Alongside Secular State Courts: The Case of the Turkish Alevi
Dr. Wibo M. van Rossum
Lecturer in Legal Theory
Current research and media attention on religious courts,
especially Islamic Councils and courts of arbitration, suggest
the need for more accurate description and analysis of the
diversity of non-state courts that actually exist in today's
multicultural societies. One such forum is the cem ceremony of
the Turkish Alevis - which acts as a community based dispute
resolution forum. The Alevis are a heterodox, Islamic sect,
which make up approximately 15 to 20 percent of the population
in Turkey and the same percentage of the Turkish population in
European countries. The resolution of disputes at the cem
ceremony constitutes a situation of legal pluralism. Some
examples from actual cases are used as illustrations to make
clear that trust in Dutch state institutions leads to a
diminished importance of Alevi religious law. On the other hand,
distrust of Alevis in the Turkish institutions leads to the
continuation of the situation of legal pluralism in Turkey.
This is a refereed article published on: 11
Citation: Rossum, W. M. van ' Religious Courts
Alongside Secular State Courts: The Case of the Turkish Alevis',
2008(2) Law, Social Justice & Global Development Journal (LGD).
KeywordsLegal pluralism; Courts; Islamic Law; Shia Sect;
Netherlands; Turkey; Alternative Dispute Resolution; Alevis
This article is a revised version of a paper at the session
'Disputing 'Religious Law' in the 21st Century: Islam' at the
Law and Society Conference in Berlin 2007, ' Law and Society in
the 21st Century'. I thank the reviewer(s) of LGD for their
Today there is increasing awareness that religious law still
plays a role in secular societies and their legal systems.
Religion has become a more prominent identity both within states
and across state borders - be it Islam worldwide, Catholicism
and Protestant Evangelism in South America, or Christianity in
the USA.1It is further accepted that religious convictions of
political actors have an influence on politics, and that state
law grants a certain free realm for the performance of religion
(religious gatherings, processions etc). More ambiguous however
is the role of religion and religious symbols in secular courts
and courtrooms, and the co-existence of religious courts
separate from a secular legal system in a specific state. These
religious courts seem to question the legitimacy of the nation
state.2Religious courts are only tolerated and accepted if they
respect the boundaries set by state law. That is why Sharia
Councils and the Jewish Beth Din in secular states present
themselves as courts of arbitration, and not courts of law.3
Post 9/11 there has been particular interest in Islam or
'sharia' and this has led to Islam being one of the most
researched and reported religions in Europe in recent years.
Recent social science research has investigated the social
position and development of the Muslim community in Western
countries, the rise of Islam and Islamic fundamentalism in Arab
and other countries, and the position of Islamic law in
countries with a dominant Muslim population (Mirza,
Senthilkumaran and Ja'far 2007; Otto 2006; Otto, Dekker and Van
Soest-Zuurdeeg 2006).These publications do not fail to note that
Islam and its law are pluralistic, comprising not only the
Sunni-Shia division, but also the established schools of Islamic
law: Jafari (the dominant school in the Shia branch), Hanafi,
Maliki, Shafi'i, and Hanbali. Apart from these official schools
of law however, each local Islamic sect has its own
interpretation of what is 'the path'. One of these sects is the
Alevis from Turkey.
In this article I focus on legal anthropological aspects of the
Alevis in the Netherlands and Turkey. I started my research into
the Alevi legal culture in 1999.4Since then I have regularly
visited Alevi associations to observe meetings and interview
people. I have interviewed key informants of the Alevi community
in the Netherlands and I attend several cemceremonies a year (a
cemis a religious ceremony, more detailed explanation follows
below). I have also visited Alevi associations in Germany and in
Turkey in both rural and urban areas, and have observed several
cemceremonies there. I videotaped most of the cemsI attended, in
order to be able (with help of insiders) to accurately describe
what happens and to transcribe the dialogues. The cases I
present below are taken from these transcriptions.
The Alevis are an interesting group not only because they are
considered one of the Ghulat sects within Islam (Ghulat meaning
they show an excessive love for the twelve Imams; Moosa 1988),
but also because they have - in a legal anthropological sense -
their own rules of law and legal procedure. In the Netherlands
this situation of legal pluralism up until today did not pose
any practical problems, because the type of cases dealt with in
the Alevi legal system make a potential conflict with Dutch
state law unlikely. The situation is different in Turkey, where
conflicts between Alevis law and state law are more likely to
occur. The tension brought about by the situation of legal
pluralism will endure for quite some time in Turkey, because
Alevi culture partly constitutes itself as a suppressed minority
culture there: one man I interviewed related a typical
presumption that 'State and Sunni religious institutions cannot
be trusted, so it's best to hide particular religious practices
from too many public eyes'.
2. Alevis as Outsiders in Islam Illustrated Through the
Researchers usually say implicitly and in very general terms
that Alevi law historically developed because it was
functionally necessary (Kehl-Bodrogi 1988). Since the values of
the official legal institutions of the Ottoman state were not in
keeping with the social values the Alevis themselves uphold, the
Alevis distrusted the state, turned away from its Islamic Kadi
courts, and formed their own forum for the settlement of
disputes. Alevis were regularly prosecuted before the Ottoman
courts, for example because they did not attend Friday prayer at
the mosque or were suspected of evading Ramadan fasting (Gerber
1994: 35-36; Imber 1979).
With the start of modern Turkey in the 1920s, Alevis put their
hope on laiklik (laicité), the strict separation of state and
religion. They generally supported Atatürk's reforms, and still
revere him (some even consider him to be an Alevi). Prosecution
of Alevis however was not relaxed, and repressive social control
by the majority of orthodox Muslims continued in the decennia to
come (Jongerden 2003). The Turkish state kept control over the
dominant version of Islam through the Directorate for Religious
Affairs (Diyanet), and declared Sunni Islam fundamental to the
whole of Turkey. Political and social changes from 1968 onwards
led to increased tensions. Not only did the Alevis hold their
'illegal religious gatherings' in which a ' superstitious
belief' was practiced (Kehl-Bodrogi 2003: 64), but most of those
who turned away from religion allied with extreme left political
parties and forces (Göner 2005). My interviews with Alevi elders
made clear that in those times men took guard at the outskirts
of the village to secure the religious gatherings. They sat on
rooftops to warn the village in case strangers, police or
military approached the village. Today religious ceremonies are
sometimes performed out in the open at public festivals. 'Cette
liberté est récente', writes Irène Mélikoff in her book on the
roots of Alevism (Mèlikoff 1998: 208).
To get an impression of why Alevism is so problematic in Islamic
Turkey and why the religious services were considered 'illegal',
we will look at the most important religious gathering. That
gathering is called cem (pronounced as dzjèm). The cem is a
religious ritual usually held in the evening. In some rural
parts of Turkey and with some associations in larger cities, a
cem is held every week. A cem is always conducted in Turkish
(also among Kurdish Alevis).
A cemconsists of the performance of twelve 'tasks' for which
twelve different functionaries are responsible (Yaman 1998). The
most important functionary and task is the dedewho is the only
person allowed to lead the cem. In general his task consists of
singing several poems, observing the rituals performed before
him, and performing recitations of a diversity of persons on
several fixed moments during the cem. The dede is also the
leading figure when people during the cemare expected to resolve
their disputes (see paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2 for descriptions).
Examples of other functionaries and tasks are 'the doorkeeper'
who stands at the doorway of the cemhouse and who takes care of
an orderly entrance and exit of participants, and the 'watcher'
who supervises the participants during the ceremony and who
observes the correct performance of rituals. Important and
repeated recitations concern 'the three, the five, the seven,
the twelve imams, the fourteen pure and innocent, the seventeen
with the girdle, and the forty'.5' The three' for example refer
to (and are in some recitations replaced by) 'Allah, Mohammed,
Ali', as if they are actually one or of equal importance. In
fact as far as Mohammed and Ali are concerned this comes close
to the meaning most Alevi writers give to this recitation, and
they refer to an apocryphal hadith that says that Mohammed said
that 'I am the city of knowledge, and Ali is its gate' (Birge
1937: 141-142; Moosa 1988: 51). Some Alevis will equate Ali with
Allah, although they would not say so in public and would
protest if anyone else would publicly claim so.6
Another example that shows the divergence of Alevism in regard
to orthodox Islam is the recitation of the seven. The seven are
the Ehlibeyt (Mohammed, his daughter Fatima, her husband Ali,
and their two sons Hasan and Hüseyin) together with not only
Hatice7(Mohammed'/ s first wife), but also with Selman-i Farisi
(Selman the Persian, or Salman Pak: 'the pure and untainted').
This Selman is an interesting figure. He was brought up with the
teachings of Zoroaster and Mani, and converted at a young age to
Christianity. He was the first Persian to convert to Islam as
soon as he heard about Mohammed and had recognized his prophecy.
Ali is supposed to have said 'Selman has known the first and the
last Ilm (divine knowledge), and read the first and last books'
(Moosa 1988: 346). Legend tells Selman was also a contemporary
of Jesus (Moosa 1988: 347), which is understandable in light of
the Alevi belief in the transmigration of souls.
The forty illustrate a specifically unorthodox view on what is
central to Islam. The story of the forty is sung at most cems,
and is at a certain moment accompanied by the semah(a ritual
dance which is considered a prayer). The story goes as
follows.8Ali used to gather with his friends in a building on a
mountaintop. Mohammed asked him several times what he was doing
there, but he never got a clear answer apart from that they were
meeting with 40 people. One day Ali again went to the meeting.
Mohammed followed him, but on the way encountered a roaring
lion. Allah, speaking from a cloud, said to Mohammed that the
lion meant no harm, but would only let him pass when he put a
token in the mouth of the lion. Mohammed put his golden ring in
its mouth, and was allowed to pass. Arriving at the building
where the meeting was, he knocked on the door. The door was
opened and Mohammed said he was the prophet, so he was to be let
in. But he was not let in, because 'they knew of no prophets'.
Mohammed knocked again and repeated what he said before, but the
person at the door again refused his entrance. When Mohammed
knocked on the door the third time, he said he was just a poor
and humble servant of God. Then he was let in. There were 39 men
and women in the room, and one of them was behind a veil.
Mohammed asked whom he was, and he was led to him. The person
behind the veil wore Mohammed's golden ring on his finger that
he had put in the mouth of the lion. So he knew that a person
very close to Allah was behind the veil. On request the person
then lifted the veil. It was Ali, and then Mohammed knew that
Ali was the lion of Allah. Sometime later Mohammed asked where
the 40th man was, because he counted only 39, and they said
Selman was fetching a grape. When he returned with a grape, he
squeezed it in his hand, and all drank of it and became
intoxicated. The dance they then started was the dance of the
forty, the semah.
Reverence for Ali points to Shia Islam, but as already said
Alevis in this regard are grouped with other sects called the
Ghulat('the Exaggerators'). Their love for Ali and the other
Imams is called exaggerated by orthodox Sunni and Shia
believers, is said to go beyond boundaries, and is sometimes
said to be not Islamic anymore. Alevis are usually compared with
other Ghulatsects like the Ahl-e Haqq, the Baha'is, the Ibadis,
the Ismailis, the Shabak, the Yezidis, the Nusayris and others
(Moosa 1988). The five pillars of Islam are not the central
articles of their faith.
Apart from 'exaggerated Shia' the literature speaks about
syncretism, by which is meant a mixture of local practices
present in Anatolia in the 13thcentury. Hacı Bektash
(13thcentury), Balim Sultan (15thcentury), and Pir Sultan Abdal
(16thcentury) are considered legendary figures that have given
Alevism its present shape by combining diverse elements from
Islam, mysticism, shamanism, and Christianity. For example
'light' has an important role to play at the cemceremony. At a
certain moment one, three or sometimes twelve candles are lit,
which is said to refer to Allah (if one candle), Allah, Muhammad
and Ali (if three), or the twelve imams (if twelve). There could
be a link with Zoroastrianism and 'the particle of light' in
Manichaeism, since some Alevis believe that with the lighted
candle Ali is present at the cem. People attending the cemare
therefore not 'just a community', but one that is sacred, a
Further, the semah, the 'prayer dance'10that is based on the
story of the forty mentioned above and that is always performed
on a cem, carries different interpretations. It could refer to
the movement of the planets in the solar system, but it could
also refer to the movements of the Crane, a holy, migratory
bird. By performing specific hand and body gestures the
'dancers' reside 'at one moment in the visible world and in the
next in the invisible' (Stokes 1992: 214-220, citation at 220).
When it comes to planets etc, it seems that some Kurdish Alevi
tribes revere the sun and the moon, for which they refer to a
saying attributed to Hüseyin just before the battle at Kerbela:
Ali was the gold,
Fatima was the silver,
I am the son of the gold and the silver.
My father was the sun,
my mother was the moon,
I am the son of the sun and the moon (cited in De Jong
In interviews Alevis say the following about their relationship
to orthodox Islam. A summary of several interviews with ordinary
Alevis: 'We Alevis do not consider the Kuran a holy book,
because many passages that refer to Ali were deleted; we do not
go to the mosque to pray, because one can pray anywhere, and
besides: Ali was killed in a mosque; Instead of fasting in the
month of Ramadan, we fast ten days in the month of Muharrem; we
do not go on hajj (the Islamic pilgrimage), because the truth
and belief you need are inside you.
This central idea of finding truth and Allah inside you is
attributed to the 'saints' mentioned earlier. Haci Bektash is
said to have written:
Intelligence is in your head, not in a crown
Whatever you seek, seek it with yourself
Not in Jerusalem, in Mecca or on a pilgrimage (Gülçiçek
1996: 14; transl. author)
And Pir Sultan Abdal supposedly said:
Don't look for God in far away places
God is in you, when you keep your heart pure (Gülçiçek
1996: 15; transl. author)
At the cem, men, women and children attend. A characteristic
social and religious value of Alevis is equal treatment of women
and men. There is full access of women to places where men are,
to education, to public life, and to religious
festivities.11Often in Alevi cemhouses one can find the
expression 'Educate women'. The attendance of both women and men
at the cemled to a suspicion and actual treatment of Alevi as
people who organise 'sexual parties' where they commit adultery
and 'probably even incest' (Shindeldecker 1998: 47-50).
Last but not least, the cem has an important function in the
oral Alevi culture. Alevis 'tell' and 'sing' their religion and
their history of persecution and injustice done to them at every
cem. There is always the story of 'how the beloved imam Ali was
murdered in a mosque', and always the story of the battle near
the city of Kerbela in 680, where Ali's son Hüseyin died of
thirst. For most of the Alevis who attend the cem, the fact that
this happened 1400 years ago does not matter. It is as real as
if it had just happened. The story is so strong that old but
also young people cry. We also hear 'modern' stories of
injustice at the cem: an orthodox pogrom in the city of Maras in
1978 with 105 people dead, 37 dead intellectuals - most of them
Alevi - in a hotel set on fire in the city of Sivas in 1993,12a
'drive-by-shooting' killing two Alevi dede's and subsequent
riots with 17 dead in 1995 in Istanbul.13In these stories told
at the cem, we always hear the voice of the oppressed that fight
for justice (cfm Göner 2005: 127). '
Alevis are recreating a
seamless divide between past and present that embraces religious
symbols but uses them to create a cultural unity that deals with
the issues they face today, both in Turkey and in migration.'
(Geaves 2003: 69) Opponents are orthodox Muslims, but also
Turkish state authorities that silently align with the Sunni
When the above practices and beliefs of Alevis are viewed from
an orthodox Islamic perspective, it comes as no surprise that
Alevis are usually branded as atheists, heretics, and
unbelievers who are outside of Islam (Bilici 1998: 60).
3. Active and Inactive Alevis in the EU and in Turkey
Alevis come from Turkey that today has about 70 million
inhabitants. This does not mean that all Alevis consider
themselves 'Turks'. Quite a large group are of Kurdish
ethnicity. In this sense one would have to say that there are
Turkish Alevis from Turkey and Kurdish Alevis from Turkey, while
the Kurdish Alevis speak either Turkish, Zaza, or Kurmanci, and
while among them there are different tribes like Dersimis,
Hormek, Lolan, and Koçgiri (Van Bruinessen 1997: 2). Turkish
Alevis also distinguish themselves in several lineages, like
Avsjar, Barak, Çepni, Nalcı, Sıraç, and Tahtacı (Andrews 1989:
9). These distinctions among several subgroups of Alevis are
sometimes relevant, but not in this article.
Most Muslims from Turkey belong to the Sunni branch of Islam.
Estimating the number of present day Alevis in Turkey and
elsewhere is difficult. This is due to the fact that no
statistics of for example 'Alevi religious orientation' are
kept, and Alevis in the Turkish context are not considered a
minority (Kehl-Bodrogi 1988: 93-94). McCarthy in his demographic
study says no historical records exist on the diversity among
Muslim believers in Ottoman times. 'Many Muslims in Anatolia
were actually members of heterodox religious communities, but
were counted under the rubric 'Muslim' and are impossible to
segregate statistically from the Sunni majority. These groups
were generally of Shia orientation. Because of Ottoman
reluctance to record differences within Islam, and he reluctance
of members of these groups to be identified, no figures of these
groups were kept.' (McCarthy 1983: 107)
In 'immigrant countries' like the Netherlands and Germany we
face a similar problem. In the Netherlands only the nationality
of persons is registered, that is to say, a person who was born
in a foreign country or of whose father or mother was born in a
foreign country, is registered as allochthon. Statistics from
the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (Centraal Bureau van de
Statistiek) counts about 368.000 allochthon Turks in the year
2007 (of about 3,2 million allochthons on a total population of
16,3 million). Religion or religious orientation is a category,
but 'Islam' is only registered under the heading 'other
religion' (meaning other than Christian). Germany in 2007,
according to statistics of the Statistischen Bundesambt
Deutschland, counted 1,7 million Turks (of about 7,2 million '
foreigners' on a total population of about 82 million). Their
religious orientation (for example 'Islamic') is not
According to the literature, a substantial but unknown number of
people from Turkey are considered to be Alevi. In 1988
Kehl-Bodrogi estimates them between 6 and 14 million in Turkey
(Kehl-Bodrogi 1988: 94), while in the overall study of Ethnic
Groups in the Republic of Turkey in which she devotes an article
to Alevism, her estimation comes to 20 percent, which would mean
13 million (Kehl-Bodrogi 1989: 503). Karin Vorhoff in her
identity study 'Zwischen Glaube, Nation und neuer Gemeinschaft:
Alevitische Identität in der Türkei der Gegenwart' estimates the
number of Alevi at between 20 and 25 percent of the population,
while various other sources estimate 10 to 40 percent and Alevi
themselves estimate their number in Turkey at over 35 percent
(20-22 million) in 1990. Vorhoffs valuation would roughly mean
between 13 and 16 million Alevi in Turkey in the year 2000.
Özalay estimates them at 15-20 million in 2006 (Özalay 2006:
12), Göner at 14-21 million (20-30 percent) in 2005 (Göner 2005:
109). If we translate the above percentages to estimate the
number of Alevi in the Netherlands we would get at least 36.000
(10%) and at most 147.000 (40%). For Germany we would have to
estimate the number of Alevi between 170.000 and 680.000.
Most of these people however, are not ' active Alevi'. By
'active' I mean that they have joined an Alevi Association and
show up at meetings every once in a while. As mentioned earlier
I regularly visit the larger Alevi associations in the largest
cities. According to documents and to several informants (though
nobody seems to know for sure) there are about 20 formal Alevi
Associations in the Netherlands (Gülçiçek 1996 lists 25
From the start of my fieldwork it was clear that only a minority
of the Alevi minority is 'active' in Alevi associations. I
estimate this minority of active Alevi in the Netherlands at
about 3000 to 7000 people.16The organization of activities like
cems, discussions, and lectures, depend very much on the
personal activity of administrators and 'informal leaders' of
the associations. When administrators are inactive, lack the
time, or quarrel about the function and policy of the
association, nothing really happens and members stay at home.
Consequently, some associations have become so small that they
do not even attract local political attention. In order to back
up my argument on active Alevis and to present some 'couleur
locale' in the mean time, below I will describe Alevi
associations in several large cities in the Netherlands.
The first Alevi association, with about 150 paying members,
makes use of a hired locality in one of the suburbs of the city.
The locality is a 'multicultural restaurant' with an adjacent
gym. Sunday is the only day the association can make use of the
locality (for the cem separate evenings are agreed with the
owner). Usually some 30 to 40 persons (men, women, and children)
pay a visit. On those Sundays no special activities have been
organised. Some people stay the afternoon to talk with friends,
drink tea and eat home cooked food that someone has brought.
Others stay for one or two hours or pay a visit to attend a
Dutch language course. Children play soccer outside while
teenagers sometimes play basketball in the gym. A regular day
like this lasts from noon till about five o'clock.
About once a month they organize an activity. I have observed
for example the visit of someone from the bureaucracy who was
invited to give a lecture on the diverse taxes (for garbage
etc.), a commemoration in honour of a recent deceased with a
reading from the Kuran and special dishes, and several lectures
from dedes on Alevi history and faith. On those occasions more
people visit the locality, sometimes up to 60 or 70 people.
Besides these, there are some days on which a religious
festivity takes place. Like other Muslims, Alevis usually
celebrate the 'Feast of sacrifice' (kurban bayramı) to remember
Ibrahim's (Abraham) willingness to sacrifice one of his sons.
The two most important festivities specifically related to Alevi
faith are Ashura, which is the commemoration of the death of
Hüseyin at the battle of Kerbela, and the cem. At the day of
Ashura, usually a baglama-player is invited to sing Alevi songs,
and a special soup is offered for which a financial contribution
is asked. At Ashura, between 100 and 150 people attend. When a
cem takes place, which is once or twice a year, about 200-250
people attend. Over the last few years the association in this
city has been in decline. Some older Alevis had no energy to be
on the board anymore, and younger people claimed to be 'too busy
with school and work'. Moreover, an ideological split about
'what Alevism is' - is it the 'real Islam' or is it in essence
more like Humanism - came to the fore in recent years, which
lead to a split of the association in two factions.
The association in another large city has close contacts with
the associations in two other cities. They publish an Alevi
magazine in Turkish in joint effort every couple of months and
they have jointly set up a website. Together the three
associations have about 600 paying members. The oldest of these
three associations was erected in 1987. It has its own building,
in use during the whole week. The building in fact is a large
three-story house just outside of the centre of town, with a
large room at the back of the house. During the week (mostly)
men pay a visit to chat and play cards. In the evenings
activities like baglama-lessons (a sort of guitar) and a Dutch
language course are organised. On Sundays, the association is
open for families. The large room behind the building is used
for the baglama course, discussions, lectures, and for the cem,
which is held two or three times a year. About 200 people
usually attend the cem. The three associations have organised a
'youth group', which organises lessons in folk dance, semah, and
lectures and discussions on Alevilik (Alevism). One of the
associations partakes in the city's television network and makes
a one-hour television program (canlar tv) every week. The
building has a small studio on the first floor with technical
4. Legal Pluralism: Alevi Religious Law versus State Law
Legal pluralism today is a truism, because there are hardly any
people (indigenous or minority) left who think that their
customary, religious or state law is the only law that is
relevant (Griffiths 1986; Merry 1988; Tamanaha 2007). Even state
officials realize that state law is only one among several
competing normative systems that regulate social behaviour.
Legal pluralism in this study into Alevi law and its courts is
studied from the empirical perspective of interpretive
anthropology and sociology. It focuses on circumstances in which
members of a group are of the opinion that arguments and rules
from more than one form of law claim to be valid for a specific
problem or situation. The definition of law I use here is law
exists whenever people's behaviour, arguments and discussions
suggest that they see rules and principles aslaw. The definition
is grounded in the interpretive anthropology of Clifford Geertz
and is influenced by the linguistic turn in legal theory (Geertz
1983; Tamanaha 2000). For example, in the small Staphorst
village and orthodox protestant community in the Netherlands,
some members argue that the Bible as 'God's law' sometimes
precedes Dutch state law.17Empirical legal pluralism simply
focuses attention on situations wherein people as a group have a
different meaning about the applicability of different forms of
law, and analyses the power- and other kinds of relationships
that in those situations are tantamount for the application of
one rule over the other. As the definition and the Staphorst
example makes clear, law is seen as a social construction, and
legal pluralism is defined as a situation in which there is
debate over the relevance of (what people construct as)
different forms of law. Jurists generally dislike wide and
especially 'normatively empty' concepts of law, because
questions like 'what is the typically legal quality of law, what
about its principles?' cannot be answered directly, because they
are treated as empirical questions. The answer however - and
this is the contribution of empirical studies - should make
transparent which complex of rules, interests, and power comes
into focus when analysing a social field.
Turkey and the Netherlands are both modern countries in which
legal professionals and lay people generally hold a state
centred view on what law is, and room for private law making is
a sort of 'left over'. (State) law is viewed as setting the
boundaries that private rule making/applying is not to cross.
Especially the formulation and application of criminal rules and
sanctions are not to be left to private parties. The autonomy of
law and its foundational role for modern states are generally
taken for granted (Fitzpatrick 1992). Religious (and other)
minorities however, frequently talk and behave in ways that make
clear that religious or customary law is as strong as state law.
The case of the Alevis therefore is a good illustration of how a
minority lives by 'two laws' and how choices between different
forms of law are influenced, both in the Netherlands where they
are immigrants, as in Turkey where they are officially
non-existent as a religious minority.
4.1 Alevi Religious Law in the Netherlands
Alevi law comes to life at the cem. The cem is an evening long
ceremony with songs and prayers, and a communal meal at the end.
In the beginning of the cem, the dede (the religious leader who
is allowed to lead a cem) asks the congregation whether there
are disputes in the community that need to be settled. Usually
the dede recites a formula to this end, like this one I heard in
the winter of 2002 in the Netherlands:
The 'God of everybody' has given your body a mind. He
has given your heart faith. He has given you eyes to see. He has
given you a face so that you can shame yourself. He has given
you hands so that you can pick up things. He has given you feet
so that you can walk. He has given you intelligence so that you
can think. He has given you a language so that you can speak.
If you have made something empty, you need to fill it. If you
have made someone cry, make him laugh again. If you have let
somebody down, give him a hand - help him in getting up again!
This meydan (the ritual space where the cem is held) is the
territory of Hak/Allah-Mohammed-Ali. It is a territory of proud
people. If something in this place is brought forward, it is
ours. The things you will hide, are yours, but then accept
responsibility - the things you hide will affect your inner
Those of you, who will not come to the fore with their troubles
and conflicts, won't find a solution. Raise your head and speak
up, raise your voice! Do not look down like the guilty one.
Those of you, who have a right, are required to speak up, in
order to let these rights be known. Who needs to get what from
whom and who owes something to someone else?
If there are people among you who are angry at each other, who
owe something, who are entitled to something ... This meydan
cannot bear lies! People are required to stand up for their
Serenity comes when you talk openly, make things known, and
acknowledge them. So, there is nobody among us who is angry, who
owes something, who is entitled to something?
Usually one or two people walk forward to settle a debt or a
quarrel, or some other 'petty' conflict. Sometimes a third party
walks up to the dede to tell him about a quarrel he knows of,
and then the dede asks these people to come forward. In front of
the dede and before all the people attending, parties then have
to 'make up' and ' reconcile'. This reconciliation takes the
form of shaking hands and exchanging three kisses on the cheek.
The whole procedure usually does not last longer than a few
minutes. When parties are not prepared to reconcile, they need
to leave the cem. This happens very seldom, because it brings
shame, distrust by the community ('he's not an honourable
person'), and religious disgrace (because one strays from the
Path). This is a typical example of an ordinary case, taken from
a video. I have called it 'The Travel Cost Case':
Dede: Respected people, a complaint came into the
cem-house. Someone has probably issued a complaint. Therefore,
as witnesses we have to wait before we can go on. Please...
Then a man comes forward. He is escorted by the gözcü, the
'watcher', who is carrying a large stick as his attribute. The
gözcü is one of the twelve men assigned with a particular task
on the evening: he is the one to keep order, and in this
particular scene he might be called the court officer because he
shows the people who want to address the court, where to stand
and when to start telling their story. After the 'please...'
from the dede the man starts out with his right hand placed on
Man A: Respected holy sirs, pure and all
knowing, Allah, Mohammed, the beloved path. My mind is not
peaceful. Here I have seen someone, sitting opposite of me. His
name is (Man B). About four months ago I went with him to
Germany. I had to pay for the trip, but I had no money, so I had
to borrow it from him. I became indebted. Until now, I forgot to
pay it back. Suddenly when I saw his eyes, I remembered. My
heart had no rest. If something evil might have come to his
mind, if he maybe thought something, here and now I want to bow
for him, because I owe him.
Dede: Those who are on the path of Allah, this
soul, can he now step forward? Please...
Man B then comes forward, guided in place by the gözcü. He bows
with his hand on his chest, and says:
Man B: I do not think any evil concerning this
problem. Up until now, he could probably have forgotten.
However, I must admit I was not satisfied with this. Because of
this, I have had no rest.
Man A: I really did forget. Because I have seen
him here today, I realised.
Without further interference from the dede, these words seem to
be enough for reconciliation. After the rite of reconciliation,
the dede holds a small speech while the two men look at him:
Dede: Right then. If this has now come into
your minds, it is good. What we all have witnessed is the best
way. Holy sirs, are you both satisfied?
Without waiting for a reaction, the dede then formulates a rule:
'If someone has a right, he should be met. What we owe, we
should fulfil.' The two men then take their place in the room,
and the cem continues with other rituals.
No one checks if the money will really be paid back; everybody
assumes the vow in front of the dede and the community will be
kept. To make a promise and subsequently break it will lower
your status in the community and may lead to social sanctions,
as many Alevis assured me in interviews. Moreover, the vow will
be kept because the Alevis regard it as a sacred vow. Most
Alevis say that breaking a vow will bring forth supernatural
sanctions. When we look at the 'invitation' of the dede, it is
inevitable to consider the court a religious or religiously
inspired court. Allah, the dede says, has endowed people with
all the attributes of 'humanness', and one has to use them. The
meydan as a sacred place or territory cannot give room to people
who are dishonest. The rite of reconciliation is not only done
before the community, but also before God. However, the term
'religious' with the Alevis needs to be used with caution.
First of all, there are no holy books like the Kuran, or even
the 'Buyruk' that is said to be written by the sixth imam Cafer,
used in the cem. There is no documentation of previous cases or
a registry. Secondly, we must know there is no official Alevi
doctrine, and no central authority guarding the consistent
interpretation or right use of words of the songs sung at the
cem. Alevis seem to be a 'self regulating religion' in the sense
that each group, association, village, region etcetera decides
for themselves what is right in religious, social, and legal
matters. Some Alevi groups or communities broadly orient
themselves on Islamic notions of what is right, others may
formulate notions of right and wrong in terms of common
principles of humankind, while most groups mix both. There is
however one maxim, formulated in almost every building and book,
and recited by every Alevi you ask: 'be master of your hands,
tongue and loins' ('eline, diline, beline sahip ol', attributed
to the mystic Haci Bektash). The interpretation of that rule is
simple: don't steal, don't lie and speak evil, and do not have
sex outside marriage'. Central for the moment of dispute
resolution during the cem is an idea or sense among participants
that they are wronged or have done wrong. The rules on which
that sense is based, are left largely implicit, as we have seen
in 'The Travel Cost Case'. When asked to specify why people
might feel wronged, Alevis usually come up with examples that
they subsequently match with the above maxim.
So we may say the Alevi court is a religious dispute resolution
council, but only when we realise there is no connotation of
orthodoxy, or of an unchangeable and ancient book of law, or a
God-given specific set of rules.18Faruk Bilici of the Institut
National de Langues et Civilisations Orientales in Paris says:
'in this theology, contrary to sharia, all human problems are
related to the actual world, and relevant judgments arise from
life itself.' (Bilici 1998: 54)
Another reason to apply the term ' religious law' with some
caution is related to who or what Alevis consider 'Allah'. Allah
in Alevi eyes is not simply seen as a force that is 'outside' of
this world. Alevis usually say that they look for Allah in human
beings, and not in a mosque, in heaven, or in the Kaaba. There
are many, and many different, sayings about Allah: 'Ali is God',
'perfect people are God', 'you and me are God', and ' God exists
in all things in the universe'. In mystical or gnostic terms we
could say that Alevis mean to say that everybody has a ' divine
spark'.19Central to Alevism is the opinion that the regulation
of social life and decisions about right and wrong, is not up to
God, but up to human beings (Dierl 1985: 29).
'The Travel Cost Case' would be treated by the Dutch state as
one among many petty or trivial cases. Most of the cases decided
by the cemin the Netherlands are about quarrels within the board
of the Alevi association, disagreements among family members on
the best wedding candidate, arguments among former friends etc.
These cases are seen - from the Dutch perspective - as belonging
before a mediator, not before a law court, and indeed, the
Alevis in the Netherlands would never take these cases to the
official state court. Even if someone did not agree with the
cemprocedure or wanted to enforce a promise that was not kept,
s/he would most probably not initiate Dutch state legal
proceedings for something state law will most probably not be
able to bring to a final resolution.20
Alevis in the Netherlands however do not see their quarrels and
disagreements as petty cases during thecem, because at that
moment all cases are alike. All wrongs, whether criminal or
civil in nature, must be settled. Alevis in the Netherlands may
use state sponsored mediation procedures for serious
disagreements or initiate state court proceedings for cases in
which large sums of money are at stake. Still however, if a
cemtakes place pending mediation or court proceedings, parties
will have to reconcile if they (subjectively) feel 'anger', they
'owe something', or are ' entitled to something'. A cemmay take
place while state sponsored mediation is ongoing and there is no
conflict here as the parties in the mediation already show a
willingness to settle. Parties probably would not even come
forward following the invitation of the dede, because of their
inclination to find a middle ground for their dispute in the
mediation. But where cemproceedings take place alongside court
proceedings, reconciliation will be problematic (assuming that
the parties could not reach an amicable agreement and therefore
went to court). I understand from interviews both situations
(cemproceedings in parallel to mediation or to state court
proceedings) are very hypothetical in Turkey where the cemtake
precedence in dispute resolution, but not so in the Netherlands.
The lack of 'trust in state institutions' in Turkey accounts for
the difference, even though in both countries there is still
general preference for solutions 'the Alevi way'. This may be
explained as follows.
One the one hand Alevis in the Netherlands and Turkey state that
taking your case to mediation or to a state court is not
favoured among Alevis, because it means making your problem
public. In particular turning to state courts implies that you
cannot deal with it 'the Alevi way', i.e. by seeking an amicable
and peaceful settlement. Looking for a solution with the help of
outsiders of the community brings shame. Gossip and other social
control mechanisms reinforce that shame.21
On the other hand Alevis in both the Netherlands and Turkey say
that in Turkey 'one can never completely trust state
institutions'. In Turkey Alevis hold on to the 'anti state
ideology' mentioned above (discussed further below in paragraph
4.2). A striking example of this ideology can be heard in the
words of a dede from Turkey during a cem (in the Netherlands):
Up until today, the Alevi community has never taken its
cases to court! In Turkey I have reconciled a man who had shot
someone, and we never saw a court!
However in the Netherlands today, this ' covering up' of a crime
and keeping the conflict inside the community, would not only be
practically impossible, but also ideologically outdated. The
above argument of the dede makes no sense in the Netherlands,
because the Alevis I have spoken to all said they would find it
much better if the Dutch legal system dealt with criminal cases.
This is because all my informants told me there is a general
confidence in Dutch state and legal institutions - 'so different
from Turkey!' This confidence has slowly grown over the years,
through contact with municipal and state agencies. When Alevis
came to Holland as guest workers in the 1960s, they were used to
keeping their religion secret. It took a very long time, up to
the end of the 1980s, before Alevis in Europe started to
organize and make themselves known as different Muslims. In the
Netherlands applications to acquire or hire buildings for Alevi
associations for example, are only met with administrative
requirements, not with statements that Alevism has no place in
Islam or in the country.22A remnant of the anti state ideology
in relations with Dutch state institutions can however sometimes
still be found among the older Alevis. Deeply ingrained distrust
apparently takes time to wear off.
We may assume that an increasing level of confidence in the
(legal) institutions of the Dutch state means it will become
more acceptable among Alevis in the Netherlands to resort to the
Dutch legal system. This will diminish the importance of the
procedure for reconciliation at the cem, because it is no longer
the only available institution of dispute resolution. The
possibility that two parties in an official lawsuit will meet in
a cem is small, but when it happens they have to reconcile in
order to show that they do not feel wronged, or otherwise evade
each other. The only disputes to be resolved during cemsin the
future will probably be petty cases.
4.2 Alevi Religious Law in Turkey
As far as I know, petty cases make up for most of the cem's
'case load' in Turkey also, but its dispute resolution mechanism
is still regarded as primary. Distrust of Turkey's state
institutions is still deeply ingrained in Alevi culture, which
means we find a different situation in Turkey as compared to the
Netherlands. In the past, if a cemwere to be discovered, both
official and unofficial sanctions would follow. Sectarian
organisations like those of the Alevis were legally banned in
1925, their lodges were closed, places of pilgrimage were sealed
off for visitors, and religious ceremonies forbidden (Furat
Today the legal situation of the Alevis is still tense. The ban
on religious associations and on public speaking and writing in
positive terms about 'sects' was relaxed in 2004. Still however,
Alevis are merely registered as 'islamic', and there is fierce
opposition to calls to recognise Alevism as a different approach
within Islam.23The only gesture towards recognising Alevism has
taken the form of inclusion of the sect in textbooks under the
heading 'mystical sects in Islam'. Compulsory religious
education in schools is still based on Sunni orthodoxy, despite
the fact that Turkey is in breach of the European
Convention.24The Directorate of Religious Affairs still has no
Alevi representative. Getting permits to build cemhouses is
difficult, because they are not considered places of worship,
but cultural centres. Therefore cemhouses do not receive state
funding (like mosques do) (UNHCR 2005; UNHCR 2008).
The Alevi ideology partly 'living on distrust' in the
institutions of the Turkish state reinforces the tendency to
deal with legal problems by internal mechanisms. This ideology
is persistent in Turkey because the state at least in the past
seemed to live up to the images Alevis have established. Besides
this 'anti state' ideology, there is also social pressure from
within the community to conform to internal norms. A case I
witnessed at a cemin Turkey, in a remote village, shows
especially this force to conform to informal Alevi norms. The
case is about the inheritance of pieces of land after the death
of a father. Years after his death, his children and
grandchildren still quarrel about the division of pieces of
land, because the oldest son has allegedly taken the best
pieces. I call this case the 'Inheritance Case', with Deniz
(grandchild of the deceased), his mother Canan and his uncle
Hakan as main participants (all names are fictional). The focus
however is not so much on the development of the case, but on
the presentation of 'the Alevi way' of solving disputes versus
Turkish state law.There is intense disagreement in the cem.
Deniz blames Hakan of following instructions of his father not
to let daughters inherit land. This may have been a rule in the
old days, but not in today's modern society. Deniz says his
mother Canan and her sisters were turned away when the land was
divided by Hakan.25Hakan denies he has turned them away, and
says his sister Canan is the only one who makes trouble about
the land, because Deniz has set her up. The other sisters, he
says, are satisfied with what they got. Deniz then accuses Hakan
of having chosen the most fertile pieces of law for his own,
which he denies also. About half way through the quarrel, which
takes about 20 minutes to develop, the following discussion
unfolds that is important for the issue of legal pluralism.
Dede: You will have to find a solution that
satisfies your heart. Why don't you accept what each of you more
or less can agree on?! If you want a solution on millimetres,
you will have to go somewhere else, to the land registration
office. So you can do either of two things: Find a solution that
satisfies your heart, within the community, or you find a
solution the juridical way. But without a fight or quarrel! If
you do not accept the rule of this community, what are you doing
People intervene, shout 'make up', and ask them to find 'peace
of heart'. Important people alongside the dede intervene also.
Deniz is not ready to give in to accept the piece of land
allotted to his (mothers) family. He does not want to question
what his mother said about the deceased's instruction that
daughters should not inherit land (Canan is not at the cem).
Dede: Do you accept your piece of land?
Deniz: No, I do not.
Dede: In that case, to get your due, take the
juridical road. For now you must embrace and kiss each other.
You do not seem to accept anything, so I don't see an
opportunity to clear the sky. Either you find a solution here,
or you go to the land registration office. They will come and
measure, and there will be law and order. If you quarrel
afterwards, you will both be banned from the community, so take
care! Now kiss each other!
People tell them to find 'peace of heart', and 'comfort of
mind', in order to cool down the disagreement. Eventually Deniz
and Hakan reconcile and promise to try to settle the problem.
Dede: Ali dede, Emre baba, Hüseyin baba and
others, the five of them will bring you together as soon as
Canan is back in town. If you can reach an acceptable solution
it is okay, otherwise take the other road [the land registration
office] to handle your problem.
In this scene the dede refers to two legal orders. Alevis in
this rural village seem to be allowed a choice between 'two
laws': the law of the community, and the law of the state. These
laws come with different connotations and goals. The Alevi law
is the law of the heart, of satisfaction, and of peace of mind.
The whole community will observe the reconciliation, God
included (and if not kept, social exclusion will follow). State
law on the other hand is referred to as the law of millimetres,
of precision, and of 'law and order'.
The question is not whether this contrast between a 'warm' Alevi
law and the 'cold' law of the state is 'true' . For example, we
can easily imagine the strong social pressure put on parties to
reconcile (probably accompanied with social sanctions in daily
life). What is important however is that the contrast is
presented as such, and that Alevi people are asked to choose
between two laws. Community law - that is, law inspired and
acknowledge by Alevi religion - is clearly to be preferred.
We may assume that the tendency to regard Alevi law and legal
solutions as primary, is dominant among the Alevis in Turkey,
even in cases of crimes where the state is the first to want to
intervene (hence the argument 'we never go to court' of the
Turkish dede who led a cem in the Netherlands, see paragraph
4.1). It is likely, and also in rural areas easily possible,
that Alevis keep their own crimes and other legal cases to
themselves. The following poem of an Alevi dede is therefore
illustrative for the situation in Turkey today:
'We congregate together
we perform the ritual dances
and we play the ritual music.
We sing songs, hymns, incantations
we drink wine
we mourn for the twelve imams
We recognise no Kadi
do not ask us our sect
we recognise no sects
we say 'we have our path'.' (quoted in Bilici 1998: 53)
The sentence 'we recognise no Kadi' is telling, because it means
a rejection of state law.
5. A Comparison and a Look Ahead
When we compare the above sketch of the situation in Turkey with
the situation in the Netherlands, some differences come to the
fore. In the Netherlands, the Alevis and their law pose no
problem. In the eyes of Dutch law, the law of the Alevis in the
cemseems to confine itself to petty civil cases that would
otherwise be mediated through out of court state forums. Matters
of 'real' interest are brought before state law courts
(especially criminal matters). A conflict between Alevi laws as
practiced in the cemin Netherlands and Dutch state law is
therefore very hypothetical. There is a general confidence in
the Dutch legal institutions and the legal system. Would this
not be so, the procedure for reconciliation at the cem would
retain (or regain) the importance it still has in Turkey.
In Turkey the situation is different because Alevism as a
religion, and the right to establish cemhouses, are not
recognized. There are regular instances of violence against
Alevis, sometimes condoned by the police or other institutions.
Inherent in Alevi religion and ideology is a general distrust in
state institutions, including the courts. The tendency in Turkey
is to keep conflicts among Alevis within the community, and
social control in remote villages and in city associations back
up that tendency. Preference is to deal with problems by
internal mechanisms like the cem, while state law is only called
in as a last resort or when functionally necessary (like with
Officials of the Dutch state are unaware about the Alevis having
their own legal rules and procedure. Alevis until recently
weren't very outspoken about their religion and identity,
probably because of the unpleasant experiences in Turkey. Over
the last few years this is changing, with Alevis trying to get a
foot in the door of the Dutch visual media. They are also
lobbying for state funding for a masters degree for their
religious leaders at the Humanistic University in Utrecht.26Even
when their law and legal procedure becomes known, no problems
are to be expected. The Dutch legal system is accustomed to
local groups and communities dealing with their internal
problems through mediation (lawyers and doctors in disciplinary
courts, arbitration, private mediation), and as long as these
'courts' stay within the boundaries set by state law no
conflicts may be expected. The Alevis in the future will less
and less feel the need to maintain the ideology of suppression
by the state, and consequently the cemand its community law will
probably end up as 'folk lore'.
Officials of the Turkish state are also largely unaware about
the Alevis having their own legal rules and procedure. Alevi
public figures until recently weren't very outspoken about their
religion and identity, because of many unpleasant experiences in
the past. Since a few years the situation seems to be slowly
changing, partly because of EU influences in relation to
Turkey's possible future membership. However, Turkey has a
historical difficulty in dealing with 'diversity issues'. Turkey
is considered 'one nation' with 'one Islam', and Alevis as
mystical sect just do not fit in. Alevis know that. Legal
pluralism is therefore likely to persist for longer in Turkey.
Suppression by state law in a country where state institutions
are not to be trusted, feeds the Alevi ideology of staying out
of state law courts. Religious courts alongside secular state
courts prevail in such a situation.
1 See for example Peterson (1996) on South America and
<http://www.adherents.com/> in general (accessed on 14 October
2 Most nation states by exclusion of other institutions dominate
criminal law, and the same goes for family law which is regarded
as having a public function. In Islamic countries but also in
Israel however family law is usually left to separate religious
courts (for Muslims, Jews and Christians).
3 In Texas and in New York USA for example
<http://www.bethdin.org/>, in London UK
and in Canada <http://www.nosharia.com/>. All sites accessed on
14 October 2008. From the perspective of the modern state the
Beth Din is a court of arbitration. I would argue that the Beth
Din for orthodox Jews is a court of law. They accept a
classification as court of arbitration because they know most
modern states do not allow for a second legal system on an equal
footing on their territory.
4 The research was initially funded by the University of
Amsterdam, Faculty of Law, where I then worked. Today I conduct
the research as part of my general research on multicultural
society and the law. See <http://www.wibovanrossum.nl/>.
5 Usually a recitation consists of saying just this, with some
6 Personal experience at an Alevi conference Krisztina
Kehl-Bodrogi told me about.
7 Or instead of Hatice the archangel Gabriel (Turkish Cebrail).
8 There are several stories about the forties, probably each
sect has its own version. Moosa describes versions of the
Shabak, the Bektashis, the Ahl-i Haqq (or Ali Ilahis) (Moosa
1988: 115-119), the Ibrahimiyya (166). The night of the forty is
also mentioned by Gülçiçek (1996: 97) and interpreted as a
symbol of the unity of a group (see also Öztürkmen 2005: 252).
Furat (2007: 27-28) states that Alevis consider the story the
root and foundation of Alevism. In some accounts the stage for
the forty is set right after Muhammads night journey to heaven,
the Miraj (Birge 1937: 137-138) See Ramadan (2007) for an
orthodox account of the Miraj.
9 A term difficult to translate, but comparable to the
'community' attending a Mass in church. The church is first of
all a distinct territory (only to be entered modestly dressed,
and for some only after performing rituals like performing a
cross or a slight bow), while during the service even more rules
of respect need to be observed.
10 Alevis object to the semah being called a dance. Even if it
looks like a dance to outsiders, for Alevis it is a prayer. See
for a performance
accessed on 15 October 2008).
11 With the exception of becoming a dede, the Alevi 'priest'.
Some Alevis said in interviews that when a dede is not available
and nobody else knows how to lead a cem, a well educated 'ana'
(grandmother) is allowed to act as priest. See also note 25.
12 Rumours are that the imam of a local mosque infuriated the
crowd on Friday afternoon prayers in July 1993 by saying that
Aziz Nesin, who translated Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses,
was also in the hotel.
13 See on this last event especially Marcus (1996) who wrote an
eyewitness account of the riots in Gazi, and in general on
violence against Alevis Jongerden (2003).
14 Germany has no records of the nationality of parents. Many
young Turks in Germany have nationalised (over 150.000 in the
last four years; in 1999 for example, over 2 million people were
registered as Turks). They now count as Germans in the official
15 Most of these associations came into being after the Sivas
incident in 1993 mentioned earlier. 'Sivas' was a turning point
for identity development: in stead of hiding yourself and
keeping your religion secret, Alevis felt a need to ' come out
of the closet' to make themselves known as 'different Muslims'
in Europe. Especially the youth felt that way.
16 This estimation is based on my regular visits and on my
interviews with administrators of the Alevi associations.
17 See for example the Dutch film/documentary of Emile and
Maarten van Rouveroy van Nieuwaal ' Staphorst in tegenlicht'
('Staphorst in back-light', 2007), and the legal historical
research 'Staphorst en zijn gerichten' ('Staphorst and its
courts') of Van den Bergh et al (1980).
18 Jewish law, Islamic sharia, Canon law and the Hindu concept
of 'dharma' are mostly regarded as religious law. Only Dharma
comes close to the Alevi concept of law. 'Dharma', according to
S. Desai, traditionally means 'what is followed by those learned
in the Vedas and what is approved by the conscience of the
virtuous who are exempt from hatred and inordinate affection.'
(Desai 1986: 1) See also the work of Robert Hayden for a
comparison between dharma and western types of law (Hayden 1984)
and for dharma in the traditional nomadic 'panchayat' in India
19 See the Gnosis Archive for example on
<http://www.gnosis.org/gnintro.htm> (last accessed on 14 October
2008) and Schreiner for what this means for modern western
religions (1990: 90-91).
20 In cases of family disputes, marriage, gender equality
etcetera there is almost no room in Dutch law for the
recognition of other law. Also in mediation parties cannot
digress from the rules of family law and have their mediation
agreement enforced in court, because these rules are considered
to pertain to public policy. Dutch judges for example, will not
accept a promise in reconciliation 'not to marry a Sunni man'.
Of course, on a voluntary basis and when kept completely hidden
from state law, much is possible. See Berger (2006) as far as
the application of sharia in the Netherlands is concerned.
21 Apart from this, we may expect other factors like costs of
lawyers, emotional distance to state law, time and effort
involved in a law suit etc to play a role. These factors were
not mentioned in interviews however.
22 Dutch officials are mostly still unaware of Alevism.
23 The reluctance to accept Alevis as religion and as minority
has consequences when it comes to the decision to accept Turkey
as EU member (WRR 2004). Alevis themselves however are divided
about the desirability of being a ' legally accepted minority'
in Turkey, since some regard Alevism as (not a minor but) a
major contribution to the Turkish nation (Özalay 2006).
24 More specifically the second sentence of Article 2 of
Protocol No. 1, which provides: 'In the exercise of any
functions which it assumes in relation to education and to
teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure
such education and teaching in conformity with their own
religious and philosophical convictions.' See ECtHR case of
Hasan and Eylem Zengin v. Turkey (Application no. 1448/04)
Judgment 9 October 2007. In 2007 some 4000 court cases in Turkey
were pending on this issue (UNHCR 2008).
25 The case makes clear that there is a difference between the
religious ideology of gender equality and social life. At least
the ideology of gender equality makes a discussion possible over
the alleged instruction of the deceased.
26 Within the Dutch associations this led to a discussion
whether women should be allowed to do the master to become ana
(female dede). The outcome was that Alevism and modern society
do not accept gender discrimination, so that even the
traditional function of dede - some of whom say their lineage
must be traceable to the family of the prophet - should be open
to women. Some elders do not accept this outcome. Finance of the
master is still unsure, so consequences of the discussion can be
Andrews, P. A. (ed.) (1989) Ethnic Groups in the Republic of
Turkey (Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag).
Berger, M. (2006) 'Sharia Law in Canada - Also Possible in the
Netherlands?' in Grinten, P. van der & Heukels, T. (eds)
Crossing Borders. Essays in European and Private International
Law, Nationality Law and Islamic Law in Honour of Frans van der
Velden (Deventer: Kluwer).
Bergh, G. C. J. J. (1980) Staphorst en zijn gerichten
Bilici, F. (1998) 'The Function of Alevi-Bektashi Theology in
Modern Turkey' in Olsson, T., Özdalga, E. & Raudverre, C. (eds)
Alevi Identity. Cultural, Religious and Social Perspectives
(Istanbul: Swedish Research Institute).
Birge, J. K. (1937) The Bektashi Order of Dervishes (Hartford:
Hartford Deminary Press).
Bruinessen, M. van (1991) 'Haji Bektash, Sultan Sahak, Shah Mina
Sahib and various Avatars of a Running Wall' Turcica xxi-xxiii,
Bruinessen, M. van (1997) ''Aslini inkar eden haramzadedir!' The
Debate on the Ethnic Identity of the Kurdish Alevis' in
Kehl-Bodrogi, K., Kellner-Heinkele, B. & Otter-Beaujean, A.
(ed.) Syncretistic Communities in the Near East. Collected
papers of the International Symposium 'Alevitism in Turkey and
Comparable Syncretistic Religious Communities in the Near East
in the Past and Present' (Leiden: Brill).
Bruinessen, M. van (1998) 'A Kizilbash Community in Iraqi
Kurdistan: The Shabak' 5 Islam des Kurdes, Les Annales de
L'Autre Islam, pp. 185-196.
Desai, S. (1986) Principles of Hindu Law (Bombay: N.M. Tripathi
Dierl, A. (1985) Geschichte und Lehre des anatolischen
Alevismus-Bektasismus (Frankfurt: Dagyeli).
Fitzpatrick, P. (1992) The Mythology of Modern Law (London, New
Furat, K. (2007) De alevitische identiteit in de twintigste eeuw
(masterthesis Arabische, Nieuwperzische en Turkse Talen en
Culturen, Universiteit Utrecht - Faculteit Geesteswetenschappen,
Geaves, R. (2003) 'Religion and Ethnicity: Community Formation
in the British Alevi Community' Numen vol. 50, pp. 52-70.
Geertz, C. (1983) 'Local Knowledge: Fact and Law in Comparative
Perspective' in Local Knowledge. Further Essays in Interpretive
Anthropology (New York: Basic Books).
Gerber, H. (1994) State, Society, and Law in Islam. Ottoman Law
in Comparative Perspective (Albany: State University of New York
Göner, Ö. (2005) 'The Transformation of the Alevi Collective
Identity' 17/2 Cultural dynamics, pp. 107-134.
Griffiths, J. (1986) 'What is Legal Pluralism?' 24 Journal of
Legal Pluralism, pp. 1-57.
Gülçiçek, A. D. (1996) Der Weg der Aleviten (Bektaschiten);
Menschenliebe, Toleranz, Frieden und Freundschaft (Köln:
Hayden, R. (1984) 'A Note on Caste Panchayats and Government
Courts in India: Different Kinds of Stages for Different Kinds
of Performances' Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law,
Hayden, R. (1999) Disputes and Arguments amongst Nomads. A Caste
Council in India (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Imber, C. H. (1979) 'The persecution of the Ottoman Shi'ites
according to the mühimme defterleri, 1565-1585' Band 56, heft 2,
Der Islam. Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kultur des
Islamitischen Orients, pp. 245-273.
Jong, F. de (1989) 'The iconography of Bektashiism. A survey of
themes and symbolism in clerical costume, liturgical objects and
pictorial art' 4 Manuscripts of the Middle East, pp 7-29.
Jongerden, J. (2003) 'Violation of Human Rights and the Alevis
in Turkey' in Paul J White & Joost Jongerden (eds.) Turkey's
Alevi Enigma. A Comprehensive Overview (Leiden, Boston: Brill).
Kehl-Bodrogi, K (1988) Die Kizilbas/Aleviten. Untersuchungen
über eine esoterische Glaubensgemeinschaft in Anatolien (Berlin:
Klaus Schwartz Verlag).
Kehl-Bodrogi, K. (1989) 'Das Alevitum in der Türkei: Zur Genese
und gegenwärtigen Lage einer Glaubesgemeinschaft' in P.A.
Andrews (ed.) Ethnic groups in the republic of Turkey
(Wiesbaden: Dr. Ludwig Reichert Verlag).
Kehl-Bodrogi, K. (2003) 'Atatürk and the Alevis: A Holy
Alliance?' in Paul J White & Joost Jongerden (eds.) Turkey' s
Alevi Enigma. A Comprehensive Overview (Leiden, Boston: Brill).
Kehl-Bodrogi, K., Kellner-Heinkele, B. and Otter-Beaujean, A.
(eds.) (1997) Syncretistic Communities in the Near East.
Collected papers of the International Symposium ' Alevitism in
Turkey and Comparable Syncretistic Religious Communities in the
Near East in the Past and Present' (Leiden: Brill).
Marcus, Aliza (1996) ''Should I shoot you?' An Eyewitness
Account of an Alevi Uprising in Gazi' Middle East Report,
April-June, pp 24-26.
McCarthy, J (1983) Muslims and Minorities. The Population of
Ottoman Anatolia and the End of the Empire (New York and London:
New York University Press).
Mélikoff, I (1998) Hadji Bektach. Un Mythe et ses Avatars.
Genèse et évolution du soufisme populaire en Turquie (Leiden:
Merry, S (1988) 'Legal Pluralism' Law and Society Review, pp
Metin, Ismail (1992) Alevilerde Halk Mahkemeleri. Cilt 1
(Istanbul: Alev Yayinevi).
Metin, Ismail (1995) Alevilerde Halk Mahkemeleri. Cilt 2
(Istanbul: Alev Yayinevi).
Mirza, M, Senthilkumaran, A and Ja'far, Z (2007) Living apart
together. British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism
(London: Policy Exchange).
Moosa, M (1988) Extremist Shiites. The Ghulat Sects (Syracuse:
Syracuse University Press).
Otto, J M (2006) Sharia en nationaal recht. Rechtssystemen in
moslimlanden tussen traditie, politiek en rechtsstaat
(Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press).
Otto, J. M. and Dekker, A. J. and Soest-Zuurdeeg, L. J. van
(eds.) (2006) Sharia en nationaal recht in twaalf moslimlanden
(Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press).
Özalay, E. (2006) 'Minorities in Turkey. The identity of the
Alevis in Accordance with the EU Legislation' Paper in Master of
Arts in Euroculture Intensive Program in San Sebastian, Spain.
Öztürkmen, A. (2005) 'Staging a Ritual Dance Out of its Context.
The Role of an Individual Artist in Transforming the Alevi
Semah' Asian Folklore Studies, Volume 64, pp 247-2 60.
Peterson, A. (1996) 'Religion and Society in Latin America:
Ambivalence and Advances' Latin American Research Review, 31/2,
Popovic, A. and Veinstein, G. (eds.) (1995) Bektachiyya. Études
sur l'ordre mystique des Bektachis et les groupes relevant de
Hadji Bektach (Istanbul: Éditions Isis).
Ramadan, T. (2007) In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from
the Life of Muhammad (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
Rossum, W. van (1996) 'Showing Respect. The Appearance of a
Turkish Defendant in a Dutch Courtroom' International Journal
for the Semiotics of Law/ Revue Internationale de Sémiotique
Juridique 9/27, pp. 287-303.
Rossum, W. van (2002) 'Schoon schip maken als rechtspraak op de
alevitische cem' Recht der Werkelijkheid 17/2, pp. 5-19.
Rossum, W. van (2003) 'Cemrechtspraak als formeel-informele
manier van conflictoplossing onder alevitische Turken' in
Rutten, S. W. E. (ed.) Inpassing van islamitisch recht in
Europese rechtssystemen; formele en informele vormen van
geschillenbeslechting bij moslims (Maastricht: RIMO).
Rouveroy van Nieuwaal, E. van and Rouveroy van Nieuwaal, M. van
(2007) Staphorst in tegenlicht (' Staphorst in back-light')
<http://www.staphorstintegenlicht.nl/index.html> - in Dutch
Schreiner, A. (1990) Roem van het recht (Amsterdam: Duizend &
Shankland, D. (2003) The Alevis in Turkey. The Emergence of a
Secular Islamic Tradition (London: RoutledgeCurzon).
Shindeldecker, J. (1998) Turkish Alevis Today (Istanbul: Zafer
Stokes, M. (1992) The Arabesk Debate. Music and Musicians in
Modern Turkey (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
Tamanaha, Brian (2000) 'A Non-Essentialist Version of Legal
Pluralism' 27/2 Journal of Law and Society, pp 296-321.
Tamanaha, B. (2007) 'Understanding Legal Pluralism: Past to
Present, Local to Global' The Social Science Research Network
Electronic Paper Collection at
<http://ssrn.com/abstract=1010105> last accessed on 15 October
UNHCR report (2005) Turkey: The situation of Alevis (January
2002 - April 2005) download from <
last accessed on 15 October 2008.
UNHCR report (2008) Turkey: Situation of Alevis (2005 - May
2008) download from <
last accessed on 15 October 2008.
Vorhoff, K. (1995) Zwischen Glaube, Nation und neuer
Gemeinschaft: Alevitische Identität in derTürkei der Gegenwart
(Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag).
WRR (2004) The European Union, Turkey and Islam (Amsterdam:
Amsterdam University Press). (Download via <http://www.wrr.nl/>
last accessed on 15 October 2008.)
Yaman, M. (1998) Alevilikte Cem (Istanbul: Sahkulu).