A guide to Muslim diversity
‘The Alawites are ... often confused with the Alevis, despite significant and important differences.’ ‘It is estimated that today Victoria is home to about 13,000 Alawis, and New South Wales to approximately 30,000.’ 'The sectarian tensions in Syria today are the result of a longstanding combination of socio-economic and political issues’
Alawite (also known as Alawi or Alouite) and Alevi both mean 'devoted to Ali” or “followers of Ali”. Their roots are therefore considered to be in Shiism, defined essentially by the traditions and reverence for Imam Ali and the belief that he was the rightful successor to the Prophet (PBUH) and should have been the first Islamic Caliph.

Like the Shia, Imam Ali’s death for many minority traditions – particularly the Alawites – was the loss of a more spiritual and internalised approach to Islam. Imam Ali was renowned for his gentleness, concern that Muslims develop themselves spiritually and for his scholarship.

The Alawites, like the Shia, formalise a system of leadership that effectively sees the succession of the Prophet (PBUH) in both spiritual and theological terms; they both believe that Islamic scholarship effectively moved to Imam Ali and his sons, then passed onto other imams over the progression of time, in short, the ‘Twelvers’.

It is important to note that scholarship on the Alawites is scarce and grossly misrepresents Alawite beliefs and practices. Some of this can be attributed to the Alawite community’s secretiveness due to a history of persecution. The Alawites are also often confused with the Alevis, despite significant and important differences. Additionally, Alawites have a complexity of thought and belief, which aims to achieve a highly historicised balance between the spiritual and the material (Islamic law).

The Alawites