The Renewal of Bektashism after 1990
by Huseyin Abiva
With the collapse of the communist regime in 1990, religious freedom was restored to Albania. Not unlike other faith communities, the Bektashi Order was forced to reconstruct itself virtually from scratch. Two decades of imposed atheism meant that tekkes had to be reclaimed and renovated, türbes restored, a new generation of babas and dervishes instructed in doctrine and ritual and, more importantly, the spirituality of the Albanian people revived. For Bektashis this initially proved more difficult to carry out than it did for the other three Albanian religions. Catholics could rely on the financial power of Rome, the Orthodox from a well-established global church and Sunnis from the help of Arab countries and even Turkey. Bektashis, however, had no foreign benefactors. The slow return of confiscated vakıf properties brought some financial relief and the donations of individuals, especially those in the diaspora community in America, Australia, Turkey, Macedonia and Kosovo, aided considerably.
Since the mid-1990s the situation for the Bektashi community has progressed considerably. The number of tekkes renovated and reopened throughout the country (especially in the south) continues to grow yearly. The main problem continues, nonetheless, to be the recruitment of individuals willing to take up the life of a dervish and head these tekkes. In 1991 there were four babas and two dervishes, all of whom were advanced in age. As of this writing there are now some twenty babas, including those in Kosova and Macedonia. A number of these babas are quite young, providing expectations for an optimistic future.
In 1993 it was announced that the Bektashi community of Albania had selected Baba Reshat Bardhi (b.1936) to be the new dedebaba. The country was again divided into six dedeliks: Krujë, Elbasan, Berat, Korçë, Gjirokastër, and Vlorë. To the number were added the Bektashi tekkes of Gjakovë (Kosova), Tetova (Macedonia) and Detroit (USA). New statutes were worked out as well an organizational structure. A bi-monthly magazine, Urtësija (Wisdom) has been in circulation nationwide, providing readers with spiritual as well as cultural knowledge.
It appears that the Bektashi order of dervishes has once again regained its place in the religious landscape of Albania. Their unique vision of Islam as message of love, tolerance, broadmindedness and optimism continues to win the hearts and minds of Albanians and non-Albanians alike.