Presentation of Alevism, jewel of humanity

Wonder among wonders, I am very happy to introduce you to the community from which I come, the Alevis.

Being discreet, a promising revival is on the way, I hope to see it flourish and be a part of it.

I use very flattering words to present Alevism to you, but it is good to estimate things at their fair value.

So we are going to see who are the Alevis, what is Alevism, its history, its culture, get ready for a wonderful trip 🙂

At the origins

If today, Alevism is sometimes defined within Islam, sometimes outside by those who claim it, it is appropriate to present the faith of the peoples attached to Alevism before its advent. .

The major communities of Alevism are the Turks and the Kurds (who have several communities within them including the Zazas) and were respectively Shamanists, Buddhists, sometimes Zoroastrians for the Turks and Zoroastrians or other times pre-Islamic Iranian for the Kurds. Gnostic currents such as Manichaeism also existed in each of them. There are also some Alevi Armenian communities and the Shia Nusayri branch originating from Syria is also called Alevi although the doctrines and practices are quite different.

Shamanic ceremony in Siberia
Zoroastrian ceremony

Pre-Islamic Turkish shamanism included nature worship and used music and chanting for its rituals, which is still the case today. The pre-Islamic Iranian faiths included a cult of the natural elements including fire, survivals of these cults still exist.

And in the seventh century AD. JC, the emergence of Islam through the Arab conquests would change the religious landscape of Turanians (Turks) and Iranians.

Advent of Islam

The Umayyad invasions from 673 AD. JC were dazzling and many abuses were committed, making the first contacts difficult, nevertheless after the battle of Talas in 751 between Tang China and the Abbasid empire a better collaboration was established, a gradual progression of Islam often Persianized and sometimes Shia and Sufi took place.

The watershed moment in the shift of a large part of the Turks to the Muslim world was the conversion of the Khan of the Karakhanid dynasty Satuk Buğra Han in the 10th century to probably Sunni Hanafi Islam. This will continue with the Seltchoukides and Ghaznévides dynasties but the Turco-Persian and Sufi element kept their weight thanks to various brotherhoods. It should be noted that the pro-Alid (proto-Shiite) vision of different currents was also widespread among the masses and that Sufism is often neither Sunni nor Shiite and can integrate elements of the two schisms.

Twelve Imams of Twelver Shiism

Among the brotherhoods where the precursors of the Alevis were affiliated, we can cite the Vefaî, the Kalenderî, the Hurufî, the Hayderî, the Melameti, but the one that had a leading importance was the brotherhood of the Turk Ahmed Yesevi (1093-1166) , born in what is now Kazakhstan. It is from his that the Bektashi brotherhood will be born.

The impact of Hacı Bektaş Veli

The mission of Hacı Bektaş, Veli (pronounced Hadji Bektash) had a major role in the progression of the Alevi movement. It is part of a very difficult period for not only the Muslim world but the whole world.

Indeed, the Mongol invasions began, causing mass migrations of Turkmens to the Selchuk Sultanate of Rum (Anatolia) which at the same time was experiencing political instability.

Born in Nishapur in present-day Iran, in 1209, he was a descendant of the Shiite imam Musa Al Kasim, a descendant of Ali and Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammed. He was, as stated above, initiated into the teachings of Ahmed Yesevi as well as other brotherhoods such as the Vefai, Kalenderi and would, according to some, have an Ismaili influence (Septimain Shiism).

His life will have been marked by major historical events and one of them will have been the revolt of the brotherhood of the Babai against the Selchukid power around 1240 for economic and religious reasons. He would not have participated but his brother Menteş participated and lost his life. This was not won and was harshly repressed by calling on Frankish mercenaries.

He was a contemporary of Mevlana known in the West under the name of Rumi with whom he had a certain rivalry, indeed the latter was very close to the palace while Hacı Bektaş was closer to the people. He was also a contemporary of Ahi Evran, initiator of the Ahilik order of companionship and of Yunus Emre, a great poet still radiant.

Among his writings which have come down to us we can cite the Makalat (the articles), the Fevaid (book of advice) and several others.

Its teaching is based on love , humanism , tolerance , the progress of character and pacifism.

He was among the sages of Anatolia (Anadolu erenleri) and influenced several of them, some of whom were to have a leading role in the formation of the Ottoman Empire such as şeyh Edebalı,

One of its most remarkable contributions was the use of Turkish as a liturgical language and contributed a lot to its protection and teaching. This was the basis for the conversion of the Anatolian peoples to its Islam and their integration into the Turkish element.

In the 16th century, his brotherhood was codified by Balım Sultan.

Died around 1270, his teachings and disciples radiate to this day from the Balkans to the Arab world.

Battle of Çaldıran and Schism

Sultan Selim I (left) and Shah Ismail Hatay (right)

the 16th century would be decisive for the socio-religious landscape of the middle east.

At that time Anatolia was shared between the Ottoman Empire and that of the Akkoyunlu and the discontent of the Turkmens and Kurds, essentially Zazas, began to be felt. The Safavid brotherhood originating from Ardabil in present-day Iran was also gaining great influence throughout the Middle East.

In 1501, Ismail I conquered Persia previously under the control of the Akkoyunlu and his aura was seen in the Ottoman East under the banner of militant Shiism. This aroused great concern from the Ottoman sultan Selim I who considered Shiism heretical. It was at this time that several brotherhoods, including the Bektashis, were to move more deeply towards Shiism and become the Kızılbaş. This remains far from the orthodoxy that the Safavids were going to establish when they were initially Sufis. In 1514 took place the famous battle of Çaldıran where the Ottomans emerged victorious. This marked the beginning of strict Sunni orthodoxy in the Ottoman Empire and Shia in Safavid Iran. The Bektashis who remained in the Ottoman Empire therefore took on a Sunni coloring while keeping their veneration of the Ehl-i-Beyt (descendants and certain companions of the Prophet Muhammad). The Kızılbaş of the Anatolian East were to become the Alevis and lived through several persecutions for centuries but still benefited from some adjustments.

Foundations of faith

If the secularization of the Republic of Turkey, its closure of religious brotherhoods and later the influence of socialist movements were to leave their marks in the practice and the current Alevi-Bektashi faith and that the chain of initiation and transmission has been in much of it interrupted. the pillars of his teaching survived.

Given that the Sunni and Shiite currents both claim Muslim orthodoxy and that they are similar on several points, Alevism-Bektashism fits into what is called heterodoxy because of its divergences on basic elements. We can also say that it is syncretic because it integrates pre-Islamic elements of several peoples.

Beginning with the vision of revelation for the Alevis, it did not stop with the death of the Prophet Muhammad but is continuous.

A more rational reading of the sacred texts without refuting them is applied. After the Koran, we can cite the « Buyruk », theological sum of the 16th century attributed to the 6th Imam Cafer Sadık.

Alongside these texts, songs and poems also take part in Alevi sacred literature. They are composed by the « Ozan » (popular poet) and the most prominent are Şah Hatayi, Pir Sultan Abdal, Kul Himmet, Yemeni, Virani, Fuzuli and Seyit Nesimi called the  »  Yedi Ulu Ozanlar   » (Seven Holy Poets) and covered by the Âşık (literally in love), equivalent of the troubadours.

The Yedi Ulu Ozans

Among the other writings and holy traditions we can also mention:

  1. The Gülbank : in Persian means « sound of the rose », are hymns and short prayers.
  2. The Duvazimam : means the 12 imams, relate the life, the wisdom and the difficulties that the imams who are descendants of the Prophet have incurred.
  3. The Deyiş : written in prose, these are poems that best express Alevi spirituality and philosophy, they came to us through the Âşık
  4. The Nefes : literally “the breaths”, also written in prose, they can be longer and illustrate the Alevi vision just as well.
  5. The Devriye : means « cycle », always written in prose, they illustrate the evolution of humanity historically and spiritually. They are best covered by Yunus Emre, Pir Sultan Abdal and Edip Harabi.
  6. The Mersiye : still in prose, they relate the tragedy of Kerbela where the grandson of the prophet Muhammed, Hz. Hüseyin lost his life during a massacre. They are best taken up by Fuzuli.
  7. The Tevhit : means « unity », prose inviting the union of the faithful among themselves and with the guides of the community.
  8. The Miraçlama : prose relating the journey of the Prophet Muhammad to paradise.
  9. The Beyit : Poems composed of couplets.

These are recited in the native language of the faithful, namely Turkish or in Kurdish languages.

Worship is more liberal, with no formal obligations such as prayer, fasting and pilgrimage. Important young people are those of the month of Muharrem in homage to Hz Hüseyin, grandson of the prophet Muhammed and martyr of the battle of Kerbela, it lasts 12 days is rather a mourning. The second fast is in honor of Hızır, (Khidr in Arabic) and lasts 3 days, it is a mystical figure of Islam all branches combined and is a symbol of help, abundance and courage. The fast of the month of Ramadan lasts 3 days around the night of destiny (Kader Gecesi) which celebrates the revelation of the first Quranic verses.

Representation of Hızır « the verdant »

Women attend ceremonies alongside men and can obtain honorary titles such as “Ana” (mother) and access to the clergy. Polygamy is prohibited.

Alevi dignitary

Probably under an Ismaili influence, The Koran is read through a distinction between the apparent (zahir) and the hidden (batin) leading to an esoteric reading of it, indeed beyond a literal reading, the Alevis there seek deeper meaning through allegories.

The search for the fulfillment of the positive potential of the human being is at the center of his concerns, indeed the ideal of the “accomplished human being” (Insan-i-Kamil) is one of the central objectives. The primordial virtues of the accomplished human being are kindness, forgiveness, patience, benevolence and autonomy.

A pantheistic vision is also put forward, ie a union of God with his creation resulting from the Sufi teaching of “the uniqueness of being” (Vahdet-i-Vucut). Hence the sacralization of nature and ecological concerns. The relationship of the person with the divine is based on love, trust, complicity and not on submission and it can even be challenging.

From a metaphysical point of view, evil does not come from the creator and is up to the disciple to channel it.

On the social level, solidarity and mutual aid are at the center of the values ​​of the Alevi which is supported by the ceremonies of the Cem where one tries to resolve community disputes among others. Thus an ideal of a perfect society (city of consent – ​​Rıza Şehri) is envisaged by its thinkers, a society without class, without a state, without money, where everyone produces according to their abilities and spends according to their needs in a perfect agreement.

Cem ceremony

Final words

It is with great joy that I presented this writing to you, today Alevism is in full revival thanks to its youth and its leaders, if a timidity is still present following the obstacles that we have encountered, the effervescence is to be expected as soon as the difficulties between the different communities in Turkey are overcome and other challenges are won.

With love.

Özler ATALAY YÜKSELOĞLU

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