inconceivable how all too eagerly
in our honest striving for truth
we hastily define the boundaries
of this unbounded human existence
applying limits, birthing mortality
walling the capacity of our thought

the fleshly enclosure of this self
must face time’s ultimate bourne
and yet at this transient moment
can we be restricted by anything more
than the despotic definitions we
falsely impose upon immensity?

your mind is utterly expansive
flying unfettered over continents
it stretches soulful across millennia
touching the most distant stars
freely wandering over planets—
your mind conceives all that is

or so it should

the decision

is yours

[inspired by the teachings of Imam ‘Ali]

Salt Lake City 15 Nov 2012


Alevilik: An Introduction to the Alevis of Turkey and Beyond

Arriving at a universally acceptable definition or description of Alevilik, even among the academic community who approach this issue with less bias than the average lay person, has proven virtually impossible due to the ethnic, linguistic, regional, and doctrinal differences between divergent communities living inside and outside of Turkey, all of whom identify themselves more or less as Alevis.  One of the more remarked upon aspects of Alevilik, which itself gives rise to this confusion of identity (or may be seen as an attempt to explain the apparent disparities in Alevilik), is its syncretic nature.  Alevilik has been variously defined as a synthesis of “Sunni and Shi‘i beliefs and Muslim and Christian practices” (Aringberg-Laanatza 152), or as a fusion of Central Asian paganism, Persian Shi‘ism, and Anatolian mysticism.  Çamuroĝlu defines Alevilik as a “syncretistic belief structure, which shows strong traces of gnosticism” (1998, 79), and remarks that large numbers of Alevis may be found outside of Turkey today.  In April 2000 a team from Gazi University’s Turkish Culture and Hacı Bektaş Veli Research Center produced a documentary film on diverse Alevi communities from no less than 13 different countries outside of Turkey: Iran, Türkmenistan, Özbekistan, Kazakistan, Azerbaycan, Bulgaria, Greece, Rumania, Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania, Macedonia, and Kosovo (Aydın).

Another form of distinction remarked upon by scholars concerns which form or focus of Alevilik that Alevis choose to pursue today.  So, for instance, Çamuroĝlu (1998) has identified three major trends in her work among Alevis: 1) political Alevis, who are intent on seeing Alevilik as a secular political ideology, 2) traditionalist Alevis, who demand a return to the true (heterodox, syncretic) Alevilik, and 3) Islamist Alevis, who seek to redefine Alevilik in orthodox Islamic terms, pointing out that Ali, after all, followed the five pillars of Islam.  Bilici, in contrast, has identified four branches of Alevilik in Turkey today: 1) the largely nonreligious materialist or modernist branch, who are associated with the Alevi Kurds, the Kurdistan Alevi Union in Germany, the Kurdish Zülfikâr journal, leftist Alevis, the Kervan (formerly a Communist journal), and followers of the sixteenth century poet and martyr Pir Sultan Abdal; 2) the mystical branch, which emphasizes the importance of the individual’s relationship to God; 3) the heterodox or Caferi branch, who see themselves as a distinctly religious Muslim community, but one which deserves the same political considerations which Sunni Muslims in Turkey receive,[1] and 4) the Shi‘i-inclined branch, who argue that Alevilik is the way of ‘Ali, the true path of Islam before it became corrupted by association with Bektaşilik.  This association, these Shi‘i-inclined Alevis argue, was forced on the Alevis of Anatolia by the Ottoman state, which sought to use Bektaşilik as a means of controlling and converting the Alevi population.

Whether Alevis are closer to Sunnism or Shi‘ism is not only a theoretical problem, but one that divides Alevis today.  In many practical ways, Alevis seem quite distinct from both Sunni and Shi‘i Muslims.  There is much less stress in Alevi culture in general on obeying external practices associated with orthodox Sunni and Shi‘i Islam, such as the fast during Ramadan, the Hajj or ‘pilgrimage’ from Makkah, salat or ‘Muslim prayer,’ and paying the zakat or ‘regular charitable tax.’  In other ways they seem to favor Shi‘i traditions, or at least a modified version of them, while opposing a number of customs followed by Sunni Muslims.  They avoid prayer in mosques, for example, without outright forbidding it, because of the association of mosques with the assassination of ‘Ali, who was murdered in a mosque.  Some, although by no means most, Alevis perform a fast, but only for ten days, to commemorate the ten days of suffering Hüseyin endured at the hands of his captors after he and his followers were attacked by Yazid’s men at Kerbala.  This is a tradition they share with other Shi‘i Muslims.  Alevis oppose mezhepler or ‘Islamic schools of jurisprudence’ as well, seeing them as associated with “strife and persecution” (Naess 178).[2]  However, as I will demonstrate later, there has been a trend among some Alevis to seek an association with orthodoxy through closer ties to Sunni Islam, and some have even begun engaging in Sunni practices while still calling themselves Alevis.

The rediscovery of Alevi religious culture has not occurred in a vacuum, but during a period of Turkish history which has seen renewed interest on the part of a number of ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups for their own culture, language, and professed homelands, including the Kurds, Laz, and Çerkes.  The existence of different ethnic and linguistic groups and diverse religious elements among Alevis has been at the heart of this difficulty in defining true Alevilik.  Linguistically, one might identify at least four, possibly five, different groups: Turkish, Zaza, Kurmancı, Azerbayjani, and Arabic, the largest of these being Turkish and the second a combination of Kurdish Zaza and Kurmancı speakers.  Because of the innate importance that language often possesses in establishing identity, it may prove to be a stumbling block to any form of Alevi cohesion, although other divisive ethnic and political issues already firmly separate these five groups.

Such ethnic differences among Alevis have added considerably to the confusion over defining Alevilik.  One such distinction resides in the split between Turkish Alevis and Arab Alawites, a distinction which has not always been observed even by researchers.  Until quite recently, for example, the Index Islamicus has included articles and publications on both Alevis and Alawites under a single heading – Alawite, despite the fact that in most cases the Turkish Alevis and Arab Alawites reject the notion of there being any bond between them.  Even though both may be seen as offshoots of a centuries old tradition of venerating ‘Ali and the House of the Prophet, they are today generally incongruous with one another.  However, the incorporation of the Hatay province into Turkey in 1939 left the Turkish Republic with a sizable minority Arab population, many of whom were and have remained Alawite, but with no where near the numbers of the Turkish-Kurdish Alevi population.[3]  Nonetheless, I have included Arabic above as a fifth Alevi language based on as yet unverified (yet logical) reports that the Alevi religious revival in Turkey, or at least the many years of contact between the two groups, has begun to attract Arab Alawites in the Hatay region to increasingly participate in Turkish Alevi practices, such as attendance at cem ceremonies.

The Kurdish-Turkish ethnic distinction has in recent decades become one of the most obvious and increasingly sensitive divisions among Alevis, who seem less and less able to overcome the ethno-political nature of the division in favor of a religio-cultural unity.  Although existing studies of urban Alevi migrants in Anatolia have shed little light on the evolution of Alevis in relation to this dichotomy, the extreme prominence of the Kurdish issue in Turkish politics today will certainly make it an unavoidable issue in urban Alevi studies in the years to come, which is why I include it here in our summary of Alevi ethnic diversity. 

Kurdish Alevis, who even today are sometimes distinguished from other Alevis by the out-dated term Kızılbaş, are predominantly Kurmancı and Zaza speakers.[4]  Despite the nationalist political conflict which besets them, these Kurdish Alevis persist in their usage of Turkish for Alevi ritual purposes, in particular for gülbanklar (“invocations”) and nefesler (“religious songs”).  This use of Turkish has continued even though some Kurdish Alevis argue that Turkish Alevis adopted Alevilik from the Kurds, who had previously learned it from the Persians, making the issue of a ritual language ambiguous at best.[5]  Turkish Alevis have been noted for playing a significant role in defense of the Kemalist struggle during the War of Independence, even against Kurds who happened to be fellow Alevis.[6]  Supporting the new state against Kurdish insurgents took priority over defending co-religionists.  Since then the Kurdish identity of the approximately one-third of Turkey’s total Alevi population has become a source of confusion and division among the Kurdish Alevis, who increasingly find themselves torn between identifying themselves as Kurds or as Alevis.[7]  Sizable Kurdish Alevi communities reside in the eastern and central regions of Dersim (renamed Tunceli), Erzincan, Kıĝı, Bingöl, Muş, Sivas, Malatya, Maraş, Antep, Adana, and as far north as Kars.  Prominent Alevi tribes within these regions are the Dersimi, fieyhhasanan, Hormek, Lolan, and Koçgiri Kurds, although many Alevi Kurds outside of Dersim seem to trace descent back to the Dersimi Kurds.

While the Kurdish Alevis of these regions share much in common with the Turkish Alevis of central and western Anatolia, they have been noted to practice or express belief in a number of distinct forms of religious worship not commonly associated with the Turkish Alevis.  Among these, recorded by ethnographers and travelers from the beginning of the twentieth century, is the belief in metempsychosis, according to which human souls may be reborn as animals, whether they be mammals, reptiles, or insects.[8]  As with the Ahl-i Haqq of Syria, belief in various degrees of divine incarnation has also been expressed among the Dersimi Alevis, the most obvious example of which is the manifestation of God in ‘Ali.[9]  Finally, similar to the ancient traditions of the Central Asian Turks, the Kurdish Alevis of eastern Anatolia have displayed a reverence for nature through worship of such celestial bodies as the sun, moon, and planets, and of natural phenomena and elements, such as rain, thunder, water, rocks, and trees (van Bruinessen 1997).  In all of this there is evidence of a highly syncretic religious culture, a characteristic of Alevilik which the Kurds share with the other ethnic groups among the Alevis.

A cornerstone of Alevi religious culture is the Shi‘i veneration for the Ahl al-Beyt or ‘House of the Prophet,’ and in particular for ‘Ali, son-in-law of the Prophet and the First of the Twelve İmams.[10]  Like other Shi‘is, Alevis reject the first three orthodox caliphs, condemning them for having wrested the succession, the leadership of the Muslim community, from the Prophet’s own hand-picked successor – ‘Ali.  They argue that the Prophet made this designation clear when he said, “‘I am the city of knowledge (ilmin şehri), Ali is the gate of knowledge (ilmin kapısı).  And how can you come to the city without finding the gate’” (Naess 177).  As the Alevis in Naess’ study argued, the Sunnis tried to circumvent the framework of authority and knowledge built by the Prophet.  In essence, as one villager put it, “‘The Sunnis are like people who run along the walls, in vain seeking the gate’” (177).

The second key figure in Alevi ritual and belief is Hacı Bektaş Veli.  Historians argue that Hacı Bektaş arrived in Anatolia around 1230 “coming from Khorassan.”[11]  Hacı Bektaş apparently remained in Anatolia in the town of Soluca Kara Öyük or Karayol, which today bears his name – Hacıbektaş – until 1270, when he died at the age of 63.[12] Depending for such early information on hagiographic descriptions, we cannot be absolutely certain of the details of Bektaş’s life.  However, it seems he was not a theologian or orthodox Muslim in his behavior, but a Sufi from the Turkmen tribes,[13] and it is very likely that his Muslim worship was influenced by the Central Asian customs and traditions from which he came.  “He was a mystic, born among the people and who remained near to the people.  Though he was a Muslim, he did not give up the ancient practices and customs of Central Asia” (Melikoff 2). 

According to the Vilayet-name or biography of Hacı Bektaş, he apparently favored open worship to praying in a mosque, which resembles the Alevi aversion to mosques.  The same source also describes how he brought his abdallar or ‘followers’ up the mountain Hırkadaĝı, where they performed the sema, a ritual dance still practiced by Alevis.  The continued importance that Alevis attach to Bektaşilik may be seen in their associations with Hacı Bektaş foundations and with the town of Hacıbektaş itself.  To travel there in order to visit his tomb is to go on a hajj or ‘pilgrimage.’  The efendiler living in the town, who are said to be descended directly from Hacı Bektaş himself, are approached (albeit rarely), as a sort of court of last appeal in cases of disputes.  All of these connections to Hacı Bektaş seem to provide Alevis, in Shankland’s assessment, with their most cohesive framework.  Hacı Bektaş is for Alevis a leader, a spiritual guide, and a revered saint, making him “at once a spiritual focus, and also an orienting figure through which Alevis build up a link and define their place in the wider world of Islam as a whole” (1998, 19).[14]

One of the most important elements of Bektaşilik found among Alevis today is the Alevi tradition of the Dört Kapılar or ‘Four Gates.’  Like Bektaşis, Alevis believe there are Four Gates of spiritual development through which one must pass before one can achieve direct experience of God: şeriat, tarikat, marifet, and hakikatŞeriat refers to the Law of God, and is achieved simply by submitting oneself to the will of God through right belief and behavior.  While establishing a legal system based on the Shari‘a has become an end goal for some Muslim communities today, living according to God’s Law is only a first step for Alevis.  Most Alevis, having submitted themselves to the will of God, are said to have arrived at the stage of tarikatTarikat, which is associated with ritual practices which culminate in the cem ceremonies, may be interpreted as the organization of individuals into ritualistic societies based on the recognition that there is more to right living than the simple adherence to rules of proper belief and behavior.  Marifet, an Ottoman term of Arabic origin, suggests the acquisition of a special skill or spiritual knowledge through intense discipline and guided training and study, which is beyond the capacity of most followers.  The Alevi leaders or dedeler are ideally at the final stage, that of hakikat or truth, the real world, when the physical properties of this world no longer block one’s path to God.  At this stage it may be said that the individual has achieved spiritual unity with God, something which most Alevis never achieve in life.  For most it is enough to follow the directions of the dedeler, which focus essentially on right practice and ritual.  This focus on correct practice over dogma has been linked to the Alevi injunction, referred to by Shankland (1998) as edep: “Eline, diline, beline sahip ol!” (“Master your hands, your tongue, and your loins.”  In other words, at its simplest level, “Do not steal, lie, or have sexual relations outside of your marriage.”)

The leadership of the dedeler, which has been challenged in the urban setting, is integral to traditional Alevi religious culture.  As one of the keys to Alevi society, “they are at once its focus, its teachers, temporal judges and links to their religious heritage” (Shankland, 1998, 19).  The dedeler are recognized by the community as rehberler or ‘guides’ who define their duty as being “the way, the light, the inspiration of the community” (Shankland, 1998, 19).  Their primary duty, apart from functioning as sources of spiritual and traditional knowledge, seems to be to mediate disputes between Alevis of the same lineage or between lineages.  They may also help in marriage negotiations or be asked to comment on matters of importance to a whole community.  Dedeler have been traditionally able to justify their leadership of the community by claiming descent from the Prophet through one of the Twelve İmams, and many ocaklar or ‘dede lineages’ claim descent as well from dervishes who attended the Hacı Bektaş tekke or ‘dervish lodge’ in Hacıbektaş.  They are called in to assist the village community by talip or ‘follower lineages,’ who are obliged to respect and heed the dede lineages.  Some villagers say that the dede-talip links were assigned by Hacı Bektaş himself, thereby giving them greater validity and emphasizing the enduring role which dedeler are expected to play in the leadership of the community.

How the dedeler convey their teachings to the community has also become an issue in the urban setting.  In traditional Alevi culture, religious culture has been transmitted orally from dede to talip or from master to disciple.  Written texts are not absent in Alevi tradition.  In fact, they have existed in Alevi culture since the 16th century in the form of the Buyruk or ‘Decree.’  The first and most honored of these is the Buyruk of the Sixth İmam Cafer Sadik, which is supposedly a list of questions posed by a Byzantine emperor along with answers supplied by the İmam.  Its significance among Alevis is attested by their characterization of the text as the “Aleviliĝin anayasası” or ‘Constitution of Alevism.’[15]  Despite the importance of such texts, however, they have not superseded the oral nature of transmitting esoteric knowledge, which has remained firmly in the hands of the dedeler, who guide the community in interpreting the Buyruk.  This tradition naturally places greater authority in the hands of the dedeler, without whom the religious traditions of Alevis presumably might not survive.  The dede takes on the character of the walid dini or ‘religious father,’ whose tie to the disciple is stronger even than that of the disciple’s own father.  He is in essence the father of the community, and so it may be argued that the oral transmission of culture is invariably linked to the ongoing authority of the dedeler at least, if not to the overall survival of Alevi cultural traditions.

Most Alevi rituals have come to be associated with the cemevleri or ‘community gathering centers.’  The cem ceremonies performed in these gatherings are necessary forms of community cohesion, binding each member of the group to one another and to the whole.  The cem töreni or ‘cem ceremony’ is attended by men and women together, which is distinct from the separate worship of men and women in Sunni and Shi‘i cultures.  There are different forms of the cem ceremony, but the basic ceremony of gathering, the Abdal Musa cem, includes rituals symbolizing the martyrdom of Hussein at Kerbala, interpretations by the dede of key Alevi themes, even music, something that one would never find within an orthodox Sunni congregation.  The following is an example of the kind of music produced by Alevi musicians, who rely heavily on the baĝlama.

The Alevis interviewed by Shankland (1998) contrasted their worship with Sunni worship by pointing out that no one can attend their cem ceremony who is not at peace.  All who are present must first make peace with one another, if any quarrels exist, before they can begin the ceremony.  Otherwise, those who are unable to make peace must leave the cemevi.  Alevis say that this necessity for peace among the community, as well as the injunction against strangers attending the ceremony, is why they do not pray in a mosque: “(T)he greatest problem about praying in a mosque is that it is possible to be next to a murderer without realising it” (Shankland, 1998, 20). 

Alevi worship and belief, they argue, is also distinct from Sunni belief in that Sunni belief in God is based on fear, while Alevi belief is based on love.  They relate creation in the following terms: God created the world and He gave creatures life, but then He saw that there was nothing truly in His creation which reflected the Creator.  Therefore, He gave all humans a part of Himself, which became man’s ruh or ‘soul.’  “Now, we pray together in the cem, we do so face-to-face, and through the collective worship, see into one anothers’ hearts and so become part of God” (Shankland, 1998, 20). 

Musahiplik is another traditional aspect of Alevilik which binds people together, and which has been challenged in the urban setting.  Musahiplik is a form of ritual kinship or brotherhood which links two men together, obliging them to unending support of one another in a variety of forms, including economic and moral support.[16]  This support is unending in that, once the tie between two men has been recognized by a dede, it is assumed to survive even into the next world, where the two men will recommend one another to God on the Day of Judgment.  However, this form of commitment and support is not open to all Alevis, but only to those especially initiated for it by the dede, who must first recognize the couples’ preparedness in terms of their spiritual growth.  As such, musahiplik should not be considered a necessary element for all Alevis, but it certainly must be acknowledged as an integral aspect of Alevi religious culture, as it is present in all known rural Alevi communities which are organized around an ocak or ‘Holy Family.’  One can be Alevi without it, but to achieve it is to attain a higher stage in the striving for spiritual perfection and thus to be honored by the community for this achievement.[17] 

How Alevis trace the history of musahiplik brings us closer to their Shi‘i origins.  As the basis for this brotherhood, Alevis offer a tradition attributed to the Prophet during his final days.  It is said that the Prophet, returning from his last pilgrimage to Makkah, instructed his followers each to choose a special companion, a musahip, whose support would never wane.  To take the lead in this process, Muhammad chose ‘Ali as his own musahip by opening his cloak and pulling his son-in-law to his breast.  In this way he indicated how he and ‘Ali were one, and he proclaimed to those present, “‘Ali and I, we both derive from the same light.  He is my brother in this world and in the hereafter.  His blood is my blood, his flesh is my flesh, his soul is my soul, his body is my body’” (Kehl-Bodrogi 123).

The cem ceremony and musahiplik may be interpreted as traditions of inclusion or social binding which strengthen the ties of the community.  However, there is another form of the cem ceremony, known as the görgü cem, which functions as a judicial institution, an institution that has proven extremely difficult to carry on in the urban setting where judicial matters are clearly in the hands of the state.  As with the inclusive Abdal Musa cem ceremony examined above, the görgü cem is prohibited to outsiders.  During the görgü, accused offenders are required to give an account of themselves before a görgü heyeti or ‘görgü committee,’ which includes the dede.  The members of this committee must come to an agreement regarding how to sanction the offender, the “sentence” being carried out immediately.  The intention is to bring peace and cohesion back to the community, but serious violations may incur more serious penalties, from verbal abuse and, in some reports, spitting on the offender, to the most extreme punishment – düşkünlük or ‘excommunication.’  For such an introverted, group-oriented community, permanent excommunication is tantamount to ostracism, and, not surprisingly, has been reported to have occurred rarely, if at all, in most traditional Alevi communities.  A more frequent sanction may be geçici düşkünlük or ‘momentary excommunication,’ which may be applied in cases of theft, for instance.[18]

Social traditions among rural Alevis, such as marriage, divorce, and funeral rites, are generally quite distinct from representative urban practices.  Marriage is considered a highly sacred bond which “should persist under all circumstances” (Bozkurt, 1998, 89).  Other than in extremely exceptional cases, separation or divorce are simply not acceptable resolutions to marital problems.  Nor is it acceptable that an outsider should pass judgment or practice authority on what is essentially an internal Alevi matter.  This goes for funerary services as well as for sanctions.  Dealing with death is an Alevi communal concern, and funerary rites are carried out by the community and the dede, with songs and the recitation of the funerary prayer, known as the Hatayi, performed in Turkish.  The ritual dance or sema may also be performed. 

Researchers working among Alevis often emphasize the respect and tolerance which Alevis display towards non-Alevis.  Shankland, for example, argues that among Alevis, “outsiders are able to be accommodated within the villages,” and that “individual believers can take up different individual positions within the Alevi faith” (1998, 22).  While this is true, it is important to note that many of the characteristics of Alevi religious tradition promote a sense of inclusivity among the members of the community while enforcing exclusivity of non-members (i.e.,  non-Alevis).[19]  Musahiplik, for instance, is not only reserved solely for Alevis, but is further limited to Alevis deemed deserving by the religious leaders.  In addition, the hereditary aspect of dede leadership has made it traditionally impossible for either non-Alevis or even Alevis of talip lineages to rise to positions of leadership.  Moreover, marriage, while theoretically open to mixed Alevi and non-Alevi couples, has traditionally been an endogamous practice.  As for the cem ceremonies, Shankland himself has noted how long it took for him to receive reluctant permission to attend a cem ceremony, despite the fact that he had lived among Alevis on and off for over a year.  It is not at all surprising that such a long history of isolation and persecution would promote exclusivity among a religious minority, but, as I will show, modernization and urbanization have challenged even this long-standing practice.

This exclusivity may be interpreted as one aspect of a larger cohesion that binds Alevis – or at least Alevis of the same village – together, even when great distances set them apart.  In a study of an Anatolian Alevi village hidden under the name of Dereköy (presumably in the vicinity of İzmir), Naess found that Alevi emigrants from the village retained a strong connection with their village, even though their migrations carried them as far away as Norway (150 migrants) and Germany (50 migrants).  Those who remained behind, reckoned at 514 by the 1985 census, nonetheless counted themselves at more like 1200, continuing to include those who had migrated either to the local town, to İzmir, or to Europe.  In other words, these rural Alevis identified themselves in terms of the larger group of current village inhabitants along with the permanent and temporary Alevi migrants who had left the village.  After all, these emigrants remained in contact with the village, sent remittances back to it, visited it, and even returned to the village to find Alevi spouses. 

[1] According to these Alevis, the gates of ijtihad are still open and “every aspect of the life of the individual or community should be based on judgments made on the basis of a combination of faith, reason, and life, and that action should be taken in accordance with decisions based on free will.  Thus, in this theology, contrary to Shari‘a, all human problems are related to the actual world, and relevant judgments arise from life itself” (Bilici 54).

[2] The Alevis hold that the schools were organized by Harun ar-Rashid, who first ordered the most knowledgeable men of his time to codify Islamic law into separate schools.  When these men refused, Alevis say, declaring instead their continued allegiance to ‘Ali, Harun ar-Rashid had them executed.

[3] On the other hand, the incorporation of Hatay into Turkey led to the emigration of some 50,000 Arabs, including 10,000 Alawites, from Hatay into Syria.  (See Aringberg-Laanatza for more details on the similarities and differences between Alevis and Alawites.)

[4] Estimates concerning how many Alevis are Kurds run anywhere from 10-30% in the literature.  This is not the place to explore the issue of ethnicity among Turks and Kurds, but a commonly accepted explanation among scholars for the large numbers of Kurdish Alevis in Anatolia today is not that they are all descended from early Kurdish settlers, but that most of them are descended from Kurdicized Turcoman tribes, Kızılbaş supporters of the Safavids who had adopted Kurdish languages, in this case mainly Zaza, through contact with Kurdish Alevis in Anatolia.  Van Bruinessen disagrees with this view, proposing instead that today’s Kurdish Alevis in Turkey are descended from Kurmancı or Zaza speaking Anatolian Kurds who adopted Alevi practices along with their earlier syncretic beliefs.  (See van Bruinessen, 1997 for further discussion on this point.)

[5] I could unfortunately find no figures regarding these divisions among the Kurdish Alevis.

[6] Kurdish resistance to the Kemalist struggle, most notably represented by the Sheikh Sa’id rebellion, was opposed not only by Turkish but also by Kurdish Alevis, particularly the Hormek and Lolan Kurds around Bingöl, Muş, and Varto.  (See van Bruinessen, 1997 and Olson.)

[7] This is not to suggest that the Alevi-Kurdish distinction is the only one which divides Turkey’s Kurdish population.  Regional, linguistic, religious, and tribal divisions also play a significant role.

[8] See Andranig, Tersim.  Tiflis: 1900.

[9] A less distinguished divine presence within the seyyidler or ‘descendants of the House of the Prophet’ has also been noted.

[10] After İmam ‘Ali, the Alevis venerate or honor an intriguingly heterodox collection of individuals, including the sixth İmam Cafer Sadiq, Hacı Bektaş Veli, Mevlana Celaleddin Rumi, and most recently Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Naess 179).

[11] This is a phrase generally understood to mean “migrating from Central Asia.” He possibly did so in the company of Kharezmians, escaping the Mongols in the 13th century.

[12] The order which bears his name today was possibly founded by Kadıncık Ana, a woman of the Oĝuz Çepni town, who is variously described as his adoptive daughter or his spiritual wife.

[13] Melikoff suggests that the relationship between the Ottomans and the Bektaşis was strengthened by the fact that they came from the same social backgrounds.  In fact, Elvan Çelebi, in his hagiographic text on Baba İlyas, states that Hacı Bektaş was closely connected with Edebali, who became the father-in-law of Osman Gazi, founder of the Ottoman state.  Further, a number of Bektaşi dervishes were apparently companions of Osman’s son, Orhan Gazi, including Abdal Musa, follower of Hacı Bektaş and founder of the Bektaşi Order of Dervishes, who contributed to Ottoman expansion by actually assisting the Ottoman armies in their conquests.  The dervishes had thereby become gazis, Muslim warriors, who founded orders and colonies in conquered lands, orders which became centers of Muslim teaching.

[14] See Birge, still considered by many to be the definitive work on Bektaşilik in English, as well as Eröz and Türkdoĝan for more on Alevi-Bektaşi customs and beliefs.

[15] For more on the scripturalization of Alevi religious traditions see Olsson.

[16] A man is responsible for “the moral and social integrity” of his musahip (Kehl-Bodrogi 123).

[17] The absence of musahiplik among the non-Alevi Bektaşi marks it as a critical distinction between the two otherwise quite similar cultures.

[18] For examples of such görgü conflict resolution see Shankland, 1993.

[19] Bozkurt goes so far as to argue that, within Alevi belief, “Strict control forms the essence of this belief, which aims at keeping the community going without appealing to the state security forces and without state support.  All their ceremonies and sanctions are aimed at achieving this end” (1998, 85).


Aringberg-Laanatza, Marianne. “Alevis in Turkey – Alawites in Syria: Similarities and Differences.” Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives. Ed. Tord Olsson. İstanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1998, pp. 151-165.

Bilici, Faruk. “The Function of Alevi-Bektashi Theology in Modern Turkey.” Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives. Ed. Tord Olsson. İstanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1998, pp. 51-62.

Birge, John Kingsley. The Bektashi Order of Dervishes. Hartford: Hartford Seminary Press, 1937.

Bozkurt, Fuat. “State-Community Relations in the Restructuring of Alevilik,” Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives. Ed. Tord Olsson. İstanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1998, pp. 85-96.

Çamuroğlu, Reha. “Alevi Revivalism in Turkey.” Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives. Ed. Tord Olsson. İstanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1998, pp. 79-84.

Kehl-Bodrogi, Krisztina. “On the Significance of musahiplik among the Alevis of Turkey: The Case of the Tahtacı.” Syncretistic Religious Communities in the Near East. Ed. Krisztina Kehl-Bodrogi, New York: Brill, 1997, pp. 119-138.

Mélikoff, Irène. “Bektashi / Kızılbaş: Historical Bipartition and Its Consequences.” Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives. Ed. Tord Olsson. İstanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1998, pp. 1-7.

Naess, Ragnar. “Being an Alevi Muslim in South-western Anatolia and in Norway: The Impact of Migration on a Heterodox Turkish Community.” The New Islamic Presence in Western Europe. Ed. Tomas Gerholm and Yngve Georg Lithman. New York: Mansell Publishing Limited, 1988, pp. 174-195.

Olsson, Tord. “Epiloque: Scripturalization of Ali-oriented Religions,” Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives. Ed. Tord Olsson. İstanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1998, pp. 199-206.

Shankland, David. “Alevi and Sunni in Rural Anatolia: Diverse Paths of Change.” Culture and Economy: Changes in Turkish Villages. Ed. Paul Stirling. Cambridgeshire: The Eothen Press, 1993, pp. 46-64.

Shankland, David. “Anthropology and Ethnicity: The Place of Ethnography in the New Alevi Movement.” Alevi Identity: Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives. Ed. Tord Olsson. İstanbul: Swedish Research Institute, 1998, pp. 15-22.

van Bruinessen, Martin. “Kurds, Turks and the Alevi Revival in Turkey.” Online. Internet. 16 Feb. 1999. Available http: ~godlas/alevivanb.html.

Man and God

Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Raheem.


It begins well enough, a clear sky beckoning,

abundant light cascading down, bathing the earth

illuminating a here and now as determined

and hopeful as any moment might ever be.

Right hand over left over a sagging belly

that grumbles needlessly – what did I eat today?


Al-Hamd ul-illāhi Rabb il-ālameen.

Ar-Rahmān ir-Raheem.


The light is a mercy, a life to the world

and I am nothing if not persistent

in my demands for more more more

of all the world has to offer.

But am I sure? Is this a path I can follow

without stumbling, falling, failing yet again?


Māliki yawmid-deen.

Iyyāka na’budu wa iyyāka nasta’een.


What aid could possibly come to me now?

What simple fortune could speak to this

all too clever enchantment, words mumbled

in hasty submission to an unseen power.

The light dips quite casually over my shoulder,

a dark cloud passes over the face of the earth.


Ihdinas sirāt al-mustaqeem,

sirāt al-lazeena an’amta ‘alayhim,

ghayril-maghdūbi ‘alayhim wa lad dāl-leen.


To be lost on a path as this is such a dreadful thing

encompassing a fear that no man can tolerate

a fear of death, but much more than this

the terror of being alone and less than a man.

What have I done to deserve this? Dear God,

merciful and kind, what have I done?




Amen, in truth, verily, voraciously, this truth I seek

this hakikat I consume like a famished beggar

ever pleading for more, never satisfied

never satiated, this hunger, this accursed need.

Why has it grown so dark of a sudden?

O Hak, sole hakim, what hak else awaits me?


Allahu akbar.


Words, words, I continue on, finally bending as expected,

my eyes on the same spot, that same intricate design

in the midst of the same rug that I have beheld every day

and still I don’t know what the design means.

I fall to my knees, my forehead touches harsh fiber

worn thin with time and obeisance.


Subhāna Rabbi yāl Azim.


Which is when I begin to cry, sobbing like a fool

my face pressed against the carpet, against ground,

against earth, cruelly engraved by weary steps

trodding on and on and never knowing why.

Was that a voice outside? The light grows ever

more dim, more distant, more reclusive.


Subhāna Rabbi yāl Azim.


Hands cracked with age drag along the rug to

cradle my face, my skin warm and wet and shivering

as I struggle to complete the words, the words

always more words, no end to this surfiet.

My lexical panacea, shielding me from – what?

The darkness I abhore or the light that terrifies me?


Subhāna Rabbi yāl Azim.


I want to rise, I know I must. It is expected at this point.

But I cannot. My legs refuse my simplest commands.

My voice falls utterly silent. My eyes remain closed.

I am a man. Fear is my companion. Desire is my mistress.

And truth like a shattered shell washed ashore lies

sullied in the sand. A testament to my grand nothingness.

Mali protest against women’s law

Dear God, this leader of Muslim women in Mali, arguing against a law that would grant Muslim women equal rights with their husbands. As the report indicates, she says, “The poor and illiterate women of this country – the real Muslims – are against it.” How very nice to have a leader of Muslim women associating “real Muslims” with poverty and illiteracy. God forbid Muslim women should ever go to school and learn to read and interpret the Qur’an for themselves! Better to keep them poor and illiterate. Has this woman no shame? Bloody idiot! It is very difficult for me to keep my cool during Ramadan with morons like this pronouncing such nonsense in the name of Islam.

Mali protest against women’s law

A demonstration in Bamako's main stadium on August 22
Women were among the crowd at the rally at Bamako’s main stadium

Tens of thousands of people in Mali’s capital, Bamako, have been protesting against a new law which gives women equal rights in marriage.

The law, passed earlier this month, also strengthens inheritance rights for women and children born out of wedlock.

The head of a Muslim women’s association says only a minority of Malian women – “the intellectuals” as she put it – supports the law.

Several other protests have taken place in other parts of the country.

The law was adopted by the Malian parliament at the beginning of August, and has yet to be signed into force by the president.

One of the most contentious issues in the new legislation is that women are no longer required to obey their husbands.

Hadja Sapiato Dembele of the National Union of Muslim Women’s Associations said the law goes against Islamic principles.

“We have to stick to the Koran,” Ms Dembele told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme. “A man must protect his wife, a wife must obey her husband.”

“It’s a tiny minority of women here that wants this new law – the intellectuals. The poor and illiterate women of this country – the real Muslims – are against it,” she added.

From BBC News: 

Islamic Law: Terminology Part 2

As Bernard Weiss has explained, law is a language which structures the world in specific ways, organizing human behavior into categories defined in legal terms.  The terms we use, the language of law, serves to structure the world in a certain way.  The following are important legal terms in Islamic law:


Person is tied to the idea of capacity [ahliyya], which is linked to rights and duties.  Some rights arise out of contracts, while others are deemed natural.  But with the concept of rights comes the concept of one who enjoys rights – a person.  Persons are the actors on a legal stage, capable of performing legal acts.  Also bound to capacity are the concepts of responsibility [kulfa] and responsible person [mukalaf].  Legal responsibility must be considered for certain individuals.  Children are generally not held responsible for certain acts.  Thus a person and a responsible person may not be the same thing.  In the Muslim hierarchy of persons, free, sane, Muslim, male, adult people possess the widest range of legal capacity, rights, and obligations.  Each of these criteria forms a limiting or binding category.  In other words, a Muslim’s rights and obligations are higher than those of a non-Muslim, just as a male’s rights and obligations are higher than those of a female, and so on.  Each of these distinctions becomes more or less prevalent in different areas of law, such as contract law or family law.


Legal Position of Women Religiously speaking, a female Muslim has fewer rights and duties than a male Muslim.  Legally speaking, her position is also different from that of a man.  This may in fact save her from execution; a male who commits apostasy may be executed; a female should be compelled to return to Islam, hopefully by persuasion, but if not, then through imprisonments and even beatings.  She is further counted as half a man in inheritance, blood-money, and evidence offered in court.  Her husband also has the limited right to take corrective measures against her; a right which she obviously does not share.  However, a woman may not be forced into a marriage.  Jurists generally agree that a man may not force a woman to marry him, just as the girl’s family may not compel her to accept the man they have chosen for her.  She reserves the right of refusal, accept among Shafi’i Muslims, since al-Shafi’i allowed men the right to force virgins to marry.  While most jurists do not favor the notion of forcing a woman to marry, nor do they favor the notion of a woman making her marriage selection on her own.  They generally agree that a woman’s choice of a mate should match the choice made by her guardian.  If they disagree, she can take her case to a qadi, who might still disagree with her and uphold her guardian’s choice of a suitable spouse for her.  The Hanafis are the exception here, recognizing a woman’s right to choose a mate on her own and conclude the marriage contract without a guardian, so long as he is deemed “suitable” for her, a concept we will examine below.


Legal position of non-Muslims To some extent, the legal position of non-Muslims has been defined by jurists during periods of conflict with the Muslim world. In certain periods of Muslim history, and in particular regions in which a gazi or raiding mentality prevailed in Muslim thinking, relations to non-Muslims were established, at least in theory, on the basis of ongoing warfare.  Non-Muslims who were not protected by treaty were considered to be in a state of war [harbi].  Indeed, while the realms under Islamic control were the Dar al-Islam, the regions under non-Muslim control were considered to be the Dar al-Harb, the realms of War.  Therefore in dealing with non-Muslims, Muslims had three choices – convert them, subjugate them, or kill them.  Those non-Muslim communities who were subjugated, who accepted the political dominion of the Muslims, become jimmis after one year of occupation, during which time they had the right to vacate the subjugated territories.  Those Muslims who ruled over them had to accept the responsibility of safe-guarding the life and property of the jimmis.  In return, the jimmis were required to follow certain rules, all of which implicitly acknowledged the dominion of Islam, including that they had to:

·         pay the poll-tax [jizya] and the land-tax [kharaj], sometimes under quite humiliating conditions,

·         wear distinctive clothing and live in houses, no larger than Muslim houses, which served to mark them off as jimmi,

·         not ride horses or bear arms,

·         yield the way to Muslims,

·         not openly perform their worship or other culturally distinctive acts deemed inappropriate by Muslims, such as drinking alcohol,

·         not build new places of worship.


Legal capacity [ahliyya] is also important in determining legal responsibility; one cannot be held responsible for particular acts for which the law does not find that individual to have legal capacity.  The highest degree of legal capacity resides with the free, sane, adult (i.e., fifteen years of age or older), Muslim male.  The insane and children have the lowest degree of legal capacity.  Religious considerations of character may also influence legal standing, but need not be legally binding.  A qadi should only accept the testimony of witnesses deemed to be of good moral character [‘adl], but if he accepts testimony from a witness of questionable character, his decision based on this testimony is nonetheless valid.


Rights [haqq, pl. huquq] and obligations [wajib] also include the notion of liability.  A common generalization is that Islamic law is more concerned with duties and obligations than with rights, but this may simply be because Islamic law has a greater concern for duties than western law does, which tends to be more concerned with rights.  The preoccupation with duties and obligations is most prevalent in Islamic ritual law, which stipulates how one conducts oneself in prayer, during fasting, on hajj, etc.  Perhaps this preoccupation with duties and obligations reflects a greater moralism than does western law.  The difference between Islamic and western law is more a difference in emphasis.  Rights and obligations go hand-in-hand.  A right is often co-terminus with a duty.  In Islam God is the original holder of all rights.  Rights belong to the Creator [Rabb – Lord or Master] while duties belong to the Creature [‘Abd – slave or servant] in the primordial scheme of things.  This is in some ways a simple reflection of God’s ultimate authority as Creator of all things.  The notion of natural rights does not exist in Islam.  Because there is no notion of natural law in Islam, Islamic law is sometimes described as a textual or scriptural law, a law which depends on scripture.  If we have rights, they exist because God has endowed us or blessed us with them.  We are all the property of God; we belong to Him, because He made us.  Perhaps the most basic right of God is to demand obedience from his creation, just as our basic duty is to obey God.  This is a totally theistic or theocentric conception of law.  Positivism is ruled out.  In Islam, the notion that law is what the judge says the law is does not apply.  Law is what God says it is, which comes to be interpreted and explained by the jurists in their books of fiqh.


Legal acts [tasarrufat] is a term also associated with acts, transactions, and dispositions.  Tasarruf is something you do, an act.  Legal acts are things you do of a legal nature, acts with a legal significance or legal consequence.  Legal acts can engender rights or duties.  There is a distinction between verbal acts and non-verbal acts, between what one says and what one does.  Verbal acts of a legal nature might include, “I now pronounce you man and wife,” or “I sentence you to death.” Verbal acts, the oral word, has a greater legal nature in Islamic law than in western law.  In Islamic law, the oral word might in fact have greater significance than the written word.  Even with a written contract, it is still important that the text be accompanied by a verbal oath.  Rights and obligations may be engendered through the spoken word.  One difference between verbal and non-verbal acts in Islam is that verbal acts must be intentional, while non-verbal acts may lack intention and still be liable to law.  There are further unilateral and bilateral legal acts.  A bilateral legal act is a contract and the intent of both parties is necessary, while in a unilateral legal act, the intent of a single party is enough. 


Contracts in Islamic law have received the greatest deal of attention, and of these, sales contracts have been the most highly elaborated form of contracts in fiqh writings.  Contractualism is especially fundamental in Islamic law.  Contract law has, for example, been more deeply written about than criminal law.  This has to do with the fact that the expansion of Islam created a relatively secure and extensive domain in which trade flourished more than it ever had, requiring a great deal of attention being paid to the needs of the market place and contractual relationships.  This has created a tendency among Islamic jurists to perceive non-commercial relations in contractual terms as well, including family relations.  The important characteristics of a contractual legal act include:

1.      the intent or consent of the parties to enter into a contract,

2.      the legal competency of the parties involved,

3.      that the contract have an object or goods. 

This object or goods must be:

1.      deliverable,

2.      definable or explicit (not vague),

3.      in existence (a contract cannot be based on goods to be produced at a later date), and

4.      the goods must be permissible.


Intention and Declaration Intention [niyya] is extremely important in contractual relations and verbal legal acts.  Intention cannot be forced.  It must include willingness.  One way to determine intention is through oral declaration in such expressions as “I accept your terms.” There are impediments to the validity of a declaration, including ignorance (“I didn’t really understand your terms”), fraudulence (“You withheld certain terms from me”), or declaring under duress; that is, being forced to declare against ones will.

            Schacht notes that Islamic law has borrowed the concept of niyya or intention from Muslim religious belief and ritual.  According to God, a prayer has no real validity if performed without sincere and pure intention.  Likewise, the shahada is invalid without intention.  Intention comes into legal effect in the case of declarations.  For explicit declarations [sarih] to have legal effect, no will or intent need be proven.  However, for implied declarations [kinaya] to have legal effect, there must by intent to accompany them.  A very imperfect declaration can be legally valid, so long as it is based on niyya.  However, a very faulty declaration is invalid despite the existence of niyya. 

            Speech is an extremely important aspect of Islamic law.  Silence in contractual agreements is almost never acceptable as a declaration of consent [rida]; the parties must verbally declare their acceptance.  An odd exception is in the case of a marriage proposal; laughter or quiet crying may be interpreted as acceptance on the part of the bride.  Otherwise, a spoken acknowledgment must occur.  Written acceptance of the contract is usually unacceptable in place of spoken acknowledgment, except in the case of a mute person.


Duress [ikrah] may also have a legal effect on human acts and agreements.  In civil law the presence of duress may serve to make the agreement voidable, particular if 1) there is threat of death or real danger to a party, and 2) that party believes the threat to be real.  Exceptions include manumission of slaves and conversion to Islam; apparently it is legally sanctioned to pressure an individual to accept Islam, despite the fact that God in the Qur’an opposes this.  In criminal law duress may serve to remove a sanction or make a normally illegal act allowable.  For example, under duress, a Muslim may pretend to apostatize [takiyya] in order to save himself, apostasy usually being considered a terrible crime (punishable with death in the Qur’an).


Terms and Conditions There are a number of agreements or acts for which terms are set, including the waiting period of a woman after divorce or the death of her husband [‘idda].  Generally, such terms [ajal] should be certain [ma‘lum].  The concept of condition [shart, pl. shurut] again relates religion to law.  In religious worship, necessary conditions to a valid prayer are ritual purity, covering ones nakedness, facing the Ka’ba, and intent.  Likewise, in law certain conditions make transactions legally valid.  Not all transactions require both terms and conditions.  Hire or lease, for example, often requires a term, but no condition.  The marriage of a slave may require the condition of a master’s consent, but no term.  Invalid terms or conditions, or their absence when required, can invalidate a transaction. 


Agency Declaration by proxy, that is, by a messenger [rasul] or agent [wakil], is legally recognized in Islam.  The agent, the one who receives the mandate to act in such a legal fashion, has the rights and duties associated with the mandate.  If a wife is given the mandate to be able to repudiate herself, by law, she cannot be deprived of that mandate.  An unlimited mandate is made possible through the phrase, “act at your discretion.” Otherwise, limitations may be applied to a mandate.  An agent may be employed by a Muslim to avoid religious entanglements.  For instance, a Muslim may mandate a non-Muslim to carry out a transaction to purchase wine on his behalf.  A legal guardian [wali] is at the same time a legal agent endowed with the power to act on behalf of another.


Property [mal] is something that may be owned (which is the exclusive right to possess, enjoy, and dispose of a thing) or possessed (which is the actual control or power over a thing).  One may possess yet not own something, as with something one has rented or stolen.  Everything that can be bought or sold is certainly property, although not all property is bought and sold.  For something to be property, it generally has a marketable value.  In Islamic law there are a number of categories defined in pairs to distinguish different kinds of property: measurable and nonmeasurable, fungible (replaceable, e.g., food stuffs) and nonfungible (irreplaceable), tangible (the substance as opposed to the use; e.g., the physical apartment belongs to the owner) and nontangible (usufruct, the use as opposed to the substance; e.g., the use of the apartment belongs to the renter), moveable and nonmoveable (e.g., real estate). 


Ownership is the right to possess and dispose of something, of a property.  Ownership is acquired often by transfer of a property from one owner to another, e.g., through purchase or inheritance, or by claiming something which has no owner or which has an unknown owner.

Islamic Law: Terminology Part 1

Shar‘a  or Shari‘at means literally the way or path, that which facilitates or guides ones passage through life to our final destination (related terms: sirat, tariq, Sunna).  Those who don’t follow the path are those who stray from God’s will.  In old pre-Islamic Arabic, shari‘a  referred to a real, physical path leading to a watering hole, a very necessary path indeed.  While it is generally used today in reference to a form of law, it goes far beyond what we generally think of as law.  Rather, it is a moral guide, a guide for ethical conduct which embraces all human activities.   Fyzee describes it as a “doctrine of duties” or code of obligations, since within it our obligations to God take precedence over our rights.  Weiss writes:

The fundamental preoccupation of Muslim thinking about the Shari‘a is with duties that human beings have toward God with sanctions that belong to the world to come, not to this world.  The Shari‘a rules exist for the primary purpose of fostering obedience to God, not obedience to temporal authorities, however much the latter may be enjoined.  (Weiss, 20)

Shari‘a  as Islamic law consists of ahkam, meaning principles, rules, judgments, or even decisions.  Shari‘a  is a sacred law, a religious law, divinely endowed or inspired.  At the same time, however, Islamic law is a rare instance of jurists’ law.


Jurists’ law is a law formulated by jurists.  In the case of the Shari‘a , Islamic law is a jurists’ law because, while it stems from divine sources, it is constructed by men who interpret the divine and divinely-inspired sources.  Jurists’ law can produce multiple interpretations, leading to diversity of opinion, each of which is considered valid, which has led to the establishment of different schools of law [madhhab].  Nonetheless, one of their primary duties is to ensure that legal codes or decisions do not contradict the Law of God.  Law is not based on judicial decisions, on decisions derived from court cases, but on what the jurists decide, which are recorded as books of fiqh.  Shari‘a has always existed coterminous with God; Islamic law came into existence through the deliberate efforts of jurists to reform existing human law into a code which they felt best reflected the eternal divine Law of God. 

Muhammadan law came into existence through the working of Muhammadan jurisprudence on the raw material which consisted of the popular and the administrative practice of the late Umaiyad times and was endorsed, modified or rejected by the earliest lawyers.  These lawyers and their successors were guided by a double aim: by the effort to systematize…and by the effort to ‘Islamize’, to impregnate the sphere of law with religious and ethical ideas, to subject it to Islamic norms, and to incorporate it in the body of duties incumbent on every Muslim.  (Fyzee, 30)


Ahkam As Weiss has suggested, the attempt to define the term Shari‘a leads to the definition of a further term – ahkam.  In essence, Shari‘a are God’s injunctions concerning correct belief and practice, His guidance concerning the Way to Him through right belief and behavior.  To define this Way requires that we identify, among all the possible acts of man, which are required, which are forbidden, and which may fall into some middle categories.  These categories are the ahkam, which may thus also be referred to as divine categorizations of human actions.  One of these sets of categories concerns that which is valid [sahih] and that which is invalid [batil].  Another set places human acts into five categories known as al-ahkam al-khamsa.  These categories and their contents, which are a blending of law and morality, are often defined in terms of punishments or sanctions:

·         obligatory [fard or wajib] – an act the omission of which is punishable

·         recommended [mandub or mustahabb] – something you should do but cannot be punished for if you don’t do it; the only punishment here may be the loss of piety if one does not comply

·         indifferent [ja’iz or mubah] – that is, something the law is indifferent about, and which may therefore be interpreted as permissible because neutral

·         disapproved [makruh] – something you shouldn’t do but cannot be punished for if you do it

·         forbidden [haram or muharram or mahzur] – an act the commission of which is punishable


Punishments fall into two categories: those handed out by the state in this world and those given by God in the world to come.  Yawm ad-Din is the court of God, which refers to the Day of Judgment when all our deeds in this world will be laid bare before us, and God will judge us.  Naturally the judgment of God supersedes all possible judgments and punishments of this world.  This final judgment strongly preoccupies the thinking of Islamic jurists.  In books of Islamic law, many acts are considered punishable because they are forbidden or punishable in the life to come, not in this life, which makes it difficult to define such injunctions as law, since our understanding of law usually implies a sanction applied in this life.  Praying five times a day is obligatory.  However, its omission is not punishable in this life, but in the life to come.


Sunna are the sayings and deeds of the Prophet, which, recorded as hadith, provide a second imperative source for Islamic law alongside the Qur’an.


Fiqh is the law as considered as a body of diverse opinions, including the possible choices to be made.  Fiqh literally means “understanding”.  Fiqh is the jurists’ understanding of what the law is.  It is the science of jurisprudence through the exercise of intelligence in deciding a point of law.  To formulate law, Muslims do not turn to archives of court cases, but to books written by jurists, which are books of fiqh.  Jurists are able to defend the integrity of the Qur’an in that they are memorizers of the Qur’an [hafiz], as well as experts in hadith [ahl al-hadith].  Their study allows them to come as close to the Shari‘a  or Law of God as possible.  Shari‘a  is the ideal divine form; fiqh is the normative or written form of Islamic law.  Shari‘a is the larger category including all human deeds and beliefs; fiqh is the smaller circle encompassing only those actions of a legal nature.  The jurists or fuqaha are the doctors or scientists of fiqh.  There are four primary sources of fiqh:

·         the Qur’an

·         the Sunna of the Prophet

·         consensus among the learned [ijma‘]

·         analogical deduction [qiyas]


‘Ulama’ are the learned scholars of Islam, among whom are the fuqaha or jurists who study and interpret the law of Islam.  Judges often consult with jurists in order to make the right decision in a case.  Not all fuqaha are ‘ulama’, but in African Muslim nations in particular the fuqaha have come to assume the role of the ‘ulama’.  The use of the term fuqaha emphasizes their focus on Islamic law, while an ‘alim studies beyond the law.


Madhhab are the Schools of Law.  While a number of schools have been established, only four have persisted in Sunni traditions of law.  Hanbali Muslims are the least populous today, living in Saudi Arabia; Hanafi Muslims are the most populous, living in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Turkey; and Maliki and Shafi‘i falling somewhere in between the two, particularly in areas of Africa and Asia.  The differences between these schools tend to be fairly minute, not very substantial or fundamental.

·         Hanafi The Hanafi school of law, based in Kufa, was named after Imam Abu Hanifa (AD 699-766).  It has become the most widespread, largely thanks to the dominance and spread of the Selçuk and Ottoman empires, which were Hanafi.  Perhaps as much as half of the Sunni population of the world is Hanafi.  It has been characterized as the most liberal of the four schools, and has been noted to include a great deal of qiyas, not, as some have suggested, that Hanifa instigated the use of analogy; he did not.  However, the science of hadith had not fully developed by the time he was writing, which meant a greater necessity for analogical deduction to come to conclusions on matters of law.

·         Maliki The Maliki school of law, based in Madinah, was named after Malik ibn Anas (AD 713-795).  Ijma‘ or consensus played a more important role for this school than did analogy. 

·         Shafi‘i The Shafi‘i school was named after Imam Shafi‘i (AD 767-820), a pupil of Imam Malik and Imam Muhammad, a pupil of Abu Hanifa.  Shafi‘i is considered to have been one of the greatest jurists of Islam and the creator of the Classical Theory of Islamic Jurisprudence.  He is further regarded as the founder of the science of usul and the perfector of ijma‘. 

·         Hanbali The Hanbali school was named after the saintly Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (AD 780-855).  Ibn Hanbal was a pupil of Shafi‘i, but argued for a literal rendering of the hadith, which has earned him a common description as a traditionist rather than a jurist. 


State The role of the state is to ensure that the law is enforced.  This responsibility alone makes the existence of an Islamic state nearly a necessity in order for Muslims to live according to the Law of God.  Apart from this the state has further duties to ensure the defense and order of the Muslim community.  But in terms of law, it is there to enforce the law and to appoint qadis to hear cases, but it is not responsible for creating law. 




Fyzee, Asaf A.A. Outlines of Muhammadan Law.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Abu Zahra, Muhammad. “Family Law.” Law in the Middle East. Ed. Majid Khadduri and Herbert J.  Liebesny. Richmond: The William Byrd Press, Inc., 1955.

Schacht, Joseph. An Introduction to Islamic Law.  Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1964.

Weiss, Bernard. The Spirit of Islamic Law.  Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1998.

Parents and Children in Islamic Law

Parent-Child Relationship The parent-child relationship also falls under the concern of Islamic law.  This is clearly not a contractual relationship, as with marriage, but emerges through a natural event – the birth of a child.  The law puts the emphasis here clearly on the duties of the parents and the rights of the child, as opposed to the rights of the parents.  And between mother and father, emphasis is placed on paternity, which is always presumptive in a legal marriage, unless otherwise indicated.  The duties of parentage are bound to the legal notion of marriage.  You can be a legal parent only to legitimate offspring; offspring cannot be legal from an illegal or void marriage. 


Paternity A parent in Islam is either legitimate or illegitimate.  There is no process of legitimization, of legitimizing an illegitimate individual as a parent.  If a couple divorce, for instance, the child until a certain age generally remains under the care of the mother, since it is recognized that her duty is to care for the child; the father continues to provide maintenance for the child, as this is recognized as his duty.  However, if she remarries, her new husband can in no way be considered the legitimate father of the child, and no process can grant him this legitimacy.  In fact, at this point the child can be taken from the mother and given to its legitimate father.  However, in the case of a child whose father is not initially known, a man can claim paternity to the child, and be recognized as the legitimate father if no conditions are discovered to disprove his claim.  Paternity can therefore be determined by two methods:

1)       Presumptive Paternity A man may be deemed the father simply by virtue of being legally married to the mother, so long as the birth occurs at least 6 months after marriage.

2)       Acknowledged Paternity A man may be deemed father by his formal acknowledgment that he is the father [ikrar].  This becomes necessary when paternity cannot be determined by the first method.  If a child is born within the first 6 months of marriage, the formal acknowledgment of paternity overturns a suspicion of illegitimacy.  If the father remains silent, the accusation of illegitimacy stands.  Unknown paternity means unknown outside of acknowledgment.  If paternity is disproved, a man’s acknowledgment has no effect.  The proven illegitimacy of a child cannot be wiped away with a man’s acknowledgment of paternity; an illegitimate child will always remain illegitimate.  The acknowledgment becomes decisive only if paternity is unproved, not disproved.  Acknowledgment establishes a presumption of paternity in cases where paternity has not been disproved.  Three conditions must exist for acknowledgment to be valid:

·         The paternity of the child is not known or established beyond a doubt.

·         The child has not been proven to be the issue of illicit intercourse [zina].

·         The circumstances are such that they do not rebut the presumption of paternity (e.g.  there is no proof that the would-be father was out of the country during the child’s conception).


Guardianship [wilaya] Once parentage has been established, a legal parent-child relationship comes into effect, which incurs then the rights and responsibilities alluded to above.  These rights and responsibilities pertain up until the end of the child’s minority.  A child ceases to be a minor generally around the age of 15, although classical jurists put this at a much earlier age.  Once a child has reached this age, no one has the legal right any longer to function as his or her guardian or to claim custody of the child.  After the father, the next legal guardians in line will be based on the father’s immediate male relations.  However, for anyone to be a legal guardian [wali], they must:

1.       have attained puberty,

2.       be of sound mind, and

3.       be a Muslim.


Types of Guardianship There are different types of guardianship related to:

1)       the person of the child, which has to do with custody [hadana, which means nursing] over the child.  This involves exercising guardianship over the child itself.  The mother holds the responsibility for this type of guardianship.  Indeed, she has the right to it in that no one can deprive her of it unless she is somehow disqualified or remarries after the divorce of the parents.  This is her inalienable right.  She has the custody of a son until age 7, and a daughter until puberty, which makes her legally marriageable.  The father nonetheless exercises authority over the mother, and so the final word in matters of custody returns to the father when he so demands.  A woman may be disqualified to exercise custody in certain cases: 1) if she is a non-Muslim, she cannot claim a right to custody; 2) if she marries a man who is not related to the child but who is potentially marriageable to the child; 3) if she has been negligent of the child or unfaithful in her marriage.  If the mother dies or is disqualified, there is a legal order of who can claim custody for the child.  Female relatives of the child come first, such as the mother’s sister.  If there are no female relatives, the male relatives come next, with the father being first in line to claim custody. 

2)       the property of the child, which form of guardianship is dominated by the father.  This covers the same period for male and female children – until puberty.  While the mother is not the legal guardian of property, she may become de facto guardian of the child’s property simply because she looks after that property, but this is only so with the man’s permission.  The primary right to the child’s property remains with the man, although he is limited legally as to what he may do with it.  He is basically recognized as charged with protecting that property, not using it for his own benefit.  So, for example, he may not choose to sell the immovable property of his minor child, unless he is able to obtain twice the value for it, and this doubled income remains the property of the child as well; or if it is necessary to sell it in order to provide for the care of the child; or where the property is falling into decay or costs more to keep up than is feasible for the guardian.  The legal guardian may legally choose to sell the minor’s moveable property, but only in order to provide for the necessities of the child; again, not for the benefit of the guardian.

3)       the marital status of the child, which translates into the guardianship of compulsion or the so-called child-marriage.  This is guardianship by the father or some other male relative.  The father has the right to arrange a contractual marriage for his child.  Such a marriage cannot be consummated until after puberty, no matter how young the child was when contracted.  And due to the option of puberty, a female child, upon reaching puberty, may ask that the marriage contracted by her father be revoked.

Kicking God Around

Just reading a report on BBC this morning (  The US military has distributed footballs (what Americans would call soccer balls) to Afghan children, something to play with, they say.  A good thing.  These footballs are covered with flags.  Quite international, yes?  Nice global touch, there.  And remarkably silly.  How so, you ask? 
For those who know American history, recall how often Americans have objected to the burning of the American flag, which various politicians have sought to outlaw.  Even Hillary Clinton came out in favor of protecting the flag.  In 2005 she joined – dare I say it – Robert Bennett of our own Utah to propose a flag protection act that called for one year in jail and $100,000 in fine for anyone who would dare to desecrate the American flag.  Gotta wonder what Bill thought of that.  After all, Bill Clinton was quite centrist in many ways, while flag protection and imprisonment for an act of symbolic speech sounds, well, pretty far to the right, doesn’t it?
I still find it utterly bizarre that every year, particularly around 4 July, Americans blow all kinds of money on disposable flags.  US flags on the bumpers of SUVs, which become splattered with mud.  US flags on paper plates, which are covered with greasy meat and beans and unthinkingly tossed into a trash can.  US flags on – oh, yes indeed! – underwear, which is then soiled with … well, you get the picture.  But those same patriotic Americans who don’t think twice about soiling the flag (or a fanciful rendering of it) with sweat, grease, feces, and God knows what else … vehemently defend the flag from being used as a constitutionally protected act of protest by those leftist, pinko bastards that the right has striven so hard to defend this great country from.  Double standard, I think.  So long as you have the correct political beliefs, then you can do whatever you want with the flag.  Otherwise, we will lock you away where no one will ever find you.  (I know – hyperbole.  Happens when I’m upset.)
But the protest sparked by this apparent act of kindness by the US military in Afghanistan had nothing to do with sensitivities over flags as symbols of nations that must be protected at all costs.  No, no, no.  You see, included among the flags that Afghan children were supposed to kick around on a soccer field is the flag from Saudiyya.  Hmm, you say – what’s so special about the flag of Saudi Arabia?  Take a look at it.  It includes the shahada.  My last few journal entries sought to explain the five pillars of Islam, including the importance of the shahada – the declaration, the testifying that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is His Messenger.  Absolutely the cornerstone of Islam.  The US military might as well have drawn a picture on the footballs of a venerable old man with a white beard along with the caption: “This is a picture of God – come and get ‘im, boys!”
I’m sure there will be those in this country who respond to this protest (if they are even aware of it) with the same disdain they expressed over the vehement reaction of some Muslims to the Danish cartoons of Muhammad.  “Oh, God, here they go again – those crazy Muslims!”  But you see, for Muslims the word of God is sacred.  The Qur’an is believed to be the word of God.  Everything in it is sacred.  You don’t just take down a Qur’an and start reading it.  You cleanse yourself – physically and spiritually – before you lay a hand on it.  The Qur’an is kept wrapped and secure when not in use to protect it from any harm.  In other words, Muslims treat the Qur’an in a way that actually reflects their belief that they are interacting with God through His words.
In contrast, every year that I attended the University of Utah, there would come a day when I would walk into class and find little Bibles spread out over the tables.  I assume they were left there by someone who felt this was the best way to reach the people.  Same type of approach that the US army has used in wartime – blanket the area with leaflets dropped from planes.  If some of them land in garbage or mud or feces, so be it.  So long as we reach just a few.  And I know that the same fate befell those Bibles.  I would watch as some were pocketed by students entering the classroom while other Bibles were simply dropped into a trash can.  Is that how you treat the word of God?
So before you assume that Muslims are overreacting yet again, I ask you to consider what status the word of God should have in our lives.  How it should be treated.  Do you honestly feel that the US flag should be protected, but that the word of God should be kicked around a soccer field?  In the end, a spokesman for the US military has apologized.  Not for the first time.  Rather than having to apologize again and again for such an “oversight,” why can’t our leaders take the time to hire men and women who are specially trained in these matters.  People who know about the Middle East and Islam.  There are a lot of us out here.  And who knows?  By respecting others, our nation just might manage to retrieve some of the respect it was once shown by others.  The very respect we lost when we allowed our leaders to shame us before the world.

The Fifth Pillar: Hajj (Pilgrimage of Makkah)

Another duty incumbent on all Muslims who are able to undertake it is the hajj or pilgrimage.  Although often referred to by Muslims and non-Muslims alike as the pilgrimage to Makkah, it is more accurately described as a pilgrimage that begins in Makkah at the Ka’ba or House of God, which the Qur’an speaks of in terms of deep reverence.  When Makkah was taken by the Muslims, the Ka’ba was cleansed of idols and resanctified in the name of the one God.  This structure has forever since been maintained to serve as the focal point of all prayer, the center of the pilgrimage, and the House of God.  All Muslims who have journeyed there to worship God with sincere intent (and within the constraints of a reasonable capacity) are welcomed to its precincts, as it was in the days of Abraham.

The first House of worship appointed for men was that at Makkah.  Full of blessing and of guidance for all kinds of beings.  In it are Signs Manifest, for example, the Station of Abraham.  Whoever enters it attains security.  Pilgrimage thereto is a duty men owe to God, those who can afford the journey.  But if any deny faith, God stands not in need of any of His creatures.  (003:096-097)

Behold, We gave the site of the Sacred House to Abraham, saying, “Associate not anything in worship with Me; and sanctify My House for those who compass it round, or stand up, or bow, or prostrate themselves therein in prayer.  “And proclaim the Pilgrimage among men.  They will come to you on foot and mounted on every kind of camel, lean on account of journeys through deep and distant mountain highways, “that they may witness the benefits (provided) for them.  (022:026-028)

The conduct of the pilgrim is of great importance considering that the entire journey, every step taken, every act performed, is carried out with the express purpose and inner intent of pleasing and worshipping God.  Therefore, along with the previous verses prohibiting certain activities, the Qur’an further adjures all pilgrims to behave in a fitting manner, which includes avoiding quarrels, sinful acts, and the use of obscenities.

For Hajj are the months well known.  If any one undertakes that duty therein, let there be no obscenity, nor wickedness, nor wrangling in the Hajj.  And whatever good you do, be sure God knows it.  And take a provision with you for the journey, but the best of provisions is right conduct.  So fear Me, O you who are wise.  (002:197)

For those who are unable to complete the pilgrimage, God provides alternate means for them to worship Him in relation to the pilgrimage, such as by offering a sacrifice to be enjoyed by those on the pilgrimage.

And complete the Hajj or ‘umra in the service of God.  But if you are prevented from completing it, send an offering for sacrifice, such as you may find, and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches the place of sacrifice.  And if any of you is ill, or has an ailment in his scalp, necessitating shaving, he should in compensation either fast or feed the poor or offer sacrifice.  And when you are in peaceful conditions again, if any one wishes to continue the ‘umra on to the hajj, he must make an offering, such as he can afford, but if he cannot afford it, he should fast three days during the hajj and seven days on his return, making ten days in all.  This is for those whose household is not in the precincts of the Sacred Mosque.  And fear God, and know that God is strict in punishment.  (002:196)

The Qur’an offers several descriptions which together constitute a framework outlining the appropriate stages of the pilgrimage to be followed by the worshippers, stages which are referred to as the “holy rites”.  Following their arrival in Makkah, the pilgrims enter the precincts of the House of God, the Ka’ba.  There they circumambulate around the House, praising God constantly.  Afterwards, they leave the House and journey outside of the city proper to Mount Arafat, where again they praise God in the proper manner (which is not specified in the Qur’an itself).  Leaving Arafat, the pilgrims follow the footsteps of the Prophet in offering a prayer at the “Sacred Monument,” presumably the Muzdalifa.  After this, the pilgrims should quickly move on, rather than continuing to cluster about Mount Arafat, as there are many pilgrims who need to complete these rituals. 

Then when you pour down from Mount Arafat, celebrate the praises of God at the Sacred Monument, and celebrate His praises as He has directed you, even though, before this, you went astray.  Then pass on at a quick pace from the place whence it is usual for the multitude so to do, and ask for God’s forgiveness.  For God is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.  So when you have accomplished your holy rites, celebrate the praises of God, as you used to celebrate the praises of your fathers, yea, with far more heart and soul.  There are men who say, “Our Lord! Give us Your bounties in this world!” but they will have no portion in the Hereafter.  (002:198-200)

During this time, while the pilgrim is in a state of ritual purity, he must take special care concerning the foods he eats, as suggested by the following revelation.  All food must be halal or permitted by being properly sacrificed with name of the God spoken over the animal during sacrifice.  Sacrificial animals, the Qur’an states, have been required of each of the peoples to whom God sent a Message.  Muslims should take quite seriously the rites of sacrifice and perform them with true piety.  Indeed, the Qur’an instructs, it is not the meat nor the blood of the animal which reaches God, but the piety of the act.  With the sacrifice complete, God commands the pilgrim not only to eat of such sanctified food, but also to share that food with those in need.  The suggestion from this injunction seems to be that, while the pilgrimage is performed for God, it should also be performed with consideration for the Muslim community, so that all may participate in this ritual of worship.

And through the Days appointed, celebrate the name of God over the cattle which He has provided for them for sacrifice.  Then eat you thereof and feed the distressed ones in want. … Lawful to you for food in Pilgrimage are cattle, except those mentioned to you as exception.  …  And whoever holds in honor the symbols of God, in the sacrifice of animals, such honor should come truly from piety of heart.  In them you have benefits for a term appointed.  In the end their place of sacrifice is near the Ancient House.

To every people did We appoint rites of sacrifice, that they might celebrate the name of God over the sustenance He gave them from animals fit for food.  But your God is One God.  Submit then your wills to Him in Islam, and give you the good news to those who humble themselves, to those whose hearts are filled with fear when God is mentioned, who show patient perseverance over their afflictions, keep up regular prayer, and spend in charity out of what We have bestowed upon them. 

The sacrificial camels we have made for you as among the symbols from God.  In them is much good for you.  Then pronounce the name of God over them as they line up for sacrifice.  When they are down on their sides after slaughter, eat you thereof, and feed such as beg not but live in contentment, and such as beg with due humility.  Thus have We made animals subject to you, that you may be grateful.  It is not their meat nor their blood that reaches God; it is your piety that reaches Him.  He has thus made them subject to you, that you may glorify God for His Guidance to you and proclaim the good news to all who do right.  (022:028-037)

The pilgrimage is organized in such a way that these primary duties can be met within a span of two days.  Traditionally, many pilgrims remain in the vicinity of Makkah for a longer period or travel to nearby Madinah to visit the tomb of the Prophet.  However, the Qur’an seeks to assure those who are unable to do so that it is no sin on them for leaving the moment the pilgrimage is complete.  Again, one gets the impression that God is well aware that most who desire to go on the pilgrimage have families and work responsibilities which require their attention elsewhere, and so He tries not to make the pilgrimage itself too demanding; another aspect, if you will, of His great mercy and forbearance.  Similarly, those who decide to stay longer are reminded that they should not do so if they too have responsibilities requiring their attention; in other words, they may stay so long as their “aim is to do right.”

Celebrate the praises of God during the Appointed Days.  But if any one hastens to leave in two days, there is no blame on him, and if any one stays on, there is no blame on him, if his aim is to do right.  Then fear God, and know that you will surely be gathered unto Him.  (002:203)



Qur’an.  Trans. Yusuf ‘Ali.

as-Sayyid Sabiq, Fiqh us-Sunnah: az-Zakah and as-Siyam.  Indianapolis: American Trust Publications, 1991.

The Fourth Pillar: Zakah (Regular Charity)

Charity is another aspect of proper Muslim conduct, one which both assists the community of Believers and which is pleasing to God.  The Qur’an speaks of two kinds of charity – alms or sadaqa and regular charity or zakah.  The administration of an organized zakah is left up to the community; God does not direct us how to deal with this issue, only that we must do it.  Zakah is another obligation, in other words, like prayer and fasting.  Presumably this would take the form of a state-organized tax, which would be collected and distributed to the needy.  Sadaqa, in contrast, is to be performed by the individual as he or she sees fit, although the Qur’an stresses how important it is that each Muslim do so to the extent that they are able.

And be steadfast in prayer, give zakah, and bow down your heads with those who bow down in worship.  (002:043)

And be steadfast in prayer and give zakah, and whatever good you send forth for your souls before you, you shall find it with Allah, for Allah sees well all that you do.  (002:110)

Charity, whether individually implemented or state organized, is an act of generosity and humanity which will not go unrewarded in the life to come.  In the Qur’an, God speaks often in general terms of charity as a religious duty, one which benefits the community, but which is also pleasing to Him.  He urges Muslims to spend what they have in His Way and for those who are in need.  This is far more pleasing to Him than those who horde their wealth, who will be rewarded with eternal suffering in the life to come.

Those who spend of their goods in charity by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord.  On them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.  (002:274)

In the sacred text, God offers further guidance concerning those to whom charity should be given.  During the period of revelation, such guidance was necessitated by the fact that there were apparently those who, although there were others in far greater need, nonetheless insisted on claiming a portion of the charity for themselves.  God was aware of their greed, and instructed the faithful concerning those who, in His eyes, were truly deserving of the assistance of the community.

Charity is for those in need, who, in God’s cause are restricted from travel, and cannot move about in the land, seeking for trade or work.  The ignorant man thinks, because of their modesty, that they are free from want.  You shall know them by their unfailing mark: they beg not importunately from all the sundry.  And whatever of good you give, be assured God knows it well.  (002:273)

If only they had been content with what God and His Messenger gave them and had said, “Sufficient unto us is God! God and His Messenger will soon give us of His bounty.  To God do we turn our hopes!” that would have been the right course.  Alms are for the poor and the needy and those employed to administer the (funds); for those whose hearts have been (recently) reconciled (to Truth); for those in bondage and in debt; in the cause of God; and for the wayfarer.  (Thus is it) ordained by God, and God is full of knowledge and wisdom. (009:059-060)

It is, however, important that such charity not be performed with an eye to self-aggrandizement or public approval.  Charity should be given humbly, whether in private or in public, with no thought attached to it other than that this is what God wishes and that this will benefit ones fellow creatures.  If one gives charity ostentatiously in order to win the admiration of others, then it were better he gave no charity at all.

Kind words and the covering of faults are better than charity followed by injury.  God is free of all wants, and He is Most-Forbearing.  O you who believe, cancel not your charity by reminders of your generosity or by injury, like those who spend their substance to be seen of men, but believe neither in God nor in the Last Day.  They are in parable like a hard, barren rock, on which is a little soil.  On it falls heavy rain, which leaves it just a bare stone.  They will be able to do nothing with aught they have earned.  And God guides not those who reject faith.  (002:263-264)

By no means shall you attain righteousness unless you give freely of that which you love, and whatever you give, of a truth God knows it well.  (003:092)