Wait, what? Salman who?
Salman al-Farisis, aka Salman the Persian, was also known as the Imam, the Flag of the Flags, the Inheritor of Islam, the Wise Judge, the Knowledgeable Scholar, and One of the House of the Prophet. He was originally a Zoroastrian from a town near Isfahan in Persia. Not much is known about his early life, although legend has it he traveled to Syria to search out the origins of the Christian faith, which he had adopted. While there, he heard of the Prophet Muhammad and set out to meet him, but was captured in the Hijaz (the western quarter of the Arabian peninsula), enslaved, and taken to Medina. He met Muhammad, who eventually released him. After that, Salman became a close companion of the Prophet, joining in all his battles. When a Meccan force of 10,000 men marched on Median in March 627, it was Salman who suggested digging a ditch around the city to hold off the attackers. As a result, 3,000 defenders were able to hold the city. He later helped to conquer Persia at the head of an Arab army. He was appointed governor of the region.
Salman is mentioned in several hadiths (sayings of the prophet), including one in which Muhammad is said to have mentioned to him the names of all 12 imams. This one reason why Salman was so popular amongst the Twelvers (including the Alawites). He was said to be a holy man, who despite commanding thousands of men, preferred to live out of doors (a common claim of Arab and Turkish leaders, who came from a nomadic people that despised the softness engendered by city living).
As a man who embraced Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam in succession, he is a fitting figure of worship for the eclectic Alawite faith. For the Alawites, he is another version of the angel Gabriel, and an expression of the holy trinity. Their statement of faith is accordingly: â€œI testify that there is no God but Ali ibn-Talib the one to be worshipped, no Veil but the Lord Muhammad worthy to be praised, and no Gate but the Lord Salman al-Farisi the object of love.â€