When Wahhabis Attack: The Case of The Harabati Tekke in Macedonia
The Center for Islamic Pluralism has fully confirmed the deplorable details noted in the below statement, which is circulating among friends of Bektashi Sufis in the U.S.
It is important to ask for everyone's help or advice in dealing with the following situation:
On August 15th 2002, a group of Wahhabi thugs armed with Kalashnikovs and pistols busted into the expansive Harabati Baba Tekke in Tetovo, Macedonia and seized control of a large part of it, professing to be "recovering" it in order to perform the five daily prayers there. These ruffians remain there to this day, impressing their religious fanaticism on this picturesque and idyllic Bektashi compound and harassing its many visitors (as I was during my last visit this July). With the unspoken consent of the Sunni religious hierarchy of Macedonia these Wahhabis now utilize a structure call the "Kubeli Meydan" as an ad hoc mosque, deafeningly blaring the ezan from the loud-speakers they have attached to that structure's chimney, two of which opportunely face towards the area the Bektashis still maintain control of! They have additionally disfigured the historical integrity of the building by tearing out part of the wall facing southeast and installing a concrete mihrab (the niche indicating the direction of Mecca). Wahhabi "security" has taken up residence in the old "Mihman Evi" (guest house) and from there they regularly accost visitors telling them that this is the property of the "Islamic Community" and to keep away from the Bektashi "heretics".
The Harabati Baba Tekke was built in the late 18th century around the tomb of the great 16th century Bektashi saint, Sersem Ali Baba. Copies of vakf (trust) documents exist attesting to the fact that the compound was indeed meant to be a Bektashi tekke from the beginning, not a mosque. In fact one of these documents affirms that the compound is to be used as a Bektashi monastery ad infinitum and in the event that this ceases to be the case ownership of all of the properties of the tekke are to revert back to the family of the donor, Rexhep Pasha. The Harabati Baba Tekke was used as a Bektashi lodge until 1945 when the communists confiscated it and removed its last shaykh, Baba Qazim Bakalli. In the 60s it was turned into a tourist attraction and three of the seven buildings that make up the tekke were utilized as a hotel, a restaurant and a disco. The Kubeli Meydan was put to use as a small art museum (I have yet to find anywhere were Yugoslav authorities appropriated Orthodox monasteries for secular use). The drunken depravity of many of the "hotel's" guests led to repeated incidents of desecration (tombstones smashed and urinated on, fornication carried out in the türbe etc.) and in 1992 a fire started in the main türbe structure by inebriated partygoers caused significant damage to the graves of the many saints buried within. In 1994 the Bektashi community, led by Baba Tayyar Gashi and Baba Tahir Emini, had enough of this befouling of their sacred site and it staged a sit-in, an act which eventually gained them partial control of the complex. A positive resolution to the issue of ownership of the property was well on its way until August of 2002 when religious fanatics claimed the tekke as a mosque.
It must be emphatically stated that the Harabati Baba Tekke was NEVER used as a mosque. In addition to the testimony offered by the original vakf documents, the fact that the Kubeli Meydan (where the Wahhabis now hold prayers) was devoid of a mihrab should be a rather significant indication that the five canonical daily prayers were never offered here. Bektashis have no need for mihrabs in their meydans seeing that their ceremonial prayer does not require one. Another discernible sign that the structure was never a mosque is that the Kubeli Meydan does not have a minaret from where the call to prayer is made (ezan). Nevertheless to alleviate this oversight the Wahhabi intruders have hoisted loudspeakers up the building's chimney.
Why would the Sunnis need to appropriate this tekke to use as a mosque? There are over twenty-five mosques on the city of Tetovo, twelve of which are in the locality of the tekke. Why is it that these Wahhabis couldn't see fit to pray in these places? Could there be other reasons for this belligerent invasion? Could it be that the main intention of these fanatics boils down to the control of property. The Harabati Baba Tekke has the potential for tremendous wealth due to the fact that its vakf property holdings are quite vast. If the tekke, inshallah, is restored in its totality to the Bektashi community, the funds that could be generated through these properties will be significant and they will provide ample income for the maintenance of the community's needs.
To date the Macedonian government has taken little interest in resolving this case. In fact the Bektashi community has not been recognized by the government as a separate religious community vis-à-vis the Sunnis despite its regular appeals since 1993 to be so. The lack of response form the Macedonian government is rather suspicious given that other Macedonian Sufi orders (Halvetis, Rifais, Sadis, Kadiris and Naqshbandis) have an organization called the Islamic Dervish Religious Community which is recognized by the state as an entity separate from the Sunni community.
The legal action taken by the Bektashis to remove these fanatics has, to date, come to nothing. I am not sure at what level the United States is involved in this situation, but I am sure there must be something we can do to get our government to pressure Macedonian authorities to resolve this case fairly. Below is the latest report made by the US Department of State on the condition of religious freedom in Macedonia where mention of problem of the Harabati Baba tekke is made:
International Religious Freedom Report 2006
The Bektashi, a Sufi Islamic group, sued the Government for failing to reverse the former Yugoslavia's nationalization of the Bektashis' Tetovo compound, known as the Arabati Baba Tekke. The Bektashi also filed suit against the Islamic Community of Macedonia (ICM), armed members of which seized part of the complex in 2002; the ICM continued to occupy the mosque [it is not a mosque!!]. The Islamic Community claimed that the property belongs to them, as the Bektashi are a sect of Islam; however, the Bektashi in Macedonia have registered as a separate religious group and claim that the property belongs strictly to the Bektashi Community and not the Islamic community as a whole. These disputes were ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report.
The Bektashi reported two acts of vandalism at the compound in Tetovo. In April 2006, a large photograph of Reshat Bardhi, head of the World Bektashi Community, which hung at the entrance to the compound, was reported stolen. The photograph was replaced and, in May 2006, it was vandalized when the middle of the photograph was cut out. The police investigations into both of these incidents were ongoing at the end of the period covered by this report.