by Huseyin Abiva
The nearly five hundred years of Ottoman rule left deep marks upon the cultural and religious landscape of the Albanian people, with the Islamization of the majority of the population being the most noticeable. Yet it is widely accepted that this transition from both Catholic and Orthodox Christianity to Islam did not begin in the wake of the Ottoman conquests of the 14th and 15th centuries, but rather it was a lengthy process, at first remarkably enervated, that only gathered momentum in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Within this process of religious transition it is essential to be cognizant of the presence of the Islamic mystic orders, the Sufis, and their activities throughout the Balkans. Looking at the centuries-long record of Sufi activity in Albanian lands we notice that the Bektashis and the Halvetis were by far the most widespread and influential of many orders, followed by (in size) the Rifa'is, Kadiris, Sa'dis, Ticanis, Melamis, Gülşenis, Mevlevis, Celvetis, Sinanis, and, almost certainly, Nakşibendis. Amid these numerous mystic communities, the Bektashis hold a distinctive position taking into account its conspicuously non-Sunni character which sets it apart from all other Sufi orders. And even though the Bektashi Order has been amid the Albanian people from the early 16th century, it only grew to be markedly influential toward the end of the nineteenth.