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Alawi  (Arabic) are a sect akin to Shi'ite Islam in Syria. The Alawi are not to be confused with Alevi. The question of whether or not Alawi are Muslims is disputed. Alawites are a minority but they are politically powerful today. The clan of the ruling Assad family is Alawi (or Alawite) and under their rule, the Alawi were legitimized officially as Muslims.

Alawi were possibly originally Nusayrīya,  an off-shoot sect of Twelver Shiites that split off in the 9th century. The Alawites claim they originated with the eleventh Shia Imam, Hasan al Askari (d.873), and his pupil Ibn Nusayr (d.868).[6] Ibn Nusayr declared that he is the Bāb Door (representative) of the eleventh Imam. The sect may have been organized by a follower of Ibn Nusayr's, al-Khasibi, who died in Aleppo in about 969. Al-Tabarani, a grandson of al-Khasibi moved to Latakia on the Syrian coast. There he gathered a following and converted much of the local population.

Under the French mandate, Alawi and other minorities got autonomy and were accepted as colonial troops. Many Alawite chieftains opted for  a separate Alawite nation and tried to convert their autonomy into independence. An Alawite territory was created in 1925, and in May 1930 , the Government of Latakia was created. It was incorporated into Syria on February 28, 1937.

In 1939 the Sanjak of Alexandretta in north Syria, now Hatay, which had a large Alawi population,  was given to Turkey by the French. This has been a source of bitterness for Syrians and Alawites in particular.  Zaki al-Arsuzi, a young Alawite leader from Antioch in Iskandrun (later named the Hatay by the Turks) who led the resistance to the annexation of Alexandretta to the Turks, later became one of the founders  of the Ba'ath Party. After World War II, when Syria became independent, the Alawite provinces were united with Syria. Alawite followers of Sulayman al-Murshid tried to resist integration. al-Murshidwas captured and hanged in Damascus in 1946.

Synonyms and alternate spellings:  Nusayrīya, Alawite

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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