Notes on Sufism as a Social Movement
[Delivered At First International Conference of Al-Qasemi Academy: "In the Footsteps of Sufism: History, Trends and Praxis" Baqa al-Gharbiyya, Israel, May 25, 2011]
This paper is dedicated to my friend and brother, the late Bektashi follower rahmetli Shpëtim Mahmudi.
Selamaleykum warahmetallahuh wabarakatuh,
Distinguished scholars, teachers, and students,
Bismillah ir-rahman ir-rahim,
This paper will discuss various aspects of Islamic mysticism in the Balkans, Anatolia, Kurdistan, and Iran. These include the current situation of the Khalwati Sufi order in the Balkan region, and of the stream of heterodox Sufi and Sufi-oriented turuq and other spiritual associations, comprising the Bektashi Sufi order, the Alevi-Bektaşi movement, and the Ahl-e Haqq community, present in a broad geographical continuum extending from the Balkans through Anatolia, Kurdistan, and Iran. The paper is based on empirical observation in the Balkans, the Anatolian (Turkish and Kurdish) diaspora in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, and the Kurdish-Iranian diaspora in Western Europe.
I stipulate that my research languages are restricted to English, Bosnian, and Albanian, and that I am a journalist and author by profession, rather than an academic. My deliberate investigations in this area began in 1990, in the milieu of the Albanian Bektashis and the generalized Sufi-influenced Sunnism found in Bosnia-Hercegovina. But I have since benefited from relationships that have been established with Anatolian and Kurdish-Iranian migrants, as well as their offspring, in Western Europe, through the Centre for Islamic Pluralism, an international network I founded in 2005.
I should note that I consider it especially appropriate, and am grateful for the opportunity, to present this paper at Al-Qasemi, a Khalwati school that I believe epitomizes the best characteristics of Sunni Sufism today.
1. Khalwatis and Bektashis in the Balkans
Although the Khalwati Order and the Bektashi Order were among the 12 turuq recognized as legitimate by the Ottoman state (al-dawlat al-'Uthmaniya), their praxis was and remains very different, as reflected in their recent activities in the Balkans. Khalwatiyya is a "sober" order rigorous in its observance of the Sunnah and Shariah, while Bektashism is known for its "ecstatic" contrast with Sunni norms. If they have a single externally-visible aspect in common, it is the attachment to khalwa or seclusion from the dunya (the exoteric world), during which they utter intense repetition of the names of God.
Little is known of the titular founder of Khalwatiyya, Pir Umar Khalwat radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz. He is said to have lived in the 8th hijri century, i.e. the 14th century C.E., and to have died in Tabriz in 800AH/1397-98 CE).
Both Khalwatiyya and Bektashism are widely distributed among Albanian Muslims, but have a reduced presence in Bosnian, Macedonian, and other South Slavic Islamic communities. Bektaşis in Bulgaria today are of Turkish ethnicity, and form a branch of Alevilik-Bektaşilik. Under the Yugoslav Communist regime, which ruled from 1943 to 1991, Bosnian Sufism was suppressed for a quarter century, a ban which effectively dissolved the Khalwati presence. The prohibition on the activities of tekije/teqet (Bosnian/Albanian) was decreed by the Islamic Community of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1952. Heterodox Sufism of the kind epitomized by the Bektaşis had been, it is widely believed, extirpated in Bosnia-Hercegovina even earlier, in the 17th century, as exemplified in the persecution of the radical Hamzeviyya movement.
The Bosnian Islamic collective consciousness, nevertheless, maintains folk, sacred-ritual, musical, and related artifacts of nostalgia about the rebellions of non-conformist Sufis of the Bektaşi and Hamzevi kind in the first centuries of Ottoman rule in the country. These are reflected in archetypal expressions of Bosnian Muslim identity such as the annual Ajvatovica pilgrimage, the lasting popularity of songs about the rahmetlije Morić brothers, who were Sarajlija nobles executed as alleged dissidents in the 18th century, and the preservation of the tekija of the Turkish dervish saint Sari Saltuk radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz at Blagaj in Hercegovina. The Blagaj tekija, which has become a national symbol of Bosnian Muslims, lacks a mihrab, in accord with Bektaşi habits of neglecting daily namaz, but has not been in Bektaşi hands since at least the early 19th century. Aside from that in Blagaj, several tombs in the formerly-Ottoman Balkans are ascribed to Sari Saltuk.
In addition, Hamzeviyya was honored, if vaguely, in the state educational curriculum in Titoite Bosnia-Hercegovina, as a harbinger of socialist revolutionism. So, curiously, was the Kabbalah of the Sarajevo-born rabbi Nehemiah Hiyya Cajón. The "insurgent" Sufi Hamzevis and the "critical" Sephardic Kabbalist – Hiyya Cajón was accused famously of concealed adherence to the messianic claims of Sabbetai Zvi – were and are perceived as "model Bosnians" because of their dissident personalities, perpetuating metonyms of Bosnian autonomous identity comparable with common references to the pre-Islamic Bosanska Crkva or Bosnian church. The ideal Bosnian is seen as a doubter of all dogma and imposition, whether that of the Roman church, which conducted a crusade against the Bosnian "heretics," the Orthodox Christians, who tried to assimilate the Bosnians to the Serbian ethnos, the Sunni ulema, which brutally crushed the Hamzeviyya, or the Jewish rabbinical authorities that, at first unsuccessfully, accused Hiyya Cajón.
There are fewer than half a dozen Bektashis, all of Albanian origin, in Bosnia today. To my knowledge, while the yeniçeri (janissaries or "new men"), typically accompanied by Bektaşi babalar, were an important institution in early 19th century Bosnia-Hercegovina, research on the links between the yeniçeri and the Bektaşi babalar in Bosnia has been neglected. A Bosnian scholar, Senad Mićijević, is now preparing a volume on Bektashism in Bosnia, which, although intended for publication only in Bosnian, should contribute to clarification of these matters.
As noted, Khalwatiyya shares the heritage of khalwa with the Bektashis. The latter trace their silsila to the "father of Turkic Sufism," Hoca Ahmet Yesevi (12th c. CE) radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz. Hoca Yesevi went into khalwa at the age of 63 – approximately that of the death of Prophet Muhammad sallallahualeyhisalaam – in an underground chamber beneath his mausoleum. His massive and as yet-unfinished türbe in Turkestan City, now in Kazakhstan, was constructed at the order of the Central Asian Muslim ruler Amir Timur radiallahuta'ala, beginning in 1389 CE. Khalwatiyya and the Bektashis also both enjoyed the patronage of the Ottoman "Sufi Sultan" Bayazet II radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz, the wise and just ruler.
According to the French researcher Nathalie Clayer, citing documentation of the Sarajevo ulema, only two Khalwati tekije remained in operation in Bosnia in 1933, those of rahmetli Ibrahim Bistrigi radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz and rahmetli Skender Paša radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz, both in Sarajevo. She adds that the Khalwati tradition did not reappear with the rebirth of Bosnian Sufism at the end of the 1970s. Nevertheless, Khalwatiyya revived in Bosnia-Hercegovina in the aftermath of the Serbian aggression of 1992-95.
To emphasize, the situation was and remains very different in the Albanian lands. Albanian Communism was much more brutal in its attempt to extinguish Sufism as well as all other manifestations of religion, with the 1967 declaration that the country was the world's first atheist state. But a roster of Albanian teqet provided to me in 2006 by the young sheh Ali Pazari, the Khalwati head of the organization of non-Bektashi Sufis in Albania, known as the Komuniteti Alevian Islamik Të Shqiperisë (Aliite Islamic Community of Albania), listed 246 Khalwati sites out of 285 non-Bektashi teqet in Albania, making Khalwatiyya by far the most important of the non-Bektashi orders in Albania. The leading Albanologist Robert Elsie states that Khalwatiyya is second to Bektashism in its numerical affiliation among Albanian Sufis, which I believe to be correct.
In Albania proper, Khalwati teqet cluster in certain towns and villages, with Tirana, the capital, including the headquarters teqe of the Albanian non-Bektashis, along with 18 more Khalwati teqet, and one Hayati teqe, representing an offshoot of the Khalwatiyya, in the city and its surroundings. Elsie states that the Hayati order exists only in the Balkans. Some of these institutions were dormant in 2006. The following inventory is alphabetical rather than reflecting numbers of teqet: the south-central Albanian District of Berat, accounting for the city of that name as well as local villages, has 16 Khalwati teqet; Bilisht city and villages, in the southeast near the Greek border, have nine, plus two Hayati teqet; Dragu in Bulqizë District has eight; the city and villages of Delvinë District comprise eight; Dibër city and villages in its District include 14; the central Albanian industrialized (and now post-industrial) city of Elbasan and a nearby village have three; the Fier District, two; the southern city and the villages in the District of Gjirokastër have 31; the city and villages of Kavajë District count 11; the major town of Korçë and villages in its District have four, with one Hayati teqe; the towns of Kelçyrë and Konispol, one each; the municipality of Kurvelesh, in Tepelenë District, has five; Leskovik municipality six; the Lumë region possesses 31; the town and District of Lushnjë two; Mallakastra District has 11; Përmet District in central Albania, apart from Kelçyrë, three; the northern city of Shkodra one, namely, the very interesting Bahçallëk teqe in its suburbs, which I will describe below, the southern city and villages of Tepelenë District, aside from Kurvelesh, 49; the remote northern mountain town and District of Tropoja four, and in the major port city and villages of Vlora District, seven.
In the Albanian loci of Bilisht, Delvinë, Fier, Korçë, Kurvelesh, Leskovik, Lushnjë, and Përmet, Khalwatis and Hayatis appeared to enjoy hegemony among local non-Bektashi Sufis, five years ago. In addition, three Gülşeni [Gjylsheni] teqet, also erected by a splinter group from the Khalwatiyya, were open, with one in Tirana and two in Gjirokastër. I have not completed a survey of the current Khalwati profile in the Albanian lands, but am inclined to suspect that the number of their teqet has increased since then. Bilisht, Gjirokastër, Korçë, Leskovik, Përmet, and Tepelenë form a relatively compact area of Khalwati influence in the southern Albanian borderland with Greece. Clayer posits that the spread of Khalwatiyya reflects "Sunnitisation" or "Sunnification" of former "heretics." I believe these were most probably, under the costume of Islamic heterodoxy, Albanian national and social rebels, in the 16th and 17th centuries. I do not believe they were former Orthodox Christians, notwithstanding the strong presence of Albanian Orthodoxy in the area.
The possible expansion of Khalwatiyya as a means of reintegration of dissenters into the Islamic order embodies one aspect of what I wish to denote as "Sufism as a social movement," i.e. a phenomenon with political and economic dimensions equal or even superior in importance to its spiritual aspects. But there are other features of Khalwatiyya in the Albanian lands that manifest an "enlightened" civic attitude.
2. The Khalwati teqe at Bahçallëk in Shkodra, Albania
In discussing the very interesting teqe at Bahçallëk, a village separated by the stream called the Kir from the main city of Shkodra, several matters must first be stipulated. Sufism is said to have begun its history among Albanians in Shkodra, the main commercial center in the Western Balkans under the 'Uthmaniya, and, to the present, the urban hub of northern Albania. The first Bektashi teqe in the Albanian lands is reputed to have been established there, but no longer exists. Its cultural and religious environment is, however, very distinct from those of central and southern Albania. Shkodra is considered mainly a Catholic city, and is the seat of the Franciscan religious order in Albania, which has played an extremely important role in the development of Albanian culture and education. In the past it was the site of an influential Jesuit high school, the Collegium Xavieranum, that graduated Muslim as well as Catholic students. The first printing press in Albania was established in Shkodra by the Catholic Father Ndoc Nikaj, considered the founder of modern northern Albanian (Gegnisht) prose, as well as a pioneer in publishing Albanian-language periodicals.
The cited roster of Albanian teqet includes the Khalwati teqe at Bahçallëk on the Kir, a narrow tributary of the Drin river, one of the most important in the Balkans. The teqe is identified as under the direct authority of sheh Ali Pazari. My visit to the teqe in 2006, however, disclosed a unique reality that I never before experienced in analyzing Sufism.
The Ottomans left many monuments in the Balkans, among them numerous bridges. Between Shkodra and the village of Bahçallëk, a stone bridge across the Kir was built, slowly, over the centuries. It had an undulating, rather surrealistic quality, like many Ottoman bridges in the Albanian lands. The Bahçallëku bridge became a place young men and women would meet and flirt, walking in the cool river air. In the early 19th century, the English author and artist Edward Lear, best known in the Anglo-American world for The Owl and the Pussycat and other nonsense verse, but much more famous in the Balkans for watercolors executed during travels in the region, drew a wonderful image of the Bahçallëku bridge.
Under Albanian Communism, Shkodra and its spiritual heritage were objects of deep suspicion by the country's rulers. The city was fiercely anti-Communist and hewed defiantly to its own religious, literary and linguistic traditions. All its churches, mosques, and Sufi teqet were ordered closed by the dictator Enver Hoxha, and the Bahçallëku bridge was destroyed as an alleged symbol of pre-Communist "backwardness."
The commissar who ordered this act of vandalism was Mehmet Shehu, number two in the Albanian Communist state and, disgracefully, the son of an Islamic sheh, as his overlord was the child of a hoca – indicated, astaghfirullah, by their family names. The Bahçallëku bridge was replaced by an ugly, minimal steel span.
I have visited Shkodra often and remembered frequently the story of the Bahçallëku bridge and its wrecking. But I did not see the place where it had stood until 2006, when I toured Albanian Sufi tombs and teqet in Montenegro, Kosovo, western Macedonia, and the northern and central areas of Albania. Going to the Kir riverbank, I watched the rain-swollen waters glide past, between overgrown vegetation. The sky was overcast. A small café, really just some benches, had been erected at the edge of the water by an elderly Albanian who had lived in America. When I described my journey, he told me of a small teqe different from any other of which I had ever heard. Nearby, he said, was a hidden, underground teqe maintained by a community limited to women, with a female sheha. The teqe, he said, was open only in the evenings.
When I returned to the place at the end of the afternoon, I went down a small set of steps to a below-ground door, knocked, and was met by sheha Myzejen Shehu, a diminutive, older woman in hijab. The teqe includes the tombs of its founder, rahmetli sheh Qazim-Ali Sulltan radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz, and his rahmetli son, who died five centuries ago. Women meet there for dhikr without a set date, sometimes daily. The maintenance of the Khalwati teqe at the former Bahçallëku bridge has been paid for by Albanian Americans. Miraculously, the female Khalwatis of Shkodra and many other Sufis in Albania survived the antireligious devastation of the Communist era; the protection of the subterranean mausoleum at Bahçallëk appears symbolic of this endurance. While the old Ottoman bridge had been demolished, the "spiritual bridge" of Sufism could not be obliterated. This is a matter of social history, rather than a Sufi parable.
3. A mass shuhadaa in a Khalwati teqe during the Kosovo war of 1998-99
Khalwati Sufis are also found in significant numbers in Kosovo. The 1952 ban on tasawwuf by the Yugoslav ulema, although obeyed in Bosnia-Hercegovina, was ignored among the Albanian-speaking Muslims of Kosovo. Until the Kosovo independence war, one of the most distinguished non-Bektashi Sufi teachers in the province, which today is an independent republic, was Myhedin Shehu, sheh of the Khalwati-Karabashi teqe in the town of Rahovec.
On July 19, 1998, the first serious battle between Serb forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA or UÇK) took place in Rahovec. A picturesque location surrounded by vineyards, Rahovec features a lower and upper town. Open fighting in the streets of the lower town culminated in a Serb assault on the Khalwati-Karabashi Sufi installation in the upper town, known as the Sheh Myhedini teqe, in which hundreds of terrified residents had gathered. There, rahmetli sheh Myhedin Shehu, radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz was killed, along with the people he had given shelter. [Fatiha]. In the teqe at Rahovec, up to 150 Albanians died; the Serbs buried the victims in two mass graves in the area of Prizren. The sons of sheh Myhedin, sheh Besim Shehu, sheh Hilmi Shehu, and sheh Jahja Shehu, carry on his work today. The Sufis at the Myhedin Shehu teqe perform sacred songs or, in Turkish, nefesler, in a seated chorus, employing both the Albanian and Turkish languages.
I cannot cite a formal estimate for the total number of Khalwati Sufis in the Albanian lands, but would guess it accounts for at least 200,000 individuals. The total number of Khalwati Sufis in the world is not known to me.
4. Bektashism in Albania
The Bektashi order, as I have indicated, represents a very different Sufi phenomenon from that of the Khalwatiyya. The Bektashis identify themselves as Shia Muslims and especially as lovers of Imam Ali radiallahuta'ala, although during periods of repression toward the end of the 'Uthmaniya they adopted a position of taqiyya and claimed to be Sunni. Throughout their history, nevertheless, they have been known for their "ecstatic" orientation, and their treatment of namaz, hajj, the prohibition on consumption of alcohol, and other aspects of the shariah to be "zahiriyya," or simply, "shariah." For the Bektashi, "shariah" refers to the external practice of religion, while Bektashi devotees are dedicated to a "batin" or esoteric path from "shariah" through "tariqah," or study and "marifah" or wisdom, to "haqiqah," or union with Allah subhanawata'la, by which the Bektashi way culminates in realization of wahdat ul-wujud – the indivisibility of God's creation.
Bektashis stand out in their deliberate fusion of Sunni and Shia traditions and recourse to theological authorities from both sects. They read Qur'an, the Sunni recensions of hadith, traditional narratives of the life of the poet and mystic Haci Bektaş Veli radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz, said to have lived from 1248 to 1341 CE, as well as commemorations of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein radiallahuta'ala at Kerbala, by authors such as the Azeri Shia Fuzuli (1483-1556). For Fuzuli and each among the other names that follow, I say radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz: Bektashis study the Sufis of Basra and Rabiya Al-Adawiyya, who died in the second hijri century and is buried in Al-Quds, Abu-Talib Al-Makki, Ibrahim Al-Hakki, Jami – a notable Sunni Sufi with a fundamentalist bias, Al-Sharani, Dhunnun Al-Misri, Bayazet Al-Bastami, Yahya Muadh, Junaid Baghdadi, Musa Ansari, Hussein bin Mansur Al-Hallaj, Hojjatulislam Zeynedin Abu Muhammad Bin Ahmad Tus, known as Al-Ghazali, Shihab'ud'din Suhrawardi, Muhyid'din Ibn Arabi, shaykh-ul-aqbar, Umar Ibn Farid, Qutb'ud'din Abu Muhammad Abd'Allah Bin Sabbin, Farid'ud'din Attar, Mawlana Jalal'ud'din Rumi, and Shems-i Tabrizi.
Bektashis also immerse themselves in the writings and biographies of the outstanding exemplars of the other great Sufi orders, such as Abdulqadir Al-Jilani, Ahmad Al-Rifa'i, Ahmad Al-Badawi, Baha'ud'din Naqshband, Ziya'ud'din Khalid, Pir Umar Khalwat and his successors including Nur'ud'din Al-Jarraha, along with Haci Bayram Veli, Ismail Hakki Bursevi, Niyazi Al-Misri, Ibrahim Gülşeni, Sa'ad'ud'din Jibawi, and Abu'l Hasan bin Abd'Allah bin Abd'Al-Jabar Ash-Shazali.
Finally, the Bektashis are devoted to the works and lives of their own outstanding exponents, of which there are many, reaching from the 15th century "organizer of the order," Balim Sulltan radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz, who initiated Sultan Bayazet II into Bektashism, to the 19th century enlightener and Albanian patriot, Naim Frashëri.
With the suppression of the Sufi turuq in Turkey by Mustafa Kemal, after the first world war, the Bektashi order transferred its Kryegjyshata or residence of its world dede to Tirana, Albania. The Bektashis had long maintained a large presence in southern Albania, with varying numbers of followers in every Albanian-speaking territory, including Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Çamëria in northern Greece, as well as in Turkey, Al-Shams, Iraq, Hungary, Romania, and other lands. But with the migration to Albania of its unique hierarchy, which resembles a Shia model of ulema more than that of the Sunni shuyuq, Bektashism became identified with Albanian ethnicity. It adopted the Albanian national flag, which it displays alongside its own green banner showing a twelve-pointed golden star and wreathes. This was a fulfillment of the vision of Naim Frashëri, who saw in Bektashism a vessel for the progressive transformation of the Albanian people. Bektashism epitomizes gender equality, secular governance, and public education.
After the second world war, and the imposition of Communism, Baba Rexheb founded the First Bektashi Teqe in the United States, at Taylor, Michigan. In all these endeavors, Bektashism epitomized Sufism as a social movement. Bektashis were also notably active in the Kosovo liberation war of 1998-99, as volunteers in the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Recent and misguided attempts to return the center of Bektashi attention and activity to Turkey, in my opinion, will not and should not succeed. The Bektashi tariqa as we know it today is Albanian in heart, tongue, and writing. The general estimate given for Bektashi adherence is two million people, comprising a quarter of the population of Albania itself, or 800,000, with the rest living in Kosovo, Macedonia, Turkey, which has a large Albanian diaspora, and the U.S.
5. Sufis Vs. Wahhabis in Macedonia
All present here know too well that the traditions of Islamic legal pluralism face a mortal threat from Wahhabism, which masquerades as "Salafism," and similar takfiri ideologies. In the Balkans, the frontline between Sufi pluralism and Wahhabi fundamentalism runs through the Albanian- and Muslim-majority – and in the past, Sufi-identified – city of Tetova in western Macedonia.
In Tetova, the focal point of aggression against the muminin is found at this moment at the Harabati Baba Bektashi teqe, which is under siege by Wahhabi extremists, and was set afire in what was probably an arson attack in December 2010. As I commented in a paper presented (unfortunately in my absence) in Tirana in 2009, 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, Kosovo, and the First Bektashi teqe in America. The Harabati teqe, which was established in 1538 CE, should be defended, as a primary interest, by every Bektashi, friend of Bektashis, and other Sufis and moderate Muslims in the Balkan region, the Albanian lands, and around the world.
Attempts to occupy the Harabati teqe and to transform it into a Wahhabi masjid 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 in namaz. At a Bektashi installation, regular prayer would not be held, and the teqe had never, at any time, included a masjid. Usurpation by the Wahhabis was carried out with the apparent approval of the local 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. Good relations are maintained between the Sunni establishment and the Bektashi community in Albania – facilitated by the much larger Bektashi membership there – but are absent in Macedonia and limited to local contacts in Kosovo.
6. The Bektashi/Alevilik-Bektaşilik/Ahl-e Haqq Spectrum from the Balkans to Iran
I wrote extensively about the common heritage of the Albanian Bektashis and the Turkish and Kurdish Alevilik-Bektaşilik, 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. The Turkish and Kurdish Alevilik-Bektaşilik (non-Sunni, secularist Muslims oriented toward Sufi spirituality, mainly representing a legacy of Safawiyya), comprise a minority of between seven and 20 million Turkish citizens — i.e., eight to 25 percent of the total population of 78 million. They currently demand abolition of the Turkish Diyanet or State Directorate of Religious Affairs, an end to compulsory Sunni religious classes in state schools, and cessation of Sunni mosque construction in villages where Alevis, but not Sunnis, reside.
Representatives of Alevilik-Bektaşilik also call for legalization of their distinctive houses of worship, known as cemevi. An Alevi leader, Ali Balkız, has charged that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is headed toward a personal dictatorship "flavored by religious sauce," and another, Selahattin Özel, denounced the AKP for a much-heralded "Alevi initiative" outreach effort. According to Özel, the AKP wishes to perpetuate a second-class status for Alevis, in which their identity is "defined by non-Alevis."
I regret that I did not devote more attention in The Other Islam 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, especially as musicians. The Alevilik-Bektaşilik and Ahl-e Haqq continue to be neglected by academic scholars and do not receive appropriate attention in Islamic studies of Sufism, although the situation is changing for the Alevis because of the mentioned political developments in Turkey.
I perceive a multiple stream of continuity between the Albanian Bektashis, Turkish and Kurdish Alevilik-Bektaşilik, and the Ahl-e Haqq. The Albanian Bektashis, Alevilik-Bektaşilik, and Ahl-e Haqq have all incorporated music into their devotional praxis, as an expression of love of God and honor to the Muslim saints. The Albanian Bektashis do this through singing of nefesler, and Alevilik-Bektaşilik through singing and performance on the saz, a stringed instrument, along with semah or dancing led by women. 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 lute. The main body of Ahl-e Haqq have no ritual other than the performance of music. Sacred expression of this kind has a powerful influence on the personality, deepening the spiritual attachment of the believer.
Albanian Bektashis, the Turkish-Kurdish Alevilik-Bektaşilik, and Ahl-e Haqq share additionally an attachment to Hurufiyya, the numerological form of esoterism similar to gematria in the Jewish Kabbalah. Their fidelity to the Hurufi heritage exemplifies the syncretic incorporation by all three groups of aspects of pre-Islamic Turkic (Tengrist) shamanism, Buddhism (through belief in transmigration of the soul, which is especially prominent among the Albanian Bektashis and Ahl-e Haqq), Christianity, and Judaism into Sufi praxis. The Bektaşis had a long-standing reputation, in their service to the yeniçeri, as a tariqa that adopted Christian spiritual observances as a feature of the Islamization of Christian children, recruited under the devşirme system, to military and other service to the Ottoman state.
A link between Bektaşis and Kabbalists in Ottoman Macedonia, where the capital of Selanik was a Jewish religious center, has also been posited, but seems unlikely. Bektashis have no collective record of such a connection. The early 20th century "Jewish Sufi," Rabbi Ariel Bension, author of a known but seldom-cited volume on the Zohar, who was born in Jerusalem, knew Arabic, and was conspicuous in his admiration for Ibn Arabi, served as a rabbi in the Macedonian town of Manastir (today Bitola). There the population was, until the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, mainly composed of Rumelian Turks, Sephardic Jews, and Albanians. Kabbalists frequented Muslim adhkar [pl. of dhikr] in Manastir. But R. Bension, while memorable in his praise of Arab Sufis, disdained Turkish religious culture as spiritually inferior. A reliable survey of contacts between Kabbalists and Turkish Sufis remains to be developed.
What is the relationship of the Albanian Bektashis, who belong to an organized tariqa, and the Turkish and Kurdish Alevilik-Bektaşilik, who adhere to a mass movement with a more overt, activist political and social character? It is well established that the Alevis, persecuted as "Kizilbaş," the Anatolian partisans of Safawiyya during the Turkish-Persian wars, gained protection from the Bektaşi order. As the "chaplains" of the yeniçeri, the Bektaşis had a capacity, exceeding that of the Khalwatiyya and other mainstream turuq, to provide an institutional sanctuary for dissenters.
The Albanian social anthropologist Albert Doja, in a 2006 paper on "Bektashism" in Ottoman and present-day Turkey argued that during the 16th century, in the epoch of Sultan Bayazet II and of Balim Sulltan, "the Sultan should have expected the dervishes to wean the [Kizilbaş] tribesmen away from the mixture of folk Islam and Shiite beliefs which they had espoused until that time... the foundation of the Safavid state in Iran and the uprisings in southwestern Anatolia had shown that tribal heterodoxy could threaten Ottoman control... This organization became the more formally organized Bektashi Order, as in some measure distinct from the Alevi village groups who continued their very similar beliefs and practices, but outside the regulated system of Bektashism."
Albanian Bektashis, Turkish and Kurdish Alevilik-Bektaşilik, and Ahl-e Haqq, along the road that begins historically in Central Asia and leads to the Balkans, have other aspects in common that at present may prove even more significant. Albanian Bektashis, Turkish and Kurdish Alevilik-Bektaşilik, and Ahl-e Haqq are especially known for their commitment to gender equality and secular governance. All are challenged, as an element of their positive role in the world, with resistance 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 Alevilik-Bektaşilik threatened with new insecurity by the rise of the AKP in Turkey. 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 extremism 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 known member of the Iranian Ahl-e Haqq was a musician, Seyed Halil Alinejad, 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 Göteborg, 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 Alevilik-Bektaşilik, 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.
On November 17, 2010, thousands of Iranians gathered at the tomb of Seyed Halil Alinejad, to mark the ninth anniversary of his death. At the mausoleum in the western Iranian town of Sahne, Iranian security officials confiscated banners, audio equipment, and other items intended for the memorial. Two adherents of Ahl-e Haqq, Kheirollah Haqjooyan and Hojat Zeorian, were arrested. Haqjooyan had been warned by the regime's agents not to deliver a speech at the observance. Both men vanished into the darkness of the Iranian state's apparatus of oppression.
7. Sufis, Protest, and Islamic Pluralism
Sufism has been categorized as a medium for protest within Islam, and therefore a social movement, by many authorities, including most notably Louis Massignon, in his ambiguous but important study of Mansur Al-Hallaj. In a 2006 paper, the late Israeli sociologist Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt (1923-2010), a professor long affiliated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, proposed a challenging theory of "Islamic pluralism" – i.e. pluralistic politics in traditional Islamic societies. Eisenstadt, who was critical of Wahhabism, wrote that the classic Islamic polities, although lacking "civil society" in the modern sense, at the same time possessed a "public sphere" comprising the ulema. Drawing on the work of the historian Marshall Hodgson, author of The Venture of Islam, Eisenstadt argued that the autonomy of ulema from the state guaranteed, in Sunni Islam, the functioning of a vital public space embodied in the madhahib or schools of fiqh, the awqaf or pious foundations created by wealthy persons or high officials for perpetuation and proper use of their assets, and the Sufi turuq, all "constructed by autonomous criteria of recruitment and action." I would add that the ahiha or guilds played a similar role, at least in Ottoman society. The heterodoxy of the Bektaşis, as a pillar of the yeniçeri, a state institution, may provide an example of "pluralism within pluralism."
Separation of the political state and the religious authorities had begun with the overthrow of the Umayyads by the Abbasids. It was intensified pragmatically, if not proclaimed, with the expansion of Muslim rule, encompassing territories too extensive to be governed by a single bureaucracy. This resulted in Eisenstadt's description of Muslim societies as embodying "a de facto separation between the religious community and the rulers." Eisenstadt's colleagues, Miriam Hoexter and Nehemia Levtzion, wrote, "The independence of the shari'a and the distribution of duties between the ruler and the 'ulama,' established very clearly in Islamic history, were crucial factors in securing the autonomy of the public sphere and in putting limits on the absolute power of the ruler."
The ideal unity of the Islamic ummah, envisioned by Muhammad in the community of Medina, was fragmented by the entry of Islam into new, different cultural environments. Islam was further fractured by the disarray that followed the Mongol invasions. The Medinite conception of a unique moral order could not be regained. Eisenstadt has written, "though regulated by the ruler, [the ulama] were yet autonomous and could exert far-reaching influence on the ruler – an influence that went far beyond official rule or attempts to evade it." The 'Uthmaniya organized the clerics under state guidelines, but "even in the Ottoman Empire the ulama were largely autonomous... [and] at least in principle, independent of the rulers."
Today, the Sufis alone appear to bear the burden of protecting and defending the legacy of Islamic pluralism as described by Eisenstadt.
8. Conclusion: Sufism as a Social Movement Today
All Sufis, in my view, 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 shariah. By contrast, fundamentalist Sunnis and Shias alike have made an idol – an object of shirk – and I know how serious this charge must be – of the external religious rules of shariah. 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 Ihya Ulum Al-Din (Revival of Religious Sciences) 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."
The Sufi role in protest for social justice was affirmed in America in the 1950s when Baba Rexheb wrote, in a briefly-published periodical titled Zëri Bektashizmës (Voice of Bektashism) about the martyrdom of Imam Hussein. 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 Hussein, 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 Hussein joined them in their struggle, 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 among Muslims and 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 conformism 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.
As this paper is written, Syrian protestors are marching with the slogan "We are not 'Salafis,' we are not terrorists, we are the revolution of the young." Osama Bin Laden is dead. Amid the battles and debates of what international media call the Arab Spring, but which is better titled the Muslim Spring, because of its indispensable Iranian component, several things have become apparent. The revolutions in the Muslim lands are not the private affair of the Arabs and other Muslims but the concern of all humanity possessing a conscience. In observing the Muslim protests, all people of conscience must support an unbreakable phalanx around all those who think and work for humanity, and are with the determined faces firing at the steel-clad slug of dictatorship through the smoke and flames of armed conflict.
The Egyptian revolution was the first to satisfy the three criteria, in evidence throughout modern history, for a successful revolution: The rulers must be incapable of living in the old way. The people must be unwilling to live in the old way. The armed bodies of the state must be divided and reluctant to obey orders for them to fire upon demonstrations in which their own family members, friends, and neighbors participate. Any revolutionary attempt in the absence of such a split is lost before it begins.
Further, three rules must be applied to analysis of any social movement while it is underway: Make distinctions, do not confuse them. Anticipate events, rather than reacting to them. Be prepared for rapid change and the immediate discrediting of superficial opinions.
I believe that for Sufis the Libyan civil war must be of special importance. The Libyan rebels have an advantage in Western military support, but no trained army and no single leadership for their improvised militias. What, then, do they have that offers a clue to Libya's future?
They have a flag. People around the world have seen the Libyan fighters carrying a red, black, and green banner with a crescent and star into battle. Some journalists mention that the flag is that of the former Libyan monarchy of King Idris, who lived from 1889 to 1983 and ruled from 1951 to 1969. But there is more to the history of Libya, its monarch, and his regalia. King Idris was head of a Sufi order, the Senussiyya, that distinguished itself in fighting the Italians who ruled over his country from 1911 to 1947, including Mussolini's fascists. King Idris was forced into exile, whence he continued leading the anti-Italian war.
The black stripe and crescent-and-star in the center of the pre-1969 Libyan monarchist flag represent the Senussi Sufi order. King Idris's realm was described in a 1993 academic volume, Polity and Society in Contemporary North Africa, as "a state crowned by a pious Sufi sheikh," in which ulema were submitted to state control. After 1969, the Senussi Sufi centers were shut down, although it is estimated today that a plurality of Muslims in Eastern Libya have remained loyal to them.
The Senussi monarchist tradition should be of interest in gauging Libya's future for another reason. In addition to state limitation on the powers of the ulema, the Senussis originate in an earlier Sufi order, the Idrisiyya, that, at the close of the 18th century, sent North African representatives to Arabia, to oppose Wahhabi fundamentalism and support modernization of Islam by diminishing the legal power of the madhahib.
As Sufis and as contributors to historical analysis, I believe that as we watch the sequence of protest movements in Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, we should bear in mind that Muslims have been through a "sequence of contiguous revolutions" in the past, which ended in disappointment. I refer to a "chain of Eastern revolutions" that greatly resembles the current series of insurrections in Muslim lands. First tsarist Russia and Persia, in 1905-6, then Turkey in 1908, and ultimately non-Muslim but despotic China, in 1911, experienced revolutionary transformations, although all of them, in one or another way, failed in their first cycle.
Sociology reasserts its importance here because of the special role of intellectuals in each upheaval. "Intellectual" is defined differently now from how it was then, when it referred primarily to working journalists and other participants in the open marketplace of ideas, rather than to academics and established authors. Faith assumes a role because all four countries were dominated culturally by traditionalist religious hierarchies rooted in or contaminated by despotism: Russia by Orthodox Christianity, Persia and Turkey by apparently-conservative forms of Islam, and China by Confucianism. Today, the most significant aspect of the early 20th century "chain of Eastern revolutions" involves, for many observers, whether the faith of Muhammad and democracy are compatible.
In reality, numerous partisans of change in the Muslim empires, aside from the Jadidiyya and the "original" Salafiyya, embraced, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, a modernizing, rationalist, reformist, and positivist Islamic vocabulary. Turkish enlighteners, in particular, equated progress with a Muslim spirit, finding inspiration in the Quranic principle of enjoining good and avoiding evil.
Ulema were more active in the democratic movement in Iran than in Turkey. Still, years before the imposition of militaristic secularism by Mustafa Kemal (who called himself "Atatürk," or "father of the Turks"), progressives forced the Ottoman state to reduce the salaries of Islamic religious functionaries. Of course, as we see in hindsight, the Eastern democratic revolutions of 1905-1911 were destined to ruin. Russia eventually surrendered to Leninism, Turkey to Kemalism, Iran to the monarchy of the Pahlavis and then to the Islamic Revolution of Khomeini, and China to Maoist Communism.
The historian of Persian Islam Charles Kurzman has outlined some factors that would make these failures inevitable, including the hostility of the great powers. The imperialism of rich nations provided one obstacle to the consolidation of democratic rule in Turkey and Persia. Kurzman has indicated parallels between the early 20th century "chain of revolutions" and the recent protests enabled by new developments in communications, pointing out correctly that the Russian uprising of 1905 was "the first revolution covered 'live' by international telegraph services." This phenomenon was repeated in each of the crises, and created connections among the political struggles in all of these countries, where local journalists found parallels with distant colleagues. "Thus began," Kurzman writes, "a global wave of democratic revolutions." In addition to democratic ferment in the press, the general populace in each country was suddenly drawn into debate about the future. Once the term "democracy," translated into the various languages, began to be discussed, ordinary people took it up, sometimes resulting in popular stories and jokes. A poor Iranian thought democracy was a kind of food, and complained he had received none.
Muslims in Iran and the Arab lands now face a new opportunity to bring about democratic transformation in their societies, and it should be obvious that Sufis may assume major tasks in these processes, based on respect for them rather than direct political recruitment. Beginning from this standpoint, Sufism may once again assume a leading position as a social movement within Islam, and for the benefit of the whole world. New energy is coursing throughout the veins of the Muslim ummah – it only takes courage to face it.
 Clayer, Nathalie, Mystiques, État & Société – Les Halvetis dans l'aire balkanique de la fin du XVe siècle a nos jours, Leiden, Brill, 1994. I stipulate that I am generally critical of Clayer's superficial approach.
 See, e.g., Sipos, János, and Csáki, Éva, The Psalms and Folk Songs of a Mystic Turkish Order, Budapest, Akadémiai Kiadó, 2009, based on research in Trakya.
 Information provided by my research associate in Sarajevo, Kamal Hasani, whom I also thank for reviewing this paper.
 See Kukavica, Edin, Bajramiyye-melamijje Hamzeviyye, Sarajevo, Sedam, 2009.
 The standard work on the "Morić brothers" ballads is Buturović, Dženana: Morići: smisao sjećanja i pamćenja, Sarajevo, Svjetlost, 2009. In the title, the author makes a distinction between recollection (sjećanja) and memorialization (pamćenja).
 On Nehemiah Hiyya Cajón, see Schwartz, Stephen, Sarajevo Rose, London, Saqi Editions and the Bosnian Institute, 2005, Bosnian ed., Sarajevska ruža, Sarajevo, Tugra, 2006.
 Mićijević, Senad, manuscript on Bektashism, in progress. Copy in possession of the author of this paper.
 Schwartz, Stephen, 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.
 Clayer, op. cit.
 Information provided by Hasani, who states that the present-day Bosnian Khalwatiyya are linked to Turkey.
 NB: The use by Balkan Sufis of the term "Aliite" (e.g. derviških redova Alijje or "dervish groups dedicated to Ali" in Bosnian, Komunitet Alevian or "community affiliated with Ali" in Albanian) to indicate their distinction from the Bektashis does not infer any relationship with Shiism, Alevilik-Bektaşili in Anatolia, or the Alawite sect in the Levant.
 Document in possession of the author of this paper.
 Elsie, Robert, A Dictionary of Albanian Religion, Mythology, and Folk Culture, New York, N.Y.U.P, 2000.
 Clayer, op. cit.
 On this tragic event, see my books in English and Gheg Albanian, Kosovo: Background to a War, London, Anthem Press, 2000. Albanian tr., Kosova: Prejardhja e Nji Lufte, Prishtina, Rrokullia, 2005, second ed. 2006, and Islami Tjetër, op. cit.
 The standard collection of nefesler in use at the Khalwati-Karabashi teqe in Rahovec is Zani i Ashikëve të Ehlibejtit. Prizren, Kosovo, n.d.
 Vital statistics of Haci Bektaş Veli as recorded in Baba Rexheb [Beqiri], The Mysticism of Islam and Bektashism, tr. Bardhyl Pogoni, Napoli, Dragoti, 1984. This is an exceptionally important, but today very rare book in English, which sets out the foundations of Bektashism. Unfortunately, it has also been pirated in the U.S. with the author's name radiallahuta'ala – qaddas sirrahu'l aziz – bastardized as "Baba Rexheb Ferdi." Scholars are warned against the promiscuous misuse of such precious resources. Other sources have given the birth and death dates of Haci Bektaş Veli within a narrower span of years in the 13th century CE. The question is unsettled.
 Al-Alawi, Irfan, and Schwartz, Stephen, "From Sweden to Macedonia," The Weekly Standard Blog [Washington], December 14, 2010.
 Schwartz, Stephen, "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.
 U.S. Department of State, International Religious Freedom Report 2009, at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2009/127323.htm.
 See note 3.
 Schwartz, Stephen, "Turkish Turmoil," The Weekly Standard Blog, April 12, 2011.
 Schwartz, Stephen, "The Last Jewish Sufi: The Life and Writings of Ariel Bension [1880-1932] On the 75th Anniversary of His Book The Zohar in Moslem and Christian Spain And of His Death," Presented to the International Scholarly Conference on "The Place and Role of Dervish Orders in Bosnia-Herzegovina – On the Occasion of the Year of Jalaluddin Rumi – 800 Years Since His Birth," pub. Mjesto i Uloga Derviških Redova u Bosni i Hercegovini, Zbornik radova povodom obilježavanja 800 godina od rođenja Džemaluddina Rumija, Sarajevo, Oriental Institute of Sarajevo and The Faculty of Islamic Studies, University of Sarajevo, 2011.
 Doja, Albert, "A political history of Bektashism from Ottoman Anatolia to contemporary Turkey," Journal of Church and State, Oxford U.P. [Oxford, UK], 2006.
 Schwartz, Stephen, "The Enigmatic Death of an Iranian Émigré." The Weekly Standard Blog, January 21, 2010.
 Schwartz, Stephen, "Iran Escalates Repression Against Sufis," The Weekly Standard Blog, January 5, 2011.
 Massignon, Louis, Hallaj: Mystic and Martyr. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994.
 Eisenstadt, Shmuel, "The Public Sphere in Muslim Societies," in Islam in Public: Turkey, Iran, and Europe, ed. by Nilüfer Göle and Ludwig Ammann, İstanbul, İstanbul Bilgi University Press, 2006.
 Cited in Goldziher, Ignaz, The Zahiris, Their Doctrine and Their History, Leiden and Boston, Brill, 2008.
 Cited in my The Other Islam.
 Ed. by Zartman, I. William and Habeeb, William Mark, Boulder, Colorado, USA, Westview Press, 1993.
 Kurzman, Charles, Democracy Denied, 1905-1915: Intellectuals and the Fate of Democracy, Harvard U.P., 2008.
Related Topics: Albanian Muslims, Balkan Muslims, Bektashi Sufis, Bosnian Muslims, Central Asia, European Muslims, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Macedonia, Shariah, Sufism, Turkish Islam, Uzbekistan receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
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