The Alevis in Turkey: The Emergence of a Secular Islamic Tradition

The Alevis in Turkey: The Emergence of a Secular Islamic Tradition

The Alevis in Turkey: The Emergence of a Secular Islamic Tradition

The Alevis in Turkey: The Emergence of a Secular Islamic Tradition

Synopsis

This is the only volume dedicated to the Alevis available in English and based on sustained fieldwork in Turkey. The Alevis now have an increasingly high profile for those interested in the diverse cultures of contemporary Turkey, and in the role of Islam in the modern world. As a heterodox Islamic group, the Alevis have no established doctrine. This book reveals that as the Alevi move from rural to urban sites, they grow increasingly secular, and their religious life becomes more a guiding moral culture than a religious message to be followed literally. But the study shows that there is nothing inherently secular-proof within Islam, and that belief depends upon a range of contexts.

Excerpt

As this work is concerned greatly with the difference between two Islamic groups, a preliminary description of their respective religious practices is offered below.

Most of the Sunni population regard themselves as believing Muslims: the men pray in a mosque and affirm the importance of the five conditions of Islam: Islam'ın beş şartı (believe in the one God; pray five times a day; give alms; keep the fast in the month of Ramazan; make the pilgrimage to Mecca), though not all practise them assiduously. Pious men may say that the Kuran encapsulates all the knowledge in the world and all the books that have ever been or shall be written. Such men tend to dislike music or dance, regarding it as sinful. Some men, perhaps half a dozen in most villages (though on occasion a village may have none or substantially more) are members of an Islamic brotherhood, tarikat, often the Süleymancıs. These men regard the tarikat as a complement to orthodox Islam, a way of better understanding and implementing the revealed, infallible word of the Kuran and the immutable work of the Prophet Muhammed, and not as an alternative path to truth. Other currents of Islamic thought include the modernist movement represented by the Nurcus, or the Fethullacıs, and also the political Islam.

Alevi religious doctrines are often based on those of the Bektaşi tarikat and are very strongly influenced by a text known as the Buyruk, which they attribute to İmam Cafer. According to both Bektaşi doctrines and the Buyruk, the first and necessary step towards personal development is mastering orthodox practice, which they know as Şeriat. In practice, however, most Alevis do not hold the Kuran to be literally true, and they go only very occasionally to mosques. The great majority of Alevis do not regard praying by genuflecting, going to Mecca, fasting in Ramazan, or paying alms to be a requirement for religious fulfilment. Instead, they favour the contemplation of a mystical, or esoteric version of faith, which they know as Tarikat, and trace its source to secrets that have been revealed by God to Ali, the Prophet's son-in-law. While the Alevi practice of religion in the sub-province has gone through many reformulations and changes in the past decades, it is currently influenced by a growing populist movement in Turkey as a whole which is likely to result in a codification, albeit one sometimes contested, of their hitherto largely oral tradition.

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