On the 800th Birthday of Haxhi Bektash Veli
[Presented to International Symposium on Bektashism, Tirana, Albania, January 29, 2010]
With the arrival of the new millennium of the common era, the Bektashi Community in the Albanian lands and the Albanian diaspora faces, and offers, many challenges. As shown by its history in the Albanian Rilindja [Renaissance], and its resistance both to the atheist regime of Enver Hoxha in Albania itself and to Serbian imperialism in Kosova, Bektashism is a libertarian and progressive religious phenomenon that emphasizes and reinforces values of freedom and social justice. These values are dramatized by the epic of Ashura, when Imam Husayn was martyred at Karbala, in struggle against the terroristic usurpers of religious authority during his time.
For Bektashis, as for other devotees of Imam Husayn, Ashura is a permanent reality: seekers of truth and defenders of justice are continuously martyred at the hands of the evil "Yezids" who use violence to manipulate and control religious believers. We see this tragic condition reflected in the offensive of Al-Qaeda murderers, against Muslims no less than non-Muslims, across the globe, from Detroit, Michigan, USA – a city in which many Muslims live, including the adherents of the first Bektashi Teqe in America, at Taylor, Michigan – to Sufi shrines attacked in Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and other countries. Had the recent attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit succeeded, numerous Muslims might have been counted among the martyred. As has been said by others, Sufis, including Bektashis, are peaceful but not pacifist, and must now organize their self defense in numerous countries.
I believe that for Bektashis and their friends, the focal point of opposition to injustice against the muminin is found at this moment at the Harabati Bektashi Teqe in Tetova, Western Macedonia, under siege by Wahhabi extremists. As I commented in a recent paper presented (unfortunately in my absence) in Tirana, the Harabati Teqe is one of the three most important outposts of the Bektashis outside Albania, the other two being the Bektashi teqe of Gjakova, Kosova, and the First Bektashi Teqe in America. In Macedonia, more teqet are operating at Kërçova and Gostivar, but it is impossible to imagine that they could immediately supersede the Harabati teqe in spiritual, cultural, and historical significance. Defense of the Harabati teqe should be the first concern of every Bektashi, friend of Bektashis, and other Sufis and moderate Muslims in the Balkan region, the Albanian lands, and around the world.
The attempt to occupy the Harabati teqe and to transform it into a Sunni mosque began in 2002, a little more than a year after the NATO imposition of a truce that ended Slav-Albanian fighting in Macedonia. A group of interlopers armed with automatic rifles and handguns seized a section of the teqe, claiming that they were "recovering" the structure for use as a mosque and for regular Muslim prayer. As a Bektashi installation, in which regular prayer would not be held, the teqe had never, at any time, included a mosque. This usurpation was carried out with the apparent approval of the Sunni religious authorities, i.e. the official Islamic Community of Macedonia. In its International Religious Freedom report for 2006, the U.S. State Department described armed Wahhabis who invaded the Harabati Teqe as representing the Islamic Community of Macedonia. The U.S. State Department noted in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2009 that the burial of a Bektashi follower at the Harabati teqe brought a protest from the official Sunni community, which declared the interment illegal and threatened to remove the body. The good relations maintained between the Sunni establishment and the Bektashi community in Albania – facilitated by the much larger Bektashi membership there – are absent in Macedonia and limited to local contacts in Kosova.
At present, the Harabati teqe is almost completely controlled by the Wahhabi invaders. It is crucial to understand that the tactic of occupying and "transforming" Islamic properties is a key element in the strategy of Islamist extremists to impose their domination over Muslims. The attempt to "revert" the Harabati teqe for use as a mosque has been accompanied, simultaneously, by similar efforts elsewhere in the Balkan region, and in such countries as Britain and Pakistan. In Bosnia-Hercegovina, the villagers of Barčići near Kalesija, close to Tuzla, saw an attempt in 2007 by one Jusuf Barčić, a notorious Wahhabi agitator, to seize a local mekteb or primary religious school. The inhabitants of Barčići assembled en masse to expel the radicals, and said they would close the mekteb rather than surrender it. Barčić himself died in a traffic accident soon afterward. In 2009, in Kosova, local Sunni believers closed their mosque in the village of Lower Zabel near Drenas to prevent its takeover by Wahhabis, who had appropriated a library in a local school
Bektashis, because of their heterodox Sufi practices as well as their dedication to contemporary principles, including the equality of women and men, secular government, and modern, universal education, are naturally in the front line defending a freedom-loving Islam against radicalism and terrorism. It is often pointed out that in addition to the two million or so Bektashis in the Albanian lands, who are, in my view, those most properly denoted as heirs to the legacy of the blessed Hajji Bektash Veli, may his mystery be sanctified, tens of millions of Turkish and Kurdish Alevi Muslims, living in Turkey and Western Europe, honor Hajji Bektash Veli, making pilgrimages to his shrine at Hacibektaş in Turkey. The Alevi-Bektashi movement in Turkey is also known for its dedication to secular government, modern culture and education, although it has a more political and leftist character than the Bektashi Community in the Albanian lands. A closer relationship between Turkish and Kurdish Alevis and Albanian Bektashis would be a positive development for the latter, if it could reinforce their defense against Wahhabi and other Sunni fundamentalist aggression, and as long as the historical development of the Bektashi Community, resulting in its effective "Albanization," is respected. Misguided attempts to return the center of Bektashi attention and activity to Turkey, in my opinion, will not and should not succeed. Bektashism as we know it today is Albanian in heart, tongue, and writing.
I wrote extensively about the common heritage of the Albanian Bektashis, the Turkish and Kurdish Alevi-Bektashis, and Sunni Sufis in Turkestan who honor the predecessor of Hajji Bektash Veli, Hojja Ahmad Yasawi, in my book The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony, which was published in English in 2008 and has been translated into Albanian and Bosnian. I regret that I did not devote more attention in that work to the fascinating phenomenon of Ahl-e Haqq, or the People of Truth, who are found mainly among Iranian Kurds. The Ahl-e Haqq are Malami Sufis who do not disclose their existence or activities to the outside world. They also number in the millions – yet while their total is unknown, they exercise considerable influence in Iranian culture, as musicians.
I perceive a double stream of continuity between the Albanian Bektashis, Turkish and Kurdish Alevi-Bektashis, Yasawi Sufis of Turkestan, and the Ahl-e Haqq. The Albanian Bektashis, the Alevi-Bektashis, and the Ahl-e Haqq have all incorporated music into their devotional praxis, as an expression of love of God and the Muslim saints. The Albanian Bektashis do this through singing, and the Alevi-Bektashis through singing and performance on the saz, a stringed instrument like the Albanian çiftelija. The Ahl-e Haqq are known for playing the tanbur, a similar musical instrument, as a form of prayer in itself, accompanied by the daf, a drum, and the tar, a Persian equivalent of the Albanian lahuta. Sacred music of this kind has a powerful influence on the personality, deepening the spiritual attachment of the believer.
But these four groups, along the road that begins historically in Central Asia and leads to the Balkans, have something even more significant in common. All are challenged, as an element of their positive role in the world, with opposition to tyranny. As described, the Macedonian Bektashis must act to retain control of their main shrine; Bektashis throughout the Albanian lands are compelled to oppose the remnants of Slavic imperialism and atheistic communism. There is relatively little different in their situation from that of the Alevi-Bektashis threatened with new insecurity and difficulties by the rise of the "soft-fundamentalist" Justice and Development party (AKP) in Turkey. The Yasawi Sufis are working to rebuild a major Islamic spiritual presence in the Central Asian lands formerly ruled by Soviet communism, and especially in the case of Uzbekistan, still suffering under a post-Soviet, one-party dictatorship known for corruption and abuse of human rights. Finally, of course, the Ahl-e Haqq in Iran must contend with the criminal policies of a Shia clerical regime, the brutality of which is seen by the entire world. In the Green Movement that opposes the extremist government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we cannot say whether the Ahl-e Haqq are present, and, if so, in what strength. But I fervently hope that they have assumed their rightful place in that upsurge of hope for freedom.
The most beloved recently known member of the Iranian Ahl-e Haqq was a musician, Seyed Halil Alinexhad, the idol of Iranians all over the world for his spiritual performance on the tanbur, and who was killed – probably by agents of the Tehran regime – in Goteborg, Sweden, in 2001. His case remains mysterious. We should listen to his wonderful music, honor him as a saint of our common tradition, and demand a full investigation of his death. The Ahl-e Haqq, like the Kurds among the Alevi-Bektashis, must also counterpose their broad and honest principles in human dealings with the violence of Kurdish radical nationalists and even some corrupted Sufis prominent in Kurdish political life.
As an element in this transnational movement toward spiritual liberation, the Albanian Bektashis share in the great responsibility of presenting what I have called "the other Islam" to the world. That is an Islam that despises misrulers, promotes mutual respect between believers in all religions, and cultivates the faith of the heart rather than falling into the trap of obsession with sheriat. All the groups I have described recognize in sheriat no more than external ritual, comprising the first and least important step on the path from the ordinary observance of the believer through the higher stages of tariqat – collective spiritual discipline; marifet – esoteric wisdom, and haqiqat – understanding and fulfillment of unity with God in vahdeti vuxhudi – the unity of God's creation.
By contrast, fundamentalist Sunnis and Shias alike have made an idol – and I know how serious this charge must be – of the external religious rules of sheriat. This disastrous situation of "official" Islam today reminds me of the comment of the greatest Islamic theologian, Al-Ghazali, the vindicator of Sufism. In his Revival of Religious Sciences or Ihya Ulum Al-Din, he derisively asked, "What makes you think that the science of the laws… is a science that prepares for the hereafter? He who studies these things to get closer to Allah is downright mad." In considering this, we should ponder the high praise afforded to Al-Ghazali by the blessed Baba Rexheb Beqiri, may his mystery be sanctified, the founder of authentic Islamic Sufism in America, and author of the now-classic Mistiçizma Islame dhe Bektashizma.
A recent incident in the world of Islamic publishing indicates a paradox in the situation of the Bektashis. At the end of 2009, the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Jordan and the Saudi-financed Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, USA, issued an elaborate document titled The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World. This production claimed to establish a roster of the global leadership of the Islamic ummah, and included a subordinate listing of the "top 50." King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was naturally featured as number one among the Muslims of the whole planet. Surprisingly, the tome accepted the term "Wahhabism," alongside the anachronistic and doctrinally inaccurate "Salafism," to denote the state sect in Saudi kingdom. It also declared the legitimacy of 12 Sunni Sufi orders, although it failed to enumerate Shia orders and left the Bektashis off the list. Nevertheless, The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World included the current blessed kryegjysh of the Bektashi Community, Haxhi Dede Reshat Bardhi, citing him as "the world leader of the Bektashi community, a seven million member strong Sufi order based in Albania. He has been internationally recognized for his active role in interfaith cooperation and encouraging peace in Eastern Europe and Central Asia." Are there seven million Bektashis? Would that it be so! But the inclusion of the kryegjysh in this directory illustrates the contradictions facing the Bektashis: they are seemingly praised by the same Sunni authorities that in Macedonia wish to despoil them of the Harabati teqe.
As for the moral and spiritual challenge Bektashism offers to the world, it is still best summarized by the writing of the beloved Albanian poet Naim Frashëri, who wrote in 1896 in his "Bektashi Pages" ("Fletore e bektashjinjet" or "Fletore e Bektashinjve") as follows:
Truth and justice, intelligence and wisdom, are supreme.
The faith of the Bektashi is a broad Path lighted by wisdom, brotherhood, friendship, love, humanity, and all the virtues.
On one side are the flowers of knowledge, and on the other the flowers of truth . . .
Who does good, finds good; who does evil, encounters evil.
Who sins against humanity has joined the beasts . . .
Humanity is not bound, but free in all ways, and accountable for all actions . . .
But the human person has a mind which reasons, knowledge by which to make choices, a soul filled with recognition, a heart of discernment, and a conscience that weighs all deeds. This is all one needs—no other help is required. God has granted humanity everything . . .
The Bektashi Sufis take as the book of their religion the Universe, and especially humanity, because as Imam Ali said,
'The human being is a speaking book, faith is speech, but the ignorant add to it. Faith is in hearts, not in books' . . .
They who enter the Path leave all vices behind and retain only virtue. With an unclean heart, an evil soul, or a bad conscience, nobody can enter the company of the saints who achieve intimacy with God.
Here one must know the self, for whoever knows the self, knows God . . .
Brotherhood, peace, love, closeness to God, friendship, good conscience, and other virtues light the Path.
Above all things, love is the beginning and guidance of the Path."
* * *
E vërteta dhe e drejta, mendja dhe urtësia dhe të gjitha mirësitë mbretërojnë në këtë udhë
Besa e bektashinjve është një udhë e gjerë, që ka përpara dritën, urtësinë, vëllazërinë, miqësinë, dashurinë, njerëzinë dhe të gjitha mirësitë
Në një anë ka lulet e diturisë, në anën tjetër të së vërtetës....
Ai që bën mirë del mirë ai që bën keq gjen të keq.
Por kush del njerëzie, bashkohet me kafshët...
Njeriu s'është i penguar po i liruar nga gjithçka dhe të gjitha punët i ka në dorë të vet...
Po ka mendjen që kupton njohuritë që zgjedh, shpirtin që njeh, zemrën që ndan dhe vetëdijen që peshon të gjitha punët.
Kështu ka gjithçka që i duhen me vete e nuk ka fare nevojë së jashtmi që të kërkojë gjetkë; se të gjitha që i duhen ia dha Zoti me vete...
Bektashinjtë fletore të besës kanë Gjithësinë e më shumë njeriun, se Zoti
Ali ka thënë, "Njeriu është fletorja që flet, besa është një fjalë.
Po shtuan atë që s'e dinë, besa është në kraharor, nuk është në kartë e shkruar"...
Prandaj njeriu që hyn në atë udhë i lë të gjitha ligësitë dhe mban me vete vetëm mirësitë. Me zemër të fëlliqur, me shpirt të keq e me vese të liga nuk mund të futet njeriu tek të mirët, tek ata që janë afër perëndisë.
Këtu duhet të njohë veten njeriu, se ai që e kupton veten e tij di ç'është Perëndia...
Vëllazëria, paqësimi, dashuria, mëshira, afrimi, miqësia, vetitë e mira e të gjitha të mirat tjera janë dritat e udhës.
Më shumë nga të gjitha, dashuria është afrim e falje në këtë udhë.
This essential message was reaffirmed in America in the 1950s when the blessed Baba Rexheb wrote, in a briefly-published periodical titled Zëri Bektashizmës, about the significance of Ashura and the martyrdom of Imam Husayn. Baba Rexheb declared that the grandson of Muhammad was persecuted and slain because he defended a constitutional attitude toward religious rule, liberty, and the welfare of the people. Imam Husayn, according to Baba Rexheb, "kept alive the flag of liberty, the prestige of religious democracy." The people rebelled against the injustices of their rulers and Imam Husayn joined them in their protest, but the evil usurpers of authority replied with "terroristic actions." This anticipation by an Albanian Bektashi exile in America of the key questions in the relations between Islam and the West a half-century afterward is more than remarkable. The principle of "religious democracy" – meaning democracy within religion, not a democracy ruled by religion – is a great challenge to Sheriat-driven conformity in Islam, and the description of Muslim tyrants maintaining their position by terror could be taken from the pages of any newspaper in the world today.
Eight centuries after the birth of the blessed Haxhi Bektash Veli, Bektashism has arrived at a crucial moment for its spiritual inspiration and the humanity it honors.
Washington, December 2009 – Ashura 1431
 "The Harabati Teqe in Tetova Under Wahhabi Attack," Presented to International Symposium "Bektashism Between Religious Movement And Established Religion," Faculty of Social Sciences, European University of Tirana, 23–24 October 2009.
 U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2006, at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2006/71394.htm.
 See U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2009, section on Macedonia, at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127323.htm.
 The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony, New York, Doubleday, 2008. Albanian translation: Islami Tjetër: Sufízmi dhe rrëfimi për respektin, Prishtina, Koha, 2009; Bosnian tr., Jedan Drugačiji Islam, Sarajevo, Mosaik, 2009.
 Cited in Ignaz Goldziher, The Zahiris, Their Doctrine and Their History, Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2008.
 Baba Rexheb [Beqiri], Mistiçizma Islame dhe Bektashizma. Tirana, Shtëpia Botuese "Urtësia," 2006. Incomplete but useful English translation: The Mysticism of Islam and Bektashism, vol. 1. Trans. Bardhyl Pogoni. Naples, Italy: Dragoti, 1984.
 John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin, eds., The 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World, accessible at http://www.rissc.jo/index.php/english-publications.html.
 As cited in the English and Albanian editions of my book The Other Islam/Islami Tjetër, n. 4.
Related Topics: Albanian Muslims, American Muslims, Balkan Muslims, Bektashi Sufis, Kosovo, Sufism receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
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