Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Baba Rexheb / Albanian Bektashi Leader

A Frosina infobit

Baba Rexheb / Albanian Bektashi Leader

Frances Trix *

"...the two most important human attributes are knowledge and kindness. Knowledge and learning pave the road leading to God. Kindness enables one to endure sufferings and insults inflicted by the populace / ...you would think it exaggerated that I insist ceaselessly that man must do his outmost to fight his egoism. Believe me, egoism is like a high mountain before our eyes and God is behind this mountain. If we cannot conquer this mountain, we will never see God Almighty." – Baba Rexhep

His American neighbors knew Baba Rexheb as the "monk" who regularly walked several miles to market from his "monastery" that had been established on a farm on the outskirts of Detroit in 1953. But they had no idea that he was a scholar, a poet, a patriot and religious leader who had been forced to leave his native Albania during World War II. Nor did they realize that the Bektashi Order, of which Baba was an internationally recognized cleric, was a 700-year old Muslim Sufi or mystic Order, long known for its tolerance and respect for all religions, for the participation of women, and for the support of Albanian independence from the Ottomans.

Baba Rexheb was born in 1901 in Gjirokaster in southern Albania. At age sixteen he entered the Bektashi Teqe i Zallit near Gjirokaster and completed studies in Islamic theology, law, and literature with private tutors, notably Ragip Effendi of Delvina. By the time he was twenty he was fluent in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Greek, and Italian besides his native Albanian. He took his vows as a celibate Bektashi dervish at age twenty-one and served the community until World War II. Forced to flee his homeland in 1944 because of his public stand against communism, he went first to a Displaced Persons Camp in Italy, then to a Bektashi Teqe in Egypt, and finally to America where he established the First Albanian-American Teqe Bektashiane.

In the last summer of his long life, when asked of what he was most proud, Baba responded, "Only to try to teach people about Bektashism." This Baba did through his courage and community leadership, his writings, most notably Misticizma Islame dhe Bektashisme ("Islamic Mysticism and Bektashism," Waldon: New York, 1970), and the way he lived and listened and prayed for people -- Albanian and American, Muslim and Christian. He passed from this life in August, 1995, and is buried on Teqe grounds in Michigan.

*Frances Trix, a student of Baba Rexheb for 25 years, is the author of Spiritual Discourse: Learning with an Islamic Master (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993).

Special thanks also to Mergim Korcha for his assistance


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