Islam in the Balkans. Religion and Society between Europe and the Arab World

Harry T. Norris




‘I travelled for a long time through the country of Rumelia, and saw many beautiful cities and was amazed by Allāh’s blessing, but none amazed and thrilled me as that city of paradise — Skopje (Üsküp), through which the Vardar river flows.’ (Dilger Zede, 17th century)


1. The Bogomil and Christian background  43

2. Islam and the Balkan city  49

3. Mosque, tekke and library  54

4. Arabic and Persian scholarship  58

5. Early Islamic poets in Albania  61

6. Islamic popular literature  64

7. Early nineteenth-century poets  73



1. The Bogomil and Christian background


The focus of uninterrupted Balkan Islamic scholarship and literary activity lies in Bosnia and Hercegovina and certain predominantly Albanian towns and cities (Albania proper and Kosovo Pokrajina extending into Macedonia). However, one cannot overlook the special factors that have helped preserve the legacy in these specific countries. Elsewhere, more recent tragedies or movements of populations have distorted the picture and erased traces. There were once major centres also in Bulgaria and in what is now Greek Macedonia. These, likewise, played a prominent part in the Islamic life of the Balkans. [1]


Up to the fifteenth century, all these districts were Christian- Orthodox, Catholic and (if it be viewed as a Christian heresy of a dualistic kind) Bogomilist. The latter, which also may be seen as a distinct religion, did not in its doctrines actively pave the way for the triumph of Islam. Its dualistic beliefs could hardly do so, although its doctrines reflected an inherent tendency towards heterodoxy or towards electicism in the whole region. This cannot be ignored. The premise that the Muslims of Bosnia and Hercegovina are ‘descendants of converted Bogomils’ has long been seriously challenged. The causes for Islamisation, it is held, cannot be so simply assigned. The coast was for centuries exposed to the world of Islam, and it was but a question of time before



1. Machiel Kiel’s Studies on the Ottoman Architecture of the Balkans: A legacy in stone (collected studies series CS326), Variorum, 1990, is a mine of information on the Islamic legacy in Bulgaria and Greece.







that religion was carried into the mountainous hinterland behind. John V. A. Fine remarks:


Why did so many changes in religious confession occur in Bosnia and Hercegovina and not elsewhere in the Balkans (excluding Albania)? The reason I suggest is not hard to find and has nothing to do with the content of beliefs of the former heresy, even if such a view has frequently been advanced. The other Balkan states had one dominant form of Christianity. They had had and continued to preserve under the Turks fairly efficient and territorially organized church administration. Bosnia, unlike them had had competing faiths. And as a result of its religious history no faith in Bosnia was able to establish an efficient territorially based organization that could bind believers to its church — be it through belief or through a sense of community. Thus Bosnia’s Christians, of whatever confession, had had little contact with any church, and few Bosnians were deeply attached to any religious community. In the 1450s and early 1460s many Bosnians had been forcibly brought to Catholicism. These converts certainly had not had time to become strong believing Catholics, they probably lacked interest in Catholicism, and many may have resented being forced to accept that faith. Thus many Bosnians were more or less between faiths — having renounced an earlier faith and not yet committed to the new one — with no deep belief in any. [2]



It is arguable that Islamic heterodoxy, or ūfīsm at a popular level, may well have found a fertile ground in some regions where Balkan Paulicians had become established in the Byzantine age. Nevertheless, there is no convincing evidence that Bogomilism per se, ‘moderate’ in its dualism, as in Bosnia, or in its ‘absolute’ position, as typified by some churches in Bulgaria, made a crucial contribution to Islamisation.


True, there were some beliefs that were held among the Paulicians and the Bogomils, who were moderate in their dualism, that might have made the Islamic faith less of a leap into the unknown. Furthermore, in the more distant past, the Muslim Arabs in parts of Asia Minor had been sought as protectors against the spiritual authoritarianism of the Greeks. It was, after all, the Paulician ‘adoptionist’ view that it was God the Father, and not the Word of God, who had made Heaven and Earth and all that existed therein. Jesus, the Messiah, was a created man, not a creator; he was made and was not the Maker. He was born a man of the Virgin Mary. He was never viewed as pre-existant Deity at all, but only as the newly-created Adam. The Trinity was nowhere used and, it seems, was rejected as unscriptural. However, such abstruse logic



2. John V. A. Fine, Jr, The Bosnian Church: A New Interpretation, New York: Columbia University Press, 1975, p. 386.





meant little to the rank and file of the peasant Bogomils. What mattered was local practice and simplified ritual, and here there were several Islamic parallels — the Bogomil church had neither priests nor magical sacraments. Images, pictures, holy crosses, incense and candles were considered, at best, irrelevant and, at worst, idolatrous. One would not have been surprised if, locally, a connection with an Islamic manner of thinking had not been made, and yet the hard evidence is nowhere evident. It was power, the presence or the lack of it, that seemed to have decided the issue within their isolated, persecuted or pressurised community. [3]


Any explanation of the origins of Bogomilism — be it one accepting Paulician influences or indigenous origins — reflects the unsettled state of religious values within Bulgaria at the time when Christianity was replacing the earlier pagan cults. Social change worked in favour of Islamisation. In their everyday life, the Bogomils found it hard to adapt themselves to a more advanced form of feudalism which was centred in powerful autonomous districts, and in which the materialistic money-commodity, as seen by them, must have represented a step towards an utter alienation of the actual physical world in which they lived, and their ideals, and the exclusively spiritual world of their divinity. [4]


None of the three creeds — Bogomil, Catholic and Orthodox — could, on its own, take upon itself the role of acting as the spiritual and cultural integrator of Bosnian society at that particular juncture. The feudal class — stimulated by the Ottoman administration when it came, and when it gave administrative opportunities to young and to unmarried yeomen through recruitment upon conversion to military service — was drawn to Islamisation. The Turks were well established in Bosnia after 1415. Nevertheless, the penetration of Islam was more radical and more far-reaching. The settlement of Islamised artisans to serve the Ottoman administration, the founding of entirely new towns on an Islamo-Oriental plan, the integration of many of the destroyed feudal class through the tîmâr system, [5] which was applied likewise among the Balkan peasantry,



3. Moderate and absolute dualists and the differences between views are discussed by Bernard Hamilton in his ‘Origins of the Dualist Church of Drugunthia’, Eastern Churches Review, vol. V, no. 2, 1973, op. cit.

4. See John Fine’s articles, op. cit.

5. Timar (Turkish ‘a fief) is defined by Carleton S. Coon in Caravan: The story of the Middle East, London, 1952, p. 359, as ‘a landed estate yielding less than 20,000 pieces of silver each year’. On the relevance of the system in Bosnia, see Nedim Filipović ‘Ocaklik Titnars, in Bosnia and Hercegovina’, Prilozi (English version), vol. 36, 1-358, Sarajevo, 1987, pp. 157-80.





each and all, served to promote the acceptance of the Islamic faith and the adoption of its culture.


In fact, according to Balić, [6] Islam was not entirely unknown to Bosnians before the arrival of the Ottoman Turks. In the fourteenth century, and perhaps as long before as the tenth century, a following had become attached to the Hungarian Ismaelitak. Some were soldiers, or were financial advisers and merchants who were in the service of the Hungarian and Croatian kings. In the twelfth century, they were followed by the Islamised Turkish tribes of the Kalisians in Bosnia, Syrmium and Macva. [7] The oldest mosque, at Ustikolina, was allegedly built before the conquest of 1463.


Alexander Lopašić — in assessing the general considerations that, in his view, dominated the religious picture in the Balkans, and which account for conversion to Islam over a period — draws attention to the professional soldiers and to the devshirme levy of Christian children for training to fill the ranks of the Janissaries, or to occupy posts in the service of the court and the administration. [8] Here was a forced Islamisation; such too was the deportation of nomads from Asia together with a policy of their colonisation in parts of the Balkans. Less coercive, though in the event equally persuasive, were measures aimed at the conversion of miners in Bosnia and Serbia. However, culturally it was probably the converted local nobility who were the most important. Lopašić mentions the converted as including some members of the Palaeologue imperial family who owned large properties in Bulgaria during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.


The Ottoman-Turkic or, to cite Antonia Zeljazkova, ‘Muslim’ colonisation within the Balkans was linked to a specific category of feudal landownership in the Ottoman empire in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries; namely land mülks and vakifs. The central government, when making gifts of land in unconditional and inheritable ownership, depended on the economic interestedness of the mülk-sahibs to revive derelict land and restore economic life. To do so they drew on a constant flow



6. See Smail Balić, Cultural Achievements of Bosnian and Hercegovinan Muslims, in Croatia: Land, People, Culture, vol. II, pp. 302-3.

7. See Ivo Andrić op. cit., pp. 13-15, together with references in Klaić, Poviest Bosne do propasti kraljevstva, Zagreb, 1982.

8. Dr Alexander Lopašić ‘Islamisation of the Balkans: Some general considerations’, in Islam in the Balkans, Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum, 1979, pp. 50-1. The whole subject is discussed by V. L. Ménage in his ‘Some notes on the Devshirme’, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, vol. XXIX, 1966, pp. 64-78.





of prisoner-slaves settled in large numbers on their estates. Such migrating groups were of mixed origin. Some were from nomadic Turkic tribes, while others, especially in Thrace and Macedonia, were poor or landless Anatolian peasants. A peculiar category was that of the warrior fraternities, attached to the religious orders, and closely linked to the craft and the trades in Anatolian towns. These akh accompanied detachments of the Ottoman army during its campaigns. Colonisation and settlement, and the tîmâr organisation, varied in character and depth in different parts of the Balkans, so that although the tîmâr system was only formally established in High Albania, as its consequence, that same region, thanks to the settlement elders who became part of the system, remained untouched by colonisation. Few colonists, for example, settled in Kosovo. That was a country of garrisons or administrators in urban communities. Here it was a later generation of Albanian immigrants, and their adoption of Islam, that was to transform it into a bastion of the faith. [9]


One document, translated in a recent corpus of Ottoman documents that has been published by the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, [10] furnishes an example for Albania of the way that the jizya / çizje tax was imposed in a fashion that both tempted conversion and at the same time undermined the conversion of what at that time had been an overwhelmingly Christian community.


[Document no. 11] The ī of Opar brings to the notice of the Porte that the inhabitants of the village of Kilidan, this latter under his dependence, protest against the attempts by the collector of tax čizyedar to oblige them to pay the general tax. ‘We are all of us converted to Islam in our village, save one who has remained a Christian’ they said. ‘Those who are tax-gatherers affirm, though, that from the moment we are listed in their inventories, we too, are beholden to pay it’. The ī, having gone in person in order to verify the situation in the village, had to acknowledge that, ‘in fact, in the village, there is only one Christian. All the rest have embraced Islam.’


It is known from the literature that has a bearing upon this matter that,



9. On the role of the akhis, see Mehmed Fuad Köprülü, ‘Les Origines de l’Empire Ottoman’, Etudes Orientates publiees par l’Institut français d’archeologie de Stamboul, III, Paris, 1935, pp. 107-12.

10. Sources Ottomanes sur les processes d’Islamisation aux Balkans (XVIe-XIXe s.), translation by A. Velkov, E. Radušev, E. Siljanove, M. Kaličin, N. Robev, S. Ivanova, edited by Maria Kalicin, A. Velkov, E. Raduev, Sofia: Editions de l’Academie Bulgare des Sciences, 1990, p. 100. See the valuable preface, pp. 23-42.





in order to avoid having to pay the tax and to put an end to a humiliating situation which deprived them of all rights, the Albanian population of entire regions declared themselves Muslims, while at the same time continuing to practise the Christian faith in secret. In 1650 the Christian population of the ā’ (kaza) of Spat (Sopot) complained of the fact that among the 1,844 Christian households listed in the inventories of those who were to pay tax, 804 households had embraced Islam, so that the Christian contributors did not exceed 1,040. The tax-gatherer, however, continued to demand from all 1,844 households that they pay the tax, adding those who had remained Christians to pay the tax in equality with the households that had declared themselves Muslims. One is in the presence here of a widespread practice, to which written sources elsewhere bear witness, according to which the financial authorities, and especially the redeemers of the tax, imposed supplementary charges on the Christians and constrained them sometimes to declare themselves in their turn to be Muslim to avoid fiscal pressure. Whole villages declared themselves Muslim, while in reality they continued to observe Christian customs and, unknown to the authorities, to profess their Christian religion.


The English traveller M. Edith Durham, who passed through this same region at the close of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, noticed that the Albanian mountaineers there ‘called themselves Konstantin in front of Christians, and Sülayman in front of Muslims’. They observed the fast, would receive communion, and be married following both Christian and Muslim rites. They would publicly frequent the mosques and, in secret, the churches. Certain villages would even have clandestine priests. When an inhabitant died there would be a funeral service through priests of the Greek church, and subsequently burial in a Muslim cemetery. This simulated conversion to Islam was transformed into a mode of existence that was convenient for villages and even entire districts. They had to pass, in the eyes of the Muslim authorities, the test of being Muslims. To be exempt from the poll-tax, they had to pay less heavy taxes and escape the discrimination that weighed upon the subject Christians. At the same time, these men continued for centuries to keep their Christian faith. ‘It was natural that at the first favourable opportunity these threw off their Muslim cloak, in order to return openly to the bosom of the Christian church.’ [11]



11. M. Edith Durham’s books, High Albania, London, 1909, and The burden of the Balkans, London, 1905, have numerous examples of Christian and Muslim practice among the Albanians. Pages 203-7 of the latter work discuss the relationship between the two faiths in some detail.





Apart from Bosnia, Albania at the time of its conquest was a feudal society. It had been in part subject to the Nemanjić state and then to the Dušans in Serbia. It was in part a land in a state of transition from family patrimonies. Unlike Bosnia, the Albanians were a coherent ethnic unity although their feudal families did not organise themselves into an independent Albanian state. Villages were built around churches and monasteries, and a rigorous and militant resistance to Islamisation was to last up to and beyond the death of Skanderbeg in 1468.



2. Islam and the Balkan city


Viewing Yugoslavia as a whole, Hasan Kaleši [12] concluded that, with the exception of parts of Bosnia and Kosovo, Islamisation and conversion to the faith from the fifteenth century onwards took place faster in the towns than in the villages. In 1485 Peć had thirty-three Muslim houses and 104 Christian. Skopje had 623 Muslim as opposed to 263 Christian. Prizren had four large Muslim districts and nine small Christian ones. Prishtinë, a mere village some forty-seven years before the battle of Kosovo in 1389, had become a Muslim town by the fifteenth century. Strategic urban growth and development, Oriental in type, took place in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and also Greek Macedonia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. [13] Novi Pazar, on the border of Kosovo, was founded by ‘Īsā Beg, a governor of Bosnia, under Mehmed the Conqueror. Some evidence of its Islamic character may be observed through its men of letters, particularly in the works of its poets. This is noticeable elsewhere in more peripheral areas. Both Muammad Caqi ‘Arshī (d. 1570) and Amad Walī (d. 1598) of Novi Pazar were praised for their love poetry (ghazal). Ni‘mati (d. 1603) was a bohemian poet who is especially associated with Macedonia. [14] Notably cultured and sensitive was the poet Sulaymān ‘Ayānī of Bitolj



12. See the paper ‘Oriental culture in Yugoslav countries from the 15th Century till the End of the 17th Century’ in Ottoman Rule in Middle Europe and Balkan [sic] in the 16th and 17th Centuries, Prague: Oriental Institute, 1978, pp. 359-64.

13. op. cit., 1978, pp. 359-60.

14. Novi Pazar was a centre for poets. See the article devoted to the town in the Encyclopedia of Islam (new edn).





(Monastir), who died in 1603. This town of Bitolj in Yugoslav Macedonia has offered early evidence of proficiency in Arabic and in the endowment of its religious sanctuaries. Hasan Kaleši informs us:


Until several years ago there existed in Bitolj (Monastir) a mosque called ‘Eski čami’ (the old mosque). It was the oldest mosque in our regions and one of the oldest in the Balkans. Its founder was Sungur Bey, called Čauš-Bey, one of the commanders of Sultan Murat II. It seems that Čauš came from the region of Bitolj and that he was taken to Istanbul by means of devshirme. [15] Coming back from a campaign against Skanderbey in Albania, he stopped in Bitolj and he settled there. He built there the mentioned mosque and then a medresa and a zavija, remnants of which can still be seen in Bitolj. Čauš-Bey also built a mesdžid in Jedren and another one in Vidin. For maintenance of these institutions he founded a foundation consisting of 25 shops, one han (inn), two pieces of land, 7 mills, 1 vineyard in Bitolj and another 11 shops and 17 rooms in Jedren and a mill at Vidin.


Čauš-bey made his vakfija legal between the 9th and 19th April 1435. This vakufnama written in Arabic, represents, in fact, the oldest Arabic or Turkish document discovered so far in Yugoslavia. [16]


Earlier in this same article, to underline the historical significance of this Arabic document, Hasan Kaleši points out:


The oldest inscription of dating from 842 (24.VI.1438) and the old document, the vakfiye of Aladža mosque in Skopje, dating from 848 (20.IV.1444), were the oldest items to have been published until now in Yugoslavia. It is now clear that Čauš Beg’s vakifiye, from an even earlier date, is the oldest Arabic-Turkish document which has so far come to light. [17]



John Thirkell, in his study of‘Islamisation in Macedonia as a social process’, [18] adds his own comment to the pioneering study of the Serbian scholar Hadži-Vasiljević, pointing out that during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the region of Macedonia with its centre in Skopje (and especially certain of its cities) formed a military ‘march’ from which the conversion of both Serbia and Bosnia was initiated. The area was a headquarters



15. See Dr Alexander Lopašić, Islam in the Balkans, Edinburgh, 1979, pp. 50-1.

16. Prilozi, vol. 36, 1-358 (English edn), Sarajevo, 1987, ‘The oldest Vekuf Charter in Yugoslavia’, p. 250.

17. ibid., p. 233.

18. John Thirkell, ‘Islamisation in Macedonia as a social process’, in Islam in the Balkans, Edinburgh: Royal Scottish Museum, pp. 23-48, including an extensive quotation of recent articles that treat with the Ottoman archive material, especially those published by historians connected with the Institute of National History in Skopje.





for Islamisation and at the same time it furnished a bastion for Islam in its efforts to establish itself in other Balkan regions. This effort particularly characterised certain Ottoman governors, among them Jigit Beg (1392-1414), Isāq Beg (1414-44) and ‘Īsā Beg Isaković (1444-63). By 1450 a substantial majority of the dwellers in Skopje and Bitolj were Muslim and their numbers were to increase steadily over the years. In Skopje trade played a key part in the change. The presence of hans and caravanserais among the Muslim monuments indicates this; in the Čaršija the fifteenth-century Sulihan and the sixteenth-century Kuršumli Han are but two examples. The Islamic character of Skopje is shown by the seventy-one Imāms that it possessed, its fifty-eight muezzins and its 377 artisans, a great many of whom were converts to Islam.


A not dissimilar picture typified Bitolj. This is reflected in its Islamic art and architecture in that age. Commenting on mosque architecture in Bitolj, Machiel Kiel has observed: [19]


It is clear from a number of Ottoman census documents that the greater part of the Moslem population of Bitola consisted of local converts, especially newcomers from the villages, who became submerged in the culture of Islam. The greater part of the Moslem population of the surroundings of Bitola still speaks its local Macedonian-Slav dialect. It appears to us that the Bitola Muslims kept something of their pre-Islamic attitude towards art. The form in which Ottoman art came to their environment, an early 15th century form, was kept and cherished by them long after the appearance of new forms because their form and manner was the ‘real’ one.



Bitolj (Bitola/Monastir) was to continue to be a centre for Islamic studies till well into the nineteenth century. The town possessed at least four dervish tekkes. [20] Two belonged to the Rifāiyya — one of these, the Shaykh Namī Efendi tekke, containing the tombs of its founder (1859-60) and of Shaykh Mehmed of Aleppo; one belonged to the Naqshabandiyya and contained the tomb of asan Bābā whose adventures and miracles allegedly took him to Kosovo, Skopje, Turkey and Egypt; and lastly there was a Baktāshī tekke containing the tomb of usayn Bābā (d. 1872-3). [21]


A study of state endowments (waqf / ‘waqufa’) by Adem Handžić



19. ‘Some Reflections on the Origins of Provincial Tendencies in the Ottoman Architecture of the Balkans’, Islam in the Balkans, Edinburgh, op. cit., pp. 22-3.

20. On these tekkes see Christianity and Islam under the Sultans, op. cit., vol. 1, pp. 356-7, 524 and passim.

21. ibid., pp. 356-7, and Džemal Ćehajić, Derviški Redovi, op cit., p. 184.





(published in Prilozi, XXV, 1975, by the Oriental Institute in Sarajevo, 1977, pp. 134-69) reveals that state policy in the founding of towns in Bosnia was of primary importance. Many towns such as Sarajevo, Zvornik, Foča, Višegrad, Srebrenica, Travnik, Doboj, Bijeljina and Gradiška developed after the building of mosques during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These mosques were called ‘ulān mosques’, built by the order of the Sultan with state funds. They were well maintained and their imāms were paid from state funds. A different sort of town was that founded by prominent personalities or by high officials of state whose endowments consisted in building mosques and Qur’ānic schools. Such foundations by private individuals usually took place after the order of the state authorities. One such town, mentioned by Adem Handžić in his study, founded by the order of the central government in the second half of the sixteenth century, is Kasaba Glasinać, between Sarajevo and Višegrad, in the Romanija mountain range. Its founder ajj Ibrāhīm Āgā, a local official, endowed a number of buildings. There were also such ‘waquf’ foundations beyond the borders of Bosnia itself. The Sanjaq Beg from Klis, Farhād Beg Sokolović (later Beylerbeg of Bosnia) founded Kasaba Hrvatci, between Sinj and Knin north of Split, and Kasaba Zemunik east of Zadar. Zaim Mehmed Bey of Stolac (in Hercegovina) founded Kasaba Cesta. The names of some of these towns were later changed.


Many of the principal cities in Bosnia and Hercegovina and the Albanian regions owe their monuments and foundations to noted governors. Thus Višegrad owes its subsequent glory to Mehmed Pasha Sokolović, who built a caravanserai and its famous bridge in 1571. Yet earlier (here there is a comparison with Bitolj) Mostar was founded in 1452, together with Jaju and Bihać. The most famous city of all, Bosnia’s capital Sarajevo, which had 50,000 inhabitants by the seventeenth century, owes many of its most precious historical monuments to ‘Īsā Beg (who was there before 1462) and to Ghāzī Husrev Beg. [22]


‘Īsā Beg is an almost legendary figure. His activities and foundations serve to illustrate the two phases of the development of the Oriental settlements in Bosnia and the Balkans in general. An early period which has been described as ‘the dervish period’, was followed by one that reflected later Ottoman state organisation. Aspects of the first phase are given some prominence in Bosnian folk literature in which the oral tradition



22. Much of the Sarajevo tradition is to be read in Vlajko Palavestra, Legends of Old Sarajevo (translated by Mario Susko and William Tribe), Sarajevo, 1987.





of its native populace is coloured, reshaped and retold in the manner of Oriental fable and romance. Such stories as the Old Castle, the accursed Jarina, buried treasure without price, milk pouring down like snow from the mountains and the phenomenon of a peripatetic minaret indicate an earlier rather than a later date. Vlajko Palavestra recounts a legend that brings together the dervish and the governor, ‘Īsā Beg:


In the western part of the old city of Sarajevo there is a mosque which is popularly attributed to a certain sheik of the Maghreb. When Isa Beg came to Sarajevo he was accompanied by a dervish sheik from the western lands, from the Maghreb, who built a mosque on this spot.


It is said that when Eugene burned Sarajevo, his soldiers captured a woman in the Vinograd mahala (quarter) and took her as far as Buda, where they put her into service. The woman was a good servant and pleased her masters, but they never allowed her to enter a certain building in their courtyard. Once, when none of her masters was present, she found the keys and opened the forbidden door. She found herself looking at a kubura, a wooden casket, above a mezar (grave). She fell onto the casket and fainted. Then an old man appeared with an ahmedija (a thin cloth) wrapped around his cap and asked her who she was and where she was from. The woman explained to him everything that had happened to her, and that she was a native of Sarajevo. The old man asked her if she knew where in Sarajevo the Maghreb mosque was situated. She said that she knew, and then he asked ‘And would you like to be there now?’ The woman nodded. The old man said to her ‘Stand on my foot for a moment and close your eyes!’ She did as she was told and when she opened her eyes again she was indeed in Sarajevo, right outside the Maghreb mosque! It is said that from this time onwards the woman went every Friday without fail to this mosque. She frequented it in order that her wishes might be fulfilled, and she prayed for the soul of the sheik of the Magreb.



The diverse mixture of East and West, culturally and geographically, is not surprising when one recalls Evliya Çelebi’s description of this city as an emporium for wares from India, Arabia, Persia, Poland and Czechoslovakia. To ‘Īsā Sarajevo owes its Serai, its Emperor mosque (Careva džamija), its public bath, its hippodrome and its kolobara caravanserai. Splendid works such as these were to be continued by successors, above all by Ghāzī Husrev Beg (1521-41) who laid out its streets of crafts and trades (Čaršija), its madrasa for higher education (the vakufnama dates from 1537) and its great mosque (1530) within the precincts of which he lies buried. It is not to be wondered at that a folksong in the city has preserved the memory of these precious endowments:





I built the medresa (madrasa) and imaret

I built the clock-tower [sahatkula] by it a mosque

I built Tašlihan and the cloth market [bezistan]

I built three bridges in Sarajevo

I turned a village into the town of Saraj’vo. [23]


Smaller towns of lesser fame became centres of cultural and literary activity. One such is Titovo Uziče in Western Serbia. It was occupied by the Ottomans in 1463, in 1476 it had four registered Muslim families and a century later 568. By 1772 this number had not changed appreciably, though by then Uziče had become a substantial town, the second largest in Serbia. Its Muslim population was predominantly of South Slav origin. The town had sixteen principal congregational mosques and many lesser places of worship, including tekkes of the ūfī orders. A number of scholars and poets in both Turkish and Arabic originated from this town and left noted works on jurisprudence, Prophetic tradition, ūfīsm and legal rulings, and poetic compositions to posterity.



3. Mosque, tekke and library


It is within the mosques, the tekkes of the dervish orders and the madrasas (to which may be added the libraries) in the towns of Bosnia, Hercegovina and the Albanian regions that the works of the scholars were written, memorised, studied, copied or preserved. The largest number of mosques were built in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, although fine examples were built later. The oldest mosque is the džamije (xhamië) in Prishtinë, built by Bāyazīd I and commemorating his victory in the battle of Kosovo. It is now called Carska džamije. Skopje possesses the Aladja džamije of Isāq Beg (1438) and the mosque of Muṣṭafā Pasha (1492). The Ghāzī Husrev Beg mosque in Sarajevo, built in 1530, was among the finest. Later mosques built in the sixteenth century include the Altun-alem džamije in Novi Pazar (1550) and one which, till its destruction in May 1993, was among the finest of all, the Banja Luka mosque, the Farhād Pasha, likewise from the sixteenth century (1579).


A number of the dervish tekkes of size and fame were founded around 1600, although the Husrev Beg Hanikeh in Sarajevo was built earlier. Noteworthy examples are the Sadi tekiye in Djakovica (1600), the Halvetiya tekiye in Ohrid (1600) and the tekiye in Prizren.



23. Quoted in Džemal Celic, Zdravko Čavarkāpa, Sarajevo and its surroundings: Pocket Guide for Tourists, no. 17, 6th edn, Zagreb, 1988, p. 11.





Plate 1. The 18th-century Leaden Mosque (Xhamië e Plumbit) on the site of the Church of St Mark, sited beneath the fortress of Rozafat at Shkodër, Albania. The multi-domed hall for prayer is a peculiar feature. Old prints (e.g. one in Edward Lear’s Journals of a Landscape Painter in Albania, etc., 1851) show a graceful minaret, since vanished.



Among the finest of the later ones is the tekke of Sersem Ali Baba in Tetova (Kalkandelen), built in the eighteenth century. [24]


Apart from mosques and tekkes, learning and scholarly activities were centred in the mektebs and madrasas. Here calligraphy in Oriental languages features significantly as part of the study of Arabic grammar and syntax, the handmaid of Qur’ānic studies, theological debate (uūl al-adīth), rhetoric, stylistics and geometry. These centres of learning were at first part of the mosque.



24. On Kalkandelen (Harabti Baba tekke Tetova) see Max Choublier, ‘Les Bektachis et la Roumelie’, Revue des Etudes Islamiques, 1, 1907, pp. 427-53.





Later, large and small towns and some villages were endowed with mektebs. An early example is that of Sinānuddīn Çelebi in Ohrid (1491), and at Prizren, in Kosovo, a mekteb was built by the poet Sūsī Çelebi (1513), who taught there till his death.


The madrasas were to be centred in major cities, foremost among them the Husrev Beg madrasa in Sarajevo and the Mehmed Pasha madrasa in Belgrade. [25] Other foundations were those of Sinānuddīn Yusuf Çelebi (1434) and Ishak Çelebi (1508) in Bitolj and those of Ishak Beg (1465) and his son ‘Īsā Beg (1469) in Skopje.


Unlike Bosnia and Hercegovina, and indeed the adjacent countries (in part Albanian) of Kosovo and Macedonia, Albania itself offered a modest selection of architectural monuments of an Islamic nature from Ottoman times. As Ettore Rossi explained in 1941 (there has been some depletion since), it was Shkodër which offered an example dating from the mid-fifteenth century in the ulān’s mosque xhamië Hunqarit) of 1478-9, also the mosque of the Arsenal (xhamië mbretit), of 1637-8, and the multi-domed ‘lead mosque’ (xhamië e plumbit), first built in 1773-4 (Plate 1). [26] In Elbasan, the Royal Mosque (xhamije mbretit) and the mosque of asan Bālī, as well as a number of others, were built or restored in 1608-9. At Krujë (Āq iār), the mosque of Murād Bey was first built in 1533-4 and, like so many of the others, heavily restored in the nineteenth century. At Korça, the still surviving mosque of Imrahor Ilyās Bey was possibly first built in 1495-6 (Plate 2) and at Berat, one of the great cultural centres of Albania, the mosque (later a museum) was constructed by Bāyazīd between 1481 and 1512 (Plate 3). All these, and other minor structures at Vlorë and Gjirokastër, were much rebuilt in the nineteenth century. For sheer beauty of design the mosque of Edhem Bey in Tirana, finished in 1820-1, is in many ways pre-eminent among all Albania’s mosques, although the oldest mosque in Tiranë, Xhamië e vjetre, was built by the city’s founder, Sulaymān Pasha, in 1651-2. Together with the adjacent tomb (türbe), it was restored in 1843-4. [27]



25. On the mosques and madrasas of Belgrade, see Muammad Mūfakū, Tārīkh Balghrād al-Islāmiyya, Kuwayt, 1407/1987, pp. 101-22. Madrasas are discussed on pp. 31-2. For an exceedingly useful short guide to academic study in Sarajevo, see Mehmet Mujezinović and Mahmud Trajici, The Ghazi Khusraw Beg Library, Sarajevo, Sarajevo, with examples of calligraphy and a glossary.

26. Ettore Rossi, ‘Tracce del Dominio Turco in Albania’, Die Welt des Islams, special issue, 1941, pp. 109-18. This is an excellent article, brief yet rich in content.

27. The mosque is described by A. Degrand, Souvenirs de la Haute-Albanie, Paris, 1901, pp. 184-5, as one of those distinguished for its ornamentation and painting: ‘Aucune des villes que j’ai vues en Albanie se présente un caractère aussi intéressant.’ The mosque has now been restored.





The libraries of Islamic books in Yugoslavia were founded in the fifteenth century. Among the earliest were those situated in the southern and the south-eastern part of the country, adjacent to the Albanian regions, in Macedonia and parts of Kosovo. One that housed Oriental books was founded in Bitolj in 1430, and another in Skopje in 1443. In the following two centuries a number of libraries, whether endowed as vaqfiya or in wholly private collections, were founded in all the major towns of Bosnia, Hercegovina and Serbia and several of the minor ones. Centres of scholastic learning and endeavour were also located there.


According to Kasim Dobraca,


The libraries grew and expanded mainly through the acquisition of books published in the Islamic world at large. The Yugoslav Moslems maintained throughout the centuries very close ties with the Islamic world. Many of them often visited or studied in the famous cultural centres, such as Istanbul, Cairo, Bagdad, Damascus, Mecca and Medina; others, again, stayed for long periods in the Near East and North Africa, either as merchants or pilgrims or Government officials, often sending books as presents to their fellow-compatriots, or acquiring them for their own use at home and, eventually, making over most of them to local libraries. [28]



In a number of the towns there were to be found bookbinders (mudžellits) or guilds of these artisans. Two streets in the oldest parts of Sarajevo are named after them.


Individuals are remembered by the libraries they founded or expanded. In Foca-on-Drina, one of its large libraries was founded about 1550, attached to the madrasa of Hasan Nažīr. The second, the Memishahbey library, was founded around 1575. Among the most famous from this period was that founded by Karadjož-Beg in Mostar in 1570, and which was later to house books from other collections in the city. Most renowned of all is the Ghāzī Husrev-Beg library in Sarajevo. According to Kasim Dobrača:


In his directions to the Waqf with reference to the building of his medres-school, Husrav-bey wrote: ‘The unexpected balance of building costs shall be spent on good books to be used in the medres-school referred to, so that every and each reader may derive benefit from them and transcribe them for the purposes of study.’ It was thus that the foundations of the library were laid.



28. Catalogue of the Arabic, Turkish and Persian Manuscripts, The Ghazi Husrav-Bey Library in Sarajevo, Sarajevo, 1963, vol. 1, pp. xx-xxii.






4. Arabic and Persian scholarship


The fruit of the education that was implanted may be judged from the wealth of religious and secular literature that was to be produced by the learned in Bosnia and Hercegovina and the Albanian regions. The subject-matter of this literature was mainly determined by this thorough grounding in Islamic subjects. Balić remarks:


The Bosnian-Hercegovinian Muslims were interested in the Arabic language chiefly for religious reasons. They aimed to teach every child at least to read and write vocalized Arabic texts, so that they could read the ur’ān on their own, although this reading, more often than not, was purely mechanical. However, knowledge of this alphabet proved most useful, because not only were Arabic, Turkish and Persian written in Arabic characters, but their native Croatian was as well.


The primacy of the religious interest helped considerably to determine the type of literature produced in Arabic. The prominent subjects were religion, pedagogy, and mysticism, followed by the history of Islam and Arabic philology.



The Bosnian and Hercegovinian scholars (many of whom, and a substantial number of their works, are now known [29]) wrote the majority of their compositions in Turkish. Their achievement in Arabic and Persian is in its way equally impressive. Among the earliest of these scholars was Mawlā ‘Abd al-Karīm (d. 1471). He wrote works on Islamic law and was a glossographer of the major Qur’ān commentary by Sayyid Sharīf. ‘Alī Dede al-Busnawī was one of the finest commentators on āfi, Sa‘dī and Rūmī; he was one of the leading scholars who was both a historian and a dervish; he died in 1598 during the seige of Szigetvar in Hungary. The strong influence he received from al-Suyūtī (1445-1505) is manifested on the level of entertainment by his ‘Lecture upon first events and the evening entertainment discourse on last things’



29. In order to obtain full details the following studies (among those others in the bibliography which have been listed) have been recommended: Safvetbeg Bašăgić, Bošnjaci i Hercegovci u islamskoj književnosti. Glasnik Zemaljskog museja, 24 (1912), pp. 1-87 and 295-395; Safvetbeg Bašagić, Znameniti Hrvati, Bošnjaci i Heregovci u turskoj carevini, Zagreb, 1931; Mehmed Handžić, Književni rad bosansko hercegovaskih muslima. Sarajevo, 1933; Hazim Sabanović, Književnost Muslimana Bih na orijentalnim jezicima. Bibliogafija, Sarajevo 1973; Alexandre Popović, ‘La Litterature ottomane des musulmans yougoslaves. Essai de bibliographic raisonne’, Journal Asiatique, 259 (1971), 5/4, pp. 309-76; Smail Balić, Kultura Bošnjaka, Muslimanska komponenta, Vienna, 1973; Smail Balić, ‘Südslawen als Mitgestalter der Kultur des Orients’, Der Donau-Raum, 20, parts 1-2, Vienna, 1975, pp. 23-39.





(‘Muāarat al-awā’il wa-musāmarat al-awākhir), a work of anecdotes about the kings and learned men of the Islamic Orient. However, two of his other works, ‘The unravelling of the symbols and the discovery of the hidden treasure’ (all al-rumūz wa-kashf al-kunūz) and ‘Lights of the Eastern lands’ (Anwār al-mashāriq) are both devoted to mystical subjects, the former being concerned with a view of Qur’ānic philosophy. Mysticism also figures prominently in the writings of ‘Abdallāh ‘Abdī b. Muammad al-Busnawī, the head of a mosque of Bayramī dervishes who died in Konya in 1644. Of special note is his commentary on ‘The bezels of wisdom’ (Fuū al-ikam) by Muyī’l-Dīn Ibn ‘Arabī, the classic work of this greatest gnostic of al-Andalus.


One of the famous scholars and builders of religious monuments in Bosnia was asan Kāfī b. urkhān al-Āqiārī (born 1544/7) from Prusak. He ranks high among Ottoman authors and was a teacher and a judge in Prusak where he died in 1616. His treatise — also his masterpiece — on the policy of the ideal or most effective ruler, ‘The bases of wise maxims in regard to the systematic ordering of the world’ (Uūl al-ikam fī niām al-‘ālam), was translated from Turkish into a number of European languages and into Arabic. Other works of his are concerned with metaphysics, philosophy, dogmatics, religious observance and prayer, and jurisprudence. Hazim Šabanović [30] regards him as the major literary and intellectual figure in Bosnia in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Between 1600 and 1607, he wrote several outstanding works, biographical and jurisprudential, and contributed over seventeen important works and abridged compositions to Bosnian literature in Oriental languages.


Hardly less prolific was the outstanding scholar of Mostar, Muṣṭafā b. Yūsuf b. Murād Ejubić/Ejubović al-Mūstārī (known as Shaykh Jujo/Yūyū), who was born in 1651 and died in 1707. He has been called the ‘most prolific’ writer in Oriental languages in Bosnia and Hercegovina. His pupil and relation by marriage, Ibrāhīm b. Hadži Ismā‘īl al-Mūstārī (1678-1726), himself a scholar of no mean achievement, [31] described him as ‘scholar of the time and professor of the era’



30. Hazim Šabanović, Hasan Kāfī Pruščak (asan Kāfī b. urhān b. Dāwūd b. Ya‘qūb al-Zībī al-Āqiārī al-Bosnawī, in Prilozi, XIV-XV, Sarajevo, 1969 (German resume, pp. 29-31).

31. See Omer Music, ‘Ibrahim Opijač Mostarac (Ibrahim b. Hadži Ismail El Mostari)’, in Prilozi, SV, X-XI, Sarajevo, 1961, pp. 31-53. These are extracts from his Arabic writings.





(‘allāmat al-zamān wa-’ustādh al-awān). Portraying his attainments in his essay on the pious, even miraculous deeds and feats of his master, entitled Risāla fī manāqib al-shaykh Muṣṭafā b. Yūsuf al-Mūst̅arī, a number of its folios are devoted to the piety, humility and devotion to scholarship of this profuse and assiduous man of letters who, at his death, had composed over sixty works, many of them commentaries and glosses on medieval Oriental scholars. His works include such subjects as dogmatics, logic, stylistics, rhetoric, philology, astronomy, geometry and Islamic law and philosophy. Foremost among these compositions were his gloss Miftā al-usūl li-mir‘āt al-uūl fī shar mirqāt al-wuūl, a commentary on Muammad b. Faramurz b. ‘Alī Mullā Khusraw al-Tarasūsī (d. 1480), begun during his stay in Istanbul in 1691; his commentary on al-Samarqandī (d. 1483), Shar ‘alā’-l-risāla al-Samarqandiyya fi’l-ādāb; his gloss on al-Taftāzānī (d. 1390) in Logic, Shar al-tahdhīb ‘alā’l-maniq wa’l-kalām; a commentary on the Kitāb al-Unmūdhaj by al-Zamakhsharī (d. 1144) and his commentary on logic, Shar al-jadīd ‘alā l-Shamsiyya fī’l-maniq by Najm al-Dīn ‘Alī al- Qazwīnī (d. 1276). Interesting likewise is his commentary on the Arabic recension of the Isagoge of Porphyrius undertaken by Athīr al-Dīn al- Abharī (d 1265). In all, twenty-nine works in Arabic are attributed to Shaykh Jujo. [32]


Among the numerous Bosnian and Hercegovinan poets in Arabic, Persian and Turkish was ‘Alā’al-Dīn ‘Alī’ b. ‘Abdallāh al-Busnawī Thābit of Uzice (d. 1712), who is credited by E. J. W. Gibb with being the first to introduce a spirit of humour into Ottoman Turkish poetry. [33] Great artistry is shown in his descriptions of the seasons and nature and of historical events. His Mī‘rajiyya, the ascent to heaven of the Prophet, is full of rich colour and pageantry. [34] Gibb, its translator, wrote:


Born in what the biographers call ‘the town of Uzicha in Bosnia, Sábit, whose personal name was ‘Alá-ud-Dín began his studies under a certain Khalíl Efendi who had a reputation for learning in those parts. In due time he made his way



32. On details regarding the works of Shaykh Muṣṭafā b. Yūsuf al-Mūstārī Ayyūbī Zāde (Ejubović), who died in 1707, see Smail Balić’s article on the cultural achievements of Bosnia and the Hercogovinian Muslims in Croatia: Land, People and Culture, vol. II, op. cit., p. 345.

33. Smail Balić, ibid., p. 348, and E.J. W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry, ed. E.G. Browne, London, 1900-8, vol. IV, p. 16.

34. Smail Balić, ibid., p. 349, and Gibb, ibid., vol. VI, pp. 234-5.





to Constantinople, where he continued his studies, until, having passed through the several classes of the muderrisate and served as judge-substitute at Rodosto, he entered the second or devriyye order of the magistracy and was appointed molla of Bosna-Seráy, Qonya, and Diyár-Bekr successfully. He received the mollaship of the last-named city in 1119 (1707-8), but before his death, which occurred in 1124 (1712-13), he had retired from public life. The only personal note that I find recorded of Sabit is that he was afflicted with a stutter or stammer in his speech which made him say on occasions T cannot speak, but thank God my pen can speak a little; were it too unable to speak, I should split.’



5. Early Islamic poets in Albania


The impact of Arabic, Persian and Ottoman literature on Albania and the Albanians has been explored in considerable depth at the popular level as well as that of belles lettres. Some of the most recent studies have been published within Albania, others outside (in Kosovo especially) and in the West. Albanian compositions in Arabic script, preserved in manuscript, have been consulted and discussed at conferences and in published work. The writings of the late Hasan Kaleši are among the most important. [35] In his survey entitled ‘Orientalische Einflusse in den albanischen Volkserzahlungen’ [36] few elements of popular theme, story, folktale and vernacular verse, coloured by Oriental borrowings, are omitted. A more recent study by Muammad Mūfākū of popular tales among the Albanians and their Oriental inspiration, published in the Syrian journal al-Ma‘rifa, [37] draws attention especially to the Arabic sources for their themes and compositional techniques.


It was in the fifteenth century that the first attempt was made to write in the Albanian language. The most ancient text is the Baptismal Formula of 1462, written by Archbishop Pal Engjëll, who collaborated with George Kastrioti Skanderbeg. This referred to family baptism where neither font nor priest was available. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a vernacular literature undoubtedly existed; Marin Barleti, in the Siege of Shkodra (De Obsidione Scodrensis), refers to annals he had acquired in which fragments of the famous tale of Ross and her brother Fa,



35. In Südost-Forschungen, vol. XXXI, Munich, 1972, pp. 267-301.

36. ibid., pp. 269, 274, 287, 277-95.

37. Muammad Mūfākū, ‘Mu’aththirāt ‘Arabiyya fi‘l-qia al-sha‘biyya al-Albāniyya’, al-Ma‘rifa, Damascus, 191-192, Jan. and Feb. 1978, pp. 49-57.





the founder of Shkodra (Shkodër) appeared. [38] At the same time, Ottoman Turkish words began to enter Albanian after the conquest about 1470. The Book of Hours by John Buzuku, composed in 1555 to aid priests in their use of Albanian in the litany, contains nine Turkish words. In the following century, writing developed and the vernacular took a more literary form in the catecisms, dictionaries and eventually verse books by Budi (1621), Bardhi (1643) and Bogdani (1689). The Qur’ān was taught almost immediately after the conquest, and the oriental ikāya found its way, in theme and style, into popular storytelling. Turkish, Persian and especially Arabic models had an impact on lyrical and emotional verse in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. [39]


Although Mesihi, who was born in Prishtinë and died in Istanbul in 1512 and whose ‘Spring Ode’ was translated into Latin by W. Jones, [40] might be preferred, one of the best known of the earlier Albanian poets, who is remembered for his handling of Oriental themes, is Yayā Bey of Tashlidja (Plevlje in northern Montenegro) [41], a Sipāhī officer and administrator of vaqif who died in luxury in Bosnia around 983/1575. He claimed as his background the aristocratic Dukagjin (Duca Jean) family near Shkodër, which was descended from a Norman adventurer.



38. The story of the entombed maiden, a sacrifice offered when Shkodra (Shkodër) castle was built, is the subject of many a song in the Balkans, ‘Rozafati’ in Albanian and ‘Zidanje Skadra’ in Serbian. The name ‘Rozaf’ is mentioned in the biography of Nemanja by Stephen I crowned in 1215; it occurs as Rozapha in Marinus Barletius around 1480. The name is explained by childish identifications, although Jirecik has almost certainly given the correct explanation in the Arabic form of Ruāfa which was known in both Syria and Spain and in other regions conquered by the Arabs. Ruāfa, now an extensive ruin in Syria, is mentioned in the legends of St Sergius, patron saint of Syria, and Bacchus. Beneath Shkodra castle, on the banks of the River Bojana, there was once a noted monastery dedicated to these saints who came from Rusafa. Over a period of time the home-city of the Syrian martyrs was transferred to the adjacent locality which happened to be the formidable castle that dominates the entire plain. On this whole subjects see Stavro Skendi, Albanian and South Slavic Oral Epic Poetry, Philadelphia, 1954, pp. 50 and 51. A totally different account is given in James Creagh, Over the borders of Christendom and Eslamiah, London, 1876, vol. II, pp. 330-3.


39. On the ‘Catholic’ tradition in Albania before Islamisation, see Stuart Mann, Albanian Literature: An Outline of Prose, Poetry and Drama, London, 1955, pp. 1-8, and Koço Bihiku, A History of Albanian Literature, Tiranë, 1980, pp. 11-19.

40. See, Ettore Rossi, ‘L’Ode alla Primavera del Turco Mesihi. . . .’ Oriente Moderno, vol. XXXIV, no. 1, Jan. 1954, pp. 82-90.

41. E. J. W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry, London, 1904, vol. Ill, pp. 116-31. Note the specifically national sentiment in the poem on p. 117.





In his Ottoman verse he was not ashamed to declare his origin as an ‘Arnāud’ (Arnā’ū) and compared his people to eagles or falcons living, like jewels, in their rocky terrain. This imagery brings out clearly the Albanian play with the words Shqipëria (Albania), shqipe (eagle) and shkrep (rocky places). Although his strongest sympathies were for his homeland and origins, it is precisely in his romantic leanings that he displays his ability to fuse East and West into a creative achievement. This is to be seen in his mesnevis (extended religious poems). Of these, Shāh u Gedā, ‘the King and the Beggar’, ‘Yūsuf and Zulaykhā’, Joseph (Yūsuf), together with Solomon (Sulejmani), Hazreti Hezer (al-Khir), Hazreti Ademi (Ādam) and Xhaxhima Huxhet (Yājūj wa-Mājūj — Gog and Magog) enjoy great favour among the Albanians, both with men of letters and in popular storytelling. [42] Joseph and his narrative are also to be found in folk stories. [43] Mystical sentiment and ethical counsel mark his verses.


The story of Shāh u Gedā portrays young Amad — called ‘the King’ on account of his exceptional beauty — who regularly meets his friends at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. A wise and yet begging ‘dervish-like’ figure from Rumelia has a vision of Amad in a dream and, enamoured of him, seeks him everywhere, although his amorous advances are continuously repulsed. The ‘beggar’ is about to give up in despair, then he is addressed by an unseen and mysterious voice (hātif) warning him of the vanity and fickleness of human love. In the view of Alessio Bombaci, [44] it is the influence of a poet of Herat, Hilālī, who composed Persian verse in the circle of ‘Alī-Shīr, that is seen most clearly in Yayā’s verses although the lover and beloved, both males, received strong disapproval in the memoirs of Babur, who took exception to Hilalī’s license. Yet Yayā’s treatment is never less than elegant and in good taste. Furthermore, despite the creature of beauty being a king, the story of the quest for ‘the beauty of the world’ (bukura e dheut), ‘the beauty of the sea’ (bukura e detit) and ‘the beauty of heaven’ (bukura e qiell) is a most popular and cherished theme in the folktales (perallë) and folk epics of Albania, and of considerable antiquity. [45]



42. On Hazret Hezen (al-Khair/al-Khir) see Muammad Mūfākū, al-Ma‘rifa, op. cit., p. 53.

43. Discussed at length by Hasan Kaleshi in his ‘Ndikimet orientale në tregimet populate shqiptare’, Buletin Muzeut të Kosoves, XI, Prishtine, 1972.

44. On Shāh u Gedā, a poem by Yayā of Tašliža (Plevlje, Kosovo) see Histoire de la Literature Turque (transl. Irène Mélikoff), Paris, 1968, p. 293.

45. See the extensive discussion in Maximilian Lambertz, XII, Albanische Märchen, Vienna: Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1922.





Certain Albanian stories are borrowed almost directly from the One Thousand and One Nights, and Muammad Mūfākū has drawn attention to the theme of ‘Alī Bābā and the Forty Thieves as the prototype of the tale of Sezan çilu-Sezan mbyllu. [46] These and other popular sources were to emerge in the works of Ottoman and post-Ottoman Albanian poets and prose writers down to the twentieth century. [47]



6. Islamic popular literature


In common with Turkish and other literatures in the Orient, popular literature of all kinds, including folk epic, developed side by side with the 'dīwān literature’, the love poetry, the scholastic world of commentary, gloss, theological and philosophical speculation, and historical writing. In Bosnia, at Novi Pazar and among the Albanians, particularly in Kosovo, an epic romance may be observed in the krajina of the guslar singers, the battle gestes on Islam’s borders, [48] the sevdalinka and kënge e ashikeva among the more urbanised communities and, especially from the second half of the eighteenth century onwards, an entire corpus of exploits of heroes such as Djerzelez Aliya, and Mujo and Halil. [49]


Dr Rade Božović has argued that themes and forms from Arabic popular sīra are to be detected in the ‘frontier areas’ within the Balkans:


The possibility of close connections between our epic poems and epic heroic story-telling amongst the Arabs is indicated by the large number of typological features characteristic of both and the number of interesting formulaic elements such as drinking the glass of death, black ravens as symbols of disaster, and word duels preceding those with arms. With the Southern Slavs fighting in the Byzantine-Arab frontier area ever since the 7th century, and the epic tradition certainly already existing at the time or somewhat later among the Byzantines and the Arabs, the Slavs could not possibly have remained outside that tradition, and if actual borrowing is uncertain, what is certain is knowledge at least, among Southern Slavs of these epic traditions. [50]



46. See the comment by Hasan Kaleši on p. 378 of his article ‘Oriental Culture in Yugoslav countries from the 15th Century till the End of the 17th Century’, op. cit.; also Muammad Mūfākū, al-Ma‘rifa, op. cit., p. 54.

47. The love of this was especially to be found among Albanian writers in Egypt, e.g. Thimi Mitko (1820-90), see Robert Elsie, op. cit., pp. 98-9.

48. An immense literature on this subject exists - see B. Albert Lord, The Singer of Tales, Cambridge, 1960, and Andre Vaillant, Les chants epiques des Slaves du Sud, Paris, 1932. On Albania see Culture Populaire Albanaise, Tiranë, 1985.

49. See Chapter 4 for a fuller treatment of these heroic cycles, likewise Maximilian Lambertz, Albanische Märchen, op. cit.

50. Rade Božović, op. cit., p. 224.





The escapades of Naruddin (likewise Juā), in all the Balkans, illustrate the interchange of literary and the popular. Dr Munib Maglajlić remarks: [51]


In the oral prose material collected on the territory of Yugoslavia, particularly in the regions which used to constitute an integral part of the Ottoman Empire for short or long periods of time, there is a great amount of evidence testifying to the existence of stories told about Nasruddin especially in Bosnia. Bosnia had a special position with the Empire, while it was under Turkish rule, but we cannot dwell on this matter any further here. This province, a former pashadom, maintained a close and frequent contact with the metropolis. The Turkish language was much more in use than it was dictated by the circumstances, Turkish being the official language of the ruling Empire. Namely, the Slav population, having accepted Islam after the fall of Bosnia under the Turkish rule, which is of extreme importance in the ethical genesis of Bosnian Moslems, used Turkish besides Arabic and Persian, as the language of literature. Furthermore, a considerable number of people were receiving education in Constantinople preparing for administrative and religious functions in their native land or elsewhere in the Empire. As Bosnian Moslems made up the largest population in Bosnian towns as well as in some towns of Serbia until the Serbian uprising, the Turkish language had a special status among certain groups of Bosnian and Serbian town population. This, of course, created favourable conditions for the penetration of Turkish culture in general, and particularly into the oral literature. It is not suprising then, that stories about Nasruddin, which greatly appealed to the people, soon took a prominent place in the folk traditions of the people who communicated in the Turkish language. [51]



Specific topics from Oriental literature were cultivated and adopted; stories from the One Thousand and One Nights, Shah Ismael, Majnūn and Laylā, Farhād and Shīrīn, āhir and Zahrā, tales of fairy beings and a search for the fairy princess of mountain or sea who is ‘the beauty of the world’. [52] Some of these stories were Indian or Persian in origin. Others were especially popular in Islamic literature in general, though handled in literature with mixed religious and secular intentions: Yūsuf and Zulaykhā’, ‘Alī and Fāima, asan and usayn and the Mawlid of the Prophet. Allusions to these stories, with proverbs and maxims from



51. Munib Maglajlić, ‘Nasruddin-Khoja in Bosnia’, III Milletlerarasi Türk Folklor Kongresi Bildirileri, Ankara, no date, p. 232. Dr Maglajlić contributed a paper, ‘The Singer Selim Salihović as a representative of the living tradition of Moslem Folksongs in Bosnia’, to the Vuk Karadžić Centenary Conference held in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, University of London, 1989.

52. See the works by Hasan Kaleši (or Kaleshi) referred to above in footnotes 35 and 46.





Oriental literature, were introduced into the so-called aljamiado literature of Bosnia and the Albanian regions. It was composed in the vernacular language though written in Arabic script.


In an article about Romanian tales of Eastern origin, M. Anghelescu has shown that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such tales were published and disseminated and had a wide readership in many walks of Romanian society. Cycles of stories that include Barlaam and Jehosaphat, Sindipa the Wise and notably Halima, together with other stories from the One Thousand and One Nights were translated from Greek via Syriac, although they reveal an Arabic version as their origin.


The Greek translation keeps an indication not only of its Syriac origin but also of the text out of which it has been translated into Syriac, attributing it to ‘Mousos the Persian’. But Mousos,who is mentioned by al-Jāī and by other Arabic sources of the epoch, is Mūsā b. ‘Isā al-Kasrawī, who translated the original text of the Persian into Arabic. Manuscripts in Romania, in their majority, confirm such a double translation from Syriac into Greek and then into Romanian.


Anghelescu adds:


A manuscript of this text [Sindipa, The Book of Sindibad), that has still to be studied, Romanian ms. no. 583, in the Cyril and Methodius library in Sofia, was written on 28 February 1795; it contains, besides the Alexander Romance, an incomplete version of Sindipa, and it attributes an Arabic original to the translation: ‘The first word of Sindipa, the philosopher translated from the Arabic language into Moldavian (folio 141). [53]



This flow of theme, form and Oriental inspiration is of course not entirely explicable in Romania as due to translation from Arabic, Syriac or Turkish alone. There were, and are, other popular levels of transmission within the Balkan regions, via the Gypsies, the Vlachs and other peripatetic peoples and isolated story-telling groups. Thus Marcu Beza has shown in his Paganism and Romanian Folklore [54] that among the Vlachs in Romania and in part of Macedonia, the zanë ring-adorned, nymphs (so too their counterparts in Albania), the frequenters of remote forest glades and fountains, and the seducers of beautiful youths, more especially princes, are matched by such creatures as grace the pages of



53. In particular see ‘Une vision de la spiritualité arabe à travers les contes roumans d‘origine orientale’, in Romano-Arabica, edited by M. Anghelescu, Bucharest, 1974, pp. 55-68, together with her references to Romanian publications on this theme.

54. Marcu Beja, Paganism in Roumanian Folklore, London and Toronto, 1928, pp. 70-94.





the One Thousand and One Nights. The nymphs clad in owl-skins, who having stolen golden apples bathe at a pool and are overlooked by a prince, and likewise the story of the prince who gains access to a hidden chamber by the possession of a solitary key, match in great detail such descriptions in the tale of asan al-Basrī and in one part of the massive Sīrat Sayf h. Dhī Yazan to which the tale in the Nights appears to have some relationship.


A further parallel with these Arabic works can be observed in a sequence in the same Sīra where asan/Sayf encounters two youths who are in dispute over the possession of a leather cap and a rod of brass. This cap that makes the wearer invisible, coupled with a stave, rod or whip that evokes the response of obedient jinn or that will behead the most frightful foe or monster, is obtained by the prince through a stratagem. Not only does this story occur in the Romanian tale of the Fairy of the Fairies (which shares the whip and a cap with its Arabian counterpart and a pair of sandals as well), but it is also not hard to discern some parallels with the legend of the maiden, the spring and the magic wooden sword (pairing the rod or the whip) that is so devastating a weapon in the hands of the dervish Sari Saltik (who is also supplied with a flying carpet). Marcu Beza found many similarities between Vlach and Indian, Scottish and Irish tales. He has also discussed the Boy-Beautiful or the Prince Charming of Romanian folklore, the ‘youth without age and life without death’ which has its peer in Turkish fairy tales. [55]


The best known of the men of letters in the Albanian countries during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries illustrate, in their use of Albanian written in Arabic script (Albanian Aljamiado literature) and in other compositions of theirs in Oriental languages, this attractive lyricism and feel for nature that is tinged and sometimes heavily coloured by a mysticism in part Islamic and in part something deep within the Albanian temperament. Muçi Zade is credited with the first verses that have survived and written in the Arabic alphabet. [56] Composed around 1725



55. ibid., pp. 92ff.

56. The fullest documented source for Muçi Zade (circa 1725) is to be found in Osman Myderrizi’s ‘Letersia Shqipe në alfabetin Arab’, in Bulëtin për Shkencat Shoqërore, 9, Tiranë, 1955, pp. 148-54 (esp. p. 151). The handiest introduction for an English reader to the history of the use of the Arabic alphabet in the Albanian language and in its literature is Odile Daniel’s article ‘The Historical Role of the Muslim Community in Albania’, Central Asian Survey, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 1-28, 1990, esp. pp. 10-16, together with the references. In Arabic see Muammad Mūfākū, al-Thaqāfa al-Albāniyya fi’l- Abjadiyya al-‘Arabiyya, Kuwayt, 1983, pp. 38-81, though he has written on this subject elsewhere in Middle Eastern periodicals.





when the author was old, and surviving in a manuscript that originated in Korçë the poem contains seventeen verses (pattern A A AB). It is a light-hearted affair in praise of coffee by a lover of it who has been constrained to give it up. It is the oldest Tosk verse written in Albania. [57]


Of greater importance was Ibrāhīm Naīmī, or Nezim Frakulla, who was born either in the 1660s or between 1680 and 1685, and died in 1760. He grew up in the Albanian village of Frakull, near Fier, and came from a good family background. Much of his life was spent in Berat, a city noted for its beauty, its poets and its artists. It was an old Byzantine centre, and to this day it possesses a noted cathedral in which the artistry of the medieval Albanian icon painter Onufri, may be admired. Besides its scholarly pursuits, the city was well endowed with baths and its many coffee houses were frequented by poets. Indeed Evliya Çelebi (1670) mentions its mosques, tekkes, madrasas, coffee houses and poets.


Nezim studied in the foremost madrasa in Berat, and afterwards in Istanbul, where he wrote his first poetry in Turkish and Persian. It seems that he also visited the Arab countries although no Arabic verse by him has survived. [58] He returned to Berat in 1731, and began to compose Albanian Aljamiado verse there. He became engaged in a poetic contest with Muftī Mulla ‘Alī, which led to uproar and division in the city. Reports of it reached Istanbul, and the Shaykh al-Islām intervened; Mulla ‘Alī was sacked from his post. Nezim was now at the pinnacle of his fame, although this was short-lived. Following a dispute with the governor of Berat at some date after 1747, he was exiled to Khotin in Bessarabia and eventually brought to Istanbul where he died in prison in 1760. Elegies were composed in his honour, and one by the poet Fejzi hailed him as a martyr (shahīd).


The dīwān of some 110 odes contains the first secular poetry recorded in Albanian. [59] To the fore are nature poetry and love lyrics that he dedicated to his nephew. The everyday life of the people was his primary concern:



57. Muçi Zade’s light-hearted poem in praise of coffee is held to be the oldest known Albanian poem (in Tosk dialect) to have been written in Arabic script. It was found in Korça, and verses from it can be read in Haydar Salihu’s, Poezia e Bejtexhinjve, Prishtinë, 1987, pp. 131-2.

58. The Oriental influences on Nezim (Naīmī, according to Muammad Mūfākū) are extensively discussed in Ernesto Koliqi, ‘Influenze Orientali sulla letteratura Albanese’, Oriente Moderno (Rome), XXXIV, no. 1, Jan. 1954, pp. 27-33.

59. Muammad Mūfākū, al-Thaqāfa al-Albāniyya fi’l-Abjadiyya al-‘Arabiyya, Kuwayt, 1933, pp. 111-18.





‘Whosoever lives in this world then what benefit is there for him to take an interest in the world beyond?’ [60] He satirised hyprocrisy. Man should take pride in his good qualities and not his wealth.


Nezim was a bard, an ‘āshiq, and he prided himself unashamedly on assuming this mantle. In one of his most noted verses he likens himself to the lover poet and his beloved to the heart, he a nightingale and his beloved a rose, he the breath of spring and his beloved spring itself. He is Majnūn, his beloved is Laylā. He is a patient, his beloved is the physician. He is gold, his beloved is the alchemist. He is the lawsuit, and his beloved the rule and order issued by the judge. He is Farhād, his beloved is Shīrīn. He is a falcon, his beloved is a dove. He is a Muslim, his beloved is the religion. He is the assembly of the Muslim community, his beloved its imām. He is Gedā, the beggar mystic, and his beloved is Amad the King of beauty (the subject of Yayā Dukagjin’s verse). He is the night, his beloved is the moon. He is the hour of dawn’s breaking, his beloved is dawn itself. He is eventide, his beloved is the twilight.


More noteworthy still is Nezim’s boast in using Albanian as the language for his verses:


Divan, kush pat folurë shqip

Ajan e bëri Nezimi

Bejan kush pat folurë shqip

Insan e bëri Nezimi

Këjo gjuhë qe bërë harap

me qeder, me shumë hixhap

Shahit mjaft ky qitap

handan e bëri Nezimi

Vetëmë mos duash, o mik

këtë gjuhë flet ky ashik

shih udhënë qe s’qe açik-

mejdan e bëri Nezimi.


[Who is he who has composed a dīwān in the Albanian language? Nezim has clearly done so. An elegant statement, who has composed it so in Albanian. A man, Nezim is his name. Whose tongue was ruined, afflicted, suppressed and concealed. Enough testimony is within this book. Mocking Nezim is his name. O friend, perchance you may not wish to say a poet’s tongue composed these words. See how the path is clear and open wide, Nezim is master of the field.] [61]



60. On Fejzi, see Muammad Mūfākū, ibid., pp. 114-15.

61. Ettori Rossi, ‘Notizie su un manoscritto del canzoniere di Nezim in caratteri arabi’, Rivista degli studi Orientali, 21 (1945-6), pp. 219-46.





Arguably less important, was the Berat contemporary of Nezim, the Baktāshī Sulejmān Naibi (Ramazani), who probably died in 1771 or 1772. Few of his works, especially in verse, have survived. His lyrics tell of love and of beautiful women. His Albanian is purer and less flavoured with oriental loan words and imagery than Nezim, but even so he used the Arabic alphabet, and poems such as ‘Beautiful Mamūda’ (Mahmudeja e Stolisurë), which Koço Bihiku calls ‘The Dandy burning with Love’, are influenced by Arabic verse. [62] Some of his works were written in Elbasan. [63] More significant was Hasan Zyko Kamberi, who was born in the second half of the eighteenth century in Starje e Kolonjes in Southern Albania, and took part in a battle on the Danube in 1789 between the Turkish and Austrian armies. His tomb in Starje was later turned into a shrine (türba). Some of his poetry is satirical — for example Paraja (money) — and aimed at combating the horrors of war, exploitation and corruption. Others are laudatory, for example his praise of broth. Fifty of his verses are secular, although even here his Islamic heritage is conspicuous. He is best known for his poetry on Abraham, Hagar and Sarah and his mavlid (al-Mawlid al-Nabawī), his religious qiṣṣa, and his Baktāshī verses that were meant to be recited and meditated upon during the Ma’tam in memory of those who died in Karbalā at the hands of the Umayyad Caliph, Mu‘āwiya.


Muammad Mūfākū, in his study of the Albanian poets who wrote in Arabic script, comments on Kamberi, drawing upon the studies of him by āfi ‘Alī and others. [64]


There is no doubt that the interest shown by the Albanians in the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday (al-Mawlid al-Nabawī) was due to the Ottoman Turks who spread Islam in these regions. In fact, up to now we have nothing that indicates the time when the Albanians began to celebrate the birthday nor what the celebration included on this occasion, though it would appear that the Albanians during the first phase used to depend upon the Mawlid of Sulaymān Çelebi [65] on account of it being the most renowned. Perhaps this motivated the poet Kamberi to write his verse in Albanian so that it could be recited during the celebration among the Albanians.



62. On Sulajman Naibi, see Robert Elsie, Dictionary of Albanian Literature, p. 103, and Poezia e Bejtexhinjve by Hajdar Salihu, Prishtinë, 1987, pp. 143-6.

63. An old centre in Albania for literary activities — see Robert Elsie, ibid., p. 4, and the poets entered under Elbasani on p. 39, and F. von Babinger, ‘Die Grundung von Elbasan’, Ostasiatische Studien, 1931, pp. 94-103.

64. Quoted in Muammed Mūfākū, al-Thaqāfa al-Albāniyya fi’l-Abjadiyya al- ‘Arabiyya, Kuwayt, 1983, op. cit., pp. 129-31.

65. See Bombaci, Histoire de la litterature turque, op. cit., pp. 258-9.





This mawlid, like any other mawlid of its kind, indicates a long ode that is composed in fifty-one parts, or sections, each of which comprises four verses. Such tell of the birth, life and miracles of the Prophet Muammad in an appealing poetic format. Today we only possess one copy of this mawlid and it is at present preserved in the archival centre in Tiranë. [66] Even this copy was unknown till recently. This mawlid, written by Kamberi the poet, is noteworthy for its original features and for its simple realism. This latter is important, in fact, since if we consider carefully, the mawlid is usually written for recitation during the celebration on the day itself and is basically of interest for the simple populace. This determines that it should be in an attractive poetic form and a language close to that which the common people look for and the idiom they are used to. For this reason we do not find it strange today when we come across some illiterates who can remember by heart the Prophet’s mawlid or at least some sections of it. In reality, the mawlid of the poet Kamberi is greatly prized in view of the fact that he encouraged the rest of the poets in Albania to make permanent this poetic tradition in those regions inhabited by Albanians. The poets have continued to compete in this tradition, and have done so up to the present century.


This has led to the creation of a poetic legacy that is especially interested in the Sīra of the Prophet Muammad in the Albanian language. It might seem that the great interest aroused by this subject was natural in view of the social position that the poet gained in a situation where, in one region or another, he was depended upon for ‘his mawlid’ during the celebrations marking the Prophet’s birth itself. We possess evidence to show that the mawlid of the poet Kamberi was widespread among the Albanians in the south [of Albania] and in those regions currently situated in the north of Greece. It is worth drawing attention to the fact that the celebration of the mawlid of the Prophet Muammad — to be precise, ‘the recitation of the mawlid’ in the Albanian regions — is not restricted to the annual remembrance itself of the mawlid. Rather, it has been transformed into a social tradition carried out at sundry times: Rajab, Sha'ban and Ramadan and various occasions such as during circumcision and the remembrance of the deceased for forty days. Besides this mawlid, the poet Kamberi has left us some other odes concerned with religion. We have a number of them that are part religious and part historical, such as the lengthy ode about the history of Abraham, with Hagar and Sarah.



66. On the mawlid of Kamberi and his other verse, see Robert Elsie, op. cit., pp. 73-4. Osman Myderrizi has written a specific study, 'Hasan Zyko Kamberi’, in Buletin per Shkencat Shoqërore (1955), 1, pp. 93-108.





Plate 2. Korçë’s mosque minus its minaret. This ancient town in eastern Albania, with a large Christian population, once had an important cultural influence throughout the country and abroad. In the 15th century a mosque and public baths were built by Hoxha Ilyās Bey, who had taken part in the capture of Constantinople in 1453.



The Albanian writer Dodani is the first person to have been alerted to the importance of this ode when he discovered it about 1822 in one of the tekkes. Dodani then undertook to copy out this long ode. He was so greatly surprised and pleased that he deemed it to be a peak of creative artistry. The other poetic works we have are Shī‘īte verses by this poet. They belong to his old age, after he had become interested in ūfīsm, and he had become a dervish of the Baktāshī order, which was in essence essentially Shī‘īte. Amongst the oldest of the works that we know of is an ode the length of which extends to one hundred verses, called ‘Mu‘āwiya’ and this title indicates, aside from the ode’s





content, the Shī‘īte influence on the Baktāshī order. The latter passed it on within the Albanian regions. There ‘Mu‘āwiya’ was transformed into the symbol of evil itself from which all other evils stem. Added to this, we have a number of other odes that are dominated by Shī‘īte interest and preoccupation, as for example in some poems that deal with the battle of Karbalā and what happened there. In fact the poet Kamberi is considered to be the first poet to exploit the theme of Karbalā in Albanian poetry. It was to be transformed into a major topic in this poetry during the nineteenth century. [67]



A lesser figure than Kamberi — although he is considered so in part because of the small quantity of his verse that has survived — was Haxhi Ymer Kashari, known also as Ymer Muṣṭafā Kashari. He came from Tiranë, and his language furnishes information on the dialect of that city during the mid-eighteenth century. According to Muammad Mūfākū:


Most of his poems have been lost due to an earlier lack of interest in him, though his person enjoys high regard. All we know about him is that he was born at the beginning of the eighteenth century in the town of Tiranë . . . which had become an oriental town at that time although it came into being at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Furthermore, we know that Haxhi Kashari was a shaykh in the Qādiriyya ūfī order. This indicates the presence of this order in Albania from that time. In regard to his poetry, our information about him shows that he wrote his verse in two languages, Albanian and Turkish. From the few odes that we know of today, we have one known as the Alif. This is of a special interest to us since it is the first of its kind composed in Albanian poetry. The poem is based on the letters of the Arabic alphabet (al-abjadiyya), and for this reason has twenty-eight verses. Each verse begins with one of the letters of the Arabic alphabet, from alif to yā’, consecutively. This type of verse was to become a tradition in Albanian poetry and we now have many that have followed the same technique. This poem is also of importance linguistically and historically, seeing that this was the first literary text to have been composed in the dialect of the region of Tiranë. [68]



7. Early nineteenth-century poets


It is fitting that the pre-Rilindja (pre-Renaissance) phase in Albanian cultural, literary and religious history should include a major Baktāshī saint, Nasibi Tahir Babai (d. 1835), who founded the tekke at Frashër in 1825 and was buried there.



67. On the theme of Karbalā, see Chapter 5 and in particular the Qerbelaja by Naim Frashëri.

68. On Haxhi Ymer Kashari see Muammad Mūfākū, ibid., pp. 121-2, and Robert Elsie, op. cit., p. 74.





The former distribution of the Baktāshiyya in Albania





Plate 3. The Albanian city of Berat, home of outstanding 18th-century poets such as Nezim Frakulla and Sulajman Naibi, is now preserved by the government as a ‘museum city’. This scene, showing the citadel and the Ottoman bridge, is from Rev. Thomas Smart Hughes’s Travels in Sicily, Greece and Albania, vol. II, London, 1820. Apart from the Leaden Mosque (Xhamië e Plumbit), originally built in 1553-5, two other mosques, including the Bachelor’s Mosque (Xhamië e Beqarevet), are partly preserved.





According to Sami Frashëri, [69] he composed much verse in Albanian, Turkish and Persian. In his youth he had visited Iraq and other parts of the Arab East. If little of his own verse has survived and the tekkes of Frashër and of Leskovicu, which he also developed as a centre for culture and literature, have also been erased, it was his example that was to fire the imaginations of Naim and Sami in the Albanian Renaissance at the end of the century.


The city of Shkodër was one of the most important centres for Islamic scholars and cultural and literary activity. Daut Boriçi (1825-96) was a significant figure there who favoured the ‘revival’ and is probably best known in Albania for his Albanian primer in Arabic script, published in Istanbul in 1861, where he had resided for many years, first in a theological seminary and later during a period in exile. In his capacity as an inspector in the Inspectorate of Education, he showed himself a convinced champion of the use of Arabic script for his mother-tongue. This, however, was no exclusively nationalist cause but had strong religious roots, as is evident from his upbringing. He was a student of Hoxha Ferhali of Shkodër (1773-1844) and also studied in Qafës madrasa. He was deeply influenced by theologians associated with Shkodër, including Salih Efendi, Mullah Ahmet Hadri and Mullah Sylo Fakoja, and was himself to become Imām of the Draçin mosque in Shkodër in 1848. [70]


Two further poets can be counted among the significant figures who wrote verse in the Arabic script up to the middle of the nineteenth century. One was Tahir Efendi, Boshnjaku (Bosnian), who died about 1835. Known also as Tahir Efendi Jakova or Efendi i Madh, ‘the great Efendi’, he is reckoned among the greatest poets who hailed from Kosovo. His life was centred around the town of Gjakovë and later in Bosnia, which he visited so much that the region became attached prominently to his name and title. A scholar of theological bent and steeped in the literary arts and metrical skills of Arabic, Persian and Turkish poetry, he is principally famous for his long poem Emni Vehbie (Offering), printed in the Istanbul alphabet in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1907 — although the poem itself had been composed in 1835. Tahir Efendi prefaced his verses with Arabic meters, in this instance a form of Ramal, Fā‘ilātun, fā‘ilātun fā‘ilāt (fā‘il-un) followed by the basmala, the amdala and praise of the Prophet (Pejgamberit).



69. Robert Elsie, ibid., p. 103, and Nathalie Clayer, L’Albanie pays des derviches, Berlin, 1990, p. 277.

70. Robert Elsie, Dictionary of Albanian Literature, op. cit., p. 18.





Plate 4. An external wall-painting in the Edhem Bey mosque, Tirane, one of the finest surviving mosques in Albania. The interior is lavishly decorated with floral designs, and scenes in Constantinople are depicted. In the 18th century, Albanian artists were skilled in such decorative painting and examples exist in Baktāshī tekkes at Krujë and elsewhere.



Throughout his works rhymed prose, citation of Qur’ānic verses and Prophetic adīth are employed to varied effect. A number of this writer’s works have been lost, and one of these concerned the duty of revenge as it was once demanded and effected among the Albanians. [71]


The second of these poets, Etëhem Mollaj (1783-1846), has particular associations with Tiranë. Known also as Haxhi bej Tirana Etëhem, he was noteworthy in Albanian literature for composing mystical verse in both Turkish and Albanian; four of his dīwans were in Turkish. A man of substance, he was buried, according to Muammad Mūfākū,



71. Robert Elsie, op. cit., pp. 18-19, and the poem Emmi Vehbie, quoted in Haydar Salihu, Poezia e Bejtexhinjve, op. cit., pp. 212-31, and shorter verses.





in 1848 in the Tirane mosque that bears his name. This Xhamija e Haxhi Edhem Beut mosque was begun in 1791 or 1794 by Molla Bey of Petrela (d. 1806), the nephew of Tiranë’s founder, and finished by his son Etëhem Bey in 1819 or 1821. [72] Graced with most attractive interior wall-paintings completed in 1820-3, and beautifully balanced architecturally, it has been described by Alexander Meksi and Gjerj Frashëri as ‘an important monument of the architecture of the last centuries of the Middle Ages ... It bears witness to the quite lofty levels that were reached among us not only in its construction but likewise through its architecture. All these elements make this monument one of the most successful realisations of Islamic architecture we have.’ [73]


Etëhem Bey, as already mentioned, was laid to rest in this monument, and beside him sleeps his wife Balkis. Yet it is the paintings of flowers, of a town surrounded by a hill of cypresses and pleasure boats, reminding one of the Bosphorus at the end of eighteenth century, that linger most in the memory. The blend of a local art with the quintessence of Ottoman art at its most delicate is seen in the skill of these artists (Plate 4) whose work in paint is a perfect match for the verse of those Albanian poets who, as has been said, were the pioneers of the Albanian ode inspired by the Muslim East.


With the works of the poet Muhamet Çami, or Muhamet Kyçyku (1784-1844) — perhaps the major figure in Albanian literature of Oriental inspiration during the first half of the nineteenth century — a new outlook on the world can be noticed. He has been regarded as the representative of a literary transition between the classical Islamic verse of such poets as Frakulla, Naibi and Kamberi and the poets of the Albanian Renaissance towards the end of the century. He grew up in Konispol in southern Albania, and then went to Cairo for eleven years to study at al-Azhar University. He returned to Konispol as a hodja although without a doubt his stay in Egypt, in scholarly Islamic surroundings, left a permanent mark on his style and his choice of subject. Muammad Mūfākū sees in him one of the principal sources for Egyptian Arabic influences on modern Albanian literature. He was an innovator. [74] As a poet and a literary figure he received a brief mention



72. Alexander Meksi and Gjerg Frashëri, ‘Architecture et Restauration de la mosquëe de Haxhi Ethem Bey a Tirana’, in Monumentet, 14, 1977, Tiranë, Ministria e Arsimit dhe e Kultures, Instituti i Monumenteve te Kultures, pp. 125-44.

73. ibid., pages 143-144.

74. Muammed Çami is also known as Muhamet Kyçyku (1784-1844). See Robert Elsie, op. cit. p. 84, together with a number of references. See also pp. 136-43 of Muammad Mūfākū, al-Thaqāfa al-Albāniyya fi’l-Abjadiyya al-Arabiyya op. cit., pp. 136-43.





in Stuart E. Mann’s Albanian Literature and a comprehensive appreciation in Oriente Moderno in 1948, where Ettore Rossi explored the cultural inspiration from Ottoman Turkish literature and from the One Thousand and One Nights in Muhamet Çami’s ‘Erveheja’. [75]


Çami’s first extended ode Zaptitni i Misolongjit, (The conquest of Missolongi), composed in 1826, was inspired by the dramatic campaign of Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Muammad ‘Alī, against the Turks on the Greek mainland. Another poem, of 348 verses, written two years before, was devoted to a condemnation of the drinking of wine and raki. However, his second major ode, of some 2,430 verses, was in the Oriental tradition, as too was that of Yayā Bey Dukagjin. [76] This was Jusufi i Zelihaja, based on the Islamic poetic legend, rooted in Qur’ānic narrative, of Yūsuf and Zulaykhā’. Fragments of the Albanian verses of this work have now been published. [77] The inspiration afforded by Egypt may have led to this specific subject being chosen. This without doubt was one of the reasons that compelled him to translate the mystical work, the Burda, from Arabic into Albanian composed in Arabic script. Muammad Mūfākū remarks: ‘Of his poetry translations we now know a number of long odes. Possibly the most important is his translation of the Burda ode by the Egyptian poet, Sharaf al-Dīn al-Būīrī (1213-95) which enjoyed great renown in the Islamic world. [78] In the view of Mūfākū, the poet’s extended sojourn in Egypt drew him to it and gave him a chance to absorb the necessary Arabic literary background. A forty-page manuscript of this work, dating from 1884, survives. [79]



75. Ettore Rossi, ‘La Fonte Turca della Novella Poetica Albanese, “Erveheja” di Muhamat Çami (sec. XVII-XIX) e il tema di “Florence de Rome” e di “Crescentia” ’, Oriente Moderno, XXVIII, no. 1-3, Jan.-Mar. 1948, pp. 143-53.

76. Jahja bej Dukagjini. E. J. W. Gibb, A History of Ottoman Poetry, vol. Ill, London, 1904, p. 125. According to Gibb, Yayā was inspired to compose Yūsuf and Zulaykhā while in Palestine on the way to Mecca. Egypt and especially Cairo, ‘the City of Joseph’, also inspired him.

77. Muammad Çami’s poem Yūsuf and Zulaykhā contains 2,430 verses derived from Turkish and Persian literature according to Necip Alkan, ‘L’influence de la langue et la littérature albanaises’, Deuxieme Conference des Etudes Albanologiques a la mort de Georges Kastrioti-Skarderberg, Tirane, 12-18 Jan. 1968, III, Tiranë, 1970, p. 100.

78. This work of piety is remarkably free from ūfī influences, a feature that marks Muammad Çami’s Azhar-trained background.

79. For a detailed analysis of Çami’s Arabic influencing poetic compositions, see Muammad Mūfākū, al-Thaqāfa al-Albāniyya fī’l-Abjadiyya al-Arabiyya, op. cit., pp. 137-9, and Dhimitër Shuteriqi, Shkrimet shqipe ne vitet 1332-1850, Prishtinë, 1978, p. 194.





The most famous composition to have reached the West by Muhamet Kyçyku is his poem Erveheja (Ervehe), held to be based on a Turkish prose original, Revza. [80] According to Myderrizi, it may have been composed about 1820; a written copy exists from 1839, and was published in 1888 by Jani Vreto, who transliterated it into Latin script and radically purged it of its Turkish and Arabic vocabulary. A copy in Arabic script survives in Albania.


Mann, in his short study of Albanian literature (written, however, before the rediscovery of much Albanian literature in Arabic script), succinctly outlines the plot of the poem:


Erveheja recalls the popular story of Genevieve of Brabant. It is the story of a chaste woman who survives and triumps over the evil designs of men. Erveheja’s husband, who is forced to go away on a long journey, leaves her in the care of his brother. The brother suspects her of infidelity and causes her to be stoned. By a miracle she escapes with her life to find refuge with a nobleman, who subsequently asks her hand in marriage. When she refuses another charge is made against her; this time it is one of complicity in the murder of the nobleman’s son. Forced to flee once more, she encounters a man who is about to be put to death for raiding the King’s coffers. Her intervention, and the surrender of all her small earnings to the would-be executioners, saves the man’s life. But the ungrateful victim pays her undue attention, and her steadfast refusal causes her to be sold to a ship’s captain. But Erveheja fares no better at the hands of the captain. At length a storm at sea drowns captain and crew, but Erveheja survives and disguises herself as a monk. In this garb she succeeds by an odd chain of circumstances to the throne of a distant land, where she rejoins her husband, who rules with her in mercy and benevolence. [81]



It has been generally thought, and discussed at length by Ettero Rossi, [82] that the source of Kyçyku’s subject was Turkish, although ultimately it is derived from the Oriental story collections that are found in al-Faraj ba‘d al-shidda, the Ṭūṭī nāmeh and Alf Layla wa Layla. It is the last, the One Thousand and One Nights, and ‘The story of King Dadbin and his Wazirs’ circulating in Baktāshī circles, familiar to Muhamet Kyçyky, that have gained wide acceptance as the poet’s true inspiration. Among Muammad Mūfākū’s extensive studies of this



80. See the references given in Robert Elsie’s Dictionary of Albanian Literature, op. cit., p. 84.

81. Stuart E. Mann, Albanian Literature: An outline of Prose, Poetry and Drama, London, 1955, pp. 12-13.

82. Ettore Rossi, ‘La Fonte Turca della Novella Poetica Albanese....’ , op. cit., pp. 143-53.





work and its author, and of Kyçyku’s influence on Albanian and Yugoslav literature of a much later period, his essay, Arwā al-‘Arabiyya wa-Arwā al-Albāniyya [83] argues an Arabic case for the inspiration of this epic. It owes much to the pervasive presence of similar ethical themes in Albanian folk literature and the long sojourn of Kyçyku in Egypt. His mastery of Arabic was a key factor that was to determine his choice. [84]



83. Muammad Mūfākū’s article first appeared in the Journal al-Ma‘rifa (Damascus), no. 218, 1980. It was conveniently bound and augmented with more Albanian source-material in his Malāmi ‘Arabiyya Islamiyya fi’l Adab al-Albānī, Damascus, 1990, pp. 67-92.

84. Muammad Mūfākū’s arguments in favour of Arabic (Cairene) influences have been specifically argued in his ‘Erveheja ne perallat popullore’, Rilindja, Prishtinë, 6,1, 1979.


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