The Role of Ali’s Icon in Alevism

Proceedings of The 4th International Conference on Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts

Year: 2023



The Role of Ali’s Icon in Alevism

Hulya Dogan




It is well known that iconographic image representations are not tolerated in Muslim societies. However, the Shiite sect differs from others in this sense. The tradition of miniature and painting in Iran included the depiction of religious figures until the middle of the twentieth century. Although there are not many examples that have survived to the present day, examples of iconography have become widespread again since the nineteenth century. One of these figures, Hazrat Ali’s paintings were also adapted by Alevis in Anatolia in the twentieth century and took their place in religious spaces (djemevi) and homes. Alevis are known as an eclectic and secular Islamic sect that does not go to mosques, does not pray, does not fast during Ramadan, and basically rejects the god-slave duality. From their creation stories to their dance-like worship, it is seen that Ali is even more prominent than the prophet Muhammad. The fact that figure of Ali has become controversial for Alevis since the new written sources exposed these images to criticism. Claims that it is incompatible with the philosophy of Alevism, that Ali is not a relative of the prophet Muhammad; it is argued that these figures also have the intention of making Alevis Shiite. Essentialist studies on what Alevism is taking the efforts of Alevis to Shiite up to the sixteenth century when they entered into relations with the Safavids. According to this, Shah Ismail spoiled the essence of Alevism and added the characteristics of the Jafari sect to it. Ali and Ahlul Bayt’s beliefs were added to Alevism as a result of these contacts. The Ottoman Empire tried many ways to change its philosophy, as well as using force to keep the Alevis within the borders it wanted. The assimilation policies towards Alevis continue today with an effort to define Alevis within the boundaries of Shiism and ignore their differentiating aspects from common Islam. However, does the description that Alevis have integrated with Ali since the middle of the fifteenth century really serves this purpose? Or did it create other possibilities of resistance in a historical process where Sunni Islam was dominant and Alevis were systematically massacred? Based on this question, this study aims to look at the recent discussions of Alevism through Ali’s position and image, by sharing some results from previous field studies analyzed thematically around the concept.

keywords: Alevism, anthropology of religion, image studies