Baba Rexheb’s Writings

 

 

 

Baba Rexheb spent his years in the service of Bektashism as a guide, counselor, and a spiritual therapist. The primary means of transmission of the knowledge and wisdom he gathered through a lifetime of devotion was normally of a personal and intimate nature. Yet it is to the benefit of those who may have not had the opportunity to sit with him that did write.

 

Baba Rexheb’s first major work was a translation of the Vilayetname of Haji Bektash Veli into Albanian. This work was made prior to his coming to the United States, at a time when he was living at the Asim Baba Tekke. To the best of my knowledge the manuscript was never published.

 

After having settled in the Teqe in 1954, Baba Rexheb immediately began the publication of a semiannual journal entitled Zëri i Bektashizmës (“The Voice of Bektashism”). In the lead article of the first issue, Baba Rexheb (the chief editor) described the reasons for the publication:

 

“Bektashism is celebrated worldwide, particularly in our Albania, where it left an extraordinary trace. This is why at the time of the foundation of first Bektashi tekke here in the United States of America, a great curiosity was revitalized about it in many circles. All now want to know what Bektashism is; what its philosophical base is; what its past was in the world history and in particular, Albania. To truly satisfy these desires - with our small budget - we made the decision to publish our journal Zëri i Bektashizmës, which will strive to bring knowledge to all those interested, in all that they want to know about Bektashism, its religious principles and its history.”

 

Baba Rexheb had originally planned to keep the journal going into the foreseeable future and had suggested, given interest and funding, that the frequency of publication could be expanded to quarterly, and perhaps, even beyond. He also solicited articles from individuals with a talent for writing, stating that the pages of the journal were open to all articles “dealing with moral, social, and economic issues that promote the general good.”  It seems, however, that the appeal for community participation was unsuccessful in moving individuals to participate, even financially. Only four issues of Zëri i Bektashizmës were ever published (1954-1955) and all the articles (barring letters) contained within were written by Baba Rexheb himself.

 

Yet despite its fleeting existence, Zëri i Bektashizmës, proved to be a veritable goldmine of information on Bektashi history, doctrine and practice. Each of the four issues is a uniform 32-pages in length and, surprisingly, each contain articles in English. The reason for this may have been a reflection of Baba Rexheb’s desire to make Bektashism accessible not only to second-generation English-speaking Albanian-Americans but to the general American public as well. The English pieces are direct translations of most of the Albanian articles that appear in each of the four issues. I have no knowledge at this point as to who the translator(s) of these articles was, though it is unlikely that Baba Rexheb’s English at this stage in his life was voluble enough to allow him to undertake such a task.

 

All of the articles in the four issues of Zëri i Bektashizmës are of a religious nature and deal with the subjects of standard Islamic knowledge (“Why is the Qur’an respected?”, “Islamic Pilgrimage”, “The Ka’bah: The Sacred Place of Islam” etc.), the general concept of universal mysticism (Baba Rexheb writes in considerable detail about Vedic, Buddhist, Greek and Egyptian philosophies) and, obviously, Bektashism. Articles discussing the latter include “What the Great Writers say about ‘Ali”, “How Bektashism was Organized” (which discusses the lives of Haji Bektash and Balım Sultan), “The Ritual Garb of Bektashism”, as well as articles on the Aşura, Matem and the celebration of Sultan Nevruz.

 

In 1970, some fifteen years after the last issue of Zëri i Bektashizmës came out, Baba Rexheb released his monumental Mysticizma Islame dhe Bektashizme (Islamic Mysticism and Bektashism). This work stands witness to Baba Rexheb’s vast knowledge of Sufism as well as Bektashi spirituality and its history. The book was undoubtedly written for the general public, as it is evident that Baba Rexheb intended it to be a textbook of sorts for the initiated as well as for those wishing a deeper appreciation of the Order Mysticizma Islame dhe Bektashizme was composed in Albanian and it consists of 389 pages. The book can be divided into two parts: the first (pages 7-102), in which a comprehensive outline of Sufi history and doctrine is given; and the second (pages 103-385), where the basics of Bektashi thought and the lives of prominent Bektashi mystics are discussed. In this way Baba Rexheb affords the reader a solid background in the Sufi milieu from which Bektashism emerged before transporting him or her to the finer points of the Order.

 

Baba Rexheb’s presentation of Sufism encompasses a number of relevant topics. He begins by putting forth evidence for the validity of Islamic mysticism from the Qur’an, Hadith Qudsi as well as Prophetic Hadith. This is followed by an extensive overview of the development of early Sufism from the 1st to the 5th centuries Hijrah, which includes discussions on Rabia Adawiyya and Hallaj. Baba Rexheb follows this with a discourse on the mystical philosophy of Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali, the great Sufi thinker of the 11th century CE. He then moves the reader into the classical age of Sufism, presenting the lives and teachings of such distinguished Islamic saints as Ibn ‘Arabi, Rumi, and Ibn Farid. The portion of the work dealing with general Sufism ends with a discussion of the foremost orders (tarikats) in the world since the late Middle Ages: the Qadiri, Rifa’i, Badawi, Yesevi, Naqshibandi, Khalwati, Sa’di and Shadhili.

 

Having presented the contextual foundation for Bektashism, the second half of the book discusses major themes in the Bektashi spirituality, such as edeb (etiquette), admission into the order, the centrality of mystical love, as well as the mürşid mürid relationship. The concluding part of Mysticizma Islame dhe Bektashizme (a solid 244 pages!) details the biographies and poetic verse of a long line of Bektashi personalities, beginning with Haji Bektash Veli and ending with the great babas of pre-WWII Albania, including that of Baba Rexheb’s own mürşid, Baba Selim. These biographies are quite extensive and Baba Rexheb’s translations of the poetry out of the original Ottoman Turkish and into Albanian present the reader not only with a deeper appreciation of Bektashi thought, but witness to Baba Rexheb’s genuine mastery of the two languages.

 

In 1984, a partial English translation of Mysticizma Islame dhe Bektashizme appeared under the title The Mysticism of Islam and Bektashism. This translation was prepared by the late Bardhyl Pogoni and it is 173 pages in length. Although the effort is to be commended, the work, in general, is lacking in many respects and it appears that the translator had little background in the subject matter. Much of the religious terminology is imprecisely rendered into English and entire passages from the original work are not translated at all, disrupting the flow of reading. The Mysticism of Islam and Bektashism cannot be considered a complete translation and it only covers the first half of Baba Rexheb’s book (i.e. the portion on Sufism) and a trace of the rudimentary doctrines of Bektashism found in the second part. It is clear that there were plans to finish the translation of the remainder of Mysticizma Islame dhe Bektashizme, for the cover of The Mysticism of Islam and Bektashism is labeled as “Volume I”. Unfortunately this plan has come to naught.

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