23 May 2014

Inside Europe’s Mystical Sufi Lodges

Inside Europe’s Mystical Sufi Lodges, by Mehves Levic (National Geographic, 2 May 2014)

On the dewy morning of January 24, the fog has finally lifted and we can see the pear and apple orchards that belong to Baba Ismaili’s tekke, or lodge, in the mountains near Albania’s border with Macedonia. Baba Ismaili is elderly, yet quite energetic; he has, by 8 a.m., supervised most of the morning’s farmwork. On this day, the very lively Derwish Salu (whom Baba Ismaili calls the “butterfly derwish” for his fluttering movements and quick and agile thinking) has chosen to visit Baba Ismaili, something he has been meaning to do for a while, he says—and he has indeed come a long way for it. Derwish Salu usually lives and serves at the Bektashi headquarters in Tirana, taking care of the tekke, welcoming and helping visitors around, and of course, serving them the ceremonial coffee, rakija, and candy. Such service is at times taken as a form of worship in the Bektashi tradition.

The Bektashis are a Sufi order that originated in the 13th century in Anatolia and quickly gained influence. The mystical (and in general terms, unwritten) doctrine of the order required a figurative interpretation of Islamic texts and tradition, which set the order apart somewhat quickly, and which to this day distinguishes its followers from those of mainstream Sunni Islam, at times garnering the hostility of more radical groups. The latest conflict between Bektashis and a Salafi group over the management of a tekke in Macedonia—culminating in arson—is just another installation of the cycles of slating, banishment, and return.