ALEVI-ISM believes in the trinity of Allah-Mohammed-Ali but Alevis are not in any way connected to orthodox, legalistic Shi’ites such as exist in present-day Iran. As centuries passed, the Ali movement gave birth in different regions to many procedures using the name of Ali, nourished from sources of different concepts and beliefs. The word Alevi signifies a person who is devoted to and a follower of Ali-Mohammed’s cousin and son-in-law.
This belief has spread to Central Asia, Yemen, Iran, Syria and Anatolia, the peoples, who, after initially resisting the Islamic faith, were in the end forced to accept it and chose to follow the way of Ali rather than the Omayyads. This is what happened: while the Fatimis, (followers of Mohammed’s daughter) in Egypt, the Ishma’ilis (a part of Shi’ite Muslims) in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the Shi’ite sect in Iran were taking shape, in Turkistan adherents of Ahmet Yesevi emerged as followers of Ali and Ahl-e Beyt (members of the Prophet’s family). Hodja Ahmet Yesevi was the teacher of the teacher of Hadji Bektash Veli, the holy man of the Alevi-Bektashi order. In other words, this was the Central Asianisation of Islam, and, bonding with the ancient religion and culture of the Turks, its Turkification and, because of the subsequent enforced migration of the Turks through Horasan to Anatolia, their Anatolianisation. Thus, it can be regarded as the main source of the Alevi and Bektashi orders, which can be said to be in opposition to Arabian culture.
Alevisim is the culture and faith of the Alevi order and in English is sometimes referred to as Alawi, Alawite or Alouite. Anatolian Alevism is based on an oral tradition rather than a literary one, and is an Islamic folk religion whose ancient beliefs survive in the guise of Muslim theology. Groups resembling this exist in the neighbouring countries of Iraq, Iran and Syria. Nusayris are Arabic-speaking groups whose beliefs and practices are similar to those of the Turkish-speaking Alevis.
In Anatolian Alevism, Allah is not regarded as a wrathful Being who enjoys compelling obedience to strict rules from His created slaves, on pain of suffering eternal punishment in Hell. Moreover, nearly all Alevis reject the idea that Allah will reward with eternal pleasures in Heaven those who obey His rules on earth. Rather they maintain that Allah judges mankind according to the way a person has treated his fellows. “Do not come to Me if you have violated the rights of others”, said one of their famous poets. The concept that Allah controls and determines everything and is the source of both good and evil is not a prime tenet in the Alevi creed. Alevis hold that Allah is love, and that a loving Allah can not be the source of evil.
They often claim Man as the highest created being, and very few Alevis believe in angels. The four principal books of Holy Scriptures, they say, are basically the same, and some affirm that the Old Testament prophet Elijah is Ali. Anatolian Alevis favour reading the Koran in the Turkish language in preference to Arabic, since exact understanding of what is read is of vital importance to a believer. On the whole, they consider a live human wisdom and revelation to be more important than what is written in the ancient scriptures, which many Alevis regard as irrelevant today. One of their favourite aphorisms is “The greatest holy book to read is a human being”. Supplementary, and second in authority only to the Koran, are the Hadith; the Nahjul Balagha, traditions and sayings of Ali; also the Buyruks, which are collections of the teachings and practices of some of the Twelve Imams, Ja’far in particular; the Vilayetnames or Menakibnames, books which recount events in the lives of holy men, for instance, Hadji Bektash; all these are scriptural authority for the Alevi faith and practices.
In general, Alevis believe in the prophets who are mentioned in the Koran, and some hold that they were the human representatives of God. The stories in the Bible of Jesus Christ’s virgin birth, His working of miracles and His resurrection, are not part of Alevi beliefs. Some Alevis use the name Mohammed Ali, instead of Mohammed and Ali, as they regard the two as equal, while some add to the testimony of faith, known as the Shahada, “Ali is the Viceroy of God and the Trustee of Mohammed”.
The Alevis maintain that it is more important to be a humane human being than a religious one. Very few Alevis carry out the practice of five daily ritual prayers, or attend services in a mosque. They prefer to hold
their own joint assemblies, known as Djem, for group worship. They do not fast during the month of Ramadan, but for twelve days they fast in mourning for the Muharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar. During this period of mourning, men do not shave, intimate relations between husband and wife are suspended, and there are no amusements, no singing or playing of musical instruments, no smoking and no looking into mirrors. The twelfth day is a day of joy because on that day news arrived of the survival of Imam Zeynu’l-Abidin, Huseyn’s son, through whom Ali’s progeny would continue. A dish called Ashura is prepared and on the twelfth day the fast is broken when this is eaten.
They also hold a three-day fast for Hizir in February. Hizir is the being who comes to the rescue of those in distress on land, just as Ilyas (Elijah) rescues those in peril on the sea. Many believe that Hizir and Ilyas meet at a rose tree every year at sunrise on 6th May. Therefore, on that day, petitions expressing wishes or requests are hung on rose trees. Hizir lies at the very foundation of the beliefs of Nusayris.
Alevis do not take part in pilgrimages to Mecca, but instead prefer to pray when they visit the tombs of Alevi-Bektashi saints. The corporate worship performed in Assembly Houses (Djemevis), which do not have minarets, is not announced by the Muslim call to prayer (adhan). Before the weekly service begins, “Dede”, a senior member of the order and the head of the community, performs his duty as a judge, and reconciles any conflicts between members of the assembly. The congregation, made up of both men and women sitting together in a circle on the floor, have removed their shoes before entering but do not need to wear special garments, nor are women required to cover their heads. They bathe or shower prior to attending, but do not perform ritual ablution before the service, which consists of prayers and a short sermon from Dede. Then soloists sing songs, and a ceremonial dance, known as samah, is performed in a circle,
while Dede or another musician, plays an accompaniment on a seven-stringed lute. From time to time they bow their heads to the floor in unison. The whole service, including prayers and songs, is conducted in the Turkish language. The themes of the songs, prayers and sermon are love of Allah, love of others, the teachings of Mohammed and Ali and the Twelve Imams and Hadji Bektash, with special reference to Karbala. In conclusion, the congregation partake of a meal together, which usually includes a ritually-slaughtered ram. These Djemevis are more than places of worship; they are also community centres used for many different assembly purposes, but in all, portraits of Ali are prominently displayed.