Iraq is known to have a variety of religious minority communities, including more familiar ones such as Yezidis (who gained worldwide attention because of the Islamic State's attempted genocide against them in 2014) and Christians, and less familiar ones such as the Kaka'is. Arguably among Iraq's least known religious minorities are the Alawites, a Shi'a-offshoot who are also known as Nusayris. The designation of Nusayris is often considered derogatory when used by non-Alawites. The Alawites are much more readily associated with Syria where they are far more numerous, even though the sect's origins ultimately go back to Iraq. In this post I present a brief overview of this community.
In Iraq, the Alawites have constituted one of the country's smallest minorities. What may constitute a surprise is that the Iraqi Alawites are not associated with the predominantly Shi'a regions of central and southern Iraq, but rather historically with the town of Anah in western Anbar, which is not too far from the border with Syria, is now known to have a predominantly Sunni Arab population, and unfortunately fell under the control of the Islamic State in 2014. It is also apparent that the Alawite presence in Anah was not a recent import from Syria but rather longstanding. Most notably, the renowned Islamic historian and jurist Ibn al-Sam'ani (d. 1166 CE) wrote in Kitab al-Ansab (a biographical dictionary) about the epithet al-Ani:
"This refers to Anah, which is a locality near Haditha of the Euphrates [also located in western Anbar]. Its people are Nusayris who believe in the divinity of Ali bin Abi Talib (may God be pleased with him). I heard our shaykh 'Umar bin Ibrahim bin Hamza al-Husayni in al-Kufa say: I entered Anah of the Euphrates while heading back from al-Sham [Syria], so they asked me what my name is. I said: 'Umar. So they attacked me and almost killed me because my name is 'Umar, until I said: I am an Alawi, Kufi and Zaydi man in terms of school of thought and lineage [i.e. the suggestion being that he has Shi'i credentials], from among the Ahl al-'Ilm [i.e. Islamic scholars], until I left that place."
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