The Role of Sufi Tariqats in the Balkans (s)
from a talk by
The events of the last two and a half years have brought Bosnia- Hercegovina into the forefront of the attention of the Muslim community world-wide. Nearly every well-informed indivudual has become familiar with the geo-political aspects fo the violent struggle that has engulfed the region. Unfortunately, this unfortunate notoriety has mostly to do with the crimes of aggression committed on the Muslims. Little is still known by the world-wide Muslim Ummah of the rich and spiritual Islamic culture that once thrived throughout the Balkans and its attempt now to do so again.
It is a well-known fact that the first real Islamic presence in the Balkans came after the Ottoman conquests that began in the early fourteenth century and continued until 1683 CE, when the armies of Islam were repulsed from the gates of Vienna for the last time. The complete conquest of Bosnia occurred in 1463 and within a century of this date, nearly seven out of ten Bosnians had become Muslim.
As in India, Indonesia and sub-Saharan Africa, the role of the Sufi Tariqats in the spread of Islam in the Balkans was tremendous. The dervishes of the Balkans, as their modern-day counterparts in America are doing today, spread the love of Islam into the hearts of the largely Orthodox Christian population of the region. Countless generations of Bosnians, Greeks, Serbs, Croats, Bulgar- ians, Albanians and other ethnic groups were drawn into the faith by the sincerity, wisdom and love that typified dervish behavior and practice.
Nearly every large tariqat could be found in the Balkans during the heyday of the Ottoman Empire. First the Naqshbandiyya and second the Qadiriyya were the dominant tariqats in Bosnia-Hercegovina. This was mainly due to the strong Sunni Orthodox estblishment that was well- entrenched there, which emphasized the strong practice of the shari'ah and the establishment of the Sunnah of the Prophet (s) in all aspects of daily and communal life.
The Khalwati tariqat (with its various branches) was also widespread in most of the Balkans. Their tekkes were found in certain regions of Bosnia and Serbia, but their real concentration lay in Albania and Macedonia. The Rifa'i also found popularity among the Albanians of Kosova and Macedonia, the they never really were able to gain a foothold among the sober-minded Bosnians.
The Mevleviyya were primarily a tariqat of the urban upper class, and their tekkes were found in nearly every major city from Thessolonika (Greece) to Budapest. In Sarajevo, the famous Mevlevi Tekke of Benbasa stood until the the communists demolished it in the late 1950's.
On the opposite of the social spectrum lay the Bektashi Order, which was a popular Sufi movement among the rural peasants. This tariqat spread throughout Northern Greece, Macedonia and Bulgaria mainly due to the settlements of Turks in the above-mentioned areas of the presence of large Janissary garrisons. The Bektashi later found their stronghold in southern Albania.
Some minor heterodox groups, such as the Hamzawi movement, flourished in Eastern Bosnia in the late sixteenth century, but these were outlawed by the Ottoman authorities due to the fact that they overstepped the bound of the Shari'ah.
Jediler Nakshibandi Masjid and Tekke, Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina
The tekkes (zawiyahs) of the Sufi tariqats became beacons of faith and love for the Holy Prophet (s). Unfortunately, the tide of history destroyed much of the tariqats' activity as communism and Serbian Nationalist fanaticism came to dominate the region. As strong- holds of Islamic faith and belief, the Sufi tekkes and mosques were often the primary targets of the Serbian and communist' venom as they have lately also been targetted by their guns.
However, Sufism still survives today, albeit in a much diminished role. In Bosnia, a great revival of tariqah has occurred both prior to and during to the war. In the late 70's through the 80's Sufism enjoyed some small revival, which has grown now due to the war. Many shaikhs of the Naqshbandiyya, Rufa'i and Qadiriyya were active in reviving the spirit of Islam and jihad during these years. Prominent among them was Shaikh Nazim al-Qibrisi, who every in his traveling from London back to Turkey after the month of Ramadan, would visit each and every tekke and mosque on his way through Yugoslavia, spreading the light of his teachings and the Naqshbandi silent dhikr whereever he stayed.
Both the Naqshbandis and the Qadiris are quite active in the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina, warding off Serb and Croat aggression. Among the generals and commanders are several Sufi shaikhs. And the role of the tariqats in establishing relief convoys from all over Europe to the beseiged regions of Bosnia-Hercegovina are immeasurable.
The teachings and work of the tariqat in daily life of the people are served through the tekkes. These buildings dedicated for spreading the teachings of shari'ah and tariqat, peforming dhikr and feeding the poor used to number in the thousands throughout the Balkan region. Most of them date from Ottoman times, where the great architects and builders participated in their design and construction. Among them were several architected by the great Ottoman architect Mimar Sinan. However, during the communist era, most mosques and tekkes fell into disuse and disrepair and now unfortunately, most of them are no longer functional.
In Kosova there are seven functioning Naqshbandi, Rifa'i and Khalwati tekkes. Macedonia has four working Naqshbandi and Khalwati tekkes in operations. In Albania, a revival of the Bektashi, Naqshbandi and Khalwatiyya has taken place within a general Islamic revival.
One of the most enduring legacies of the impact of Sufism in the Balkans is the celebration of the Mawlid an-Nabi (s) or as it is known there, Mevlud. The practice of giving Mevlud celebrations in the region is a well-established and time-honored tradition and it has always enjoyed the support of the 'ulama and other Islamic scholars. Never has there been a question of the legitimacy of the Mevlud. Many important figures in Balkan Muslim history have recognized the importance of the Mevlud, especially in keeping the spirit of Islam and the love of the Prophet (s) alive in the hearts of the people, under the ever-increasing pressure of modern- izing and irreligious propangada.