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July 21, 2003

The Shia of Turkey

The CIA FACTBOOK entry on Turkey states that it is "99.8% Muslim (mostly Sunni)." Most surveys of Turkish Islam that the public is aware of give the impression that Turkish Islam is Sunni Islam, specifically of the Hanafi tradition promoted by the Ottomans, which is also dominant in central & south Asia. But go to the Area Handbook of Turkey and you will find out about the Alevi, a heterodox Shia sect that forms anywhere from 10-30% of Turkey's population, and is known as the "Alawites" in Syria (where they form 10% of the population and dominate the Baath Party and are the affiliation of Assad dynasty). Because of the Alevi practice dissimulation and the Turkish authorities, Ottoman & Republican, would rather not acknowledge their existence, it is hard to gauge their numbers, and they are not well known by the outside world. But now you know....

Posted by razib at 01:01 AM




I've always thought the Alawites were essentially a non-Muslim group under an Arabized veneer. Kind of like the Druze.

Do they actually identify as 'Shia'?

Posted by: Melnorme at July 21, 2003 03:22 AM


their cousins, the alevis are arabs, turks & kurds. since they practice dissimulation it is hard to say what they are (they do have rumored quasi-christian practices), but the other shia kind of accept them as a form of shia.

Posted by: razib at July 21, 2003 08:55 AM


"they do have rumored quasi-christian practices"

It seems that, amongst other things, they believe in some sort of holy trinity, and they are permitted to drink alcohol.

Posted by: Juvenal at July 21, 2003 11:08 AM


also, remember that many non-muslim, and non-christian & non-jewish groups in the arab middle east had to practice dissimulation and crypto-religionism because of the intolerance that orthodox islam helm them under. other examples are the druze, the yezidis and what not.

an anecdote-sometime in the 17th century an ottoman sultan was journeying through northern iraq around mosul, and as he made his progress through the mountains his entourage stumbled upon a small village where they worshipped the sun, a relic of the sun-worship common to the area before christianity and later islam became dominant (sun-worship remained the dominant religion of the city of haran, ancient carhae, until the islamic conquest). this form of religion was unacceptable to sunni islam, being paganism, and the sultan commanded that something be done about the blasphemy. the compromise solution was that the jacobite bishop took the village under his aegis and blessed them as christians, though their private religious traditions probably remained unchanged for generations.

the moral of the story is that outward appearences can decieve, and an appellation may be no more than a name to ward off persecution.

btw, other heretical sects like the bektishis, who are prominent in albania, but have a presence in turkey as well, use alcohol in their ceremonies, ergo, salafis/wahabbis declare them non-muslim.

Posted by: razib at July 21, 2003 12:31 PM