After the Prophet Muhammad died, people started to fight over who should take his place. Muhammad had said that Hazret Ali was to be his successor. They were cousins and also Ali was his son-in-law. Ali was a very great man, and when finally his turn came to be caliph he was killed while praying in the mosque. So some people said they were going to follow Ali, and today they are called Alevis or “followers of Ali”.
At the time of Ali’s assassination, these people asked the question: “What is this? He was praying to God and people just killed him.” And so, because of this, Alevis do not go to the mosque.
Unfortunately the Sunni followers wanted Alevis to convert and resume going to the mosques. If you didn’t go to the mosque you were considered the worst person on Earth, worthy of death. For this reason people started to fight and lots of Alevi people have been persecuted and killed through centuries.
When the Ottomans took the helm of the Islamic empire, lots of Alevi people were killed. Many had to hide themselves but they continued to pray. Due to the pressures exerted on the Alevi followers by the Ottomans, many of them escaped to the Shah in Iran as there was a more relaxed attitude towards the Alevis there. There are lots of Alevi songs about the Shah and about their troubled relationship with the Sunnis.
In Alevi society men and women pray together in the same room. The place where Alevi people pray is called a Cemevi in Turkish. It is similar to a church. Once or twice a year the whole community gets together to pray and discuss social issues.
For the Alevis, Karbala [the site where Ali’s son Hussein was killed] in Iraq is an important place. During Muharram [one of the months in the Islamic calender] Alevis fast for 12 days in memory of the 12 imams and the martyr Hussein.
*The author of this article is writing under a pseudonym