Another Modern-Day Messiah:
Sulayman Al-Murshid and the political theology of 'Alawi separatism in French Mandatory Syria

By Jason Pack

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #83
Center for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 3–6, 2008
(see list of papers from #83)

    This presentation begins by briefly reviewing the 'Alawis as a heterodox Shi'i movement and their theology and Shared features with Bábí and Bahá'í theology would be noted.

    Then it would treat the French policies towards the 'Alawis after WWI and the establishment of the 'Alawi state centered on Ladhdhaqia. It would be very briefly shown how French policy until 1936 (the rise of Leon Blum's Front Populaire) simultaneously promoted the political rule of secular 'Alawi tribal leaders while subcontracting out jurisprudence in the 'Alawi state to a young guard of 'Alawis who were educated in the Ja'afari madhhab in Sidon. It would be demonstrated that the events of 1936 and Leon Blum's proposed Franco-Syrian treaty, which called for the integration of the 'Alawi region with the rest of Syria, caused a great upheaval in 'Alawi politics.

    On the ground, the combat was between two groups: 'Alawi separatists (who advocated for a separate 'Alawi statelet) and 'Alawi unionists (who wished for a merger with Syria, they formed alliances with Arab nationalists in the interior.)

    Among the group of 'Alawi separatists a messianic figure arose: Sulayman Al-Murshid. As the 'Alawi are Ghulat, he claimed to be the Messiah and God and 'Ali incarnate. Then we focus on analyzing the theology and the politics of his movement. This movement lends itself to comparison with the messianism of the Báb. (Sulayman Al-Murshid's movement grew up in the milieu of `Alawism, a heterodox form of Shi'ism which incorporates many Gnostic and anti-nomian and neoplatonic elements.) Therefore, many comparisons can be drawn between this milieu and that of the circle which surrounded Shaykh Ahsa'i in Karbala and upon which the Báb drew heavily.

    After dealing with the differences and similarities of the Báb's and Sulayman Al-Murshid's messianic theologies, the presentation concludes by discussing the political implications of Murshid's theology and why it gained traction among both landless `Alawi peasants and the shaikhly class.

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