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Bektashi Dervishes

Last modified: 2013-11-12 by rob raeside
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[Bektashi Dervishes] located by Stephen Schwartz, 5 December 2005

 

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About the flag

Here is a scan of the Bektashi dervish flag poster.

The Bektashi Dervishes represent one of the most remarkable phenomena in the history of Islamic spirituality, or Sufism. They originated as an Islamic movement among Turkic people and are named for Hunqar Haji Bektash Veli (1209-71), who was born in Eastern Iran and composed verse in the Turkish vernacular. This contrasted with the majority of Muslim poets, who wrote in Arabic and Persian, and made him especially important for Turkish Islam. The town of Haci Bektas in Turkey is the site of his tomb and is visited by many tourists. His spiritual teacher was Hojja Ahmad Yasawi, a Central Asian Sufi who introduced Islam to the Turkic people of today's Kazakhstan.

The Bektashi dervish order is interesting for many reasons. In addition to its importance for Turkic culture, it represents a transcendence of differences between Sunni and Shia Muslim traditions. Furthermore, the Bektashis became chaplains for the Ottoman Janissary corps (Yeniceri or "new men"), a military body mainly composed of young converts from Christianity to Islam. It should come as no surprise that the Bektashis are known for their interest in Christian spiritual traditions. The Bektashi order thus became one of the most important institutions in the Ottoman empire, with spiritual centers in cities from Cairo to the Balkans and from Anatolia to Turkestan. In 1826, however, they were suppressed and the Janissaries were massacred by the Turkish Sultan, on the pretext that they had accumulated and abused excessive power. Nevertheless, the Bektashis continued to function in a clandestine manner in Anatolia, until the post-Ottoman Turkish reforms of the 1920s, which included a complete ban on dervish orders. By this time, the Bektashis had become a significant force among Albanians, who were and are liberal and pluralist in their understanding of Islam. Many prominent Albanian intellectuals during the period leading the country's independence in 1912 were Bektashis, including a national poet, Naim Frashėri.

In 1925 the Bektashis moved their world headquarters to Tirana, the capital of Albania. They are widely encountered in central and southern Albania, in western Macedonia, and in Kosovo, and comprise as much as a quarter of all Albanians, i.e. several million adherents, with varying degrees of involvement in the discipline of the order. They are the only indigenous Shia Muslims in Europe outside Turkey. In addition, in 1953 a group of Albanian Bektashis who had fled Communism and come to the U.S. established the First Albanian-American Bektashi center in Taylor, Mich., near Detroit, under Baba Rexheb, a leading figure in the order. That facility, which remains in operation today, represented the first major Sufi establishment in the U.S. by practicing dervishes from the Muslim world. Its teaching has traditionally been done in the Albanian language. Other Bektashi groups are now to be found elsewhere in the Albanian-American diaspora.

The Bektashis are progressive in many respects: they support complete equality for women, popular education, the study of science, respect for other religions, and maximum civic involvement, with a strong commitment to democracy. They suffered under the atheist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha in Albania and were the object of serious attack by Serbs in Kosovo until 1999.

Their flag includes the green identified with Islam, as well as a sun with 12 rays, representing the 12 Shia imams.

Much information on them is available on the net. See especially, http://www.teqeusa.org/.

Stephen Schwartz, 5 December 2005
Center for Islamic Pluralism
Washington, DC
www.islamicpluralism.org