Prof. O. Akimushkin

translated in English by Prof. Evgueny Torchenov
English translation by Prof.  Evgueny Torchenov of the article "Bektashiya" from Russian "Encyclopedic Dictionary of Islam" (Moscow: Nauka, 1991, pp.39-41)  by the Russian (St. Petersburg) scholar of Iranian and Sufi studies, Professor O. Akimushkin

BEKTASHIYA -- Sufi order (fraternity -- tarika), established in Asia Minor at the end of 13 or at the beginning of 14 centuries C.E. primary among the native Turkish nomadic and non-nomadic population. The name of the order has been connected with Hadji Bektash Rumi. In the secret literature of Bektashiya, i.e. wilayat-name (existed since 20s of 15 century), silsila-name and arkan-name (since 16 century and later) this person was regarded as patron, saint and symbol of Bekatashiya order.

According to the scholarly opinion the real founder of the order was itinerant preacher (baba) and kalandar Hadji Bektash Wali Nishapuri Horasani (1208-1270), who proclamed his spiritual silsila (lineage) to be originated from Turkestan shaikh Ahmad Yasawi (d. 1166), and through that person -- to Shiyitic Imam Musa al-Kazim. Hadji Bektash soon obtain wide popularity in Asia Minor. In 1240 he took active part in the uprising of "Turkish Free-men" led by dervish-kalandar Baba-Iskhak (against Konya sultan Giyas ad-din Kai-Husrau). There are no authentic sources or writings of Hadji Bektash and we can not have judgements about his teaching (the Bektashiya tradition believes that he was an author of Arabian treatise "Maqalat", but we have no its original text; there exist only two its Turkish poetical translations of 14 and16 ceturies). But according to
the later prayer books, rite manuals and rules it can be supposed that Hadji Bektash (as many other Turkish itinerant preachers) preached the ideas of the kalandariya and (possible) notions of the radical Shiyits (gulat).  Bektashiya became widespread among the rural population. Gradually, the Bektashiya became an established unit with developed net of "monasteries" and communities with strikt hyerarchy, unificated ritual system and the rites of initiations as well as with definite symbols and special garments.

This transformation of the order into established organization was connected with the activities of "Grand Master" Balim-Sultan (d. 1516) whose religious title among the believers was "The Second Elder" (Pir-i sani). Balim-Sultan proclaimed himself to be the descendant of Hadji Bektash Rumi and reformed structure of the communities and "monasteruies", subsequence of the rites of initiation and (probably) established the practice of celibacy.

But some members of the Order rejected the reforms of Balim-Sultan. There appeared two fighting groups of the followers. The first one consisted of Chelebis, i.e. the descendants of Hadji Bektash Rumi and the followers of the reforms of Balim-Sultan. The second one consisted of babas, who were sure that just they themselves were true followers of the teaching of the Founder of Bektashiya; they struggled against the reforms. This schism led the Order to serious conflicts and struggling. In result, Chelebis preserved in their hands the place of the head of the maternal tekke ("monastery") Pir-evi as well as the leading role in the Order including the rank of the head of the Order (until the second half of 17 century there existed elections of the head of the Order; after this date this place became hereditary).

At the second part of 16 century the head of Bektashiya Order Sersam-'Ali-baba (d. 1589) established the highest apostolic position of the Order -- Dede-baba. Though the Chelebis preserved their real power within the Order (control over wakfs, distribution of the profits, nomination of the heads of the local tekke, etc.), only Dede-baba could give somebody permission to be appointed to the position of the head of Bektashiya. This position was elective, and eight babas of the central "monestary" participated in the elections of Dede-baba.

The members of Bektashiya participated in a number of uprisings against the Ottoman regime (e.g., in the movement of Kalendar-oglu in 1526 which was supported by 30 000 members of Bektashiya). After the Ottoman conquests Bektashiya spread in Syria, Palestine, Egypt where its "monestaries" and communities had been established.

During the leadership of of Balim-Sultan the Bectashiya propaganda enjoyed the greatest success among the members of the Janissary corps.  Bektashiya was exceptionally influential among the Janissary soldiers.  This circumstance determined the growth of the political importance of the Bektashiya Order in the Ottoman Turkey. In its turn, the connection between elite Janissary corps and highly organized fraternity of Bektashiya transgormed the Janissary corps into closed separate institution. In 1826 sultan Mahmud II deleted the Yanissary troops and began to perscute Bektashiya Order: its activities were forbidden, three leading heads of the order (Dede-baba, Chelebi and Dede, who was the leader of the celibate dervishes) were executed, new "monesteries" were destroyed (in the capital the old "monestaries" were also destroyed), the real estate (wakfs, land, buildings, etc.) of the Order was confiscated, many shaikhs and simple members of the Order were exiled, and the local "monasteries" were given to the Sufi Nakshbandiya Order.  These persecutions stimulated the emigration of the Bektashiya memebers to the Balkans, especially, to Albania where new important tekkes has been established in Tirana and Akche Hisara; the whole communities of the native people became there the members of the Orders, protesting against the Sunnite Islam of the Turkish conquerors. But during the reign of sultan Abdul-Medjid (1839-1861) the Order revived and returned back its lost centers.

During the leadership of Ahmad Jalal ad-din Chelebi there took place the final conflict between Chelebis and Babas. The fraternite became (unofficially) devided into three branches: the proper Bektashi, Dedes (their enemies called them "kajars", i.e. "bandits", "gangsters") and Chelebis (who were called by the first group as "murtadds" -- "apostates", "schismatics").

In 1925 the Republican government of Turkey abolished all the Sufi orders, including Bektashiya. There is information that in Albania the Bektashiya was active even in 1967. It is active in Yugoslavia. Until 1965 there existed the Albanian tekke in Cairo. In Turkey (1952) there existed about 30 000 members of Bektashiya. In 1953-1954 they initiated strong political activities in Istambul which caused the governmental repressions.

In its formating period Bektashiya was closely connected with the movement of gazi which did much for the victory of the Ottomans. This circumstance gave to the Order a reputation of a Sunnite fraternity the silsila (lineage) of which goes to the righteous caliph Abu Bakr (7 century). But in the course of time the doctrine of the Order became an object of powerful influences of ascetico-mystico-esoteric trends (such as Kalandariya and Malamatiya), Shamanistic beliefs of the Turkmen (kyzylbashian) rural and nomadic groups, entering the fraternity as well as the ideas of Anatolian Christian sectarians and Shiyitic doctrines (from moderate to extreme) and the teaching of Khurifits. Therefore it is difficult to speak about the unitary system of the Bektashiya's doctrines. Religious eclecticism/syncretism is a very important feature of its doctrine. Besides this, very complex and controversive relations between different Bektashiya groups must also be noted. These groups enterd the Order as its units to obtain its protection from the persecutions but even in the Bektashiya's clothes their members continued to preach their own ideas. Here lay origins of Bektashiya's religious tolerance. The essentials of the syncretic doctrine of Bektashiya and related practices are: only uninitiated into the secrets of the mystical way must hold the norms of Shariat (the Moslem Law); the hidden meaning of the Quran is attainable only for the initiates; negation of the Namaz -- fivefold prayer; ritual bathing is necessary only during the rite of initiation; it is necessary to fast only first ten days of the month of Mukharram (in this period the members of the fraternity do not drink water but eat fruits, vegetables and other simple vegetarian food; in this time in the nights they also celebrate the memories (matem gedjeleri) of the Shiyite martyrs); the cult of the Alidic infants-martyrs (ma'sum-i pak); especial cult of Jafar as-Sadik; thesis that "Ali (the last righteous caliph-imam and Prophet's relative -- 7 century) is the incarnation of God, and miraj, the ascension of Muhammad, is a sign of exalted place of the Prophet near to Ali; Christian New Year is Ali's birthday, it must be celebrated for three days: they have sacred gatherings where the members of the Order drink milk and listen to the music; initiation (ayinjam', ainjem) is the glorification of the Prophet's family (ahl-i bait), the believers must pray for this family in mornings and evenings as well as for Ali himself; after the month of Muharram (when there is no repentanse) a believer must one time in a year confess to the head (baba) of the "monestary" his sins to get absolution from him.

The women in Bektashiya also could participate in their services. Some Bektashiya members take the Trinity of Ali, Muhammad and Allah to be the symbol of their fraternity. The other take as such symbol the Trinity of Ali, Hadji Bektash and Fazlallah Astarabadi (he was a founder of hurufism, which was a mystical gnostic Shiyitic Sufi teaching; Fazlallah Astarabadi was executed in 1394 or 1401; his followers believed that he was an incarnation of God). The Bektashiya also deified Fazallah and took his book Javidan-name (Turkish -- Ashik-name) as the sacred writing. The Bektashiya believe in the magic power of the numbers, especially such numbers as "4" ["four gates", or stages of the mystical way -- Shari'a (Law), Tarika (Way of practice), Ma'rifa (Gnosis), Hakika (Truth) as well as four kinds of people coming through these gates, i.e., 'abid, zahid, 'arif and muhibb], 12 (a number of Imams, or Apostles), 32 (a number of letters of Persian alphabeth, as well as of lines of the human face which determine fate and destiny of a person).

The Order consisted of rural communities and communities of the initiated ones. Adults from the rural communities passed through the initiation rite (ikrar ayini, ayindjem) which was performed by a hereditary leader of the local community. Thus they became the members of Bektashiya order. The completely Initiated members lived in the convents located in the rural districts but not far from the towns. If they would like to obtain right to wear special ritual hat (taj), hirka (Sufi cloak) and other sacred accessoirs, they had to pass through the ceremony of the sacred vow (tauba, wakfi wudjut).

The complex system of communities and convents was governed by Chelebi whose residence was located in the maternal tekke (Pir-evi) in the place of Hadji Bektash Koyo (founded in 16 century); it was called by Bektashi as Hazrat (His Holiness). Primary the maternal tekke consisted of 12 departments (maidan, hana) which were later limited to the number of eight.

These places were: a hall for collective Dhikr and mystical sessions, different places of the householding (such as kitchen, etc.), garden and Baba-dede's appartments. These departments were headed by special Babas appointed by Baba-dede; they worked only under Baba-dede's strong control.

At the head of the local chapters and convents (in Cairo, Kerbel, Rumeliya and Tirana) stood the so called caliphas. Such convents consisted of four departments. The local tekke were under the supervision of Babas (hereditary, as a rule).

The members of the Order were divised into six principal categories:

  1. Ashik -- assotiated member without initiation;
  2. Mukhip (muhibb) -- ashik, passed through the ceremony of initiation and received right to participate in some ritual meetings of Bektashiya;
  3. Dervsh -- mukhip, completed the stage of service to the initiational elders, obtained some skill in the practice of the Way, given the vow and received the permission to wear hirka, taj and other symbolic accesoirs of Bektashiya;
  4. Baba. Babas were appointed to their position by Dede-baba or Calipha of the local tekke (convent; the Calipha appointed babas only for local convents) from the number of Dervishes by special credentials (idjazet-nama) as a head of the local community or of the chapter of the central (regional) tekke. Babas wore taj with white cloth around the top of this hat, he had right to control the common members of the fraternity (such as muhip and dervish);
  5. Dervish-i mudjarrad -- dervishes taken the vow of celibacy. They participated in a special closed, or esoteric rite of initiation (mudjerred ayini) taken place in the maternal tekke as well as in the Bektashiya tekke in Kerbela or in the tekke of Balim-Sultan in Anatholia. They lived only in convents, shave mustache, beard and head and wore silver or copper ring in the right ear as a special sign;
  6. Calipha -- vice-Chelebi as a head of a regional tekke (abbot). He may be appointed to his position from babas only by a special decree (idjazet-nama) signed by Dede-baba.To this document had to be attached symbols of authority: lamp, large flag, small flag and table cloth. Calipha wore taj with black cloth around the top of this hat and had rights to control common fraternity members as well as to appoint the babas of the local tekkes.
The solemn rite of initiation and taking the vow was foolowed by a ritual banquet with eating of sherbet and cheese; after it general dinner took place including wine drinking and listening to the music.  Bektashiya practiced loud Dhikr but in general ecstatic services (sama, hadra) only initiated members took part. Members of the Order wore taj (conical hat) of white colour, as a rule. Since 18 century there used two types of hats: made from four cloths and made of 12 cloths in the
upper part and of 4 cloths in the lower one. On the neck they wore tigband -- thick thread woven in the wool of a sheep, killed in the day of possessor's initiation; on the chest the Bektashiya members wore a specially prepared stone (taslim-tashi; seng-i taslim) which symbolized the absolute submission of the adept on the chosen path; in the center of a broad embroidered belt there was a kambariya (drop-like aqgate) and in the side of the belt -- jilband, or a having a number of divisions
skin bag, two sided axe--teber and a knife; across the shoulder they wore a vessel for charity (kashkul) and a horn. All these accessoires were called "wasla".

Syncretic by its roots teaching of Bektashiya exerted powerful influence not only on the formation of the religious world-view of the Turkish people but also influenced the development of the Turkish culture, music and, especially, literature.

note: the following additional information (and links) is from Prof. Alan Godlas page  Sufism, Sufis, and Sufi Orders: Sufism's Many Paths:

"The Bektashiya, which originally derived from the Yasaviya (mentioned above), took its name from Haji Bektash Veli This site consists of a biography of Haji Bektash and a number of images, including a painting of him and an image of his shrine. The following site also contains biographical material that complements the previous site. Haji Bektash Veli is one of the most significant Anatolian (Turkish) Sufi saints. Here you can visit the Shrine of Haji Bektash, which is located in the town of Haji Bektash Koy, where you see a Sama in progress. See also the page of the Bektashiye, or Bektashi order, which gives an useful introduction to the history and principles of the order. An Albanian branch of the Bektashi order was established in the USA by Baba Rexheb near Detroit. The Alevi-Bektashi Home Page is a serious and comprehensive scholarly page in Turkish and English versions."
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