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Naim Frashëri:

The Bektashi Notebook

Naim bey Frashëri (1846-1900) was a major protagonist of the Albanian national awakening of the end of the nineteenth century and is regarded by many as the Albanian national poet — see Albanian Literature. Frashëri was also a member and supporter of the Bektashi religious community, a Shia Islamic dervish sect that became very popular in Albania, and still is. The following ‘Bektashi Notebook,’ published in 1896, is not only a profession of faith on the part of Naim Frashëri, but also a document of historical and cultural significance in the Albanian national awakening. The Bektashi believe in the great and true God, in Muhammed Ali, Hatije and Fatima, and in Hasan and Husain. The twelve Imams are Ali, Hasan, Husain, Zein-el-Abidin, Muhammed Bakir, Jafer Sadik, Musa Kiazim, Ali Riza, Muhammed Teki, Ali Neki, Hasan Askeri and Muhammed Mehdi. The father of all the Bektashi is Ali and their mother is Fatima. They believe in all the virtues of present and past. In particular, they believe in goodness and worship it. In addition to these, they also believe in Musa [Moses], Merjeme [Mary], Isa [Jesus] and their servants. Foremost among them is Jafer Sadik and their forefather is Haji Bektash Veli who is of the same family. All the above-mentioned have said: “Do good and abstain from evil.” These words are the essence of the Bektashi faith. Truth, justice, wisdom and all virtues reign in this faith. The faith of the Bektashi is a broad path leading to enlightenment: wisdom, brotherhood, friendship, love, humanity and all virtues. This path is covered on the one hand by the flowers of wisdom and on the other hand by the flowers of truth. No one can be a genuine Bektashi without wisdom, truth and brotherhood. For the Bektashi, the universe is God himself. In this life, man is a representative of God. The good deeds of man reveal the True God, the angels, paradise and all virtues. Bad deeds reveal the devil, hell and all vices. Therefore he must love and devote himself to blessed virtues, and must despise and reject damned vices. Ruins of the Bektashi teqe (dervish lodge) of Melçan, on a hilltop near Korça in southeastern Albania, in the damp morning mist (Photo: Robert Elsie, November 2010). All things are in man, even the True God himself. When he wanted to reveal himself, God created man in his image. The Bektashi believe that man does not die, but only changes and is made different, and he is always near to God, for the father is hidden in the son. Those who do good, find good. Those who do evil, find evil. Those who depart from humanity, show themselves to be beasts. The path of the Bektashi is open and straightforward. It is a path of wisdom and goodness for those who understand it. Man is not bound, but is free in all things. He is responsible for all of his deeds. He has a mind that reasons, knowledge to choose, a soul that understands, a heart that discerns, and a conscience that weighs all of his deeds. As such, he has everything that he requires and has no need to seek help elsewhere, since God has given him everything he needs. Men and women are equal and do not divorce. In a case of great misfortune, a man may divorce his wife, and in a case of great need, he may take a second wife. The farther a woman is away from her family, the better it is for her to follow the path of the Bektashi so as not to give any motive for vice. Women do not veil and cover themselves, except with the veil of modesty and honour. The path of the Bektashi is that of modesty and honour, humanity, wisdom and all virtues. All evil deeds, all vices, follies, faithlessness and cunning are proscribed and accursed on this path. It is the path of God and of all good men. As a testament of their faith, the Bektashi have the universe and especially mankind, because Lord Ali once said: “Man is a testament that speaks. Faith is a word, but the ignorant have added hereto. Faith is in the breast, it is not a written charter. The Bektashi keep their hearts, their souls, their minds and their conscience clean and unblemished, as they do their bodies, their clothes, their homes, their honour and their esteem. They are brothers and one in soul not only with other Bektashi, but with all mankind. They love other Muslims and Christians as they do their own souls, and they strive for good relations with all mankind. Yet above all, they love their country and their countrymen. This is the finest of all virtues. The Bektashi love mankind, they help the poor, they show pity and compassion in their hearts, and they are of good spirit, because this is the path. If it were not like this, it would not be the path. To be well on the path, the Bektashi must be perfect in all things. All who are on the path are called Bektashi and need nothing more. But those who wish to draw nearer, may be consecrated [may take the hand] and become initiates. An initiate must be a particularly good person. Those of the initiates who wish to take the habit and become ‘poor dervishes’ [varfa], as they are called, are consecrated [take the hand] once again. Thereafter, they cannot take the habit off again. This is not allowed. A poor dervish must be a servant of mankind and must be very wise and gentle. He must be modest and submissive. Should he be cursed or struck by someone, he must not moan or say a word, but show patience. The mausoleum of the Bektashi saint Abas Ali at 2,401 m. on the southern peak of Mount Tomor, Albania (Photo: Erik von Luckwald, ca. 1936 — see Albanian Photography | Luckwald Photo EVL 103). If a poor dervish was married before taking the habit, he can stay at home with his family. If he vows that he will not marry, he is consecrated again. Once he has made this vow, he can never renege on it. Poor unmarried dervishes live in a house called a teqe or dergah. They have a chief, who is called a Father [atë] or Guide [udhërrëfenjës]. Every poor dervish has a job or carries out a service of his own. The greatest among them is called a Leader [shpënës] because he leads to the Guide those who wish to take his hand. If there are many Fathers, they chose one from among them as their superior. He is called the Grandfather [gjysh]. Up to here is enough, and the topic of the path is now complete. But it can happen that there are many Grandfathers, so they chose one from among them as their Great-grandfather [stërgjysh]. For someone to become an initiate or for an initiate to become a poor dervish, he must be consecrated [must take the hand]. For a poor dervish to take a vow of celibacy and become a Father [atë], he must be initiated by the Grandfather. Fathers, Grandfathers and Great-grandfathers, as these Guides are called, must be perfect in all things pertaining to the path. Those who take the hand of the Guide join the ranks of the Virtuous for all virtues are hand in hand together. Accordingly, they enter the circle and the ranks of these great men. As such, those who enter upon the path leaves all vices behind them and keep only the virtues. With an impure heart, an evil soul and a bad conscience, they cannot sneak into the ranks of the Virtuous, who are closer to God. For this, they must know themselves, since those who understand themselves, know what God is. They must be gentle as a lamb, not like a wild beast. They must be reasonable, just, learned, benevolent and have all the virtues that are necessary for a man. This path is the path of virtue, of friendship, of wisdom and of brotherhood. It is a great sin to enter upon this path of beautiful, fragrant flowers, and to scatter thorns, thistles, stones and rubbish upon it, as the ignorant do. For this path begins with virtue and ends in virtue. The Guide who consecrates says: “Today you have taken the hand of the Lord and have joined the virtuous. Therefore take up virtue, keep on their path and forget your sins. Do not take if you have not given. Honour great and small. Avoid malice, uncleanliness, evil and all vice, and enter into goodness and brotherhood, etc. etc.” For a Bektashi, the wife of his neighbour is his sister, a wretched old woman is his mother, a poor man is his brother, and all men are his friends. He is a man of good character, his heart is full of compassion, he has a gentle spirit, and his path is virtue alone. Without these things, no Bektashi can exist. The lights of this path are brotherhood, peace, love, compassion, nearness to God, friendship, good conscience and all virtues. Above all else, love is nearness to God and prayer on this path. In addition to this, the Bektashi have a type of fasting and prayer. The fasting is a reflexion of their mourning for the events of Kerbela, being the first ten days of the lunar month of Muharrem. Some do not drink water during these days, but this is superfluous because it was only on the evening of the ninth day that the fighting came to an end and on the afternoon of the tenth, Imam Husain fell as a martyr with his men. It was only then that they were without water. For this reason, the period of mourning is kept for ten days, but abstention from water is practised only from the evening of the ninth day to the afternoon of the tenth day. But whoever wishes, may abstain from water during the period of mourning, too. This shows the love that the Bektashi have for all virtues. They also have a prayer called niyas which the wise rarely perform, but the others perform a bit more often. This prayer may also be performed in a house of worship, called a mosque. Another prayer, called namaz, may also be performed there, since the Bektashi do not refuse to perform it, nor do they refuse to carry out the lunar monthly fast called Ramadan or any other religious duty since they are all necessary for mankind. The servant of the house of worship carries out betrothals and marriages, buries the dead and performs all of his services and duties. Before and after a meal, the Bektashi say: “True God! Increase and multiply, for you nourish and protect the universe. All good things come from you. You gave life to man and all the beasts. May we never lack your goodness and mercy!” “Great God! Muhammed Ali! The Twelve Imams! All good men! Haji Bektash Veli! To you we give thanks.” At feasts and weddings, they say: “Great and True God! Give and increase your favour to mankind. Do not send upon us sorrow, grief and misery. Grant us all good things!” “Show us the path of righteousness and leave us not in darkness. Praised be your name now and for evermore. Lord Muhammed Ali! Hatije! Fatima! Hasan and Husain! Haji Bektash Veli! All you good ones, to you we give thanks!” At betrothals they say: “True God! At your command and in your name! Grant us unity and love. Give us your blessing and deliver us from evil. Grant us plenty and all good things!” “In the name of Daut [David] and Sulejman [Solomon]! In the name of Harun [Aaron] and Musa [Moses]! In the name of Merjeme [Mary] and Husain! In the name of Haji Bektash Veli! In the name of all our Lords!” “On the path of Muhammed Ali! In the teachings of Imam Jafer Sadik!” At weddings, the following words are added: “Unite these two as you united Adam and Eve, Muhammed and Hatije, Ali and Fatima! Grant them a long life, and good and obedient children. May their door be open forever, etc.” At funerals they say: “Great and True God! You turn day into night and night into day. You separate the living from the dead and the dead from the living. All things come from you and all things return to you again. Forgive the sins of mankind for your glory’s sake. And lead us to the light, for you are the light of light. To you we give thanks evermore, etc.” As such, the Bektashi need no foreign languages for matters of the path. The Bektashi mourn only with their tears, never with dirges and wailing. They do not bury their dead immediately. They mourn in their hearts and speak well of the dead, saying: “May his soul shine and may it be filled with joy!” The path of the Bektashi holds all men, yes, all men, as friends and looks on them as one body and one soul. These things are known by the educated Bektashi and by those who have reason. The true Bektashi treat the religions of all men with respect and treat all men as their beloved brothers. They never look upon them as strangers. They reject no religion, but respect them all, nor do they reject their holy books and the afterlife. Bektashi clergymen at a teqe (dervish lodge) on the way up to Mount Tomor, Albania (Photo: Erich von Luckwald, ca. 1936 — see Albanian Photography | Luckwald Photo EVL 102). As feasts days, the Bektashi keep the first Bayram, which is the first day of the lunar month called Sheval, and the second Bayram which is on the tenth day of the lunar month called Dilhije. New Year’s Day, called Novruz, is on the tenth day of March and the eleventh of the lunar month called Muharrem. During the ten days of mourning, they read the stories of the Imams. Nonetheless, every day belongs to God and is good and excellent for the Bektashi. The Guides, who worship the truth and goodness and reject deceit and evil, and who regard all of mankind as their beloved children on the path of Muhammed Ali, must be men of great intelligence and wisdom, with adequate learning, for the unlearned and the untrained are like unhewn wood. The unlettered is like a simpleton. The Guides must be true men, without failings as we find nowadays, men of very high qualities, men who forsake greed, pride, anger and folly, who forsake intoxication and gluttony, and who reject lies, injustice and all evils that are outside the path of humanity. May they strive day and night for that nation that calls them father and swears by them. May they work together with the notables and the elders for the salvation of Albania and the Albanians, for knowledge and culture for their people and their fatherland, for their language and for all progress and well-being, etc., etc. May they bring peace to mankind and look after the poor. May they shun evil and folly. May they put on the proper path all that is needed for mankind and for religion, and bring about goodness, etc, etc. Together with the elders and notables, may they encourage love, brotherhood, unity and friendship among all Albanians, that they not be divided among one another, that Christians and Muslims be together as one. May they make all things prosper so that the Albanian, who was once reputed throughout the world, be not despised today. None of these things are difficult for those who use their brains and who think and work willingly and intelligently. They can be accomplished very easily. When they accomplish these things, I will call them Fathers and Guides: but today I cannot call them so. Great and True God, And all you men of virtue, Do not leave us alone in misery, In flight and in the dark. Rather, grant Albania Fortune and freedom, Bliss instead of suffering, And all good things. Give Albania light, True God, that it may see And understand goodness, That it may know the truth. Grant it unity and consolidation, Courage and wisdom, Dominion and salvation, Faith and brotherhood. May it be rid of its shackles, So that it can live in honour, As a reigning lord, Master of its own fate. [from Naim Frashëri, Fletore e Bektashinjet (Bucharest: Shtypëshkronjet të Shqipëtarëvet, 1896), p. 3-17. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]
Robert Elsie Texts and Documents of Albanian History
Naim bey Frashëri (1846-1900).
Naim bey Frashëri (1846-1900).