The Bektashi Order in 19th Century An Outline of Preliminary Research

by Dr. A. Yilmaz Soyyer


Salih Niyazi Dedebaba and his dervishes at the Pir Evi shortly before the abolition of the Sufi orders.


The Alevi-Bektashi tradition in Turkey has been an important subject of research in recent years. All the researches have the same root that is the tradition of Hajji Bektash. Therefore, they should examine the order of Hajji Bektash Veli. In this we also tried to base on this tradition.


The concept of an “Alevi-Bektashi” tradition appeared in Turkey during the republican period. Moreover, at this time we can see that the Alevi-Bektashi tradition took on the appearance of a religious community. However, during the Ottoman period this had a different meaning. Firstly, in the 19th century the term “Alevi” incorporated all people who were descendants of the Imam Ali (that is named “seyyid” and “şerif”). It also meant that those Sufi orders which were based on mystical lineages (silsilahs) from the Prophet Mohammed and Imam Ali. In this way, the Sufi orders of Jalwati, Jarrahi, Khalwati, Rifa’a and Qadiri were considered “Alevi”. During the Republic, the Bektashi tradition expressed itself in a different way from other Sufi orders. There were two reasons of this: the first one was that certain ethno-religious groups like the Tahtacılar, Ocakzâdeler (Dede Garkın Ocağı, Abdal Musa Ocağı, Pir Sultan Ocağı, Sarı Saltık Ocağı etc.) defined themselves as Hacı Bektash’s followers. This expression formed a common base.


I have examined the Bektashi Order in one century, which is 19th century. During the early part of this century Sultan Mahmud II outlawed the order. However, my study was subsequently expanded from the last quarter of 18th century up to the first quarter of 20th century with the main focus in our being the years before and after 1826.


In this study, I have employed modern methods of the sociology of religion. I have developed two main hypotheses: the first one being that Bektashi beliefs affected certain social interaction and that this social interaction affected by Bektashi beliefs; and the second one that the Bektashi Order continued to thrive clandestinely. 


In our study I have attempted show photographs of Bektashis from different periods and tried to interpret these photographs. I consulted the ruined Bektashi tekkes, graveyards, Ottoman archival manuscripts found in libraries. For this I have examined several hatt-ı hümayuns (imperial decrees) and evkaf defters (endowment registers) and examining of manuscripts in libraries were the second step of our study. Because of no classification of manuscript libraries according to the subjects, I found these books by sheer chance. I based my investigation on the Bektashi texts which were written in prose and verse. During my research, I found a book of Giritli Ali Baba entitled Uyun-ı Hidaye (Eyes of Guidance) which facilitated a clear understand of Bektashi philosophy.


I exercised caution when consulting classical Bektashi texts as well as Hurufi texts. Since its beginning the Hurufis were persecuted by the state, and as a result they tried to disguise genuine meanings of their texts and by using secret language and symbols. Moreover, they had formed registers of symbols and had hidden these lists in different places. Dervish Murtaza Bektashi was the first to translate Fadlullah Astarabadi’s Cavidanname-i Sagir into Turkish. The text (which is called Durr-i Yetim) was transcribed by Hasib Baba of the Karaağaç Bektashi Tekke. There exists one copy of the text in Suleymaniye Library. This text was transcribed in 1274/1857 and I used it for consultation on Hurufi belief.


I have found that very important texts written in the 19th century in various libraries. These texts have included Bektashi Erkans, Gulbenks, Tercumans and other prayers. One of these texts is titled the Risale-i Lahutiyye.  This book contains 38 warak (a warak is two pages) and its date of writing is 25 Shawwal 1284 h/ 15 February 1867. The manuscript was transcribed by Seyyid Şeyh Bedrettin el-Halveti el-Misri from the city of Bursa. He wrote the book based on the manuscripts of Şeyh Sırri Rifa’i al-Alawi, who was one of the descendants of the Imam Ali. On the last page of the book Şeyh Bedrettin writes that Şeyh Sırri “knew all of the Sufi orders.” The manuscript had been transcribed by Şeyh Bedrettin in 19th century when the Bektashi order banned. Şeyh Sırri had probably died when the manuscript transcribed.  Şeyh Sırri explained all the rituals, symbols, and beliefs of Bektashi order in the manuscript. Perhaps he might well have been a shaykh of Bektashis as well as a shaykh of Rifa’is.  It widely had been known that many shaykhs had licenses for two or more orders in classical Ottoman period.


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