Alevi solution with ‘Sunni fatwa’

Alevi solution with ‘Sunni fatwa’

Islamic Law Professor Hayrettin Karaman is an influential theologist in the Islamic world. Experts of the area agree that he has a deep grasp in the field of religion. I read his article in the daily Yeni Şafak published on Sept. 13, 2013 to learn what he thought about the cemevi subject. (Cemevi is the worship house of Alevis.) His article was titled, “One religion cannot have two shrines.” 

I was not surprised; I was able to thoroughly comprehend the essential understanding that lies behind the cemevi issue. 

Karaman’s words can be summarized as such: Alevis are Muslims. There is one worship place for Muslims and that is the mosque. Thus, accepting cemevis as worship places will cause two separate worship places and would lead to separation in the religion.

Let’s see the facts: As soon as Alevis decided to live according to their identities, they started forming cemevis in cities. Especially during the 1990s, cemevis were founded in all Anatolian cities, wherever Alevis lived. A significant portion of the Alevis, as Karaman said, conducts their funeral services there now and worship there. The number of cemevis is growing. In other words, millions of Alevis regard and use the cemevi as a worship place. 

The Alevis, also with the energy stemming from preserving their identities in the cities, conduct their traditional “cem” rituals in the cemevis, especially during the past 20 years. This has now been transformed into a social preference and organization. The Alevis are lending an ear to what their own scholars say, not to the words of the theologians of the Sunni segment. 

You cannot change this preference of the Alevis by a state order or by law; and not at all by the fatwa of the Sunni scholars. This is not compatible with human rights and the freedom of belief. It is also impossible anyway.

The governments cannot have a preference, a priority, related to beliefs. There could be individual evaluations and determinations of the prime minister and cabinet ministers. 

The issue of belief is an issue of freedom. The state cannot dictate who to believe what and where to worship. What the state needs to do is meet its citizens’ demands regarding their belief and support them. 

What Hayrettin Karaman and other influential names in the Sunni world who think like him should do is to respect the beliefs of the Alevis and stop giving advice and issuing declarations from the top; and let the Alevis decide what the cemevis are and are not. 

One could mention the reaction and distrust of the Alevis to political Islam. There are also those who claim they demonstrate a prejudice against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). It could also be said this has negative reflections on politics. 

Well, could it be denied that behind their distrust, their reactions and the way they behave, lies the existence of impositions, prejudices and the attitude of “I know the best” from the top, all coming from the Sunni segment? 

Let alone being able to solve the Alevi issue through the traditional Sunni fatwas, it would make it even more entangled. 

The issue is not a theological issue. It is not an issue that religious scholars are able to solve or should solve. 

The issue is merely and can only be solved on the basis of the citizen and the democratic state relation. 

Oral Çalışlar is a columnist for daily Radikal in which this piece was published on Oct. 21. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.