|The Twelve Imams|
Bektashism (Turkish: Bektaşilik) (Albanian: Bektashizmi or Bektashizëm) is an Islamic Sufi order (tariqat), considered to be a distinct branch of Twelver Shi'a Islam. It was founded in the 13th century by the Islamic saint Hajji Bektash Wali. The Bektashi order was greatly influenced during its formative period by both the Hurufi missionary Ali al-'Ala (15th century) as well as the Qalandariyah Sufi movement, which took on many forms in 13th century Anatolia. The order was reorganized by Balim Sultan in the 16th century.
Bektashism is considered to have blended a number of Shi'a and Sufi concepts, although the order contains rituals and doctrines that are distinct unto itself. Bektashis have always had wide appeal and influence among both the Ottoman intellectual elite as well as the peasantry.
Bektashism and Alevism are closely related in terms of both philosophy and culture. In present-day Turkey, they are generally regarded as parts of an integrated Alevi-Bektashi culture. In post-Ottoman Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo, Bektashism has evolved over the course of the 20th century into more of a distinct Islamic sect vis-a-vis Sunni Islam rather than remaining a traditional Sufi order.
Bektashism is a Sufi order and shares much in common with other Islamic mystical movements, such as the need for an experienced spiritual guide—called a baba in Bektashi parlance—as well as the doctrine of the four gates that must be traversed: the Shari'ah (religious law), Tariqah (the spiritual path), Ma'rifah (true knowledge), Haqiqah (reality). Bektashism places much emphasis on the concept of Wahdat-ul-Wujood وحدة الوجود, the "Unity of Being" that was formulated by Ibn Arabi. This has often been erroneously labeled by Westerners as pantheism, although it is a concept closer to panentheism. Bektashism is also heavily permeated with Shi'ite concepts, such as the marked veneration of 'Ali, the Twelve Imams, and the ritual commemoration of the Ashurah marking the Battle of Karbala. The old Persian holiday of Norouz is celebrated by Bektashis as Imam Ali's birthday.
In keeping with the central belief of Wahdat al-Wujud the Bektashi see reality contained in Allah-Muhammad-Ali, a single unified entity. Bektashi do not consider this a form of trinity. There are many other practices and ceremonies that share similarity with other faiths, such as a ritual meal (muhabbet) and yearly confession of sins to a baba (magfirat-i zunub مغفرة الذنوب). This has led many to form theories of borrowing and syncretism from Christianity and Gnosticism. Bektashis base their practices and rituals on their non-orthodox and mystical interpretation and understanding of the Qur'an and the Prophetic practice (Sunnah). They have no written doctrine specific to them, thus rules and rituals may differ depending on under whose influence one has been taught. Bektashis generally revere Sufi mystics outside of their own order, such as Al-Ghazali and Jelalludin Rumi who are close in spirit to them.
Bektashis hold that the Qur'an has two levels of meaning: an outer (zahir ظاهر) and an inner (batin باطن). They hold the latter to be superior and eternal and this is reflected in their understanding of both the universe and humanity (This view can also be found in Ismaili Islam—see Batiniyya).
Bektashism is also initiatic and members must traverse various levels or ranks as they progress along the spiritual path to the Reality. First level members are called aşıks عاشق. They are those who, while not having taken initiation into the order, are nevertheless drawn to it. Following initiation (called nasip) one becomes a mühip محب. After some time as a mühip, one can take further vows and become a dervish. The next level above dervish is that of baba. The baba (lit. father) is considered to be the head of a tekke and qualified to give spiritual guidance (irshad إرشاد). Above the baba is the rank of halife-baba (or dede, grandfather). Traditionally there were twelve of these, the most senior being the dedebaba (great-grandfather). The dedebaba was considered to be the highest ranking authority in the Bektashi Order. Traditionally the residence of the dedebaba was the Pir Evi (The Saint's Home) which was located in the shrine of Haji Bektash in the central Anatolian town of Hacıbektaş (aka Solucakarahüyük).
The order had close ties with the Janissary corps, the bulk of the Ottoman Army. (Nicolle, David; pg 29) With the abolition of Janissaries, the Bektashi order was banned throughout Ottoman Empire by Sultan Mahmud II in 1826. This decision was supported by the Sunni religious elite as well as the leaders of other, more orthodox, Sufi orders. Bektashi tekkes were closed and their dervishes were exiled. Bektashis slowly regained freedom with the coming of the Tanzimat era. The first U.S. college in the Middle East, Robert College, was built close to a Bektashi tekke in Bebek north of Istanbul. According to a German teacher at Robert in the 1890s, Friedrich Schrader, there was an excellent relationship between the Unitarian founders of the college and the leaders of the tekke. After the foundation of republic, Kemal Atatürk banned all Sufi orders and shut down the lodges in 1925. Consequently, the Bektashi leadership moved to Albania and established their headquarters in the city of Tirana.
Despite the negative effect of this ban on Bektashi culture, most Bektashis in Turkey have been generally supportive of secularism to this day, since these reforms have relatively relaxed the religious intolerance that had historically been shown against them by the official Sunni establishment.
In the Balkans the Bektashi order had a considerable impact on the Islamization of many areas, primarily Albania, Greece and Bulgaria, as well as parts of Macedonia. By the 18th century Bektashism began to gain a considerable hold over the population of southern Albania and northern Greece. Following the ban on Sufi orders in the Republic of Turkey, the Bektashi community's headquarters was moved from Hacıbektaş in central Anatolia to Tirana, Albania. In Albania the Bektashi community declared its separation from the Sunni community and they were recognized ever after as a distinct Islamic sect rather than a branch of Sunni Islam, as are most other Sufi orders. Bektashism continued to flourish until the Second World War. After the communists took power in 1945, several babas and dervishes were executed and a gradual constriction of Bektashi influence began. Ultimately, in 1967 all tekkes were shut down when Enver Hoxha banned all religious practice. When this ban was rescinded in 1990 the Bektashism reestablished itself, although there were few left with any real knowledge of the spiritual path. Nevertheless many tekkes (lodges) operate today in Albania. The current head of the order in Albania is Haji Reshat Bardhi Dedebaba and the main tekke has been reopened in Tirana. Approximately 20% of Albanians identify themselves as having some connection to the Bektashis. Following the post-communist rise of Sunni Islam in the country the Bektashi community became the target of vandalism and threats of violence.
There are also important Bektashi communities among the Albanian communities of Macedonia and Kosovo, the most important being the Harabati Baba Tekke in the city of Tetovo, which was until recently under the guidance of Baba Tahir Emini (1941-2006). Following the death of Baba Tahir Emini, the dedelik of Tirana appointed Baba Edmond Brahimaj (Baba Mondi), formerly head of the Turan Tekke of Korçë, to oversee the Harabati Baba Tekke.
A smaller Bektashi tekke, the Dikmen Baba Tekkesi, is in operation in the Turkish-speaking town of Kanatlarci, Macedonia. In Kosovo the relatively small Bektashi community has a tekke in the town of Ðakovica (Gjakovë) and is under the leadership of Baba Mumin Lama.
Bektashis continue to be active in Turkey and their semi-clandestine organizations can be found in Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir. There are currently two rival claimants to the dedebaba in Turkey: Mustafa Eke and Haydar Ercan.
A large functioning Bektashi tekke was also established in the United States in 1954 by Baba Rexheb. This tekke is found in the Detroit suburb of Taylor and the tomb (turbe) of Baba Rexheb continues to draw pilgrims of all faiths.
It has also been widely believed that the controversial 17th century Jewish Messiah Sabbatai Zevi was greatly influenced by Bektashi sufis after his conversion to Islam. His tomb in the Montenegrin town of Ulcinj is still venerated by local Muslims.
In 2002 a group of armed members of the Islamic Community of Macedonia (ICM), the legally recognized organization which claims to represent all Muslims in Macedonia, invaded the Harabati Baba Tekke in an attempt to 'reclaim' the tekke as a mosque, although the facility has never functioned as such. Subsequently the Bektashi community of Macedonia has sued the Macedonian government for failing to restore the tekke to the Bektashi community, pursuant to a law passed in the early 1990s returning previously nationalized under the Yugoslav government. The law, however, deals with restitution to private citizens, rather than religious communities. The ICM claim to the tekke is based upon their contention to represent all Muslims in Macedonia; and indeed, they are one of two Muslim organizations recognized by the government, both Sunni. The (Shi'i) Bektashi community filed for recognition as a separate religious community with the Macedonian government in 1993, but the Macedonian government has refused to recognize them.
Poetry plays an important role in the transmission of Bektashi spirituality. Several important Ottoman-era poets were Bektashis, and Yunus Emre, the most acclaimed poet of Turkish language, is generally recognized as a subscriber to the Bektashi order.
A poem from Bektashi poet Balım Sultan (d.922 AH/1516 CE)