A Comparison of the Vilayetname of Haji Bektash & the Hashim Baba Vilayetname

by Emin Lelić


Among the few written sources of popular spirituality to have survived the eroding forces

of time from the Islamization period of Anatolia are the hagiographies of a variety of

celebrated saints, called
manaqibs or vilayetnames. Literally meaning “heroic exploits”

and “saintly accounts” respectively, these works were initially transmitted orally and

only later put to paper. Practically every
vilayetname introduces its central character as

carrying out a religious mission to enlighten a particular geographical region. For

instance we have Haji Bektash traveling to Badakhshan, Rum and elsewhere; Sari Saltuk

in Dobruja and the Balkans, Dermir Baba and Otman Baba in Bulgaria etc. This

undertaking encompassed preaching Islam to the unbelievers as well as teaching a

peculiar “dervish” style of the Faith to the previously Islamized rural masses.

However before the saint was ready to leave his homeland and embark on this arduous

task, he first had to demonstrate his spiritual authority to other dervishes, who, more

often than not, challenged his saintly facilities. It is clearly demonstrated in most of the

vilayetnames that the strength of a claim to sainthood depended on two things: a

connection to a recognized spiritual master who was set in a spiritual hierarchy, and the

ability to demonstrate
karamat (miracles) not only to the common people but to other

dervishes as well. These themes reoccur throughout the
vilayetnames of both Haji

Bektash Veli and Hacim Sultan, and they are undoubtedly meant to convey a deeper

meaning, since the purpose of transmitting the life-stories of these saints was to keep the

Islamic tradition alive among the rural, nomadic and semi-nomadic population of


Hierarchy was (and is) extremely important to Sufis. It was through the well-ordered

spiritual “Chain-of-Command” that divine
barakah flowed. According to traditional Sufi

cosmology, the universe is controlled by a hierarchy of saints, the top being known by

various titles such as
ghawth (helper), qutb (axis) etc. The qutb was then connection

between the higher heavenly realms and the material world. It was he who dispensed

spiritual authority to his subordinates. The ranking system under the
ghawth was

organized into tiers. According to most Turkish Sufi traditions, under the supreme saint

were ranks composed of five, seven, forty, three hundred and thirteen, seven thousand

and seven dervishes respectively. When a dervish saint of one level passed away, another

would move up in rank to take his place. One of the peculiarities of this cosmology was

that is was rarely known exactly which saints were part of the hierarchy and, if they did,

what rank in it they held. Indeed as Allah stated in a
Hadith Qudsi, “My saints are under

my domes. No one knows them save Me.” Dervishes within this spiritual ranking (as well

as those outside of it) who failed to adhere to the structure of this organizational ladder

by means of showing proper respect and recognition to superiors often incurred

seemingly severe reprimands.

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