was based on Alevism. The animosity between the Ottoman Alevis and Ottoman authorities became more obvious in 1514 when the Ottoman Sultan Selim I (1512−1520) executed some 40.000 Alevis together with the Kurdish people while going to have a decisive Battle of Chaldiran (August 23rd) in Iran against Shah Ismail I. Till the end of the Ottoman Sultanate in 1923, Alevis have been oppressed by the authorities as the sectarian believers who were not fitting to the official Sunni theology of Islam.

After the end of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, Alevis were glad in the first years of the new Republic of Turkiye which declaratively proclaimed a segregation of the religion from the state what practically meant that there was no any official state religion in the country. The Alevi population of Turkiye supported most of the reforms with a great hope that their social status is going to be improved. However, after the first years of the new state, they started to experience some difficulties as, de facto, a religious minority.

The 1960s were very important for the Turkish society for at least three reasons: (1.) The immigration had started from the rural area to the urban area following a new process of industrialization; (2.) The immigration abroad mostly to West Germany according to the German-Turkish the so-called Gastarbeiter Agreement; and (3.) A further democratization of political life. As a consequence, in 1966, Alevis had established their own political party – Birlik Partisi (Unity Party). In 1969, Alevis as a minority group sent eight members to the Parliament according to the results of the parliamentary elections. However, in 1973, the party had sent just one member to the Parliament, and finally, in 1977, the party had lost its efficiency. In 1978, in Maraş and in 1980, in Çorum, hundreds of Alevis were killed as a consequence of the conflict with the majority Sunni population but the most notorious Alevi massacre happened in 1993 on July 2nd in Sivas when 35 Alevi intellectuals were killed in Madimak Hotel by a group of religious fundamentalists.

Undoubtedly, the Alevi believers still are facing many problems in Turkiye today in connection with a freedom of religious expression and the recognition as a separate cultural group. For example, the religious curriculum does not have any information about Alevism but rather only on Sunnism what means that Alevism is not studied on the regular basis in Turkiye. Alevism is deeply ignored by Turkiye’s administration, for instance, by the Presidency of Religious Affairs (est. 1924) that is an institution dealing with the religious questions and problems but in practice, it is working according to the rules of a Sunni Islam.

However, on the other hand, there are and some improvements of Alevi cultural life as, for instance, many foundations and other civic public intuitions are opened to support it. Nevertheless, Alevis, like Kurds, are not recognized as a separate ethnocultural or religious group in Turkiye due to the Turkish understanding of a nation (millet) that is inherited from the Ottoman Sultanate according to which, all Muslims in Turkiye are treated as ethnolinguistic Turks. The situation can be changed as Turkiye is seeking the EU’s membership and, therefore, certain EU’s requirements have to be accepted among others and granting minority rights for Alevis and Kurds.


Alevism is a sect of Islam, and it shows many common points with Shi’ism. However, we can not say that it is a part of Shi’ism as a whole. Alevi culture has a rich heritage in poems and musicians because of their worship style. In Anatolia, Bektashism is usually connected with Alevism.

The Alevi people were living in the Ottoman Sultanate and its successor the Republic of Turkiye usually with the troubles as they with their religion did not fit to the official (Sunni) expression of Islam.

Today, Alevis in Turkiye are fighting to be respected as a separate religious-cultural group who can freely demonstrate their peculiar way of life. As a matter of fact, the Alevi people could not express freely themselves for the centuries including and present-day Turkiye which should learn to practice both minority rights and democracy.

Finally, if Turkiye wants to join the EU, surely, it has to provide a maximum of required standards of protection of all kind of minorities including and religious-cultural ones. That can be a chance for the Alevi people in Turkiye to improve their status within the society.

© Vladislav B. Sotirovic 2024

Personal disclaimer: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.

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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    There is much detail in this great post by Sotirovic. By chance, I have done research on the Alevi, because I was working on a script that included a Turkish immigrant to the U S of A, and he told me (characters always talk to the writer, eh) that he was from an Alevi family.

    I’ll put a few important points here more briefly than Sotirovic to raise the contrast. The Alevi are highly mystical, and they are organized much like Sufi orders. There are levels of ascent within the religion.

    The Alevi are much more egalitarian even than the Sunni. The Alevi meet in cemevi, not mosques (you can see why the Sunni would consider them to be heretics). Women and men are equal. Women do not wear headcoverings. As Sotirovic describes the worship at a cemevi:

    “Women and men are praying together, in their language, with their music that is played via bağlama, with semah.” [Baglama is a stringed instrument much like a lute.]

    This would be highly provocative to a strict Sunni.

    Note the difference mentioned about fasting. Ramadan has begun for this year, and Sunni will fast. The Alevi fast during Muharram, which is an emotional month for Sunni.

    The stress on Ali seems to me to be less that Sotirovic gives it. If I understand correctly, the doctrines of the Alevi are mystical and don’t rely much on respect for persons.

    This article at Wikipedia is actually helpful:

    Note that Iran / Persia was Sunni till about 1500. Shia is an aspect of Persian nationalism:

    Heck, it’s complicated.

    For much information on the Bektashi mystical order (of dervishes), you can read the novels of Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk is interested in religious un-orthodoxy, and between the cases of the Alevi and Pamuk, it seems obvious that most Turks are not strict Sunni, no matter what Erdogan will try to tell you.

    More on the persecution of the Alevi by the central government:

    Heck, it’s complicated.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      my mistake:

      Muharrem has more importance as a ritual month among the Shi’i because of the commemorations of the battle of Ashura. (Less so among the Sunni.)

      Yet Muharrem is the first month of the Islamic year, and in Turkey, one must have some delicious ašure pudding.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    I can’t say I know much about the Alites, but I think its a mistake to suggest that Europes ignoring of their plight is related to anti-Shiite values – I’m not sure anyone really knows or cares much about this distinction, not least in the Muslim world. The Alites are one of a series of semi-mystical groups which seem not to accord to a simplistic division of the Muslim world into Sunni and Shia – this includes the Houthi. I think the embrace of the Alites by Iran was entirely pragmatic and little to do with religion. if anything, the Alites seem to have been closer to more secular Arab leaders – the similar Alawites in Lebanon and Syria have always been associated with the Assad’s.

    The reason why the Kurds are a more popular cause in Europe is pretty simple – there are very large Kurdish populations in many countries and they are relatively well organised politically. There has also been a traditional sympathy for the Kurdish cause among the anarchist wing of the left in Europe, and they are also seen as fellow sufferers of oppression by a wide number of nationalist groupings. The Alites are just one of a large number of oppressed groups who have never found much of a voice outside their narrow geographical range. The fact that they are such a poorly defined identity doesn’t help – there is no specific linguistic or cultural or ethnic grouping associated with them, and their religion itself is quite vague in its theology.

  3. mohamad

    Thank you, naked capitalism (a long overdue).
    The article’s author did cover “much”.
    1- alevi (in Turkeye) is identical to Alawi Iin Syria). No more no less.
    2- the alevi/alawi follow the 7th imam ismael ben Ja’far al-Sadiq, instead of his younger brother Mussa (Moses) al-Kadhim, who the shi’a twelvers follow (ref. Wiki…)
    3- The Ismalis include all Alevi/Alawi, the Druze, the Quarameta, and on the light side the sect of the Assassins (the name derives from Hashish etc). The Ismaeli order ruled Egypt under the name of the Fatimids. The Ismaeli order’s “ideology” was “revealed” by the Brotherhood of Purity (خوان الصفا)
    4- more can be said!

    Palestine will be victorious!

  4. Revenant

    Alevi, Alawi, Ismaili, Ibadi, Houthi, Sufi – Islam has many more confessions than we hear about.

    The Shia / Sunni split always seems a little like (warning, lightweight analogy) Protestants and Catholics. Aesthetically, that analogy would make the Shia the Catholics, with their dramatic rituals of mortification of the flesh and great processions, compared with (Wahhabi) Sunni austerity.

    Politically, however, the Shia are the Protestants, rejecting institutionalisation of the religion in a papacy-like succession in favour of direct inheritance of divine right. The various flavours of apostasy from Sunni thought (Sunnis consider them all non-Muslims and, worse, apostates, which is a capital offence…) therefore all seem Shia, like all dissenters seem Protestant (or proto-protestants, like Cathars – maybe there’s a Sunni version of Nestorianism?). Shia is a lot more liberal than Sunni islam (chador covering hair and body for Iranian women outdoors but no veiling; mixing of the sexes is OK at home; education and property and commerce for women is championed; chaperoning is not required).

    From this description, though, the Alevi seem pretty heterodox, like the Sufis, compared with, say, the Ibadis in the Oman.

  5. steppenwolf fetchit

    If the Sunni and Shia might be lightweightly analogised to Protestants and Catholics, which Muslim group or groups if any might be lightweightly analogised to Eastern Orthodox?

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