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Who are the Alawites, and what do they believe?

Question: "Who are the Alawites, and what do they believe?"

The Alawites are an Islamic sect founded by Ibn Nusayr in the ninth century AD. They are sometimes called Alawis, incorrectly called Ansaris, and are no longer referred to as Nusayris, which is now used almost exclusively as a slur. Alawites have been centered in Northern Syria for most of their existence with smaller representations in Turkey, Lebanon, and Israel. However, current numbers are difficult to estimate due to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Alawite theology was long kept a secret ostensibly due to persecution from other Muslim sects, although the Alawites have roots in Twelver Shiite Islam. It is known that Alawites believe in a single God with a triad or trinity of emanations composed of three roles that have been filled by different people throughout history. The current triad is composed of Ali as the Meaning, Muhammad as the Veil, and Salman al-Farisi as the Gate. Alawites also believe in reincarnation, rarely have regular places of meeting, and historically have downplayed certain standard Muslim practices such as fasting and prayer. Alawites have been moving theologically closer to Twelver Shiite Islam since they acquired political and military power in Syria in 1970, and a select few Shiites have acknowledged Alawites as part of Islam. However, many Muslims deny that Alawite theology is sufficiently similar to Islam for them to claim the title of “Muslim.”

The Alawites were mostly unaffected by the Crusades due to Crusaders’ believing that Alawis were not Muslim. It is thought that the Alawite separation from other Muslim sects helped develop some syncretistic practices. Alawites celebrate Christmas, Epiphany, Pentecost, and the feast days for John Chrysostom and Mary Magdalene. They also practice a form of Mass or communion involving consecrated wine, but the details of this ceremony are kept secret. Many Alawites are given Christian names.

Just as many Muslims believe Alawites are too unorthodox to be considered Muslim, so the aspects of Christianity found in Alawite theology are not sufficient for them to be considered biblical. Although the details of the Mass they celebrate are unknown, remembering and celebrating the Last Supper is meaningless without believing in the value of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. The Alawite view of God as triune does not line up with Christian Trinitarian theology, which states that God is a single being comprised of three distinct, co-equal Persons, rather than merely being divided into three aspects or roles.

God’s offer of salvation is available to all who will believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection. If you desire to accept God’s loving offer of forgiveness and grace, learn how here: How Do I Become a Christian? If you are a Muslim who is unsure why you should consider Christianity, you can read why here.

Recommended Resource: Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross by Norm Geisler

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