Where are the Bektashis of Bosnia?

by Prof. Jasna Šamić  (translated by Ashik Huso)



Rare indeed are those who wrote on the presence of Bektashism in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Most of those writers that make do make mention of Bektashis do so in various works on the general history of the Bosnia-Hercegovina, so that one can only count two or three works that are fully dedicated to the Bektashis of this region. Primarily there is the text of the late Džemal Čehajić published in his book Derviški Redovi na Jugoslovenskim Zemljanima and another article published in the Anali Gazihusrevbeg. In these works, Čehajić gives a rather general view of Bektashism, its origins, its relations with the Janissaries and the Kizilbaş based on the works of Turkish authors such as Fuad Köprülü, Halil Inalcik and others. The presentation of Bektashism in Bosnia is rather minute. Another text that also deserves to be mentioned is the one by Riza Muderizović, published in the newspaper Jugoslovenska Posta in 1931, which was one of the first articles to mention a Bektashi presence in Bosnia. There is also a text of Senad Mičijević, published lately in an Islamic magazine Zamzam, which is a study today's Bosnian Bektashis and provides much information. In addition scholar, Alexandre Popović, references them in his piece on the Islamic mystical orders of the Balkans in Muslim Mystical Brotherhoods.


Each one of these authors has asserted that the Bektashis never achieved any lasting successes in Bosnia and that they disappeared shortly before the Austrian occupation of Bosnia [in 1878]. On the other hand, the Bektashis were very numerous in Albania and in ‘old Serbia’ because, as Riza Muderizović states, “inhabitants of these regions were always liberal in thought.” Scholars who point out any Bektashi zikr ritual are also very rare. Džemal Čehajić, for example, doesn't mention it at all in the above articles, whereas he mentions other rituals such as the Ayni Ikrar and the Ayni Cem. On the other hand, Muderizović affirms that this order does not have the same regular zikr that other Sufi orders practice, but keep a private zikr. According to him, and according to Senad Mičijević, there exist two ways of zikr: a main and collective  zikr, called the Gülbenk and an individual zikr.


Senad Mičijević is one of the exceptional authors to mention all the symbols associated with Bektashis in Bosnia. After having described the features of the ranks of baba (or halife) and dede, the author mentions the symbolic of colors: the green, the red, the white and the black. He also mentions various insignia of the Bektashis, such as the tiğbent (waistband tied with three knots which represent Allah, Muhammad and Ali); mengüş (the earring that every Bektashi who has made the vow of celibacy wears); the nefir, made of a cow horn that was used as a form trumpet and served to frighten animals while in the mountains and forests; the teber, a type of pole arm used in defense and on  jihad; and the keşkul, a leather bowl in which the dervish eats and drinks water during a journey.


The outward signs of the baba were the hirka and the cubbe (a style of dress) as well as the tac, headgear representing with twelve gores symbolizing the Twelve Imams and which makes a Bektashi readily recognizable to outsiders. The existence of Bektashi tekkes  mentioned in popular tradition is also uncertain. Nedim Filipović has found, for example, the name of a Bektashi tekke and its shaykh, Džangudaz, from a defter of the nahije of Bosanski-Brod, for the year 1489, but I must confess that I could not recover this document for personal examination. The existence of the tekke of Golobrdica, a district of Sarajevo, is mentioned by Džemal Čehajić, but it does not exist any longer. It is mentioned in the siccil #81 for the year 1845, which is preserved in the Library of Gazibeghusrev, Sarajevo.


There is still further mention of Bektashi tekkes that have existed in Bosnia in the past: two in Sarajevo, (the one of Golobrdica and the one of Atmejdan), one in the eastern Bosnian town Čajnica (according to Evliya Çelebi). The famous tekke of Blagaj (near Mostar) was most likely at one time a Bektashi tekke based on certain evidence: a tradition concerning Sari Salik and his tomb situated nowadays in the türbe the tekke, as well as the bas-relief representing teslimi taş, a Bektashi symbol, and the absence of mihrab, would be some of the signs. This tekke, which is dated from the 15th century, has belonged over the centuries to several orders: Halveti, Qadiri and recently Naqshibandi, is still active.


In his article Riza Muderizović mentioned the names of two Bosnian Bektashis: the father of a certain Mehmed Kantardžić, and his son-in-law Abdullah Ljutika.


The Search for Bektashis in Bosnia

Fejzula Hadžibajrić, shaykh of the tekke of Sinan Aga in Sarajevo and a dervish belonging to six different mystical orders, showed sincere sympathy for the Bektashis. He had in the past maintained friendly relations with the Bektashis of Dakovica and especially with Baba Qazim Bakkali. He remembers the old shaykh, Hamza Baba (the predecessor of Baba Qazim) who he saw with his father-in-law, Adem Karadžozović (a Naqshibandi) during one of Hamza Baba’s trips to Sarajevo. Shaykh Fejzula was impressed by the small gatherings where Hamza Baba would recite Bektashi nefesler. As the baba recited the verses regarding the Ehli Bajt, he would become full of emotion and was deeply moved. Fejzula perceived at this man had “a great depth of intellect”, something which he detected in other Bektashis as well.

Even though Shaykh Fejzula Hadžibajrić answered the question on the Bektashis of Bosnia with: “They no longer exist, and I don't know why”, he still revealed to me vestiges this defunct order. It is also thanks to the Fejzula that I came into contact other knowledgeable Sufis: Abdullah Fočak, (a Naqshibandi shaykh of Sarajevo) and Said Strik (a Naqshibandi dervish) as well as some of the inhabitants of the Başčarşija district, all of whom knew something about the Bektashis in Sarajevo.


According to the Fočak, he never had close contact with the Bektashis in Bosnia except on the ‘Ashura, when a sweet dish of the same name was sent to his home by them. The Bektashis in Sarajevo tended to be secretive in regards to religion and they never discussed this subject with outsiders. “What shape were they in?” I asked. “For that I seem to have no account,” he responded. Undeniably, his account betrays a slightly negative view that Fočak placed on the Bektashis and even a showed certain disdain for their place among other Dervish orders.


According to Said Strik the Turkish novel by Yakup Kadri, entitled Nur Baba, was one of the main sources of the negative reputation that the Bektashis had in Bosnia. However Strik appreciates their struggle against the Sunni formalism, while distinguishing between those Sufis who tended to be formalistic and dogmatic, and those who were more liberal and tolerant. According to Strik, the Bektashis of Bosnia were exclusively Albanian in origin, having migrated over the years to Bosnia. There were only “particular cases” found among native Bosnians, as for example a certain Bakaršić, who according to Strik, was the last Bektashi of Bosnian origin (however according to the Shaykh Fejzula, he was of Turkish origin). He was an old customs chief during the time Austro-Hungarian occupation. He died in 1932 and was buried at the Grlica Brdo cemetery in Sarajevo.


Strik affirms that there were no Bektashi communities outside of Sarajevo. Nevertheless he related some interesting anecdotes concerning the Bektashis—two regarding their behavior with the women and how they carried themselves out properly in this regard. 


In the first story, a woman attempted to seduce a certain baba. The shaykh placed a candle on her knees and said, “If you manage to hold your hand above of the flame of the candle for five minutes as I will do, I will quit the Bektashis and marry you.” Of course this was something the women could not do. The second story is related to the Šaban Coffee shop at Bembaşa where before the Second World War Bektashis often came drink. The prostitutes of the district came there and the Bektashis often bought them drinks. However one time, one of the Bektashis asked one of the women for her personal address. The other Bektashis became so angry with him for this indiscretion that they prohibited him thereafter from coming back to drink with them.


Said Strik also tells of the occasion of four babas of Albania that fought against Germans during the Second World War and acquired themselves a lieutenant's rank with the communist partisans. Having called for reforms in Bektashism, they went to Kruja, where the main baba was living [the dedebaba] who shot them dead on the spot for their revolutionary views. This narration was also known to many dervishes of Sarajevo, such as Adem Karadžozović and Fejzula Hadžibajrić.


According to the Shaykh Fejzula, there was a Bektashi from Sarajevo recently living. Mufid Kadić (grandson of Enver Kadić) had entered into the order thanks to a certain Latif Idrisi of Sarajevo. At the end of some years, Kadić abandoned the order after finding disagreement with its hierarchy. Hamza Baba was very displease with him and hoped that he would be punished a little before the Day of the Judgment. At the age of 54 Kadić married a peasant girl of 20, and he hid himself to the countryside during the war, having refused to fight in the Ustashi forces. He died in 1982 and was buried to the cemetery of Bare in Sarajevo. It seems that a certain Mehmed Kabadija and a certain Smail Šobović, both from Sarajevo, were influenced by Bektashis ideas thanks to Kadić, being always held aside from the other orders.


Following several meetings, Shaykh Fejzula sent me to a craftsman of Baščaršija, Ramiz Ljusha, of Albanian origin, a man likely to help me know more about the Bektashis of Bosnia. However, Ramiz (despite what his son says) is not Bektashi, but rather a Sa’di. He worked from 1932 for a Bektashi, Latif Idrisi, who was a very rich man and who died in Sarajevo in 1969. Ramiz affirms not to have had a lot of sympathy for the Bektashis, because, he says, “they were capitalists.”  Yet he confesses that Latif Idrisi, an owner of several lace stores, was good with him to the point of wanting to adopt him.


However Ramiz refused, not wanting, by pride, to change his name. He regrets this move today. Latif Idrisi did not have any children, but his brother, Ahmad had several girls and a son. Since they didn't want to continue in the family business, Ramiz is today one of the rare individuals to exercise this profession of lace-making. To preserve it, the state granted him a store and absolved him from paying taxes.


As for children of Ahmed Idrisi, they are owners of coffee shops and pizzerias in the Baščaršija and are completely unaware of the Bektashis. Ramiz Ljusha had never seen a Bektashi zikr and believes that there are none. He never attended any other ritual of this order. On the other hand, he remembers Hamza Baba of Dakovica, who came to visit Latif Idrisi in Sarajevo and remained for several months. Ramiz affirms that the Bektashis were very private in regards to spiritual matters. When Hamza Baba was in Sarajevo, Ramiz did not even have the right to enter in his room. However, he once went with his employer and the baba in excursion. Ramiz also remembers that the second wife of Latif Idrisi was, according to him, “as beautiful as an actress,” and that she never veiled her face.


It was thanks to Ramiz that I discovered the Idrisi family, a family that has managed to continue some Bektashi traditions. The family is of Albanian origin and they settled in Sarajevo in the 1930’s. The three Idrisi brothers lived with their wives in a very big house of the old quarter of Vratnik. They were all tradesmen and possessed several lace stores in the Baščaršija. Today, the children of Ahmed Idrisi, particularly Ahmed Idrisi Jr., his wife Emina and his sister Senija are the only Bektashis left in Sarajevo, and are without doubt

probably the only Bektashis in all of Bosnia.


They possess numerous photos of the family, of the old shaykh of Dakovica, Qazim Baba Bakkali and of their old house in Dakovica that served for many years as a tekke. They left their native town as Serbs took power there and came to Sarajevo “to look for a better market”, says Ahmed Idrisi. It is quite natural for him to be a Bektashi since all his family was. He opposes to Sunni legalism, and like all Bektashis venerates Ali and sons and the Twelve Imams. He calls the Sunnis “Muhammadanci” and the Bektashis “Alijanci.” One could recognize the Bektashis by several outside signs which according to him were a sizeable mustache and a beard, the later usually grown only by babas. The mother of Ahmed Idrisi Jr. became dervish at the age of 16 years, and it was thanks to her that the father of Ahmed Idrisi also became one.


The Idrisis also possess a teslimi taş and a džuher, two Bektashis symbols. The teslimi taş is a stone of alabaster, carved in shape of a twelve pointed star, that one puts on the stomach of a dead. The džuher, a piece of clay block from the purported to be from the tomb Imam Husayn, is used to start the fast. One grates the three sides of the block, and puts this powder then in a glass of water which is drunk before the fasting. It is at this moment that the following words are pronounced, “Lanet olsun! Ya Katil Husayn!” (Be cursed! Oh Killers of Husayn!). These words, originally Turkish, are pronounced, according to the Idrisis, in Albanian. Ahmed Idrisi having lack of džuher during a certain time grated the teslimi taş instead.


Indeed, the ten days of Muharram are the very important. During these ten days, Bektashis abstain from food and drink, do not wash or change clothes, do not cut their hair, nor nails, and they do not engage in sexual intercourse. They only eat cheese and other dairy products and they refrain from killing “anything of that that moves,” including bugs. On the tenth day, in the late afternoon, Ahmed Idrisi shaves his face, and sacrifices a rooster. Then all of the family gathers at the table. They take the  rakija to begin meal eating soup and the çerviş (a salty halva-like dish cooked in a stew of meat). During the meal, or later, they also eat the aşure that they prepared at the end of the fasting. The aşure is made from more than a hundred types of grains [!], never less thirty. It is necessary that the number of grains is even, since, they say, that is a difference between the m and the Sunnis. They boil these grains in a huge caldron of hundred liters. The traditionconsists in distributing the aşure to others, as well as the kurban. The Idrisis also make the kurban on the Bajram but rarely fast during the Ramadan. Their most important vow is (in Albanian) “Babaiya”, that is “By the Baba”.


After the death of the family member, Albanian Bektashis wear black; women sometimes remain all the life in mourning, if they lost a son, for example. The Bektashis lament in loud voice, and weep for the dead, as the Serbs and the Montenegrins do. They don't eat meat of rabbit, and also by superstition, they do not step on the threshold of any house, because they believe that heads of Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn have been place on the doorstep of their houses. Every month of Muharram, the Idrisi sends money to the tekke in Dakovica. This tekke is maintained by grants of supporters and ashiks. Ahmed Idrisi praises that the last shaykh of the tekke, Qazim Baba. He however was replaced by a baba of lower standing, according to Idrisi, and the fact that he is married proves that no more ‘true’ Bektashis exist in Yugoslavia anymore. Ahmed Idrisi feels somewhat detached from the Bektashis of Dakovica having worked for so long in Sarajevo. For instance he could never attend the hadikas (a type of Bektashi mass) that the baba gave every day during the month of Muharram. Yet he truly hopes that his children will continue the Bektashi traditions, as they practice karate today. Finally, Ahmed Idrisi doesn't hide his regret for having divulged all of this information to me, because he believes, by superstition, that the door fell on his arm after having spoken to me and that is why it is in pain. However, “he opens to me his domain”, words that prove complete friendship for Albanians (besa) and Yugoslavians in general.

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