Posted by Joshua on Wednesday, June 1st, 2011
“Four of seven major Alawite clans (Nuwaliya, Kalbiya, Haddadiya, Khayyatiya), nonetheless issued statements dissociating themselves from the Assads.”
This cannot be true. I have always admired Mohja Kahf’s poetry and outspoken courage. She is a founding member of the National Initiative for Change.” But I don’t know where she would have gotten this intelligence?
Alawite tribes hardly have any integrity anymore and don’t have “leaders” who can speak for “the clan” in order to dissociate them from the Assads. In naming her first clan, Mohja goes wrong. She names the Nuwaliya clan. There is no Nuwaliya tribe or clan. She undoubtedly means the Numaylatiya tribe.
The last head of the Numaylatiya was Ali Sulayman al-Ahmad, the brother of Bedawi al-Jabal and son of Sulayman al-Ahmad, the great ash-shaykh al-`allama’. Sulayman was at his most powerful during the years of the French Mandate, when he refused to be drawn into French plans to have the Alawi religion declared a separate religion from Islam.
Shaykh Sulayman was no dupe of the French and traditional separatist tribal shaykhs. When French troops first entered Latakia they appointed him chief judge of the Alawi state. But when they asked him to announce that the Alawis were not Muslims, Shaykh Sulayman resigned and told the French, “We are Alawi Muslims. Our book is the Quran. Our prophet is Muhammad. The Ka`ba is our qibla, and our religion is Islam.” [`Abd al‑Latif al‑Yunis, Mudhakkirat al‑Duktur `Abd al‑Latif al‑Yunis, Damascus: Dar al‑`Ilm, 1992, p. 63.] He was given the title of “servant of the Prophet’s Household” (Khadim ahl-il-bayt).
In 1938 Shaykh Sulayman was recognized as a Syrian nationalist hero by the Sunni governor of Latakia, Ihsan al‑Jabri. Dignitaries from Lebanon, Damascus, and Iraq attended the celebration held at the Shanata theater in Latakia. An anthology of Shaykh Sulayman’s poetry and writings was published for the occasion by `Abd al‑Latif al‑Yunis. It was the biggest celebration Latakia had ever seen. Most of the Alawi tribal leaders opposed the holding of the celebration. They tried to dissuade Sulayman from acting as a dupe of Ihasn al-Jabri and the Sunni nationalists. Yunis writes that the “reactionaries and feudalists” did everything in their power to put a stop to the celebration claiming that the entire affair was being masterminded by Governor Ihsan al‑Jabri and the nationalists. They called for a boycott of the ceremonies and “threatened and menaced its supporters in the most malicious way.” Their efforts were in vain, however, for Shaykh Sulayman refused to be talked out of his golden jubilee.
The only trouble came in the morning when a Christian sitting in the back of the hall yelled out something about “sectarianism” and the “Christian minority” making all sorts of “inappropriate insinuations.” In response the editor of an Islamic journal jumped to his feet and proclaimed:
“The word `minority’ is a vicious attempt by the colonialists to sew dissension in our ranks. We are one people. There are no differences between us. Our brothers the Christians preceded us in this country, and they have a greater right to be here than we. Therefore, there is no minority or majority among us; we are all one Arab people.”[Ibid., p. 62.]
How familiar this tension and these slogans seem today.
Not one great Sunni theologian attended Shaykh Sulayman’s celebration however. Syrian religious scholars were not prepared to accept the Alawis as true Muslims.
There was considerable tension within the Alawi community over the notion of unity with Syria in 1936, which was mandated by the Franco-Syrian treaty of that year. Part of this tension was the fear that Sunnis would discriminate against Alawis in their courts, as had happened in the past. Under Ottoman law, Alawis were refused the right to give testimony in court because they were not considered to be Mulisms or People of the Book.
One infamous case was decided in 1932 and caused an uproar within the Alawi community. A Sunni who had produced children with both a Sunni and Alawi wife died. A conflict ensued between the Alawi and Sunni children over the proper distribution of the inheritance. During the trial the lawyer of the Sunni children argued that the Alawi half‑brothers should receive nothing because they were not Muslim. The Sunni judge decided in their favor and awarded not a piaster to the Alawi children. Because of this precedent, the shaykhs in the Alawi territory were fearful that political unity in 1936 would undermine their separate judicial system and expose them to the prejudices of Hanafi law. The treaty sparked demands by Alawi shaykhs to have their religion accepted by the Syrian state as Islam.
In the next two years from 1936 to 1939, Alawi religious leaders published a number of pamphlets declaring that Alawis were Shiites and that any Alawi who did not recognize Islam as his religion and the Quran as his holy book would not be considered an Alawi according to the Shari`a and that the Alawis belonged to the Ja`fari madhhab. They quoted suras from the Quran to demonstrate that they accepted the oneness of God and assured Syrians that they added nothing to Him and worshiped only Allah. The titles of these works leave little doubt about their content. Some of the titles are: “Under the Banner `There is No God but God;’” “Decidedly, religion with God is Islam;” “The Alawis between Muslims and Islam;” “The Alawis are Shiites;” “The Alawis are Shiites of the House of `Ali: Declaration of the Beliefs of the Alawis.” [ See, Hashim Uthman, Al‑`Alawiyyun bayn al‑Ustura wa al‑Haqiqa," Beirut: Mu'assasat al‑`Ajami, 1980. Others are mentioned in [Muhammad Ghalib al‑Tawil, Tarikh al‑`Alawiyyin, Beirut: Dar al‑Nahas, 2nd ed., 1966, pp. 43‑45; and Moosa, Extremist Shiites, p. 416.]
Only in 1952 under Adib Shishakli did the Syrian government make its first tentative move to recognize Alawi shaykhs as legitimate Muslims by issuing a decree declaring it lawful for those of them “that wished” to “dress in religious clothing in the manner of the Ja`fari madhhab (school). [Al‑`Alawi, Al‑`Alawiyyun, pp. 43‑49.]
Shiite scholars were no less reluctant to admit the Alawites into their ranks. The first delegation of thirteen Alawite boys to go to Najaf to study at the great Shiite university was not until 1948, and then, none of the students managed to complete their studies. The students claimed that “they were treated very badly by some of the men of religion as soon as they arrived. They were told that they had to enter into Islam and perform the ritual ablutions of repentance (ghusl al‑tuba). In addition, they were castigated for being extremists (ghulat). [Ibid., p. 39.] The first sign of progress for the Alawite claim to belong to the Shiite faith came in 1956 when the Ayatollah al‑Sayyid Muhsin al‑Hakim of Najaf delegated a Shiite living in Lebanon to study the Alawites. He wrote a report which portrayed the Alawites as true Shiite Muslims, although he was dismayed that they were lax in regarding Islamic religious duties and had no mosques. In the same year the Mufti of Syria agreed to license Alawite shaykhs to teach their faith and to wear the religious garb which the Syrian government had authorized them to wear four years earlier. [Moosa, Extremist Shiites, pp. 415‑417.]
Shaykh Sulayman taught his daughter how to read and write, and she later became the first women doctor in the muhafaza of Latakia. This was an amazing accomplishment because “the popular masses and even the elite of Alawite society did not look favorably on such a forward looking practice. Education for women in the region was considered a crime and sacrilegious; it was viewed to be foreign to tradition and religion.” [Yunis., pp. 49 & 56.]
Shaykh Sulayman’s (oldest son?), Dr. Ahmad Sulayman al-Ahmad, was a dissident who led the Democratic National Party. He was not believed to be particularly religious.
When Shaykh Sulayman died, his son, Ali Sulayman al-Ahmad inherited the leadership of the Numaylatiya. He was the last leader of the tribe. When he died in the 1990s, the leadership of the Numaylatiya passed to no one.
Hasan, a son of Ali and a PhD from Germany in Computer Science, was asked to step into his father’s role as head of the `ashira. He refused the position, claiming that he did not want to accept zakat (money) as part of the mashyakha.
As far as I know, no one became head of the Numaylatiya after Ali. If there is a clan leader, someone please correct me. It may be that the Assad government has discouraged the emergence of strong tribal leaders within the Alawi community. But the disappearance of tribal and communal leaders is a phenomenon that transcends the Alawi community. The Druze have no replacement for their Paramount Shaykh, Mansour al-Atrash, who died a few years ago.
Anyway, tribal affiliation has become quite weak among many Alawis during the last several generations. Many Alawis of the Banyas and Latakia plains have no tribal affiliation at all. For others, even in the high mountains, it means very little. To have one of their shaykhs denounce the Assads would not have a decisive influence on most Alawis. But more than that, Mohja would have to name these clan leaders for us to assess them or even believe that they exist. It is not clear whether an Alawi “clan” could be an operative social unit in today’s political context.
If we have any Alawis reading, who can enlighten us about tribes and clans withing the Alawi community, I would love to hear from them.