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Shi'a Islam


Doctrines Nusayriyyah is an extreme Shi'ite group named after its purported founder, Abu Shu'ayb Muhammad ibn Nusayr (d.868). Nusayri doctrine is a mixture of Islamic, Gnostic and Christian beliefs. The Nusayris possess three distinctive doctrines which have led them to be treated as heretics by Sunni Muslims.
  1. The belief in incarnation. The Nusayris believe that Ali is God in the flesh. Ali created Muhammad from his spirit, and Muhammad created Salman, an early Shi'ite saint. These three form a Trinity in which Ali is described as the 'meaning', Muhammad is the 'name' and Salman is the 'door'.
  2. The rejection of the Qur'an and all forms of prayer associated with the Sunni tradition. All Islamic teaching can be interpreted spiritually and therefore does not have to be taken literally.
  3. Nusayris believe in reincarnation. Contrary to Islamic belief, the Nusayris claim that women do not have souls and, therefore, there is no need to explain the secrets of Nusayri doctrine to women.
Nusayris have their own distinct religious leaders, called shaikhs. These shaikhs are believed to be endowed with a kind of divine authority. One of the Shaikh's duties is to lead religious and other forms of ceremony. Nusayris have special feasts in which they celebrate the anniversaries of their sacred figures.
At the age of 19 Nusayris undergo an initiation rite in which they begin to learn some of the secrets of the sect. Nusayris are in fact born into the sect; the initiation ceremony serves to confirm their membership.

History The Nusayris trace their origins to the eleventh Shi'a Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (d.873) and his pupil Ibn Nusayr (d.868). The Nusayris mostly lived in the mountains of Syria, supported by the Shi'ite Hamdanid dynasty. In 1085 the Shi'ite state fell to the Seljuk Turks. The break down of political support made the Nusayris extremely vulnerable to attack and persecution. In 1260 the Mongols captured Aleppo, the capital of the region, and killed many thousands of Shi'as. At the end of the 13th century many Shi'as were massacred by Sunni Muslims who objected to Shi'a support for the Christian crusaders. From then on the Nusayris and other Shi'ite branches were required to conform to the practices of Sunni Islam. In the twentieth century Nusayris have enjoyed a degree of political dominance that is disproportionate to their size. After the first world war the French, who were ruling Syria at the time, made an unsuccessful attempt to establish a separate Nusayri state. Since 1970, following the coup of the Nusayri air force chief, Hafiz al-Asad, the Nusayris have been dominant in Syrian political and military life. Attempts to politically discredit President Asad because of his heterodox religious beliefs have been unsuccessful.

Symbols Nusayris use wine as a symbol for God.

Adherents It is estimated that there about 600,000 Nusayris in Syria who make up about 11% of the population of the country (Halm 1991, 159).

Main Centre
 The headquarters of the movement is in Damascus, Syria.