Syria: Society, Culture, and Polity

By Richard T. Antoun; Donald Quataert | Go to book overview

THREE The Alawis of Syria: Religious Ideology and Organization

Fuad I. Khuri

At the outset, two general points must be made regarding the concept of ethnicity in Arab-Islamic culture and minority-majority rule. Ethnicity in Arab-Islamic culture takes the form of religious differentiation and national origin, or both combined. The first, religious differentiation, is an extension of Islamic dogma by which Muslims are clearly differentiated legally from non-Muslims in Islamic states. The second, national origin, is a matter of cultural and behavioral variation: Kurd, Persian, or Berber versus Arab. When Ibn Khaldun wrote about the Abbasids, he used the phrase "the Arab asabiyya," meaning Arab ethnicity. Non-Muslims, on the other hand, are considered to be either ahl dhumma (the people in trust, the protected weak) or musta'minūn (the made-secure). The dhummis, who include Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, or Sabeans, are a collective category occupying a secondary role in society; musta'min is a temporary individualistic arrangement between a free Muslim and a non- Muslim. In this sense, the Islamic community (umma) is a form of brotherhood that transcends racial, national, or linguistic boundaries. Islam is sharà and imam"--that is, Islamic jurisdiction and religious leader. 1

If Islam is to be shará and imam, it follows that a country is Muslim if it follows Islamic law as decreed by a Muslim ruler; this is so, even if the majority are non-Muslims. The ethnic religious composition of Syria, as of 1956 the (the last census that counted sects and religious minorities), was as follows. Out of a population of about 8 million (today, around 12 million), 10.66 percent were Alawi, 3.10 percent Druze, 10.25 percent Christian with the Greek Orthodox counting around 4.51 percent, and 0.79 percent Jews. This means the Sunni Muslims constituted more that 75 percent of the total population of Syria.

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