The Alawis, also rendered as Alawites (Arabic: علوية Alawiyyah/Alawīyah), are a sect of Ghulat branch of Shia Islam. primarily centred in Syria. The eponymously-named Alawites revere Ali (Ali ibn Abi Talib), considered the first Imam of the Twelver school. However, they are generally considered to be ghulat by Shia Islam. The group is believed to have been founded by Ibn Nusayr during the 9th century and fully established as a religion. For this reason, Alawites are sometimes called Nusayris (Arabic: نصيرية Nuṣayrīyyah), though the term has come to be used as a pejorative in the modern era. Another name, "Ansari" (Arabic: انصارية Anṣāriyyah), is believed to be a mistransliteration of "Nusayri".
Today, Alawites represent 17 percent of the Syrian population, an increase from 11 percent in 2010 and are a significant minority in Turkey and northern Lebanon. There is also a population living in the village of Ghajar in the Golan Heights. They are often confused with the Alevis of Turkey. Alawites form the dominant religious group on the Syrian coast and towns near the coast which are also inhabited by Sunnis, Christians, and Ismailis.
Alawites identify as a separate ethnoreligious group. The Qur'an is only one of their holy books and texts, and their interpretation thereof has very little in common with the Muslim interpretation. Alawite theology and rituals break from mainstream Islam in several remarkable ways. For one the Alawites drink wine as Ali's transubstantiated essence in their rituals; while other Muslims abstain from alcohol, Alawites are encouraged to drink socially in moderation. Finally, they also believe in reincarnation.  Alawites have historically kept their beliefs secret from outsiders and non-initiated Alawites, so rumours about them have arisen. Arabic accounts of their beliefs tend to be partisan (either positively or negatively). However, since the early 2000s, Western scholarship on the Alawite religion has made significant advances. At the core of Alawite belief is a divine triad, comprising three aspects of the one God. These aspects, or emanations, appear cyclically in human form throughout history.
In older sources, Alawis are often called "Ansaris". According to Samuel Lyde, who lived among the Alawites during the mid-19th century, this was a term they used among themselves. Other sources indicate that "Ansari" is simply a Western error in the transliteration of "Nusayri". However, the term "Nusayri" had fallen out of currency by the 1920s, as a movement led by intellectuals within the community during the French Mandate sought to replace it with the modern term "Alawi".
They characterised the older name (which implied "a separate ethnic and religious identity") as an "invention of the sect's enemies", ostensibly favouring an emphasis on "connection with mainstream Islam"—particularly the Shia branch. As such, "Nusayri" is now generally regarded as antiquated, and has even come to have insulting and abusive connotations. The term is frequently employed as hate speech by Sunni fundamentalists fighting against Bashar al-Assad's government in the Syrian civil war, who use its emphasis on Ibn Nusayr in order to insinuate that Alawi beliefs are "man-made" and not divinely inspired.
Recent research has shown that the Alawi appellation was used by the sect's adherents since the 11th century. The following quote from Alkan (2012) illustrates this point:
"In actual fact, the name 'Alawī' appears as early as in an 11th century Nuṣayrī tract (…). Moreover, the term 'Alawī' was already used at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1903 the Belgian-born Jesuit and Orientalist Henri Lammens (d. 1937) visited a certain Ḥaydarī-Nuṣayrī sheikh Abdullah in a village near Antakya and mentions that the latter preferred the name 'Alawī' for his people. Lastly, it is interesting to note that in the above-mentioned petitions of 1892 and 1909 the Nuṣayrīs called themselves the 'Arab Alawī people' (ʿArab ʿAlevī ṭāʾifesi) 'our ʿAlawī Nuṣayrī people' (ṭāʾifatunā al-Nuṣayriyya al-ʿAlawiyya) or 'signed with Alawī people' (ʿAlevī ṭāʾifesi imżāsıyla). This early self-designation is, in my opinion, of triple importance. Firstly, it shows that the word 'Alawī' was always used by these people, as ʿAlawī authors emphasize; secondly, it hints at the reformation of the Nuṣayrīs, launched by some of their sheikhs in the 19th century and their attempt to be accepted as part of Islam; and thirdly, it challenges the claims that the change of the identity and name from 'Nuṣayrī' to 'ʿAlawī' took place around 1920, in the beginning of the French mandate in Syria (1919–1938)."
The Alawites are distinct from the Alevi religious sect in Turkey, although the terms share a common etymology and pronunciation.