Studies
ALBANIAN IDENTITIES
by Antonina Zhelyazkova
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The Islamisation of the Albanians and its impact on the Albanian religious identity... (3)

The religious ideas taught by dervish missionaries, actively assimilated the local traditions. Islamic and Christian beliefs and practices were mutually adapted to each other and thus the formal conversion of the Balkan population from Christianity to the new faith was made easier. In folk religious practices both in Anatolia and the Balkans the Christian and Muslim saints belonged to the same category of religious phenomena. That is why it was a common occurrence in the Balkans for Christians to visit the holy places worshipped by the Muslims, and very often the latter sought spiritual satisfaction in the ancient Christian sanctuaries. Equally frequently were attended by the two religious groups the shared places of worship. 

The Muslim sects were built on a common foundation, although there were some differences in rituality and attire, as well as in their interior organisation and rules of behaviour. Most of them had adopted certain features of the pre-Islamic religions and beliefs - shamanism, Christianity, Judaism, while some were influenced by the heresies spread in Asia Minor and the Balkans assimilating elements from their doctrines and rites - for example, from Manicheanism. Mysticism is at the root of the Bektashi and other Sufi orders, which actually represented the foundation of Islam in Albania, Macedonia, and some parts of Bulgaria. Mysticism arose on Islamic ground, although in it there are traces of various influences, including Zoroastrianism and some Indian beliefs, and Judaism. Hellenistic doctrines,especially pantheism and Neo-Platonism had a strong impact in the shaping of Sufi philosophy. The establishment of Muslim mysticism as a manifold and complex syncretic ideological structure which, at the same time, is not alien to democracy and dedicated opposition to the official ideologies, respectively, authority, was a prerequisite for the wide spread of some sects in the Balkans. Furthermore, religious propaganda of the dervish brotherhoods was successful with the native people, because Sufism expressed an eternal striving for social justice, human dignity and spiritual perfection. Of course, a factor for the popularity of these orders was the extremely strong tie between the brotherhoods which covered the Balkans like a web, built up their hierarchy, determined the major network centres, contributed to the natural rise of secondary networks in the rural areas, etc. As a matter of fact, this organisation, which has not always been recorded in documents, has been functioning to this day disregarding international borders and the conventions of contemporary geopolitics.56

The adaptation of Islam in Albania was furthered by the Bektashi sect, which, with its relative democracy and openness, came close to the religious beliefs of Albanian Christians. Its centre became Elbasan. Bektashism was one of the popular forms of Islam in Northeastern Bulgaria and Macedonia, too. Its spiritual centre in Macedonia was Tetovo. In this place, according to D. Gadzhanov's studies, were also found other orders - such as the Kadiriyye, Rifa'iyye, Halvetiyye, Nakshibendiyye, etc. It may be asserted that all of Macedonia was sectarian, its western parts being home chiefly to the tekkes and centres of the Bektashi and Hayati (a subsection of the Halvetiyye).57

In Kosovo, like in Albania, Islam was disseminated through the order of Haci Bektash, while in Bosnia the Sunnis predominated, the Mevlevi order being held in highest esteem. In fact, today the centre of administration of the Bektashi order in the Balkans is situated in Tirana, and some of the richest, in spirit and tradition, Bektashitekkes are to be found in Tetovo and Djakovica. (During the war in Kosovo in the late spring of 1999, the tekke in Djakovica was set on fire by the Serb police or by a paramilitary unit, and part of the library was destroyed.)



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