People On Our Side: Baba Edmond Brahimaj, A Balkan Sufi
by Stephen Schwartz
TETOVO, Macedonia — The RAND Corporation's Center for Middle East Public Policy recently issued a report we may hope will become a standard reference on the desks of Western policy-makers for years to come. Titled Building Moderate Muslim Networks, and composed by a team led by Dr. Angel Rabasa, the document maps out a strategy for the democratic nations to identify and enlist, as allies in the defense of civilization, adherents to a peaceful vision of Islam as a normal religion.
Western non-Muslims often ask, with apparent justification, why moderate Muslims appear silent in the face of terrorism and other atrocious expressions of radical Islamic ideology. But a fair examination of the global Muslim community would, I believe, lead more justly to criticism of the mainstream media (MSM) for failing to adequately report on anti-extremist Muslims. Many moderate, anti-radical, and most certainly anti-terrorist figures speak out in the Muslim world. But the MSM has failed to locate them or enable them to be heard worldwide. Is the fault, then, with the moderate Muslims, or with the MSM?
The RAND report points out appropriate moderate Muslim partners for the democratic nations, including, as leading elements, Muslim institutions and organizations in the Balkans and in Indonesia. At the geographical extremes of the Muslim world, moderate traditions have remained strong, even if they encounter suppression in the Arab core.
Sunni Muslims in the U.S. and UK suffer under the oppressive domination of a Saudi-financed and Pakistani-recruited fundamentalist leadership, but many ordinary believers detest radical Islam and want to be rid of the bullying and manipulation of groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Yet the struggle to break through the monopoly exercised by these demagogues, already complicated by media ignorance, indifference, or deliberate hostility, is made more difficult by U.S. and UK government collaboration with Islamist groups.
Every time naïve or disingenuous representatives of the U.S. and UK authorities publicly treat Islamists as legitimate partners in the war against terrorism, these governments, we should hope unwittingly, tighten the hold of extreme ideology on the Anglo-American Sunni communities. In the latest such example, early in April, U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, Democrat of California, called a hearing under the rubric of the House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing, and Terrorism Risk Assessment.
The proceeding, held in Torrance, Calif., welcomed Sireen Sawaf, a female representative of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), an organization recklessly defending radical Islam, alongside David Gersten, Director of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Program in the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Mr. Gersten made a serious error by appearing on the same platform with an MPAC representative. Mr. Gersten has, unfortunately, previously distinguished himself by his enthusiasm for an ongoing U.S. and British endorsement of Hamza Yusuf Hanson, the former screeching preacher of America-hating Islamist extremism, who has sought to reinvent himself as a spiritual Sufi. I have dealt with Hanson's outrageous case in many columns for FSM and other venues.
Hamza Yusuf Hanson has taken on the Sufi cloak to cover his past as a fundamentalist rabble-rouser. In contrast with such publicity-seeking and superficial "spirituality," Baba Edmond Brahimaj, leader of the Bektashi Sufis in the mountains of Western Macedonia, is a real Sufi, deeply cultivated and dedicated to teaching peace, interfaith respect, and an understanding of the common interests of all believers around the world.
Baba Mondi, as he is known, presides over a Bektashi Sufi complex in Tetovo, Western Macedonia. The large compound, including numerous buildings for meditation, collective meals, and other purposes, is called the Harabati Teqe. The Harabati Teqe is so familiar a landmark that is the official symbol of the city of Tetovo. Its name appears in the RAND report, where it is described as a major Muslim institution, "now under siege by Wahhabis."
Wahhabis in Macedonia are vagrant and pathetic mercenaries recruited by the terror-financiers of al-Qaida, based on plentiful distribution of Saudi oil cash and pretexts derived from the dogma preached in the Saudi kingdom, where Wahhabism, the most extreme and violent form of Sunni Islam, remains the state religion.
These disreputable elements have an agenda: to spread the Wahhabi-incited Sunni terror, now shaking Iraq, throughout the Muslim world. In addition to hating Shia Muslims, the Wahhabis also bear a genocidal enmity against Sufis. In 2002, after a brief ethnic conflict in Macedonia, the Wahhabis saw a weak link and chose to test it: armed with Kalashnikovs and pistols, they seized one of the buildings in the Harabati Teqe from the Sufis who administered it.
The Sufis appealed to the Macedonian government, to opposition politicians, to foreign diplomats, and to others for help, without avail. The Macedonian authorities argued that since property titles had not been clarified in the aftermath of Yugoslav Communism, the controversy could not be quickly resolved. In the intervening period, the Wahhabi occupiers, still backed up with guns, have seized more structures at the Harabati location. They took over one building and turned it into a so-called mosque, from which they blast out a muddy-sounding recording of the Muslim call to prayer, delivered by a man who seems not even to know the correct order of the recitation, in a failing, croaking voice. They occupied another of the central monuments, which had large glass windows, and covered them with black paper on the argument that women would pray there and did not want to be observed. They also began cutting down trees on the property, a violation of the Sufi practice of respect for growing things.
I met Baba Mondi in Tetovo last month, and he made clear to me not only that the Bektashi Sufis want to drive the terrorist infiltrators out of their properties, but that he and his brothers and sisters are committed to a progressive vision of Islam, in which women have equal rights with men, secular government is recognized as the foundation of a just political order, and popular education is a supreme priority. Bektashi leaders have repeatedly offered to help the U.S. and other governments in tracking down terror propagandists, recruiters, and funders.
During the same Balkan tour, I was pleased to hear words that further reflect the commitment of the Bektashi Sufis to mutual respect between faiths and ethnicities. Eight years ago, I appealed to the head of the Bektashis in Kosovo, my friend and mentor Baba Mumin Lama, to sit down with representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church in an interfaith dialogue. Baba Mumin told me then that it was too soon after the Kosovo war, in which he and other Albanians were pitted against Serbs. Last month, Baba Mumin told me quietly that the right moment had finally arrived for such colloquies to be held, and that he had attended a large inter-religious gathering with the main Serb Orthodox clerics in the territory. There, he noted, he had urged that all present remember first that they were people of religion, and that all believers should put peace before politics.
Moderate Muslims like Baba Mondi and Baba Mumin need our help, just as we need theirs – especially when, as in Tetovo, they are faced with armed aggression.