THE BEKTASHIS IN ALBANIA
During the 2nd
century of the Christian Era, Illyria (part of which is modern
Albania) was Christianised. In 732 Pope Gregory III placed the
Albanian churches under the leadership of the patriarch of Constantinople.
The Christians became part of the Eastern Orthodox church. In
1054, following the Schism between the Eastern and Western churches,
there was a split in the Albanian church. Southern Albania remained
associated with Constantinople, and northern Albania reunited
Then, in the 15th
century, the Turks introduced Islam. The Turks viewed Roman Catholics
as a threat to their rule. Catholics were required to pay a high
tax. Some converted to Islam, but some chose to leave Albania
- such as the Arberësh who settled in Southern Italy. A few Catholic
"crypto-Christians" pretended to be Muslims in public
to escape the taxes, while continuing to practise the Catholic
faith in their home. But most Albanians became Muslim.
the outlawing of religion in 1967, Albania's population was 75%
Muslim, 15% Orthodox Christian and 10% Roman Catholic. An Albanian-American
source says that the Muslim population was further divided between
the 85% who followed the Hanafi school of the Ahli-Sunnah wal
Jama' and the 15% who were Bektashi. Other sources say that most
Albanian Muslims were Bektashi, but by this they probably meant
Naqshbandi or Haqqani, other Sufic sects with whom they were confused.
Since the Bektashi are celibate, lay people with families cannot
of Albanian urban dwellers were found to be Muslim, and most of
central and northeast Albania was populated solely by Muslims.
Catholics were found primarily among the inhabitants of the extremely
mountainous northwestern region around the city of Shkodër (adjoining
Montenegro), and the Orthodox were scattered throughout the towns
and villages near the present-day Greek-Albanian border.
the Communist period there were 30 teqet in Albania, but
most of those outside Tirana are still closed.
said to have been introduced to Albania from the island of Corfu
by dervish Sari Sallteku in the late fifteenth century. He founded
seven tekkes, (the Albanian term is teqe) including
one on the mountains above Krujë, where he was said to have slain
a dragon. The sect increased steadily throughout the country,
except in the Catholic areas (to the North). Mehmet II's suppression
may not have been unconnected with the fact that Ali Pasha Tepelenë,
war-lord of Epirus (much of which has since been swallowed up
by Greece), had become a convert.
at Gjirokastër, Southern Albania
early leaders of Albanian nationalism were Bektashi, and the
Order formed the 'left' end of the Islamic spectrum in the Balkans.
Following the destruction of the Janissary Corps and the banning
of the tariqat in 1826, many Bektashi babas and
dervishes fled to the remote areas of the Balkans far from the
reach of the Ottoman government. During this period (especially
after the order outlawing of the Bektashis was rescinded in the
1860s), the tariqat had gained a sizeable presence in
southern Albania. Their toleration and ability to absorb local
custom provided the population with a 'folk' Islam that they could
easily relate to - and this allowed Bektashism to spread throughout
Greece and modern Macedonia - until Greece's ethno-linguistic-religious
cleansing policies abolished it together with Albanian language
and culture (which had once spread as far south as Athens).
Kizilbas (qizilbash) now of Bulgaria (who are the progeny
of extremist Shi'a Turkoman tribes who were deported from Anatolia
and settled in Bulgaria by the Ottomans following their conflicts
with the Safavids) quickly and easily assimilated many Bektashi
saints and practices into their own religious doctrines.
However, in other
areas of the Balkans, such as Bosnia-Hercegovina and in large
urban centers (in both where their functioning was limited due
the strength of the orthodox Sunni establishment), the Bektashi
found restricted appeal and were limited in operation to the Janissary
garrisons. These tekkes were established as a result of
the Ottoman military presence and disappeared as that crumbled.
Several of the more renowned tekkes were found in Budapest (where
the tomb of its founder, Gül Baba, still remains and is open for
visitation), Eger [now Cheb
in the Czech Republic), the building of which still stands),
Belgrade and Banja Luka (both of which ceased to exist long ago).
In 1922 an assembly
of delegates from the tekkes (teqet in Albanian)
of Albania severed connection with the Supreme Bektash (himself
Albanian, as were so many luminaries and engineers in the Ottoman
Empire) who had moved from Istanbul to the new capital of Ankara
before the suppression of the order by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Tirana became the sect's seat, and in 1929 it was recognised as
an autonomous Muslim order, with new statutes drawn up at Korçë.
There was substantial Bektashi influence on King Zog before Albania's
annexation by Mussolini in 1938.
Under Hoxha (whose
name ironically means imam or priest - as Zog's
means bird) Bektashis
were persecuted and most babas were forced to become agricultural
labourers. There is now a large community of Albanian Bektashis
in Detroit, [founded by the distinguished Gjirocastrian Baba Rexheb
(1901-95) who fled Albania in 1944] which is helping to rebuild
the teqet in Albania.
it is worth explaining that a hoxha or imam is the man in charge
of a mosque. Next in the hierarchy is a Mufti (myfti), and finally
a Khalif. A hoxha can only become a baba if he is
unmarried and if he becomes a murshid through the required communal
and private instruction, and is elected the head of the teqe
or (like Baba Rexheb) founds his own teqe.
remarkable Albanian phenomenon is the tradition of
Virgins (Virgjinesha, Vajze e Betuar).
BEKTASHI AND TURKISH IDENTITY
from John Kingsley Birge's THE BEKTASHI
ORDER OF DERVISHES, Luzac & Co., 1937
themselves estimate their numbers at about seven million. Ali
Turabi Baba, postniŝin of the Bektashi tekke on
Mount Tomori in Albania writing in his Historija
e Bektashinjvet says that before the destruction of
the Janissaries in 1826 and the accompanying abolition of the
Bektashi Order, annual statistics were kept, and that these figures
showed the number Bektashis to be 7,370,000 - seven million being
in Anatolia, 100,000 in Albania, 120,000 in Stambul and the remainder
scattered through Irak, Crete, Macedonia and other sections especially
of the Balkans.
the most important justification, however, for studying the Bektashi
Order is the fact, generally recognised by all students of Turkish
culture to-day, that all down through Ottoman history, when the
orthodox religious life of the people was under dominant Arabic
influence, when the classic literature in vogue in palace circles
was Persian, and when even a great mystic order such as the Mevlevis
['Whirling Dervishes'] based its belief and practice on
a book written entirely in Persian, the Bektashis consistently
held to the Turkish language and perpetuated in their belief and
practice some at least of the pre-Islamic elements of Turkish
culture. A Turkish investigator in 1926, writing in the official
magazine of the national culture society, makes the claim that
the Turkish national ideal never was able to find its expression
in the Arab internationalism, but did find it in the tekkes
or lodges of the Alevi orders of which the Bektashis and village
groups related to them are chief examples. In the secret practices
of those religious groups alone was 'national freedom' to be found.
The very aim, he says, of the founders of these groups, was to
preserve the Turkish tongue and race and blood.
point of view, while extreme, is not that of an isolated individual
is shown by the fact that in 1930 the Department of the Turkish
Republic printed 3,000 copies of a book called Bektashi Poets
containing biographical sketches and selections from the religious
verse of 180 Bektashi poets. In recent years every history of
Turkish literature written from school use has emphasized for
each century Bektashi Literature because in that, more than
in any other type of writing, the original Turkish language and
Turkish literary forms were used and Turkish national customs
and points of view reflected...
Bektashi poet-musicians are called ashiq
and continue to be active in composing lyrics which are often
sung to saz (lute) accompaniment. Here is one lyric:
fourteen-thousand years I have been in love -
loved the poets.
drunk the Wine, known the Rapture.
I have been in communion with the saintly Forty -
and found myself oppressed.
But I am numbered amongst the blessed.
Often I have abandoned and rejected humankind.
I've been a singing bird in a remembered rose-bower.
For fourteen-thousand years as a butterfly
I flitted - and found a little Self
in a state of ecstasy.
At the Gathering of Forty I joined the blessèd band.
town of Sarandë in SW Albania
gets its name from Forty Saints]
BETWEEN BEKTASHISM AND ISLAMIC ORTHODOXY
bestowed by Mohamed very quickly developed in two directions.
On the one hand it produced a rigid, scholastic theology with
an inflexible religious law ruling the whole society - such as
we see today in the Arabian peninsula. At the same time there
was the opposite tendency toward a more visionary attitude, developed
by individuals and groups who (influenced from the East) emphasized
the ascetic life and the mystical approach to direct knowledge
Islam is, of course, monotheistic: there is no God but God
and Mohamed is His Prophet. But Shi'ites (and Bektashis especially,
clashing from their beginning with official Islam) established
a kind of trinity of Allah, Supreme Being, with Mohamed and Ali.
The son-in-law of the Prophet, Ali, was of course one of the first
Muslims and the one to whom Shiites attribute the revelation of
mystic understanding of the Koran (Qur'an). Bektashis put Ali,
venerated as a saint, only slightly below (or even equal with)
Mohamed. This may or may not have been partly a result of Christian
Sufism is a philosophical
offshoot from Shi'a, in the tradition of Diogenes and other early
Greek philosophers - influenced of course from the East. Underlying
the various Sufi (philsophical) groups is a recognition that orthodox
Islam is essentially an authoritarian patriarchal morality for
the mindless. Sufis try to square the circle and make Islam mindful,
eclectic, profound and subtle - often by turning conventional
Islamic teaching and thought upside down in the manner of revolutionary
Zen. Thus many Sufis refer to themselves as 'dogs' (as did Diogenes
of Sinope) because of the perceived 'impurity' (and horrible treatment)
of dogs by most other Muslims. Other 'impure' animals to Muslims
and Jews are rats and pigs. All three are creatures of hygiene:
eaters of shit. So are many other animals, especially fish, which
are not perceived as polluted.
The Bektashis (the
most heterodox of Shi'a sects and distinctly antinomian)
ignore most conventional Islamic
rules, such as abstention from alcohol and pork, the veiling of
women and the requirement to face Mecca when praying. They believe
that the supreme being is the Divine Spirit of goodness, the life
and soul of everything, which manifests itself at different times
through different individuals, so that Jesus is revered by Bektashis
as a Vessel of the Divine Spirit.
of the central features of Bektashism, echoing the Athenian Philosophical
model, is the spiritual unit of Master and Disciple. The master/teacher
is known as a murshid, and the disciple or postulant as
a talib (disciple.) A Baba is the man (or, conceivably,
woman) who heads the tekke, like an abbot or prior.
has, of course, been a talib. The intensity of this relationship
is illustrated by a story about a pre-Bektashi Sufi mystic, the
celebrated poet Jalaluddin Rumi
of Balkh (now in Afghanistan) who wrote rhapsodically of his love
for his murshid (whose name, incidentally, means Sun
and came from a previously-Zoroastrian region):-
[the talib] went to the house of his murshid, Shams-i-Tabrizi
. But when he got there, he found that Shams had just left. Rumi
quickly looked down the narrow streets and caught a glimpse of
his master's gown as he turned into an alley. He followed. Yet
whenever he got near, Shams was just turning another corner in
the twisting streets. Finally Shams entered a building, and was
duly followed by Rumi. Once inside, however, he coud not see his
master anywhere, so he went up on the flat roof. But still he
saw him nowhere. So in ecstasy of despair he jumped off the roof
- to land in the arms of Shams.
Among Bektashis much
importance is also attached to muhabet: verbal communion
and chanting or reading nefes, the Bektashi spiritual hymns
and poems. In nefes, this 'breath of spirit', the feelings
and devotion toward one's particular murshid are endlessly
evoked and elaborated. The Bektashis see the power of a nefes
as an actualisation of the relationship with the murshid.
Verbal and poetic interaction
is highly valued among Bektashis - and among Albanians and other
peoples temporarily uncorrupted by modern fear of real communication.
In Anatolia there was
a widespread tendency towards communal life in a brotherhood of
those seeking a direct knowledge of God. In
general, the ideology of such groups came from Arabic and Persian
(and Eastern) sources, the more learned among the Dervish teachers
being well able to read and to write in these languages. The most
important immediate sources of ideas for all the dervish orders
have been the Mesnevi, a great poem written in Persian
in the thirteenth century by Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi (the disciple
of Shams-i-Tabriz mentioned above), who is the 'patron saint'
of the Mevlevi dervish order - and two Arabic works Futuhatý
Mekkiye and Fususul Hikâm by Muhyiddini Arabi (1165-1240).
Certain orders, of which
the Mevlevis ("Whirling Dervishes") are the outstanding
example, grew up chiefly in urban centres, as aristocratic, intellectual
fraternities, especially attracting members from the upper classes
on grounds largely of æsthetic appeal. Other groups, of which
the Bektashis are the notable example, arose from commoner concerns.
- like early Christians - considered men and women to be equal,
the most chaste being closest to perfection. They accepted and
initiated women as inner members since the beginning of the Order
in central Anatolia. Their refusal to preach dominion over women
brought them criticism from the rest of Islam over the centuries
- and yet they never wavered. Women are of course talibs
and murshids in the Albanian Bektashi tekke of Detroit
- but the number of women in Albanian Lodges before World War
II is not known.
mentioned above, Bektashism essentially responded to a need for
a religious experience without the ultimately-catastrophic separation
between the human and the divine - and indeed between man and
Nature - such as exists in the orthodox Sunni (and Jewish) dogma.
It responds to the universal yearning for a 'pantheistic' approach
and a comforting faith: religion of the heart rather than the
book; religion of collectivity; religion of miracle-working saints.
In this respect it parallels Greek Orthodox 'Christianity'.
The other central
feature of Bektashism is an emphasis on progressive initiation
into secret mysteries - like the Gnostic Christian sects. Bektashis
have also taken over elements of animism, finding God on mountain-tops,
in streams and in caves. The teachings of the babas emphasise
tolerance, humility, simplicity and practical kindness.
a Sufi Order, there is a direct philosophical link back to the
anti-hypocritical, anti-property, anti-familial Diogenes
("The Dog") from Sinope.
also believe that charisma, or divine grace, touches them without
the help of any intermediary, and is in no way affected by any
ritual performed by mediating priests, hoxhas or imams.
Insight being more important than dogma, life for a Bektashi is
a personal induction into wisdom through teaching and communion,
rather than a distant relationship with some supernal grace-dispensing
agency. In this they resemble both the more thoughtful of the
Christian Pentecostals, and the more challenging Buddhist sects.
Turkey's "national poet", Yunus
Emre (1240-1321), a contemporary of Haji Bektash, is considered
Bektashi, with lines such as A Moses may lie under every stone.
One of his poems well-describes the future Bektashi Order of Dervishes:-
Our laws are different from other laws.
Our religion is like no other:
the seventy-two Islamic sects.
We are guided by different signs,
And a Hereafter only before our deaths. We
worship without ritual or cleansing,
Without positioning our bodies or facing Mecca.
Whether at the
Ka'aba, in the mosque,
or in domestic prayer,
We all bear our own defects and handicaps.
sect is true, no one in truth can say.
Only the future can reveal 'the truth' - too late.
your soul, be remembered as a Friend of Love,
Connect with the power of your integrity
and listen with compassionate ears.
TRIX, Frances: Spiritual Discourse - learning with an Islamic
Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993. ISBN: 0
[Ms Trix was a talib for many years at the Detroit
Lodge of Albanian Bektashis]
pages: Omar Khayyám of Nishapúr
Rubaiyát of Omar Khayyám
Diogenes of Sinope
The Maxims of Swami Vrkha Baba
A modern Indian Dervish
The Official Bektashi Web Page
Bektashis in America (with photos)