Selim Ruhi Baba was born in the central Albanian city of Elbasan in 1869CE. His family had very deep connections to the Bektashi Order. His mother was the sister of Ali Hakki Baba and his father, Xhemal, was the brother of Mustafa Qefshi Baba. Like his two uncles, Selim studied in the main medrese (Islamic theological college) of Elbasan until the age of sixteen. In 1885CE, his father took him to the tekke of Asim Baba in Gjirokastër to take the hand of his uncle Ali Hakki Baba. Selim remained to Gjirokastër from then on. He continued to take courses in the town’s famous medrese and he acquired not only a knowledge of Islamic theology but was able to master the Turkish, Arabic and Persian languages. In 1887CE, he received his diploma (ijazah) from the medrese, and then he made his solemn pledge (bey'at) to Baba Ali. Three years later, in 1890CE, Selim donned the garb of a Bektashi dervish.
Selim Ruhi Baba was an avid scholar and he absorbed himself in the books that arrived at the tekke every year from Istanbul. The subjects that he studied were not only religious in nature, but covered history, geography, literature, the sciences, and philosophy. He was considered by many to be the most cultivated Bektashi of his time. He later became an accomplished poet and he wrote three divans containing mystical verse; one in Turkish, another in Persian and a third in Arabic. Baba Rexheb (who was his dervish) said that Selim Ruhi Baba was a tender, loving and wise man. He was as certainly unpretentious and humble, because he himself told one Italian journalist in 1939CE that the pre-eminence of a baba over his disciples depended more on doctrine, ritual and mystical exaltation than on personal qualities, whereas the journalist had noted that Baba Selim was famous through all Albania, and that he exercised great personal magnetism over his followers.
Because the threatening political climate in the Ottoman Empire made travel to the Pirevi impractical, Selim Baba took his mücerredlik (vows of celibacy) at the hands of Ali Hakki Baba. He also later received the rank of dede from him as well. Before Ali Hakki Baba left this world in 1907CE, he appointed Selim Ruhi Baba to look after the tekke. Around this time, Baba Selim offered aide to various Albanian nationalist guerillas and to other patriots who tried to organize an independence movement.
After independence in 1912CE, Selim Ruhi Baba and his tekke faced a most trying period. When the Greeks occupied southern Albania during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913CE they laid waist to the countryside, burned many Bektashi tekkes and murdered scores of dervishes and babas. Baba Selim only narrowly escaped death himself. The tekke was encircled by Greek irregulars but Selim Ruhi Baba succeeded in escaping to Gjirokastër. However an old dervish was found in the tekke and beaten. The Greeks robbed the tekke and used it as a barracks over the next three years.
Between 1913CE and 1916CE, Baba Selim lived in Gjirokastër at his sister's house which was transformed into a tekke. In 1914CE, the Greek administrators of occupied Gjirokastër wanted to send Baba Selim into exile on the island of Ithaca along with many patriotic inhabitants of the city. Nevertheless the Albanian Orthodox priests of the town intervened and convinced the Greeks that the baba was a man of outstanding character and he was subsequently released.
As soon as the Greeks pulled out of Albanian lands following the end of the First World War, the tekke of Asim Baba was rebuilt with the help of the local population and the financial contributions made by Albanians living in America.In 1923, according to Hasluck, there were seven dervishes living in the tekke with Baba Selim. He preserved the strict rule of discipline introduced by his predecessor and he barred the use of alcohol. The occupants of the tekke also continued to wear the taj of four terks, in to remembrance of events of 1826 when Sultan Mahmud II outlawed the Bektashi Order.
After the reorganization of the Bektashi Order in 1930, the Asim Baba Tekke became the center of one of the six dedeliks of the country. Its zone of jurisdiction was the extreme south part of Albania. As with his uncle Ali Hakki Baba, Selim Baba had many muhibs. It is even said that at one time eighty and one hundred students of the medrese of Gjirokastër had taken his hand. During muhabets, it was not unusual to see 40 to 50 people meeting in the tekke.
Baba Selim’s tekke was a very welcoming place: pilgrims could lodge there and live for several days. There was an immense kitchen that cooked meals daily to feed any who came, rich or poor. The tekke was also known as a place where one could relive nervous tension and stress thanks to the tranquility and serenity that reigned there.
One day a local man of note came to visit Baba Selim. He brought with him his teenage son named Enver. The man asked the baba to bless the lad as he was about to go off to France to further his studies. The baba was never one to refuse the request of a petitioner and blessed the boy. However he told the father, "One day this boy will return and he will be the ruin of this tekke." The boy was none other than Enver Hoxha.
It was in the tekke of Asim Baba that one of Selim Baba’s nephews took his hand and became a dervish. This young lad’s name was Rexheb. In 1929, at the age of eighteen, Dervish Rexheb represented the elderly Selim Baba at the Bektashi convention in Korça. In 1942, when the new dedebaba, Ali Riza, was installed in Tirana, Baba Selim again sent Dervish Rexheb as his representative. In fact Dervish Rexheb was to be Baba Selim’s successor but the events of the Second World War ended that. During the Italian occupation of Albania, Baba Selim gave his support and sympathies to those who sought to liberate Albania from all foreign occupation and exploitation. Dervish Rexheb actually joined the anti-communist Balli Kombëtar. In 1944, Baba Selim left this world, and soon after Dervish Rexheb fled the country in the wake of the communist takeover of Albania.
The Asim Baba Tekke
Baba Selim in his reading room.
He wears the fourfold taj of his tekke's tradition.