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

Harry T. Norris




‘Pan-Islamism has always come from the very heart of the Moslem peoples, nationalism has always been imported. Consequently, the Moslem peoples have never had ‘aptitude’ for nationalism. Should one be distressed by that?’ (Alija Izetbegović, The Islamic Declaration)


1. Albanians and Bosnians in Algeria and Tunisia  201

2. Albanians in Egypt  208

3. Albanians and the Cairene Baktāshī tekkes  211

4. The history of Shaykh Muammad Lufī Bābā and Shaykh Amad Sirrī Bābā  218

5. al-Hājj Umar Lufī Bashārīzī  227

6. ‘Alī Pasha of Tepelenë  231

7. The Albanians in Syria  244



The Albanian and Bosnian communities in the Arab world, especially in recent times, were both influenced by, and made their own mark on, the history and the cultural life of the Maghrib, particularly Algeria and Tunisia, and on the life of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. At the same time members of these communities were the agents of a continuous transmission of Middle Eastern Islamic culture, language and literature into the heart of the Balkans. Trends in Islam, the vicissitudes of ūfīsm, the effort of the Arabs to achieve independence from the Turks or the West, were echoed or reflected within the towns, villages and citadels of Islam in the Balkan peninsula. The Balkan languages themselves, especially Albanian, illustrate this borrowed phenomenon.


An example of the borrowed influence exerted within the Balkans from Egypt and Central Asia in an earlier age can be seen in what is today Greek Macedonia, including such cities and towns as Yenice Vardar, Larissa, Salonika, Serres, Kavalla and Arta. The first of these cultural circles at Yenice Vardar was within a small sophisticated group and particularly among its lettered elite. It reveals the way the ūfīs there were to transmit Egyptian and Persian influences within the interior of Macedonia. Machiel Kiel [1] has pointed out that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries this Macedonian city, in its crucial central location, was essentially Turkish, though surrounded by a mixed



1. See M. Kiel, ‘Yenice-i-Vardar (Vardar Yenicessi Giannitsa): A forgotten Turkish cultural centre in Macedonia in the 15th and 16th centuries’, Stadia Byzantina et Neohellenica, 3, Leiden, 1971, reprinted in Studies on the Ottoman Architecture of the Balkans, Aidershot: Variorum, 1990, IV, pp. 308-16.





Turkish and Christian population, chiefly Bulgarian. It was an important Islamic cultural centre, noteworthy for its literary intelligentsia. Three of its members — Shaykh ‘Abdallāh al-Ilāhī, Shaykh Shams al-Dīn al-Bukhārī and the ūfī poet Uūlī, — illustrate the unbroken relationship between Yenice, their home town, and Istanbul, Egypt and Persia at that time.


Shaykh ‘Abdallāh was born in Anatolia. However, his earlier years were partly spent in Samarqand, where he was accepted into the Naqshabandiyya ūfī order. He then moved to Istanbul, where he became a professor in the Molla Zeirek madrasa. He actively propagated the Naqshabandiyya order, ably supported by Shaykh Shams al-Dīn al-Bukhārī, who was originally from Bukhara in Central Asia. The two men had met in Samarqand. Shaykh ‘Abdallāh al-Ilāhī’s reputation and devotion to the Naqshabandiyya earned him a measure of support among the citizens of the expanding Turkish urban communities in the Balkans. When he died in 1491, communities that followed his teaching had been founded in Macedonia and beyond, including Sofia. To the north such communities were to be observed in Skopje and in Bitolj, the hub of Balkan routes and a key centre for secondary contact within the Albanian interior. As Dukagjin-Zadeh Basri Bey has remarked: ‘Every road leads to Rome. In Albania-Macedonia one says “every road leads to Monastir [Bitolj]”. Monastir-Korça, Monastir-Elbasan, Monastir-Dibra form the hyphen that joins together the mass of southern, central and northern Albania.’


At this time, the ūfī poet Uulī was born in Yenice Vardar. He moved to Egypt, which in that period had become a centre for several ūfī orders.


As we have already seen, the last major Circassian Mamlūk ruler, Qānawh al-Ghawrī, had commercial and diplomatic contacts not only with the spice entrepots of the Orient but also with Ragusa and its merchants, whose fleet rebuffed the Portuguese and who had a marked sympathy for certain of the ūfī orders, one or two of which bordered on heterodoxy. The orders were favoured during his reign. According to Muammad b. Amad Ibn lyas, describing events before the Ottoman conquest of Egypt in 1516, [2]


On the Sultan’s departure from Aleppo he went to Hailan and halted there . . . the Sultan said the morning prayers, mounted and proceeded to



2. Lieut.-Col. W.H. Salmon, An Account of the Ottoman Conquest of Egypt in the Year AH 922 (AD 1516), Oriental Translation Fund, New Series, vol. XXV, Royal Asiatic Society, London, 1921, pp. 41, 59, and 84.





Plate 11. Four folios from Muarrik al-qulūb li-‘ibādat ‘allām al-ghuyūb, one of the earliest Bosnian and Hercegovinian compositions in Arabic, on the Meccan pilgrimage. The work originally contained 16 chapters, but only parts of the text survive. Its author, iyā’ al-Dīn Amad b. Mūṣṭafā al-Mūstarī (from Mostar), known as Amad Efendi, was a simple muezzin and a ūfī affiliated to the Khalwatiyya arīqa; he died in 1090AH/1679AD. His shaykh was Muli al-Dīn of Uzice. The first folio is typical of this author’s pious style and his evocation of prophetic and Our’anic






recommendation of the duty of the hajj, citing Abraham for an example, and strengthening his argument and his case by seemingly fabulous reports of pilgrims and accounts of the undoubted blessings they received in consequence. The work refers to holy sites and localities in and around Mecca and Medina, and the significance of the performance of certain rites at certain seasons. The fragments of this work were preserved in the Gazi Husrev Library, Sarajevo, which recently suffered damage and destruction.





Zaghzaghin and Tell al-Far, where the alleged tomb of the Prophet Dā’ūd is. [ . . . ] He there mounted his charger, wearing a light turban and a mantle, carrying an axe on his shoulder; [3] he inspected the army in person; on the right wing was the Amir of the Faithful, also wearing a light turban and mantle . . . carrying an axe on his shoulder like the Sulān, and having over his head the Khalīfah’s banner. Around the Sulān, borne on the heads of a body of nobles, were forty copies of the or’ān in yellow silk cases; one of the these copies was in the handwriting of Imām ‘Othmān Ibn ‘Affān. There were also round him a body of dervishes, among whom was the successor of Seyyid Ahmed al-Bedawī founder of the ūfī sect accompanied by banners. There were also the heads of the ādiriyyeh sect with their green banners, the successor of Seyyidī Amed al-Rīfa‘ī with his banners, and Sheikh ‘Afīf al-Dīn, attendant in the mosque of Seyyidah Nefisah with black banners.’



Ibn Iyās adds that ‘he had a great belief in the dervishes and the pious’. [3] However, even more significant, was the fact that he was inclined to ‘the Nasīmiyya’, and its beliefs, and that this preference was strengthened by his liking for foreigners and the stimulus of men from Iran and from the Caucasus and ūfīs from those regions. Massignon spotted this fact. ‘The Turcoman sect of the urūfiyya, persecuted simultaneously among the Tīmūrids, the Osmanlis and the Mamlūks of Egypt survived among the Turks of Egypt and Anatolia thanks to the poetry of Nasīmī, which Sultan Qānūh al-Ghawrī admired.’ [4]


It was not only the appeal of the poetry of Nasīmī (d. 807/1404), the gnostic follower of the epiphanic and theophanic teacher and thinker Falallāh of Astarābād, with poetic reflections and disclosures of the divinity in the physical form and facial features and members of man, but also the complex Qur’ānic cabbalistic schemes that were, in some respects, more typical of the founder-master than of Nasīmī, his chief disciple. Much of the speculative and the magical ūfīsm was to be seen in the esoteric teaching of the first Khalwatī dervishes and men of letters who came to Egypt in the reign of Qānawh al-Ghawrī, especially Shams al-Dīn Muammad Demirdāsh (‘iron-stone’) Shāhīn al-Khalwatī and Ibrāhīm b. Muammad Gülshenī. Uūlī was initiated into his order and remained in Cairo until his master’s death in 925/1528, when he returned to Macedonia, dying in poverty there in 1538. Imitating Nasīmī’s style, UsuiTs verse is marked by its urufī content,



3. On the type of axe described, see F. de Jong, ‘The iconography of Bektashiism’, Manuscripts of the Middle East, vol. 4, 1989, p. 21, and the details furnished in his article.

4. Louis Massignon, The Passion of al-Hallāj, Mystic and Martyr of Islam (transl. Hubert Mason), vol. 2, The Survival of al-Hallāj, Princeton University Press, 1982, pp. 253-4.





which the poet seems to have studied and absorbed in Cairo — not, however, through any schooling that emanated from the Baktāshiyya, which was destined to become the principal depository of such urūfīsm, but through the Gülsheniyya which was only one among other sub-orders that had also accepted Fadlallah’s speculations and saw their secret propagation as a duty. Uūlī’s death did not sever this connection between Cairo and Macedonia, since Sinecak of Yenice Vardar went to Cairo later in the sixteenth century and was initiated into the order of Ibrāhīm Gülshenī. He then performed the Meccan pilgrimage, and travelled extensively in Arabia and Persia before returning to Thrace. He was an acknowledged master of Arabic and Persian as well as Turkish.



1. Albanians and Bosnians in Algeria and Tunisia


At the time when the Ottomans established their rule in Egypt, three Levantine adventurers from the island of Lesbos established their power on the Barbary coast. Of these ‘Arūj, whom G. Yver, in his article on him in the Encyclopedia of Islam, suggests was the son of a Turkish captain, or a Greek or Albanian renegade, had been first favoured by an Egyptian prince following his captivity and escape from a galley belonging to the Knights of St John at Rhodes. [5] At the beginning of the sixteenth century, accompanied by his brothers Isāq and Khayr al-Dīn, ‘Arūj arrived in Tunis with a strong religious motivation for launching a jihād based on an Islamic state superimposed on effete Berber principalities in the western Mediterranean. The dreams of ‘Arūj were of wide extent. He conceived of attaining political sovereignty for his brethren within the central Maghrib, as far as Tilimsān.The menace of Spain spurred him on to his goal, although death at the hands of an expeditionary force, despatched by the future Charles V, put paid to his own and his brother Isāq’s ambitious endeavours. Khayr al-Dīn, in Algiers, was to replace him and he decided to seek the protection of Sulān Selīm. Algiers became an Ottoman frontier province and the Sultan sent 2,000 Janissaries and 4,000 other Levantines who were enlisted into the Algerian militia. These Janissaries were to form the backbone of resistance against the Spaniards and spearhead Turkish



5. On ‘Arūj and his brothers and their origins, see John B. Wolf, The Barbary Coast: Algiers under the Turks, 1500 to 1830, New York and London, 1979, p. 64, and Corinne Chevallier, Les trente premières annees de l’état d’Alger, 1510-1541, Algiers: Offices des Publications, 1986, pp. 26-36.





conquests deep into the Maghrib. The corps of the Janissaries was to provide the garrison into which groups of Turks, Albanians and Bosnians were absorbed, along with renegades, in this region of North Africa. It seems likely that the first 2,000 men were largely the offspring of Balkan Christians who had been taken from their homes as devshirme. Other recruits, who were to outnumber them, were probably landless Anatolians. The Janissary corps was extremely mixed in origin and was to be enlarged by numbers of renegade Christians.


Indeed North Africa was to attract numbers of Levantines, unemployed Rumelians and Anatolians, some of them peasants as well as renegades, who in aggregate formed a community superficially not unlike the ‘aqāliba' (Slavs) as an ethnic notion so defined in the Middle Ages by the Arabs in Spain and elsewhere.


According to J. Pignon, at the end of the sixteenth century the Spanish monk Diego de Haëdo, a slave in Algiers, noted the considerable number of Turks entering Barbary to seek their fortunes, like the Spaniards in Peru. Slavago, in his turn, has shown us how they abandoned their native hovels and their ploughs as they crowded into Barbary to enable themselves, for there they could found a household by marrying a Moorish woman and see their sons succeed them in the militia. He says that there was always someone waiting in the ports of More or in the islands of the Aegean, in Adalia, Cyprus or Cairo, for a boat to arrive which could carry him to Barbary.


However, the Turks of the Levant were not the only ones to appreciate these advantages. How much greater was the allure of the force of Janissaries for the numerous renegades living in Tunis; young captives converted in their childhood despairing of ever purchasing their freedom, or compelled by circumstances to renounce their faith — or even adventurers renouncing it voluntarily for the sake of their careers. The renegades, mostly from the coasts of Italy and Provence, were very numerous among the Janissaries and were certainly the most active. In 1682, during the conflict between Tunis and Algiers, out of thirteen leaders selected by the Divan to ensure that the town was well guarded and the troops properly led, twelve, including the commanding general were renegades. [*]


After 1568, Muammad Pasha decreed that Janissaries could go to sea with the corsairs and that Levantine and renegade marines could join the militia.



*. Jean Pignon, Les Cahiers de Tunisie, 15, Tunis, 1956, p. 307.





The latter was organised as in Tunis [6] in the ascending ranks. At the bottom was the joldac (yoldash, ‘comrade’ or private), then adabuch (sergeant), boulouk-bachi (captain) and at the top agha (commander). Janissaries married local women, and their offspring, the Coulougli (Kul-Oughlu), were to become an element of the population, among whom familial memories of Anatolian, Bosnian and Albanian ancestry and wider Balkan tribal connections were preserved and cherished, and have continued to be down to the present in the major cities of Algeria and Tunisia. [7] It is noteworthy that the offspring of merchants, pashas and men of religion are also included within this small community.


Algiers was to remain one of the most important North African cities where Balkan Muslims were to live, especially in the originally Berber district of Beni Mezerna, alongside Spaniards, Catalans, Maltese, Sardinians and more northerly Europeans. The spiritual heart of Algeria for the Janissary corps was the mosque that is still known as al-jāmi ‘al-jadīd (the ‘new mosque’, later la mosqueé de la pêcherie). Built in 1660 on the site of the madrasat Bū ‘Inān, it was the one anafī mosque in Algiers city, and was built solely for the non-indigenous population in Algiers, the Turks and the Kul-Oughlu population. Its cruciform plan reflects the influence of the Ottoman East. It is one of the few of its kind in Algeria, although there are examples in Tunis. The mosque of āli Bey, in ‘Annāba, Algeria, built in the eighteenth century, is crowned with a pencil-like Salonica-style minaret that is unique in Africa outside Egypt and Libya, and its interior is graced by decoration around its prayer-niche (mirāb) in the style of Ottoman floral and decorative tiling that also exists in palaces in Algiers city.


Certain Janissaries of Balkan origin are listed in the registers of salaries preserved in the Turkish archives in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Algiers [8]. Composed in 1702 in the time of the Dey Muṣṭafā,



6. For the Janissaries in Algiers, see H.D. de Grammont, Histoire d’Alger sous la domination turque (1515-1830), Paris, 1887. For an account of the Janissaries in Tunis, see Jean Pignon, ‘La milice des Janissaires de Tunis au temps des Beys (1590-1650)’, Les Cahiers de Tunisie, 3me trimestre, no. 15, Tunis, 1956, pp. 301-26.

7. Albanian families still have descendants in the principal cities. The Bosnian community is particularly associated with Algiers (the shrine of Sīdī ‘Abd al-Ramān is frequently visited by women of Bosnian origin) and with Tlemcen (Tilimsān).

8. Details are given in J. Deny, ‘Les registres de solde des Janissaires conservés à la Bibliothèque Nationale d’Alger’, Revue Africaine, nos 304-5, 1920, pp. 19-46 and 212-60.





Plate 12. The ‘New Mosque’ (al-jāmi ‘al-jadīd, or mosquée de la pêcherie), the only anafī mosque in Algiers, specifically built in 1660 for the Turks, the Kul-Oghlu, and the Bosnian and Arnaut population, and members of the Janissary corps in the city. Its plan and design reflect Ottoman influences.



by the hand of al-ajj Muṣṭafā Dā‘ī, they describe the serving or departed members whose names follow as ‘dervishes of Sulān ājjī Baktāsh Walī, may Allāh sanctify and illuminate his tomb until the Day of Religion’. The Janissaries are listed according to rank and are sometimes identified within the 400 or more units (called odjaq) by their town of origin and their profession. All principal barracks are included: their inhabitants were ethnically mixed, but a few Balkan Muslims were listed among them:





Bābā ‘Azzūn barracks: no. 1, Arna’ū Sha‘bān, Sha‘bān, ‘the Albanian’.

āli Pasha barracks: no. 23, Veli (Walī) Dede. This name recalls a ‘marabout’ who was first of all chief cook at the Mevlevi tekke of Pera, and then became the Mesneviān in 936/1529-30. He later went to Algiers and died in 955/1548-9. There is a convent dedicated to Veli Dede in the village of Goeldjuk (Tavchjanli district, near Gallipoli).

  No. 24, Qalābaq, a Janissary from Qalabaqa, a town in Thessaly, north of Trikkala.

Eski barracks: no. 3, Arnaghūdlar, ‘the Albanian’.

  No. 4, Istankūlī, ‘the man from Kos or Tanco’.

  No. 23, Qāzdāghlī, from the vicinity of Mount Ida, in the region of Troy.


While at times the Albanian Janissaries in Algiers were, as elsewhere, a very troublesome element in the population of Algiers, and in the eighteenth century mounted an unsuccessful coup during the rule of Bābā Muammad Torto, [9] in the sixteenth century they played a positive role in combating the Spaniards and administering the city. Also, together with Moroccans, Turks and Serbs, they established a foothold in Montenegro that was to last for centuries.


In the sixteenth century, one or two beylerbeys in Algiers were of Albanian birth. It is recorded that King Philip II, while in England in 1557 to visit Mary Tudor, wrote letters to Ra’īs Dragut and to Qā’id Muṣṭafā Arnā’ūt on hearing news of the death of Muammad Pasha, Āghā of the Janissaries. This Muṣṭafā was chosen as his successor. During the rule of Hasan-Veneziano (1577-80), who made many destructive raids on the Spanish coast, Cervantes was taken captive by Ra’īs Mami Arnā’ūt, whom the author of Don Quixote describes as large yet thin and pale, with a ruddy though sparse beard and burning eyes, a man both cruel and brave and endowed with boundless energy.


A decade later, the fourth beylerbey, in succession to Khayr al-Dīn, ‘Ulj ‘Alī Pasha, died. In 1569, he had taken advantage of the uprising of the Moriscos in Spain to capture Tunis from the Spaniards. Although its first recapture proved short-lived, it was decisive in the long term since in 1574 ‘Ulj ‘Alī again seized Tunis, together with La Goletta, thereby ending Spanish control and influence. This great man was responsible for major building projects in Algiers, including an extension to its harbour, and he had dreams of digging a canal between the



9. On the revolt of the ‘Arnaouds’, see Venture de Paradis (presented by Joseph Cuoq), Tunis et Alger au XVIIIe siècle, Paris: Sindbad, 1983, pp. 217-20. There is a detailed description of Janissary life in Algiers on pp. 159-95.





Mediterranean and the Red Sea in order to extend Ottoman maritime power in the East. Specifically for the Balkans, it was he who, perhaps more than any other North African ruler, established a corsair foothold in the peninsula of Ulcinj, today the most south-easterly point of Montenegro. This town had been subject to Arab attacks since the eighth century and was held by them for two centuries, after which it passed into the hands of the Slavs. Then in 1571 it was captured by ‘Ulj ‘Alī, ally of Selīm II during the war of the latter against Venice. Until 1878 the port remained a haven for corsairs, who extended their influence northwards towards Bar and the Rumije range. It was garrisoned by Moroccans, Algerians, Albanians and Turks.


Ulcinj was to become an important harbour for landing slaves from Black Africa. Some intermarried with Albanians and became an important major element in the town, and a tiny remnant of their descendants survived. Trade in slaves continued under the Montenegrin flag as late as 1914, and the names of several sea captains who brought negro slaves from Tripoli and elsewhere on the North African coast have been recorded. Some of these slaves, referred to as 'Arap’, were from the region of Bagirmi near Lake Chad. They spoke Arabic and retained a memory of some Sūdānic vocabulary.


Alexander Lopašić, who has made a detailed study of the descendants of freed slaves in Ulcinj district, writes:


The Ulcinj Negroes have been and still are Mohammedans by faith. Their women have always hidden and still hide their faces and decline to give up that custom. According to information which I received from the Albanians of Ulcinj, some customs of the Ulcinj Negroes are apparently either of Arab or African origin, since they are not Albanian. For example, trousers were not allowed to be left near the bed because otherwise the owner would dream while sleeping. This custom was told me by Rizo Brashnye who himself had it from his father and still observes it. He was further told by his father that if he wanted to do harm to a person he must appear in the dreams of that person. If a person appears in the dreams of another, the dreamer has only to turn the pillow over and then he himself will appear in the dream of the former one and then he will remain undisturbed. It is still remembered that Negroes brought to Ulcinj had scars on their faces indicating their tribes. Two scars indicated the town dweller, while one scar was the sign of people living in the country. It is known that Abdula Brashnye had two scars and Mohammed Shurla only one scar across the face. Negroes without scars on their faces were considered to be of lower rank. [10]



10. Alexander Lopasić, ‘A Negro Community in Jugoslavia’, Man, vol. LVIII, Nov. 1958, p. 171. Links between Ulcinj and Algiers are discussed in Muammad Mūfākū, ‘Al-Thawra al-Jazā‘iriyya fi’l-shi‘r al-Albānī’, in Malāmi ‘Arabiyya Islāmiyya fī’l-adab al-Albānī, Damascus, 1990, op. cit., pp. 93-5. Two further, studies are Đurdica Petrović, ‘Crni u Ulcinju’, in Etnolški Preglad, 10, Cetinje (Montenegro), 1972, pp. 31-6 and Tih R. Djorjevic, ‘Negri i našoj zemlya’, Glaznik Skopsoj Naučnoj Društva, pp. 303-7.





Ulcinj was not devoid of a certain intellectual and cultural life. This continued till late in the Ottoman age (as it did in adjacent Stari Bar). For a time in the seventeenth century it was the place of banishment for the messianic Jewish leader, Shabbetai Zevi (1626-76):


Although they were still very strong in the Balkans and Asiatic Turkey, the Shabbateans were gradually driven underground but were not actually excommunicated. The borderline between the apostates and those who remained Jews sometimes became blurred although the latter were generally noted for their extremely pious and ascetic way of life. Shabbetai Zevi himself, who enjoyed the sultan’s favour, formed connections with some Muslim mystics among the Dervish orders. Letters between his group and the believers in North Africa, Italy and other places spread the new theology and helped to create an increasingly sectarian spirit. After a denunciation of his double-faced behaviour and sexual license by some Jews and Muslims, supported by a large bribe, Shabbetai Zevi was arrested in Constantinople in August 1672. The grand vizier wavered between executing or deporting him, but finally decided to exile him, in January 1673, to Dulcigno in Albania, which the Shabbateans called Alkum after Proverbs 30:31. Although allowed relative freedom, he disappeared from public view, but some of his main supporters continued their pilgrimage apparently disguised as Muslims. [11]



The town was the birthplace of Hafez Ali Ulqinaku (1835-1913), author of a large Turkish-Albanian/Albanian-Turkish dictionary, written in the Arabic script (1897), and of a mawlūd (poem in praise of the Prophet), published in Istanbul around 1878. Tiranë’s Biblioteka Kombetare contains a copy of an Arabic work entitled Jalā’ al-qulūb, by Isāq b. asan al-Zajānī, copied in 1224/1808 in Ulcinj.


Though ruined by earthquake and culturally decayed, Ulcinj is one of the best examples, at least in Yugoslavia, of a district that has maintained over a long period those links that have connected the Balkans with Istanbul and the maritime cities of North Africa. However to the Albanians, who have long regarded it as an integral part of their homeland, the town has inspired, in at least one of its men of letters, a spirited defence. The lyric poet Filip Shiroka (1859-1935, pseudonym Gegë Postripa), who lived most of his active life in exile, first in Egypt and later in Lebanon, working as a railway engineer, wrote verses



11. Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 14, 1972, pp. 1220-54.





entitled in Italian All’ Albania all’ armi (Albania take up arms) praising the struggle to defend Ulcinj from Montenegrin assaults that took place in 1880. The town was therefore notable for more than merely having once been a nest for North African corsairs.



2. Albanians in Egypt


Egypt is the most important Muslim country, after Turkey, with which the Albanians have had long and close contact. This was natural since the Albanian founder of modern Egypt, Muammad ‘Alī, [12] was intensely proud of his Arna’ū origins. He arrived in Egypt as a young officer with the Albanian detachment in the Turkish expeditionary force. He looked fondly towards his home town of Kavalla in Macedonia, and seemed always to breathe some distant fresher mountain air beyond it, so that when he received Mr Barker, a former British Consul General in Egypt, at Alexandria in November 1826, he allegedly remarked: [13]


‘I will tell you a story: I was born in a village in Albania, and my father had ten children, besides me, who are all dead; but while living, not one of them ever contradicted me. Although I left my native mountains before I attained to manhood, the principal people in the place never took any step in the business of the commune, without previously inquiring what was my pleasure. I came to this country an obscure adventurer, and when I was yet but a Bimbashi (captain), it happened one day that the commissary had to give each of the Bimbashis a tent. They were all my seniors, and naturally pretended to a preference over me; but the officer said, ‘Stand you all by; this youth, Mohammed Ali, shall be served first. And I was served first; and I advanced step by step, as it pleased God to ordain; and now here I am.’



Albanians viewed the triumph of Muammad ‘Alī with pride.



12. This modernising autocrat is seen by P.J. Vatikiotis not as a nationalist but as ‘simply a Muslim ruler whose conceptions about society and the relations among men were basically religious, with a strong instinct for domination and command’ (The History of Modern Egypt: From Muammad Ali to Mubarak, London, 1991, pp. 68-9).

13. Cited in James Augustus St John, Egypt and Muammed Ali, or Travels in the Valley of the Nile, London, 1834, vol. 1, p. 543. An interesting study of Muammad ‘Alī as a man of vision is Anouar Abdel-Malek, ‘Moh’ammed ‘Ali et les fondements de l’Egypte indépendante‘, in Les Africains (Charles-André Julien, Magali Morsy, Cathérine Coquéry-Vidrovitch and Yves Person), vol. V, Paris: Jeune Afrique, 1977, pp. 231-59. There is a photograph of Muammad ‘Alī’s boyhood home at Kavalla in Greek Macedonia on p. 243.





M. Edith Durham, in her The Burden of the Balkans (London, 1905, p. 44), remarks:


Mustaffa Bushatli, Pasha of Skodra, the chief ruler in North Albania, then thought, as other people were obtaining recognition of freedom, it was a good opportunity for him, to strike. Albanian power at this moment was very great. Mehemet Ali an Albanian, had made himself master of Egypt, and threatened daily to yet further curtail the Sultan’s power. It is said that he not only encouraged Bushatli to rise, but supplied him with funds.



Again, on page 77, she comments on an Albanian who hated all the English that ‘he knew all about them, for he had lived ten years in Egypt. Had it not been for the English influence Mehmet Ali would have ruled the Turkish Empire and all would now be Albanian.’


This was an age when Albanians and Bosnians were posted to garrisons within the Nile regions, and [14] furthermore the bulk of the Albanian troops were uncultured, exceedingly unruly, and often hated. Yet the dynasty that Muammad ‘Alī established, the affection it had for Albanians and received from them, and the haven it afforded to them as exiles from Ottoman control, victimisation by Greek neighbours, or the sheer misery of Balkan poverty, meant that in time Alexandria, Cairo, Beni Suef and other Egyptian towns would harbour Albanians who organised associations, published newspapers and above all wrote works in verse and prose that include significant masterpieces of modern Albanian literature. Within al-Azhar and the two Baktāshī tekkes in Cairo, Qar al-‘Aynī and Kajgusez Abdullah Megavriu, Albanians and Balkan contemporaries were to find inspiration for a mystical quest, and artistic and literary stimulus, that sent ripples, as on a pond, throughout Albanian and Egyptian circles in Cairo and distantly and remotely in towns of Albania, Kosovo and Macedonia.


Some of the outstanding literary figures of modern Albanian literature — for example, Thimi Mitko (d. 1890), the author of collections of Albanian folksongs, folk-tales and sayings, in his The Albanian Bee (Bleta Shyqpëtare), Spiro Dinë (d. 1922) in his Waves of the Sea (Valët e detit) and Andon Zako Çajupi (1866-1930) in his Baba Tomorri (Cairo, 1902) and his Skanderbeg drama — although they lived in Egypt for much of their lives, were essentially nationalists and not much influenced by



14. On Bosnians in the region of Nubia see Burkhardt‘s Travels in Nubia, London, 1819, pp. 134-5 (1822 edn, p. 31), on Ibrim, and within a wider context, V.L. Ménage, ‘The Ottomans and Nubia in the Sixteenth Century’, Annales Islamologiques, vol. XXIV, 1988, Cairo: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 1988, pp. 137-53.





the Islamic way of life that they saw around them. If anything, the rural and peasant life in Egypt acted as a spur to their absorption in popular traditions which, in their view, enshrined the soul of their people. The Albanians in Egypt were, without a doubt, influenced by the Egyptian theatre — but specificially by those elements not overtly infused with Islamic sentiments. Later writers became prominent figures among the Albanian community in Cairo. Milo Duçi (Duqi) (d. 1933) did so because of his office as president of the national ‘Brethren’ league (Villazëria/Ikhwa), and by his Albanian newspapers (al-‘Ahd, 1900, known in Egypt as al-Aādīth, 1925). He also wrote plays, especially ‘The Saying’ (E Thëna, 1922) and ‘The Bey’s Son’ (1923), and a novel Midis dy grash (Between two women, 1923). More recently still, it has been secular and Arab nationalist causes such as Palestine and Algeria that have inspired Albanian Egyptian writers.


Nonetheless, Çajupi’s poetic works (Vepra, Prishtinë, 1970) are more revealing about his religious beliefs than one might expect. In Baba-Tomorri (Cairo, 1902) he epouses, as was to be expected, his strongly nationalist sentiments. Equally apparent are his notions of religious tolerance. These show, on the other hand, the influence of the national poet Naim Frashëri. But Çajupi’s verses exude the same respect for other religions as his great predecessor, though, in his case, from an orthodox position within Islam. He deplores the fate of the Albanians, torn between Greek and Turk (each of a differing faith); nor does he conceal his strong dislike of the deceit that was so apparent in both church and mosque. On the other hand, both Muslims and Christians share a belief in One Lord (Te krishtër’e myslimanë gjithë një Perëndi kanë), and both are brothers to one another (jemi vëllëzër të tërë). Furthermore, albeit Sunnī, his reference to the single face of man, be he a Muslim or a Christian, as being the creation of a single shared God, reveals the inherited symbolism and poetic vocabulary which the Baktāshīs derived from the urūfiyya and from the all-pervading influence of the poetry of Nasīmī (Zoti kur bëri insanë, me një fytyre të naltë të krishtër’ e myslimanë i gatoi nga një baltë. Zoti me të math të vetë është një dhe i vërtetë si këtu si këtu dhe n’atë jetë. Si Ungjilli dhe Kurani, mos e ndajni Perëndinë). Born of the dust of the earth, descended from Ādam, as both Gospel and Qur’ān alleged, so the one shared God had only to will His human creation into existence (fa-innamā yaqūlu lahu kun fa-yakūnu).


However, the influence of al-Azhar on shaping the works of exiled Balkan writers cannot be denied. It was not confined to Balkan Muslims in Egypt who were Albanian. Bosnians were more directly inspired to devote their energies to matters that were markedly Islamic.





One relatively recent figure who resided for a long time in al-Azhar was Mehmed Handžić (Muammad b. Muammad ālih al-Khānjī al-Busnawī, to give him his Arabic name), who was born in Sarajevo and died in Bosnia in 1945 — one in a long line of scholarly Bosnians who had thus sojourned in Cairo. His biographical dictionary on the scholars and poets of Bosnia (al-Jawhar al-asnā fī tarājim ‘ulamā’ wa-shu‘ arā’ Būsna) is highly regarded in Egypt (published as it was in Cairo, in Arabic, in 1349/1933). To this may be added his gloss and commentary on the Rislālat ayāt al-anbiyā’ by al-Bayhaqī, and on al-Kalim al-ayyib by Ibn Taymiyya. These are characteristic of the solid traditional scholarship of Bosnia, which has included a remarkable variety of other literary activity.


Of the works of leading Albanian writers at this time, it would seem that those of Muhamet Kyçyku (Çami) (1784-1844) represent the influence of al-Azhar in its clearest form. He had come to al-Azhar from Konispol specifically for a religious education, and continued as a religious teacher from the time of his return home till his death. His study of both Arabic language and literature was to have a profound influence on his choice of poetic subject, first in a direct translation of the ‘Mantle Ode’ (al-Burda) of al-Būīrī (d. circa 1296), a panegyric of the Prophet with a message appealing in a popular manner to the believer in his miracles, and also in his other odes, especially the Qur’ānic-based Yūsuf and Zulaykhā’ (2,430 verses) and Arwā (856 verses), based on the Nights (although finding no place in the Mahdi edition), known under its Albanian title of Erveheja, [15] composed about 1820. It has been transformed into a play by the writer Ahmed Tchirizi from Kosovo, that evoked a number of kindred Albanian tales and romances about a faithful wife separated from her spouse, who maintained her loyalty against the unjust and the self-seeking conduct of others towards her.



3. Albanians and the Cairene Baktāshī tekkes


Both the Baktāshī tekkes were once significant landmarks in Cairo, and historically the most important centres of this specific ūfī order in the Arab world. They were also centres for cultured individuals including noteworthy poets. They filled a role, though on a more substantial scale, of elite artistic circles that had once met and rectified poetic compositions within the pilgrim hostel tekkes of Baghdād and Karbalā.



15. See Chapter 2, notes 82-84.





Unlike the latter, the tekkes at Qar al-‘Aynī and of Kajgusez Abdullah Megavriu [16] in Cairo were focuses of local life in a number of respects. Shaykh ‘Abdullāh al-Maghāwirī was a major interdenominational saintly figure of the Mamlūk age, adored by the pious in Egypt who had no religious reasons for seeking formal affiliation to the Baktāshiyya. Furthermore, the area adjacent to the tekke of Qar al-‘Aynī was an administrative district, fortified in Mamlūk times, that was especially prominent during the lifetime of Muammad ‘Alī and his immediate successors. There is no conclusive evidence in support of his personal initiation into this particular order, although it has been claimed and may indeed be a fact. What is clear is that for a time the area surrounding the Qar al-‘Aynī tekke was to be the haunt of Albanian, Turks and Persians in the Egyptian capital, and that some among them could be described as ‘Shī‘ītes’. The word almost certainly alludes to Baktāshī beliefs or sympathies, or else to the allegiance which some of them owed to the saintly memory of ajjī Baktāsh Walī, particularly members of the Janissary corps.


During the rule of Muammad ‘Alī, the Albanians — typically — formed a distinct body within his army. Albanians had been mercenaries since at least the second half of the seventeenth century and on occasions had balanced or stiffened the unreliable Janissaries (of whom they had likewise formed an element). They were tribally mixed, yet each one was devoted and loyal to the tribe from which he originated. None displayed any special religious ardour, though whether the fact that they did not fast during Ramadan (as reported by Jabartī) was due to indifference or the allegiance of some, at least, to the practices of the Baktāshiyya, which ignored this obligation, is not clear. Muammad ‘Alī decided to select Qar al-‘Aynī as the most suitable site for his distinguished ‘college’. James Augustus St John wrote in 1834 that it was built ‘on the right bank of the canal of Rhoda’ and ‘forms the most prominent feature of the scenery of the metropolis. To the right of the edifice is the establishment belonging to the sect of the Shiahs (probably the Baktāshiyya) formerly the palace of Mourad Bey, surrounded by a grove of enormous sycamores.’ [17]



16. On Kaygusuz Abdāl (Kajgusez Abdullah Megavriu), see in particular Dr Riza Nur (Nour), ‘Kaüghousouz abdal (Ghaïbi bey)’, Revue de Turcologie, vol. II, no. 5, Feb. 1935, pp. 77-98, and Baba Rexhebi, Misticizma Islame dhe Bektashizma, New York, 1970, pp. 183-98. For a description of the establishments see F. W. Hasluck, Christianity and Islam under the Sultans, vol. II, pp. 514-16.

17. James Augustine St John, Egypt and Mohammed Ali, or Travels in the Valley of the Nile, London, 1834, vol. II, p. 395, and Gaston Wiet, Journal d’un Bourgeois du Caire. Chronique d’Ibn Iyas, vol. II, Paris: SEVPEN, 1960, pp. 84-5.





Far earlier, in the later medieval period, the city had been noted for its ūfī establishments, some of them ‘convents’. Ibn Baṭṭūa described them in the course of his Rila as separately managed by the various dervish orders, ‘mostly Persians, who are men of education and adepts in the mystical doctrines’. [18] After describing their social life and eating habits, he adds, ‘These men are celibate; the married men have separate convents.’


It was during this same period that other locations in and around Cairo were favoured as haunts for meditation and the siting of ūfī establishments, including the burial-places of the saintly dead.


According to Dr Tawfīq al-awīl (al-Taawwuf fī Mir ibbāna ’l-‘ar al-‘Ūthmānī (pp. 67-78):


Perhaps the spread of the convents [zāwiyas/zawāyā] on Egyptian soil will help [us] to picture the plethora of the retreats with which the ūfīs were acquainted in Ottoman days. But the zaiviyas were not the sole places where fixed retreats took place. Among the ūfīs there were those who, in their sincerity and their devotion to God and His adoration and for the benefit of the soul, dispensed with a specific zawiya in which to dwell together with novices. Men such as these lived in caves, where they held their retreat and adored God and held their dhikr. Such caves were spacious and visibly kept in good order. The cave of the Sharīf Abu ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī was hewn into the mountain, levelled with symmetry. Other retreats were held in private dwellings.



The alleged retreat of Abu ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī was destined to become one of the most famous of all, a focal point, next to the Muammad ‘Alī mosque and the Citadel, for the Albanian and Turkish Baktāshīs of Egypt, and a city landmark. However, the occupant of the tomb in the cave was held in awe long before the Albanian community — deriving some advantages from the family traditions of Muammad ‘Alī and his descendants — became the ultimate trustees of its sanctity, sadly only to lose it forever with the demise of the Egyptian monarchy.


According to Amad Sirrī Bābā, who devotes a chapter to the history of Abū ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī in his al-Risāla al-Amadiyya:


The Baktāshī ‘Alīd arīqa was unknown in Egypt until the visit of the perfect saint, the ascetic bestower of favour, Kajgusez Abdāl Sulān (Qayghusāz) renowned as our lord and master ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī, in the year 751/1388, in the age of the [Barī Mamlūk] king al-ājjī āli [b. Sha‘bān, 1381-90].



18. For a general account in Arabic of ūfīsm in Egypt at this period see Tawfīq al-awī1, al-aawwuf fī Mir, ibbāna ’l-‘ar al-‘Uthmānī, Cairo (n.d.), pp. 52-69.





Our Lord, referred to above, God bestow upon us benefits through his blessings and grace [barakāt], was the son of the prince of the town of ‘Alā’iyya [sir] (Adaliya). His original name was Ghaybī. When he was a youth around eighteen years old, he was very strong, with sinewy arms and was famous among his people and kindred for his knightly horsemanship and manly courage. He shot arrows with skill and smote with the sword. His intelligence was recalled on every tongue. He delved far and deep into the sciences, both exoteric and esoteric. In sum, he was a man of acute percipience, scholarly and distinguished, a man of mighty destiny and importance.


When he came to Egypt in that year, the common populace were aware of his status. Novices flocked to him and associated lovers of the ūfī path [muibbūn] and the mass of human kind assembled with him in order to kiss his blessed hand and seek his grace and spiritual power and blessing through his prayer that was habitually answered. After he had resided in Cairo for some five years he journeyed to the ijāz in 796/1393/4. He visited Medina the illuminated, noble al-Najaf and Karbalā. Then he returned to Egypt in 799/1396/7. In 806/1403/4, a special locality was erected for him and a tekke built for him, Qar al-‘Aynī, which, still today, continues to be in the well-known locality adjacent to the hospital, on the southern side. He dwelt there. He acquired great renown and his brilliant miracles were manifested. Many people took a covenant from him. He died in 818/1444 and was buried, according to his injunction, in the existing cave which, at that time was a tekke of the Jalāliyyīn. The shaykhs who followed after him adopted this usage sanctioned by tradition. All of them were entered in the same cave, following the example of their mighty Shaykh. [19]



During this earliest phase of the Baktāshī presence in Egypt (certainly before the Ottoman conquest) it can be observed that a founder-figure already existed, that the order had a tekke in Cairo city and that it shared in the cave-cult of Egyptian ūfīsm at that time. At a popular level its local founder was already entering the folklore, imagery and hagiographical repertoire of the story-teller, and nowhere more obviously than in the Mamlūk folk-epic known as Sīrat al-āhir Baybars. [20]


The presence of Abū ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī in varied passages in the text of this work, as we now have it, together with his, admittedly secondary, background role among the personalities in it, at least established that the text was written no earlier than 1388, and probably much later. Futhermore, there are minor references to Ismā‘īlīs, to warrior ‘brethren’ armed with magical wooden swords, in the manner of Sari Saltik



19. Amad Sirrī Bābā, al-Risāla al-Amadiyya, op. cit., p. 25.

20. Sīrat al-āhir Baybars, (al-Maktaba al-Mu‘allimiyya al-Kutubiyya, near to al-Azhar and Sayyidnā al-usayn), 1st printing 1326/1908, part 12, pp. 45-6. ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī appears at various points of the narrative in the Sīra.





(see p. 157) and to a King āli, whose name recalls the ruler of Egypt, al-ājj āli. The latter was reigning when Abū ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī arrived in Egypt. Alternatively, the name may refer to the Ayyūbid Sulān, al-āli Ayyūb (d. 1249). King Salih has a companion named ‘Uthmān. These details suggest some Ottoman, or Baktāshī allusions; one can hardly call them influences. A far closer study might show deeper Qalandarī and Baktāshī influences at work. The following passage, for example, indicates how popular piety combined with ūfīsm had given the saint a high place in popular esteem, despite the competition faced from other major saints:


Whereupon, King āli (‘the pious king’) arose. He took ‘Uthmān by the hand and proceeded with him until he was nigh ‘the sea’. He pointed to it with his hand, then descended and stepped into it, ‘Uthmān being with him, up to their ankles in depth and they continued thus until they had passed over to the other side.


Whereupon, King āli said to him ‘Close your eyes, O my brother ‘Uthmān.’ The latter closed his eyes and had counted seven steps when, behold, he found himself in a country known only to God. King āli said, ‘Save me, O Overseer from among the mystic order of Watchmen’. Then, lo, a person drew nigh unto them, saluted them and pointed to ‘Uthmān, who fell to the ground in a swoon [of ecstasy] as though he had been slain. This was Sīdī ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī. He had observed ‘Uthmān, bestowing upon him an awesome glance. He said to King āli, ‘Journey from here to the island of the [ūfī] spiritual leader of the Invocation of the Age, and respond obediently to what he commands you to do.’ The King said, ‘To hear is to obey.’ Al-Maghāwirī said, ‘Journey forth with the Almighty’s blessing.’ He pointed to ‘Uthmān, who awoke from his swoon. King āli said, ‘Let me have your hand so that we may pass over to the further shore.’ ‘Uthmān said, ‘Let me tarry longer than you. You cross over on your own, then I shall act likewise.’ The two of them waded out until they reached the given “island” about which they had been informed by Sidī ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī. They met the Pole of the saints who was there. He glanced at ‘Uthmān in a manner that was complete, a perfect gaze. Then he said to King āli: ‘Know that Baybars is in Genoa. You must give him succour.’



From the existing accounts and descriptions from travellers — such as those by Evliya Çelebi (1671), in the Khia Tawfiqiyya by ‘Alī Mubārak, or by Carston Niebuhr and others [21] — it would seem that



21. See the description en passant of Qar al-‘Aynī introduced in a discussion of Baghdād tekkes in Carsten Niebuhr’s, Voyage en Arabie et en d’autre pays circonvoisins, vol. II, Amsterdam, 1780, pp. 243-4.





in its heyday Rawa Qar al-‘Aynī tekke, was an impressive complex of up to two domed structures with decorated marble facings and amply furnished with refectory and other facilities, and a fountain bearing an inscription dated the 15th Ramadan 1197/1782/3. Apart from this tekke, Baktāshī pilgrims, including Albanians, were also frequenting the higher Muqaṭṭam district, traditional site of the cave of Sīdī Abu ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī. They may have done this from as early as the sixteenth century.


Probably the most comprehensive description of the vicissitudes of the Qar al-‘Aynī tekke is furnished by the Egyptian historian al-Jabartī, in Part 4 of his ‘Ajā’ib al-Āthār fi’l-Tarājim wa’l-Akhbār: [22]


In the middle of the months of Shawwāl 1201/1783/4, the construction of the tekke adjacent to Qar al-‘Aynī, known as the Baktāshī tekke, was completed. Its story is that it was given as an endowment to a group of non-Arabs [a’āijim, Turks, Persians?], known as the Baktāshīyya. Circumstances had brought it close to ruin, and it had become extremely filthy. Its shaykh died and there was a dispute over who should merit the title of shaykh between a man who had originally been one of the private soldiers of Murād Bey, and a young man who claimed to be one of the offspring of the former shaykh who lay buried within the tekke. That [former] man got the better of the youth because of his relationship with the Amīrs. He travelled to Alexandria and, as his visit coincided by chance with the arrival there of asan Pasha, he had a meeting with him. He was clad in dervish attire. They have a liking for that mode and he became one of his intimate friends. This was on account of his being one of the people who adhered to [asan Pasha’s] belief. He accompanied him to Cairo and acquired both reputation and notoriety. He was called dervish āli and began to construct the aforementioned tekke out of bribes received from the customs tax — he acted as a go-between for those who handled [the customs receipts] and asan Pasha. Thus with the endowment he built its fabric and its walls, and the garden walls encompassing it on all sides, and he raised a water tank in the entrance to the dome-shaped edifice. He prepared the arrangements for the tekke, the facilities and a kitchen and, on the outside, he built an oratory with the name of asan Pasha. When that was completed, he made a feast in celebration and invited all the Amirs. But rumours of intrigue and misgivings spread among them. They equipped themselves and after the ‘ar prayer rode with all their Mamlūks and their followers, armed and at the ready. He laid out a meal for them and they sat down to eat.



22. ‘Abd al-Ramān b. asan al-Jabartī, ‘Ajā’ib al-Āthār fī’l-tarājim wal-akhbār, edited by asan Muammad Jawhar, ‘Abd al-Fattā al-Saranjāwī and al-Sayyid Ibrāhīm Sālim, Cairo text, Lajnat al-Bayān al-‘Arabī, part 4 (1958-66), pp. 41-2.





They were suspicious of the food, believing it to be poisoned. They arose and dispersed outside the Qar and the moored boats. He made a warlike display (?) with a naphtha conflagration of touchwood and from gunpowder. They were suspicious of his eccentricity. They then rode during part of the night and went to their homes.



However one views the authenticity of this somewhat unsavoury and bizarre anecdote, it indicates the varied vicissitudes that befell the Qar al-‘Aynī tekke. Amad Sirrī Bābā takes up the story a little later:


The situation continued thus until the time of Shaykh Ismā’īl Bābā (1239/1823) who was a contemporary of the governor, ‘Abbās Pasha I. (d. 1298/1881), when an order (1242/1826) was issued from the governor to evict the dervishes from Qar al-Aynī, which was to be set apart for the Qādiriyya order. Shaykh Ismā’īl took his dervishes, who numbered twenty-six, and settled in Qar Ismā’īl Pasha Sirrī al-Manāstirlī (Bitolj?). He stayed there for nine months. After this they changed from their dervish attire and adopted lay clothes. They left Egypt and travelled to Medina. The only one of them left in Egypt was Shaykh Ismā’īl Bābā together with a dervish called ādiq. After a short time, the shaykh in question died. The tekke library remained in the Qar of the said Ismā’īl Pasha, and eventually dervish ādiq emigrated to Anatolia where he visited the tomb of our lord and master, the mightiest Qub, founder of our ‘Alīd order.


After dervish ādiq had been favoured to pay this visit in this noble manner, he was appointed shaykh of the tekke in 1268/1851, having obtained a license (ijāza) from Shaykh ‘Alī Dede al-Sā’ātī. He came to Egypt, and bought a dwelling in Bāb al-Lūq quarter, adopting it as his residence and as a house of worship and for the assembling of the brethren. He resided there till 1282/1865, when Shaykh ādiq Bābā was translated into close proximity to his Lord’s mercy. ‘Alī Bābā (1285/1868/9) succeeded him. He moved from that place to the existing tekke [located in a cave] of Sulān ‘Abdallāh al- Maghawirī by reason of the noble and gracious command issued by the ‘father of favours’, the dweller in the bowers, the Khedive most noble and proven, Ismā’īl Pasha, may God cause him to dwell within the expanse of His garden of Paradise and clothe him with happiness. The insignia of our ‘Alīd order have continued to remain in the tekke referred to up till the present time. [23]



It is now a closed tekke (vacated in 1957), once one of Cairo’s supreme beauty-spots, that was to become a show piece of the last three shaykhs of the order in Egypt, all of them Albanians. The first, aydar Mehmed Baba, born in Leskovicu, was de facto shaykh from 1303/1885



23. Amad Sirrī Bābā, op. cit., p. 26.





although only officially confirmed as such by the Dede Baba in Hacibektaș in 1305/1903. It was his successor Mehmed (Muammad) Lufī Bābā (1265-1360/1849-1941) and Sirrī Bābā, who succeeded him in 1354/1935/6, who made the Muqaṭṭam tekke one of the most important Baktāshī tekkes in the world, visited by famous personalities and acting as a focus for Albanian cultural and political interests in the entire Middle East. [24]


However, the two short biographies found in the Risāla by Amad Sirrī Bābā have a special interest in themselves, since they shed light on the circumstances of the order in the Balkans at that time and indicate motives why Egypt, in particular, became a magnet drawing men of religion to Cairo from that part of Europe.



4. The history of Shaykh Muammad Lufī Bābā and Shaykh Amad Sirrī Bābā


Master of virtue and of guidance, Shaykh and ājj Muammad Lufī Bābā, was born in Gyrokastër, pertaining to the realm of Albania, in the proximity of Dūnāvāt (Denavet) in his father’s house in the morning of the second day of Ramaān, the honoured, in 1265/1849. His father named him ‘Islām’, and generally gave him this name until he was affiliated to the ‘Alīd Baktāshī order, whereupon he was named Muammad Lufī, as will subsequently appear. He grew up in this town in the personal care of his father, Yayā Lāmaqū Efendi, who was a focus of attention among his people on account of the intensity of his piety, his abstemiousness and his God-fearing life. As he grew to manhood he read the Qur’ān in its schools, and the principles of the Islamic sciences. Thus he continued until the signs of intelligence appeared upon him and his father perceived an aptitude for using his initiative. So he gave him a love for trade and he became an associate in it. What marked his character was trust and self-restraint, fair dealing and upright conduct. His good conduct permeated him wholly.


When he was twenty-seven years old (1292/1874/5), he had become skilled in commerce and had grasped its principles. He sought his father’s permission to travel abroad. Together with his brethren in Gyrokastër, his birthplace, he rose and took up residence in the city of Shkodër, and engaged in commerce there. As he had a strong bias towards ūfīsm and asceticism, he prepared to devote himself and his life to austerity, to piety and to worship. He found what he missed and what he sought for in Shkodër. In the year 1296/1878/9, early in his thirty-first year, he became an affiliate to the master of virtue,



24. Baba Rexhebi, Misticizma Islame dhe Bektashizma, New York: Walden Press, 1970, pp. 183-98.





Shaykh Ḥasīb Bābā, shaykh of the tekke of the Baktāshī hierarchy in Shkodër, when this tekke was a house for the teaching of true virtue, good manners and literature, just as it was a place where those of ascetic tastes assembled. From that time forward he was given the name of Muammad Lutfī and his guide was Ibrāhīm Bābā. Following his affiliation, he wound up his commercial activities and left his fortune there to his brethren.


In the year 1300/1882/3, when aged thirty-five years, he left Shkodër for the seat of the Sublime Caliph and sojourned in the tekke of Shāqūlī Sulān (the warrior) in the suburb of Mardyūn Kōy (Merdiven Keui) on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus. He was admitted to membership of the circle of the perfect guide and active scholar, ājj Muammad Dede Bābā, the shaykh of the said tekke; there he correctly engaged in obtaining his exalted pleasure and was guided by his sublime guidance. His esteem grew among his brethren and he stood out from them for his lofty qualities and praiseworthy features and his compliance in acting obediently so that our lord the Shaykh clothed him in honour, cared for him and clad him by his noble hand with the livery (khirqa) of nobility and the sublime crown [of the Baktāshiyya] which he placed on his head.


When he was forty-one years old (1309/1891/1), he began a life of travel for the faith and visited the holy places. He left Istanbul and he arrived in Karbalā and had the honour of paying a visit to the tomb of our lord and master, ‘Alī b. Abī ālib, the lion of God [in al-Najaf], may God ennoble his countenance. From thence he returned to Anatolia in 1310/1892/3 and stayed in the tekke of our lord, the Sulān of the gnostics, the proof of those who attain the Truth of Divinity (aqīqa), the mightiest saint, and most generous succour, our Lord, ājjī Baktāsh Walī, may his secret that is manifested be sanctified. He stayed there for three years and experienced outpourings of the spirit in the counsels of ājjī Muammad Dede al-Malātiyyawī (from Malatya) and he attained the degree of tajarrud — unhampered single-minded devotion — due to the zeal of his guide, ājj Fayallāh, through being stripped from all links that joined him to this world. After he had obtained this exalted rank he devoted himself solely to obedience and to continued reading and study and to worship and devotion. He was distinguished among his brethren due to his loftiness. He pursued the true path of sincerity and loyalty. He followed the Sharī’a and the Sunna of the Prophet — the blessing and peace of God be upon him — and he eschewed heresies and he opposed misleading beliefs and fancies until he became the light of the garden of the Truth and the light of the pupil of the eye of this ūfī order. He loved the mendicant novices. He prepared food for them with his blessed hand and he personally served them at their table. In 1313/1895/6, when he was forty-five years old, he returned to ‘the house of happiness’ [in Istanbul] and stayed there a year. Then he journeyed to Rumelia to visit the noble tekkes there. He returned to Istanbul a second time.


When he was fifty, he put his trust in God and began to equip himself to





fulfil the duty of the Meccan pilgrimage. So he travelled to the Holy Land and attained his objective. He antimonied his eyes with the soil of the Ka‘ba, and performed the stages, circumambulated, and made the pilgrimage outside the annual season (‘umra). He then returned to Istanbul and spent two years there. In 1319/1901/2 he obtained the noble authority to teach (ijāza). His labours, which were to make him famous, took place in the (Istanbul) tekke. He clung stubbornly to fulfilling the principles of the order and its rules to perfection. His piety and asceticism were [with these above] responsible for his being appointed director of the office of shaykh of the ‘spiritual carpet’ (shaykh al-sajjāda) of the Baktāshī tekke in Egypt. In 1319/1901/2 he left Istanbul and arrived in Egypt. He was received with worthy hospitality because his lofty renown had preceded his arrival. The brethren and novices gathered around him and to this day he has continued to preach sermons and offer guidance — may God prolong his lifespan and bless us by his life among us.


Since he assumed the affairs of the tekke he has constantly striven to exalt its status, repair its monuments and conserve all his zeal and physical and spiritual energy to augment its splendour and beauty, and facilitate and embellish the path for the brethren — those who are affiliated and those who are associated as spiritual members (muibbūn).


A year following his attainment of the Shaykhdom, in Egypt, 1320/1902/3, a fearful explosion occurred in the powder magazine (al-jabkhāna) and in the ammunition that was stored adjacent to the tekke which caused the ruin of the tekke buildings and the total spoiling of its distinguishing features. Seeing the beautiful character that distinguishes our lord the Shaykh and the loftiness of his zealous endeavour, he was viewed with consideration by princes and ministers and leading men of state. He therefore submitted his case to the men of government and God blessed his charitable effort. What he sought, without trouble, was facilitated by God — that is the rebuilding of this tekke in which we take pride in being associates, for we have grown up within the perimeters of its flowing waters and spiritual blessings. No wonder, therefore, that his happy days were the most flourishing of the ages of this noble tekke, and that by virtue of his mighty endeavours the eternal monuments that we behold in every place, each and all offer the greatest evidence and proof of the same. He is a respected and patient shaykh. He has become famous on account of his moral life and the purity of his moral integrity. He loves welfare and does not spare himself in promoting it. He is mercifully kind and affectionate and he conceals no hatred for anyone. He is jealous and zealous and a fighter which he combines with praiseworthy qualities. In short, he is the bearer of the title of the perfect guide. We beseech God to supply him with favour and success. Owing both to the excess of his attachment to the ‘eye-lashes’ of faith and to his belief in love for the fatherland, he built in his birthplace (Gyrokastër) a large mosque where prayers are said and the Friday sermon is preached and the two great feasts are celebrated. Likewise, his is a deep love for the comfort





of his fellow-countrymen, causing sweet water to flow into the town. He has built a fountain for it. It has lasted to this day and is well known as the ‘fountain of Lufī Bābā’. He has been nicknamed ‘the father of the poor’ because of what he has spent at one time or another on the poor of the town in the form of gifts and financial assistance.


Not content with the great efforts that he has made in enhancing the tekke, he has added to them a major matter of pride, namely his grant to every dervish resident within it of 100 Egyptian pounds. He has made them secure from want and need. For our part, we are not capable of paying back to him what is due for his mighty services, or to recount his virtues and his mighty deeds of supreme worth. All that we have mentioned is but a drop from the sea of his goodly favour and his generosity. On the feeble author he bestowed the noble ijāza at the beginning of Rajab, in the year 1342/1923/4, and took him as his deputy and heir. He appointed him to be his successor as shaykh of the tekke. He [the author] asks the Almighty to keep him in perfect health and give us a blessing during his rich and fruitful life, so that his novices will not be denied the breath of inspiration from his holiness and his sanctity. [25]



Such writing expresses the sentiment of adoration that is so characteristic of the relationship between shaykh and novice. This is to be found among Balkan ūfīs, as elsewhere in Islamic communities with a well-established tradition of lodges and of supportive communities.


Amad Sirrī Bābā also devotes several pages in his work to his own autobiography, explaining how he came to join the tekke of Kajgusez Sulān, built around the cave-tomb of Abū ‘Abdallāh al-Maghāwirī. He remarks:


Amad Sirrī Bābā was born in the village of Glina, adjacent to the town of Leskovicu (appertaining to the Albanian government) in the year 1313/1895. His father was the late Shāhīn Efendi, son of Amad Jūjūl Efendi. He grew up in the town and spent his youth imbibing the sciences and sundry knowledge. When he was seventeen, he was initiated into the ‘Alī Baktāshī order, having obtained the pleasure of his father. Then he emigrated in the company of Shaykh Sulaymān Bābā, the shaykh of the Baktāshī tekke in the town of Leskovicu. [26]


He had an inclination for the ascetic life, worship and devotion, and his love for the people of God was a cause of his becoming joined to the ūfī’s when still in the prime of youth, because he who is discerning and bright seeks perfection, while he who is ignorant seeks money. As has been said, ‘The love of the people of God is the key to Paradise.’



25. Amad Sirrī Bābā, ibid., pp. 30-5.

26. On Leskovicu, see Nathalie Clayer, op. cit., pp. 346-7.





After he had stayed in an aforementioned tekke for one year, war was declared between the Turkish and Greek governments. The Greeks occupied the town of Leskovicu and launched raids on the adjacent towns. Before this disaster, they had impelled Shaykh Sulaymān to leave the town, and he emigrated with his dervishes to the town of Ioannina. After staying there for a short while, the author asked his shaykh’s permission to leave the tekke, and acquired from him a letter of recommendation to Shaykh Sha‘ban Baba, the Shaykh of the tekke in the town of Prishtinë. He travelled there and took the covenant from [the latter] in 1332/1913. The Greeks occupied this town as well, and the author was forced to emigrate yet again. He joined Shaykh Sha‘bān Bābā and travelled with him to Italy. He desired to be at a distance from the war zone. He took up residence in a hotel called Milano in the town of Salsāmājyūrī, [27] and the two of them were there for four months. After this they went forth from it to go to Cairo and stayed in the tekke of our lord Sultan al-Maghāwirī, may God be pleased with him. After a brief sojourn, Sha‘bān Bābā died and was buried in the noble cave [on the Muqaṭṭam] on the sixteenth day of Muarram 1333/1914. May God’s mercy for him be ample. When the shaykh of the tekke, through close contact with his novice Amad Sirrī, discovered that he had potential gifts and a propensity to some attainment, he showed him honour. He taught him, and thereby [the author] obtained the divine outpourings of the spirit. Having stayed a little while, he was permitted by his shaykh to undertake a spiritual journey. He began with a visit to the tomb of the lord and supreme Pole, the founder of the order al-ājj Baktāsh Walī, in the land of Anatolia. He remained there two years, during which he was privileged to be able to attend the councils of the chief men of the order. In 1341/1922/3, he decided to leave the town to go to Tarsus. When he arrived there, the shaykh of the tekke ādiq Bābā had died. The brethren and novices were in a consensus over this affair, agreeing to appoint the author to be the shaykh over them. When the author beheld the unanimous opinion of the men of the order, he bowed to their wishes. He obtained a authority license from Shaykh Muammad Lufī Bābā, one of the khalīfas of the order, and the Shaykh al-Sajjāda [28] in Cairo, following the rules of the order and its principles.


At that time the master of virtue and guidance, Muammad Lufī Bābā, had reached old age. He was in pressing need for rest and devotion to worship, so he wrote to his spiritual son, the author, and asked him to come to Cairo to bear with him some of the affairs of the tekke. In view of the wish of the noble shaykh, the author resigned from the shaykhdom and, of preference,



27. The identity of this place is uncertain, although it could be Salsomaggiore, west of Parma (44.48 N-9.59 E).

28. Together with the term āhib al-Sajjāda, this title is defined by Hans Wehr, in a Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic as ‘title of the leaders of certain dervish orders in their capacity of inheritors of the founder’s prayer rug’.





chose to be a dervish. His love of being in charge did not dissuade him from immediately responding to the command of his master and guide. At once he set out from Tarsus, accompanied by the dervish called Muarram. He came to Cairo and was honoured to kiss the hands of his superior guide. On that occasion, the shaykh and ājj Muammad Lufī Bābā assembled the dervishes, the brethren and associates (muibbūn), and convened a council of high dignity. At the gathering he announced that he had adopted Amad Sirrī Bābā as his general deputy while he lived, and appointed him to be the shaykh over the tekke after his death. The men of the order were confronted by this appointment, which had unexpectedly caused his people perfect joy and acceptance, and they warmly approved of it.


The shaykh, having obtained this acceptance from the dervishes and others, wrote down the noble licence and gave it to the author. That was at the beginning of Rajab 1342/1924. The following year, the author was struck by a malady which compelled him to stay in bed. The doctors advised him to go abroad for a change of air to improve and recover his health. So he travelled to Albania and stayed there for six months. Then he returned. After some time he went once more on his travels to visit Baghdād. Karbalā and al-Najaf before returning to Egypt. The fatigue of travelling had affected his health, the illness returned once more, and he was compelled to travel afresh in order to be cured. He left Cairo exhausted and arrived in Salonica. Near this city is the town of Katerini (Qatrīna) and by chance its shaykh, Ja‘far Bābā had died, and his place remained vacant. When the men of the order affiliated to this tekke knew of the author’s arrival in Salonica, they invited him to be the shaykh over them. He accepted and fulfilled their hopes. He obtained a licence from one of the khalīfas, who resided in Albania, and he was appointed shaykh. He stayed two years in the town until his disease abated and he regained his health. At that time he offered the affair [for decision] to his shaykh, Lufī Bābā, who issued his noble command that he should return. The command, having reached him, he forsook the shaikhly office and hastened back to Cairo. [29]



During the period in office of the last three shaykhs of the tekke, all Albanian, the buildings were transformed into a tranquil retreat that would attract artists, poets and writers, some Egyptian, others associated with the Baktāshiyya, which at that stage had become concentrated particularly in the Albanian countries. This atmosphere of the tekke under aydar Memed Bābā at the beginning of the century was conveyed in the writings of travellers. Gaston Migeon, in his Le Caire, le Nile et Memphis (Paris, 1906, p. 83), wrote:


But today the monks [sic] are really of their epoch. They are no longer solitary, they receive visitors, and their order of its own accord seeks for contributions.



29. Amad Sirrī Bābā, ibid., pp. 53-6.





A stone stairway leads up from the foot of the mountain to the gate of the convent. In a small court, which is cooled by a fountain, a monk welcomes you. He is clad in baggy trousers and a grey tunic, his head covered with a high hat of white cloth. His beard grows to a great length. A tame gazelle, gracious and lively, wanders in the courtyard with uneasy movements as if alarmed. A deep corridor is hollowed into the side of the mountain, where Baktāsh [sic] rests within a small sanctuary lit by several candles. The soil of this cave, dug into the hard sand, is covered with mats and carpets. On the wall are hung trophies — spears and axes, and ridiculous pictures.


One returns gladly to the few square metres from which these men have been able to make such a verdant corner within this arid solitude. In small gardens they have planted vegetables and flowers, in the shade of orange trees and cassias. And from there the view is so beautiful that the eye is not sated by the contemplation of it all.



Under both Muammad Lufī Bābā and Amad Sirrī Bābā, the Muqaṭṭam complex was to be graced with extra rooms, catering facilities, drinking fountains and basins of water, bearing inscriptions and dedications in Arabic and Albanian. Endowments grew and both the royal house of Muammad ‘Alī (the courtly circles surrounding King Fārūq) and the exiled King Zog I were to sustain the fabric and enjoy its tranquillity. The remains of the Albanian princess Rūiyya Zogu were transferred on 28 February 1950 from the crypt of Amad Sirrī Bābā, having been interred there on 28 February 1948, to a shrine close by which had been erected for her. [30]


However, one of the personal friendships that knit the life of the tekke to that of Egyptian littérateurs was that between Amad Sirrī Bābā and the Egyptian poet Amad Rāmī. [31] The two men shared a taste for



30. F. de Jong, ‘The Takīya of ‘Abdallāh al Maghāwirī (Qayghusuz Sulān) in Cairo: A historical sketch and a description of Arabic and Ottoman Turkish materials relative to the History of the Bektashi Takīya and Order preserved at Leiden University Library’, Turcica, XIII (1981), pp. 242-60.


31. The early life of Amad Rāmī in Thasos is outlined in the study by Dr Ni‘mat Amad Fu’ād, Qiṣṣat shā‘ir wa-ughniya in the series, Iqra’ (no. 368), Cairo: Dār al- Ma‘ārif, pp. 6-7. Amad Rāmī made a noted translation of the Rubā’iyyāt by ‘Umar al-Khayyām. On the whole it received a welcome from his literary contemporaries in Egypt, among them S. Spiro Bey (himself an Albanian) who at the time was head of the literature department of the Egyptian Gazette. It can hardly be doubted that this masterpiece was one of the poetic interests shared by Amad Rāmī and Amad Sirrī Bābā in his Cairene tekke.


The Rubāiyyāt inspired other Albanians, and not only Muslims. Bishop Fan Noli, who had lived in Egypt and knew Arabic, Persian and Turkish, translated it under the pen-name of Rushit Bilbil Gramshi. Noli had a deep appreciation of, and sympathy with, medieval Persian thought, including philosophy and mysticism. For further details see Arshi Pipa, ‘Fan Noli as a National and International Albanian Figure’, Südost Forschungen, vol. 43, 1984, pp. 252-3 and passim; likewise ‘Il pensiero religioso nel paese di Skanderberg’, Il Pensiero Missionario, vol. V, 1933, pp. 299-301, footnote 9, from the introduction to his translation, Brussels, 1927.


A few further points might be made here. The Very Rev. Arthur E. Liolin, with whom I have corresponded on the circumstances that led to the adoption of the nom de plume of Rushit Bilbil Gramshi, has pointed out that the Vienna edition of Noli’s translation, was published in the very year 1926, when he was overthrown by Amad Zogu. While in Germany, Noli concealed his identity.


The introduction (Hyrje) to the 1926 Vienna edition of Rubajatet e Omar Khajamit (i shqiperoj), pp. 5-21, discloses the varied reasons, all of them personal, why Noli undertook the Albanian translation, which has been called ‘the finest, with the possible exception of Fitzgerald’s’. The efflorescence of Persian culture (multi-variant and suffering the burden of hybrid creeds and influences) under the impact of Islam between the ninth and the fourteenth centuries stirred him, as it had stirred other Albanians (including Naim) before him. The appeal of Iran was always present among them and Noli dedicates his translation to Niāmī and āfi. For Noli the language of ‘Umar (d. 1123) was of a unique beauty, and furthermore the composition had been distorted, misrepresented and sometimes mistranslated, its purity sullied by dross that was alien to the original. Noli viewed the Persian intellectual response to this Islamic impact that homed on Baghdād, as being first the emergence of a conforming and reconciling group of dogmatists and literalists; secondly, a school of neo-Platonic ūfīs; and lastly a daring, indeed heroic company of rationalists and questioning men who wedded science (Noli praises ‘Umar’s scientific contribution) and philosophy. These latter — ‘Umar among them — had qualities that matched his own thoughts and sentiments, and for that matter those of other Albanians of the Rilindja.





poetry and the tekke furnished a milieu where congenial company could be enjoyed, accompanied by recitation of verse and meditation. Amad Rāmī was also drawn to Persian as a language and made his own translation into Arabic of the Rubā’iyyāt by ‘Umar Khayyam. His version has been highly praised in some quarters. [32] Thus Professor C. Huart, in Paris, praised its closeness to the original. Professor ‘Abd al-Qadir al- Mazinī found the translation close, though weak in its poetic spirit. However, S. Spiro Bey, head of the literary section of the Egyptian Gazette and himself an Albanian, was struck by the simplicity of Amad Rāmīs language: ‘He uses an easy simple language as adopted by Omar, so that the reader finds no difficulty in following the sense the Persian poet desired to convey.’


There were, however, other reasons that brought the two men together. The grandfather of Amad Rāmī, asan ‘Uthmān,



32. Muammad Mūfākū, ‘Hal kāna Rāmī aqqan min Shuyūkh al-arīqa al- Baktāshiyya’ in al-‘Arabī (Kuwayt), no. 260, 1980, pp. 40-2.





was an Albanian who had settled in Crete. He came to Egypt, rose to officer rank, and was killed in action in the Sūdān in 1885. Muammad Rāmī, the poet’s father, also joined the Egyptian army as a doctor, but died at the age of forty-seven. Amad Rāmī spent part of his happiest earlier years on the island of Thasos near Kavalla. All these family circumstances meant that he shared common memories with Amad Sirrī Bābā. Their literary tasks coincided, although whether Amad Rāmī, as a poet himself, became anything more than an associate of the tekke is unproven, even though there is a suggestion that he was finally invited to join the Baktāshiyya.


The memory of friendship between the two men is preserved in the inscribed Arabic verses that grace the tombstone of Amad Rāmī, whose name appears beneath them:


On the second face of the gravestone is inscribed:


God have mercy upon His servant, Sirrī Bābā,

and may He show regard to him, shepherding him with kind favour.

May He give him a draught that is pure to perfection,

and bestow on him the paradise garden of His bliss.

He departed as one who emigrates from this fleeting world,

and who spoke softly and in confidence with his Lord,

and who enfolded himself within the truest faith.


On the third face is inscribed:


Sleep, cool and contentedly, betwixt the branch and foliage drawing nigh,

below the shady mountain foot, beneath Muqaṭṭam,

within the hallowed spot of'Abdallāh, dweller in the caves,

the Pole of true guidance, the treasure of desires.

In truth, a bower, it is the soil whereof you watered,

with a renewed acquaintance of its planting and with a kind affection.


On the fourth face is inscribed:


O resident of the fertile plot in Egypt,

between these sand dunes and those rich abodes,

may God be satisfied with your accomplished deed

in this world, so that most fitting for you be

the bliss of His Divine forgiveness.

Therefore, abide safely, in the haven of Paradise, and receive

the grace of My Lord, with praise and gratitude?


One further inscription is attributed to Amad Rāmī. It is to be found before the door of the burial-place of Amad Sirrī Bābā.





A noble basin for holding water, made with fine craftsmanship, has been installed, and above it is a marble pillar on which is inscribed:


O thou, unknown, who contest to this fount

where Salsabtl (in Paradise) flows with a gingered water, sweet.

Say ‘The mercy of the Lord be upon him who made fine workmanship to last.’ [33]



5. al-ājj ‘Umar Lufī Bashārīzī


Albanian ūfīs were drawn to Egypt on account of other orders and approaches to the mystic path besides the Baktāshiyya. One such person was ‘Umar Lufī Bashārīzī, who may yet prove to have been the most outstanding of all the Kosovan ūfī poets who lived around the beginning of the twentieth century.


His family were from the district of Dibra in Kosovo but moved to Prizren, where his father was to be the Imām of one of its mosques for at least fifty years. ‘Umar Lufī was born in 1896 and at the age of sixteen went to Istanbul to pursue his studies and was admitted into the Muammad al-Fāti madrasa. He was a poet of strong feelings, and for one of his compositions, an ode directed against the Sulān ‘Abd al-amīd, he was punished with imprisonment. The city did not satisfy his intellectual curiosity. Fired by the new thinking in Cairo, he went there in 1901 and stayed for four years, an experience that was to have a major impact on his literary production in Arabic, Turkish and Persian — in all of which he could express his sentiments, whether in verse or prose, or whether socialist ideas, the goals of the Young Turk movement [34] or the reforming role that could be played by Albanians. He was disappointed at that time in many of the ideals he had held as a young man, and his mind turned increasingly to ūfī aspirations, which had been part of his cultural and spiritual life since his childhood.


We know well that ‘Umar Lufī grew up in a region filled with tendencies in this direction and among ūfī orders (Baktāshiyya, Naqshabandiyya, Malāmiyya, Rifā’iyya and Shādhiliyya). This being so, it was not strange that he should be actively interested in ūfīsm from his youth onwards. It appears that his stay in Istanbul did not cut him off



33. Amad Sirrī Bābā, ibid., p. 47.

34. On Albanian involvements in the Young Turk Movement, see asan Kaleshi and Ibrāhīm Temo, Osnivač mladoturskog Komiteta “ujedinjenje i napredak”, Sarajevo: POF, 1976, and an Arabic translation by Muammad Mūfākū, al-Wajh al-Ākbar lil-Ittiād wal-taraqqī, Irbid, Jordan: Yarmuk University, 1991.





from the influences of the ūfī milieu within his soul. So we find him later, in 1892, taking advantage of being in his birthplace to visit the town of Gjakova which was deemed to be among the greatest ūfī centres. There he declared that he had become a member of the order at the hand of the shaykh of the Malāmiyya. It would seem that his stay in Cairo between 1901 and 1905 played a part in consolidating his link with ūfīsm.’ [35]


Some of the Egyptian phase in ‘Umar Lufī’s life was spent outside its borders. He visited the Sūdān, the ijāz and the Yemen, the last-named inspiring one of his finest writings in Turkish, his Yaman Siyāatnāmeh, which gives the author’s impressions of life in the country at a time of great backwardness and revolt against Ottoman control, and an analysis of the reasons for this instability. A translation of Ibn ‘Arabī’s Futūāt al-Makkiyya into Turkish is attributed to him.


It is in his Arabic works, now preserved in manuscript in Belgrade and the Sorbonne, that his mystical thought attains its clearest expression. Much of this expression is in verse, although his ūfī commentary on several Sūras of the Qur’ān — for example, Sūrat al-Baqara, Sūrat Alif Lām, Mīm — should also be mentioned. [36] In verse ‘Umar Lufī took pains to express the essence of ūfīsm in pentastichs that show the influence of an ode of ‘Abd al-Karīm al-Jīlī, verses by Ibn ‘Arīf al-inhājī, others by ‘Abd al-Ghanī al-Nāblusī, and an ode of Ibrāhīm b. Adham. The language of his own verse, even where there is no direct ūfī message, nevertheless derives from much of the vocabulary of ūfī poets:


I created beauty for the love of beauty,

sweet beauty and eloquent speech.

For beauty’s sake, thou lovest perfection.

Thou, who art the beautiful, lovest beauty.

Thou hast tied the heart with the cord of affection.

For one enamoured such is the path of sense and of wisdom,

having held out to those who love thee that which is sought for.

Thou, who are the beautiful, lovest beauty.


In verses such as this, clothed in ūfī language, are those idealistic visions of beauty that appealed to sensitive Albanians, and which were



35. A valuable article on this Ṣūfī is Muammad Mūfākū and Ni‘matallāh āfi, ‘al-ājj ‘Umar Lufī Bashārīzī, al-‘Arabī, no. 242, January 1979, pp. 135-9 (esp. p. 138).

36. ibid., pp. 137-8. Lufī Bashārīzī is unquestionably one of the major scholars of Kosovo in ūfīsm and in Qur’ānic commentary (tafsīr).





expressed in literature in an earlier age, by Yayā Bey Dukjagin (see p. 63) or in the characteristic imagery of the urūfī tradition of the Baktāshiyya as refined in the verses of Nasīmī and his followers.


It would appear, however, that the greatest impact was made on the Ṣūfī ideals of ‘Umar Lufī by the personality of that major mystic Amad b. Idrīs.


It seems that his stay in Cairo (1901-5) had a share in firmly strengthening his attachment to ūfīsm, whether this be through its theoretical sources or else through his ties with some of the leaders of the ūfī orders. From one aspect, his sojourn in Cairo permitted him to be well informed about the sources of the ūfī writings of Ibn Adham, al-Jīlī, Ibn ‘Arabī, al-Nāblusī and Ibn Idrīs and others. [37]



Thus ‘Umar Lufīs writings provide an unusually interesting insight into his times. He was looking for a model and a guide to follow. Not only are there to be found citations from Ibn Idris in the folios and notebooks that he brought back to Kosovo from Cairo, but there are accounts of his personal relations with Muammad b. ‘Alī Muammad b. Amad Idrīs 1876-1923, the descendant of Ibn Idrīs whose acquaintance he had made during his Egyptian stay. It is not entirely certain where the Moroccan and the Albanian had met; possibly it was in al-Azhar, but in the light of the dates furnished by R.S. O’Fahey it is equally possible that it was in Upper Egypt or the Sūdān. Muammad al-Idrīsī returned to ‘Asīr in 1905, the year of ‘Umar Lufīs return to Kosovo. When ‘Umar Lufī settled in Prizren, he was appointed Shaykh of the Malāmiyya order there, and remained so up till his death in 1929. What were his contacts with Cairo following his return are unclear.


That Albanians became specifically affiliated to the arīqa of Amad b. Idrīs (the Amadiyya) is confirmed by ‘Abd al-Musin al-Barakātī in his al-Rila al-Yamāniyya. Describing the moves by Muammad b. ‘Alī al-Idrīsī to bring about an uprising in the Yemen and ‘Asīr against Ottoman rule and establish his own position there, al-Barakātī remarks:


He continued thus until [the time] when the storms of feuds and uprisings blew hard within the Ottoman empire, when the government was overturned constitutionally and laboured to extinguish the internal revolts, such as those of the Druze and the Albanians, and when the Imām Yaya was in rebellion in



37. On the impact of the teachings and person of Amad b. Idris and his descendants on Balkan ūfīs, see R.S. O’Fahey, Enigmatic Saint: Amad Ibn Idris and the Idnsi Tradition, London: Hurst, 1990, pp. 185-8.





an‘ā’, Muammad b. ‘Alī thought that this was the time he had been watching for and anticipating for launching the raid against the Sublime Porte, to obtain what he had wished for, and because of which he had journeyed from Egypt. He arose against the state, exciting hearts against it, rallying numbers of the masses and mobilising an army to fight it. When the Porte sensed what he was up to, it sent a delegation to him to find out his intentions. As head of this delegation it appointed Shaykh Tawfīq al-Arnā’ūdī, one of the men of the Idrīsīd arīqa. This shaykh hoped that an agreement could be concluded by his hand between the Porte and al-Idrīsī concerning that which was conducive to the wellbeing of both the people and the country, under God. [38]



The enterprise was unsuccessful from the Ottoman point of view. Nor can we know more about the Albanian shaykh — whether he was from Europe, Syria, Egypt or Arabia. Once the writings of ‘Umar Lufī have been studied and translated, it may be possible to ascertain whether he was personally involved with these events in any way.


‘Umar Lufī’s aim was first to bring ūfīsm in Kosovo out from its restricted, even familial membership, and secondly to make it meaningful to the common man. Deeds not words and practical help wedded to meditative retreat were his goals. These were firmly within the fold of orthodox Islam and not, as might appear a ‘parallel Islam’ tainted by heterodoxy. In one of his odes, parts of the Arabic text of which have been published, and which may have been composed early rather than late in his life, tendencies such as these were already present:


It is purification within a freedom from defilement, from envy, rancour, evil hope.

It is adornment with the cream of moral values, an absorption of oneself in others.

It is total reliance upon Him, the Provider and Sustainer,

watchful over the soul, secretly and openly, alerted against that which God has prohibited and that which misleads.

ūfīsm is observation. It is the disclosure of the unseen.

It is a struggle with the self and with wordly Mammon.

It is silence, wakefulness, fasting and piety, being on guard to curb a hasty utterance.

Rather, it is a pondering of the Creator's wonders and remembering.

His name in the morning and in the evening. ...



38. Sharaf ‘Abd al-Musin al-Barakātī, al-Rila al-Yamāniyya, Cairo, 1330/1912, pp. 5 and 6.






6. Alī Pasha of Tepelenë


The ‘Pashalik’ of ‘Janina’ (Ioannina in Northern Greece) is widely known through the description given of its ruler and its people by Lord Byron. In the early nineteenth century ‘Alī Pasha was de facto ruler of southern Albania and Epirus and courted by the great powers of Europe as if he were an independent Sulān within the Ottoman state. Although geographically his was a European estate, in several respects his courtly life seemed to reflect the Maghrib and the Mashriq and indeed to show some similarities with the Egypt of Muammad ‘Alī (both men were Albanians), or Bashīr Shihāb, prince of the Lebanon.


‘Alī Pasha was born between 1741 and 1750 in the fortress town of Tepelenë on the road connecting Gjirokastër with Vlorë, Fier and Berat. His father, Veli Bey held its mutesellimlik (governship) and a whole tradition grew up within the family about its Islamic origins, including its lineal descent from a dervish named Nazif, allegedly of the Mawlawiyya order, who had emigrated to Albania from Kütahya in Asia Minor. Having entered Rumelia, he had made his way to Tepelenë. When ‘Alī was nine or ten, his father was assassinated and he was then brought up and educated by his mother, Hanko or Kanko. It is from this period that stories reminiscent of the One Thousand and One Nights form part of the history of this man who, throughout his life, seems to have been surrounded by dervishes. However he may be viewed by posterity, ‘Alī Pasha was regarded in the West at the time as a figure almost of major importance. Hence, the Reverend Thomas Smart Hughes, Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, who met him, wrote: ‘It is a remarkable fact that the three greatest men produced in Turkey during the present age have all derived their origin from Albania. These are the late celebrated Vizir Muṣṭafā Bairactar, Mohammed Ali Pasha of Egypt, and, the greatest of them all, the subject of this present memoir’. (That history will see ‘Alī Pasha as ultimately greater than Muammad ‘Alī is certainly to be questioned.)


Hughes confirms the crucial role played by ‘Alī’s mother in his ultimate rise to fame: [39]


The mother of Ali and of his sister Shaïnïtza was a woman of uncommon talents, undaunted courage and determined resolution, but fierce and implacable as a tigress. Her first act was to get rid of her rival whom, together with



39. Rev. Thomas Smart Hughes, Travels in Sicily, Greece and Albania, vol. II, London, 1820, pp. 101-2.





her child, she took off by poison, thus securing all the rights and property of her husband to Ali, who was then aged about fourteen. Far from yielding under the disastrous circumstances of fortune, she armed herself with double fortitude, and rising superior to the weakness of her sex, carried a musket against her enemies in the field at the head of her faithful clan, performing all the duties of both general and soldier. In most of these enterprises she took Ali as an associate, although she kept him within the strictest limits of obedience. Plainly foreseeing that his security depended chiefly on his military education, she accustomed him early to the perils of an active and romantic life, and improved his naturally strong constitution by exercise and temperance: she engaged the oldest and most faithful retainers of her family to animate his zeal by a recital of the history and exploits of his ancestors, to correct his rash impetuosity by their experience, to instruct him in all the manly exercises of an Albanian palikar, and to school him in knowledge of mankind and the arts of governing them, rather than in the lore of book-learning and science.’



However, according to the Mémoirs of Manzour (Manūr) Efendi, [40] when ‘Alī was a poor adolescent aged about fifteen, an African dervish, allegedly from Morocco, came to ask for hospitality in his mother’s house. At that time she was in a state bordering on penury. The offering of hospitality is a general Oriental virtue, but when Khamco (Hanko/Kanko) saw how poor the dervish was, she said in distress that she had no meat to offer to her guest, who she supposed could not speak Albanian in which she conversed with her son. As there was no money in the house, ‘Alī decided to sell his only good item of clothing to treat the guest God had sent to her house in the best possible manner. The dervish fell ill while there, and ‘Alī, unable to borrow money, little by little sold various chattels to cover the considerable extra cash which hospitality entailed. After one month the stranger recovered. At the moment of bidding them farewell, he informed ‘Alī that he knew the Albanian tongue and that consequently he knew of all the sacrifices that had been so generously made for him. As a reward he gave him a ring, saying he should never part with it. It would bring him extraordinary happiness and lead him rapidly to the highest degree of grandeur, riches and power.


Manūr, a French renegade who later spent three years at ‘Alī’s court, adds: ‘I have seen this ring (unazë). He wore it hung around his neck. He showed it to me himself in 1817.’



40. The story is recounted together with other details in Ibrāhīm Manzour Efendi, Mémoires sur la Grèce at L’Albanie, Paris, 1827, esp. pp. 268-9, 270-1 and 359-60.





The source of Manzour Efendi’s information was allegedly ‘Alī Pasha himself. Yet the introduction of a Moorish dervish (astrologer), a hospitable widow and her son, and lastly a magic ring looks suspiciously like an acquaintance with the opening pages of ‘The Story of Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ in the standard collections of the One Thousand and One Nights. Hussain Haddawy, in his translation of the fourteenth-century text, edited by Muhsin Mahdi, says (on page xiii) that this Levantine ‘story’ is a rogue part of the original work. In all likelihood its thematic substance is derived from countless stories about a poor boy whose life is transformed by a stranger with occult powers who is befriended in a house that is plunged into sadness and poverty. The following passages from Sir Richard Burton’s translation may be compared with Manzour Efendi’s account:


Now this Darwaysh was a Moorman from Inner Morocco and he was a magician who could upheap by his magic hill upon hill and he was also adept in astrology. So after narrowly considering Alaeddin he said to himself, ‘Verily, this is the lad I need and to find whom I have left my natal land.’ and soon after the ground had cloven asunder before the Moroccan it displayed a marble slab wherein was fixed a copper ring. The Maghrabi, striking a geomantic table, turned to Alaeddin, and said to him, ‘An thou do all I shall bid thee, indeed thou shalt become wealthier than any of the kings, and for this reason, O my son, I struck thee, because here lieth a hoard which is stored in thy name; and yet thou designedst to leave it and to levant. But now collect thy thoughts, and behold how I opened earth by my spells and adjurations. Under yon stone wherein the ring is set lieth the treasure wherewith I acquainted thee: so set thy hand upon the ring and raise the slab, for that none other amongst the folk, thyself excepted, hath power to open it, nor may any of mortal birth, save thyself, set foot within this Enchanted Treasury which hath been kept for thee.’



One can conclude either that fragments incorporated into this tale had reached Albania from the Levant at some unknown date, and that it was retold with ‘Alī Pasha in the role of an ‘Alā’ al-Dīn, or else that Manzour Efendi, the renegade, made it up on the basis of his acquaintance with Galland’s translation of the Nights to add colour to his account, or else that one of ‘Alī Pasha’s own courtiers had come to know of the story and told it to his master who had gladly woven it into the memoirs of his childhood and those semi-magical objects that he treasured and trusted and used as charms or instruments of power.


‘Alī spent much of the early part of his life as a robber chief attacking his rivals in Albania and Thessaly. In 1785, at the age of forty, he was





rewarded by the Sulān for his services and given the title of Pasha and sub-govenor (mutaarrif) of Delwine, and the rank of Mīr al-Mīrāan. In 1786 he was appointed mutaarrif of the sandjaq of Tirala (Trikala), and the Warden of the Passes, to establish law and order. In 1787 he became pasha of Toskeria and Thessaly. After hard experiences on several Balkan battlefields, he came to Ioannina, a wealthy city of artisans and merchants and the meeting-place for the feudal rulers of the region. ‘Alī skilfully took advantage of their conflicts and in 1788 captured it. Later it was to boast some 25,000 citizens, mostly Greek although it also housed Albanians, Turks and Jews, with colleges, churches, mosques and tekkes and a number of factories making silk and cotton clothes and fabrics. Its imports and exports brought it into contact with the Ionian islands, Italy and Trieste, and probably with Egypt, from which rice was imported.


The Sulān granted him a ferman to govern and also one for his second son Veli Pasha to be the mutaarrif of Tirala. Building up a powerful army in Ioannina, and profiting from the war between Turkey on the one side and Russia and Austria on the other, Alī made deep advances into Toskeria and Epirus, capturing among other towns Konitza, Përmeti and Tepelenë in Albania and Arta in Epirus. In 1792 he established a satisfactory relationship with Sulān Selīm III and officially joined the expedition against Shkodër in 1793, although when Turkey’s power declined dramatically following Bonaparte’s campaigns, he took the opportunity to expand his own authority. In 1797 France captured the Ionian islands and Corfu. Napoleon incited ‘Alī to start a revolt and gave him arms to do so. Even so he did not break with the Sulān and thus added further to his conquests. In 1799 Russians captured the Ionian islands; ‘Alī mistrusted them and they plotted against him through his Albanian enemies. Having subdued the Suliots, he sought independence, and in 1802 was appointed wāltī of Rumelia.The following year he entered into agreement with England, and in 1806 with France.


John Cam Hobhouse (later Lord Broughton), in his A Journey through Albania, and other provinces of Turkey in Europe and Asia, to Constantinople during the years 1809 and 1810, describes how he met ‘Alī and gives a view of his achievements and his prospects for further success:


At present, his dominions extend (taking Ioannina for a centre) one hundred and twenty miles to the north, as far as the pashalik of Ocrida; to the northeast and east over Thessaly, and touching the feet of Mount of Olympus;





to the south-east the small district of Thebes, and part of that attached to the Negroponte, bound his territories; which, however, on this side, include the populous city of Livadia (Lebadea) and its district, and will soon, it is expected, comprise Attica, and afterwards the above-mentioned country. To the south he commands as far as the gulf of Lepanta, and the Morea belongs to his son. The Ionian Sea and the gulf of Venice are his boundaries in the south-west and west, and to the north-west the pashalik of Scutari, and the banks of the Drino; but on this side, the pashalik of Vallona intervenes. Parge, on the coast opposite to Corfu, belongs to the French, and the Chimeriotes can scarcely be said to depend entirely on his authority.


Throughout the whole of the country so bounded, the imperial firmān is but little respected; whilst a letter with the signature of Ali (of which, as a curiosity, I send you a fac-simile), commands unlimited obedience. The Vizier is now absolute lord, as a Greek in Ioannina told me, of fifty small provinces; and should his projects of aggrandisement succeed, the countries which anciently composed the southern part of Illyricum, the kingdom of Epirus, part of Macedonia, the whole Thessalian territory, Euboea, and all the Grecian States, will be under the dominion of a barbarian who can neither write nor read. His tyranny is complete; although the form of subjection to the Porte is still preserved, and he furnishes his contingent of men to the Ottoman armies, and pays besides a certain part of his tribute to the Grand Signor.


As he advances to the north-west, he will be in possession of the frontier towards Dalmatia, which the views of the French must render a most important post. It is confidently asserted, that Napoleon has offered to make him King of Albania, and to support his independence against the Porte; but, if this be true, he has had the prudence to refuse a crown, which would be rather the badge of bondage than of power, and of late the Emperor has talked of thundering down upon Albania from his Illyrian provinces. [41]



Between 1808 and 1812 he started to expand northwards into Albania. In 1808 he captured Berat, in 1810 Vlorë, and in 1811 Delwine and Gjirokastër. With the exception of Parga all of Toskeria, Thessaly and Epirus formed a part of his pashalik. He was now a major owner of estates, including 934 villages. All these successes encouraged his dream of independence, or at least a maximum autonomy, relying on his Albanian soldiery to buttress his power. In 1812, Sulān Mamūd II officially discharged him and ordered him to withdraw to Tepelenë. ‘Alī complied, but returned to Ioannina two months later.


‘Alī next strengthened his ties with the British and paid scant heed to the authority in Istanbul. The Sulān anxious to avoid a complete rupture,



41. J.C. Hobhouse, A Journal through Albania . . ., London, 1813, and New York, 1971.





restored ‘Alīs titles although he became involved in conflict with Muṣṭafā Pasha, the ruler of Shkodër, who was an ally of Istanbul in his attempt to curb the Pasha of Ioannina. In 1814-15, in the new period of European rivalry that followed the fall of Napoleon, ‘Alī made approaches to Russia and joined with the Greek nationalists who were seeking independence. This belief in their effectiveness was to prove his undoing. In 1820, Mamūd II decided to crush him. A decree was issued dismissing him and he was summoned to Istanbul. ‘Alī did not comply, and a ferman warranting his death was issued. ‘Alī could only play for time. The Turkish army and fleet had as their ally Muṣṭafā Pasha Bushatli of Shkodër. Ioannina was surrounded in 1820, although it took a siege of seventeen months to reduce it to submission. ‘Alī was assassinated in 1822. Resistance then ended. Albania was finally subjugated in 1838.


During his rule in Ioannina, ‘Alī had established a court, Oriental in taste and style, in some respects dependent on Arabs, as well as Albanians, to administer Islamic institutions. Both Ioannina and Tepelenë were cosmopolitan, but they were also outwardly Islamic as Byron, in Stanza 59 of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, emphasises:


Hark! from the mosque the nightly solemn sound

The Muezzin’s call doth shake the minaret,

‘There is no god but God! to prayer-lo! God is great!’


Hobhouse (pp. 98-9) suggests that the regular prayers, and a general observance of a statutory house for these prayers, was observed in ‘Alī’s court:


At sun-set the drum was beat in the yard, and the Albanians, most of them being Turks, went to prayers. In the gallery, which was open on one side, there were eight or nine little boxes fitted up with raised seats and cushions, between the wooden pillars supporting the roof; and in each of these there was a party smoking, or playing at draughts.


I had now an opportunity of remarking the peculiar quietness and ease with which the Mahometans say their prayers; for, in the gallery, some of the graver sort began their devotions in the places where they were sitting, entirely undisturbed and unnoticed by those around them, who were otherwise employed. The prayers, which last about ten minutes, are not said aloud, but muttered sometimes in a low voice, and sometimes with only a motion of the lips; and, whether performed in the public street or in a room, excite no attention from any one. Of more than a hundred in the gallery, there were only five or six at prayers. The Albanians are not reckoned strict Mahometans; but no Turk, however irreligious himself, is ever seen even to smile at the





devotions of others; and to disturb a man at prayers would, in most cases, be productive of fatal consequences.


We were disturbed during the night by the perpetual carousal which seemed to be kept up in the gallery, and by the drum, and the voice of the ‘muezzin’, or chanter, calling the Turks to prayer from the minaret of the mosek [mosque] attached to the palace. This chanter was a boy, and he sang out his hymn in a sort of loud melancholy recitative. He was a long time repeating the purport of these few words: ‘God most high! I bear witness that there is no God but God: I bear witness that Mahomet is the Prophet of God. Come to prayer; come to the asylum of salvation. Great God! There is no God but God!’ The first exclamation was repeated four times, the remaining words twice, and the long and piercing note in which he concluded this confession of faith, by twice crying out the word ‘hou’ still rings in my ears.



‘Alī Pasha has also been viewed as an Albanian nationalist. In the opinion of Ligor Mile, Ioannina had a special role to play in this:


The development of the culture in southern Albania at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth cannot be disassociated from the support which teaching, science and culture found, notably in the capital of ‘Alī Pasha. This Albanian lord held everything Ottoman in disdain, and furthermore tried, in the domain of culture, to encourage national elements. Thus, during the domination of ‘Alī Pasha, his capital attained major renown thanks to the schools and libraries founded there. As one is aware, at Ioannina, promoted by ‘Alī Pasha, the Albanian language was also cultivated. This great economic centre, which flourished during ‘Alī’s reign, became renowned at that time, thanks to the close economic ties with the Albanian and Greek territories, as the great cultural centre of the south-western part of the Balkan peninsula. [42]


He further remarks:


It was not be chance that ‘Alī of Tepelenë chose Ioannina to be his capital. One knows that this town was one of the principal economic centres, the most important market of Western Greece and Southern Albania, where not only the Greek merchants but also the Albanians were highly active. Besides having a Greek population, it has Albanians as well. Thus, the Ioannina merchants who were behind ‘Alī in his taking power in this town offered themselves so as to be assured of an ally in their struggle against feudal anarchy. One can affirm that from then onwards they attained their aim to a certain extent.



42. ‘Sur le caractère du pouvoir d’Ali pacha de Tépélène’, Actes du 1er Congrès, IV: Histoire, Sofia, 1968, p. 101 (pp. 97-109). This same subject is also printed in Studia Albanica. For other important studies on ‘Alī Pasha, see Odile Daniel, Albanie. Une bibliographic historique, Paris: Editions du CNRS, 1985, pp. 405-15.





As we have noted, dervishes were highly regarded by ‘Alī Pasha. They flocked to Ioannina, establishing tekkes and becoming rich due to the economic wealth of the district. Manzour Efendi mentions one or two of them who would appear to have come from Arab countries and to represent more than one ūfī order. ‘Alī was encouraged to build by a Syrian dervish ‘of a great sanctity and of a profound knowledge’. ‘Alī was especially humble towards those dervishes from Arab peoples, men who, we are told, hailed from Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Barbary and the Kingdom of Morocco. They were also Persians who were cultured and seemingly better educated. Ioannina swarmed with such holy men, whose extortions were suffered by the local population. The dervishes were frequently religious riff-raff, some of them banished from Istanbul for their corruption.


The presence in Ioannina of numbers of Arabs and Negroes from the Middle East and North Africa is confirmed by the traveller Henry Holland in his Travels in the Ionian Isles, Albania, Macedonia:


We now see, besides Turkish, Albanese and Moorish soldiers, the Turkish officers, and ministers of the Vizier; Greek and Jewish secretaries, Greek merchants, Tartar couriers, the pages and black slaves of the Seraglio; petitioners seeking to obtain audience, and numerous other figures, which give to the court and palace of Ali Pasha a character all its own. [. . .] The population thus variously composed, and with the addition of Arabs, Moors and Negroes, afford a curious spectacle in all the streets of the city. Somewhat such an assemblage may indeed be seen in other towns, but wanting the numerous Albanese soldiery, which forms here so striking and characteristic a feature. Of the female part of the population, few, except those of the lower class, are to be seen in the public streets, and these few are so much concealed by the mode of dress, that they are but as moving figures to the eye. The Turkish women of higher rank are seldom abroad. Any female of this nation, coming into the streets, is entirely covered with a dark-coloured cloak, excepting the face, which is likewise concealed by bands drawn across it, leaving merely a narrow transverse opening for the eyes.



The example of ‘Alī’s defeat of the French in 1798, as described by Hobhouse, suggests that the influence of Babas and ‘Alī’s spiritual counsellors of the Baktāshiyya was considerable among some of the Albanian troops who were thrown into the battle:


I had the account from an Albanian who was in the battle, and who confessed that the French force did not amount to more than eight hundred men, and all of them infantry. The Albanians continued some time on the hills, viewing their enemies in front. Their priests, of whom there was a great number, then





began to pray with a loud voice, and the soldiers joined them in the holy exclamations. The whole body remained waving their heads, as it was described to me, and as I have myself seen in some religious ceremonies in Turkey, like a vast field of corn, and calling on the name of God with a fervour of tone and action that was soon wound up to the highest pitch of fury; as if with one voice, the word was given, ‘Out with your swords!’ and the Albanian army, both horse and foot, rushed down into the plain.



A number of the shaykhs, who were made wealthy by ‘Alī and were in charge of sundry tekkes, came from Asia Minor but also from Morocco. Sayyid Amad Efendi, who was twice ‘Alī Pasha’s diplomatic agent in England, was also nominated head of the tekke in Parga — he came from Lataqiya in Syria. Others were from Egypt or from Albania itself, all enjoying great wealth and most charged with tekkes in Ioannina itself or in its vicinity.


The dervishes of the Baktāshiyya were particularly favoured. ‘Alī Pasha was himself initiated into this order. John Kingsley Birge noted the particular influence of Kamāl al-Dīn Shamīmī (Mimi), a noted Baktāshī missionary. It was he who initiated ‘Alī. The latter is depicted in an engraving wearing the tac (tāj) of the Baktāshiyya. F.W. Hasluck regarded ‘Alī Pasha as a prime mover behind the mushrooming of the order in southern Albania, which was especially marked in the later years of his life. The headstone of his tomb at Ioannina was once capped by the twelve-sided head-dress of the order.


However, among the dervishes listed by Manzour Efendi, the Baktāshīs are by no means conspicuous, nor did their sect possess a tekke because of the fanatical orthodoxy of the Muslims in the area of Ioannina. All in all, Hasluck had a poor opinion of ‘Alī’s own sincerity. On the other hand, he had a high regard for Shaykh Shamīmī who founded (or revived) a tekke in Krujë in 1807. In his opinion many of the conversions of the southern Tosks in the districts north of Ioannina were due to the Baktāshī influence promoted by ‘Alī. [43]


Muammad Mūfākū considers the role of Shaykh Shamīmī (Mīmī) as of crucial importance in ‘Alī Pasha’s religious policies:


The rebirth of the Baktāshī movement at this stage is connected with a leading Albanian figure, namely Bābā Kamāl al-Dīn Shamīmī (Babaj Qemaludin Shemimi), who, it has been mentioned, was once a teacher in a Sunnī



43. See F.W. Hasluck, Christianity and Islam under the Sultans, vol. II, pp. 537 and 591, likewise The Annual of the British School at Athens, no. XX, Session 1913-14, p. 113. However, Nathalie Clayer (L’Albanie pays des derviches, p. 37) has grave doubts.





school before he became a Baktāshī. For a time he lived in the tekke of Hacibektaș, then returned with a companion to the town of Krujë, in Albania, and resided in a tekke to preach. After his travels through the length and breadth of Albania to further the Baktāshiyya order, fortune helped him in the south of the country when ‘Alī Pasha Tepelenë announced his adherence to the Baktāshiyya at the hand of Kamāl al-Dīn. It is possible that ‘Alī Pasha embraced the Baktāshiyya through a growing sympathy, one of some consequence, towards its later ideological and organisational development. It is known that ‘Alī Pasha had gained success, following the example set by his contemporary Muammad ‘Alī Pasha in Egypt, through backing and strengthening a local administration that had recognised his authority in southern and central Albania. From that time onwards, he had entered into dispute with the Ottoman Turkish state in order to gain recognition from Istanbul for an Albanian identity and an Albanian entity. It may be that ‘Alī Pasha found it prudent to embrace the Baktāshiyya, which called for Shī‘īte revenge against the (Sunnī) Turkish power, and thus enabled him to declare war, both national and religious, at one and the same time, against Istanbul. From all this one may regard ‘Alī Pasha as the first person who profited from the Baktāshiyya, and who made use of it, in the service of Albanian national leanings which aimed at a severance from Ottoman Turkey.


So it was natural that the Baktāshiyya should see an opening for new opportunities in Albania during the age of ‘Alī Pasha. We find that Baktāshī tekkes began to cover the Albanian towns, here and there, first in the south of the country and then moving up to the centre and north. The aim of this spread was to establish a popular base to resist the Ottoman Turkish authority. However, ‘Alī Pasha was eventually defeated in 1822, confronting the Turkish armies that surrounded him from every side. Following the defeat of ‘Alī Pasha, the Turkish state undertook a ruthless purge of the Baktāshiyya. While this was decisive in Turkey itself, in Albania the Baktāshiyya order was able to save itself by taking refuge in the mountains before it returned once more, profiting from the weakness of Ottoman Turkish power. The assault on the Baktāshiyya in Albania by the state led to a deep struggle between the two sides, especially following the Ottoman state’s declaration of the infidelity of the Baktāshiyya and its veto on it being affiliated to the official state religion. Its subsequent, resistance to the Baktāshiyya, wherever it might be, compelled the sect to find itself in opposition, indeed to head the opposition. Henceforth, retaining the reins of control, it embarked on a prolonged resistance to the Turkish presence. [44]



The strong sentiments of Shī‘īsm among the southern Albanians, the Tosks, at that time can also be seen from a number of details which



44. See ‘A-Baktāshiyya in al-‘Arabī (Kuwayt), no. 220, March 1977, pp. 64-8.





are given in Manzour Efendi’s account especially in the ‘Notice Géographique sur l’Albanie’. We are told that ‘A large part of the Tosk Muslims follow the sect of ‘Alī, the son-in-law of Muammad, like the Persians, who detest their Sunnite neighbours and insult them by calling them followers of Mu‘āwiya (who are the opponents of ‘Alī and responsible for the death of his sons). The same name was given to the parish dogs of the bazaar in Ioannina. Furthermore it is clear from Manzour Efendi’s description that ‘Alī Pasha tolerated and even supported Christian worship and practice in Ioannina, where there were seven or eight churches and a Greek archbishop. Yet at the same time he endeavoured actively to promote the Muslim faith, ordering Christians in Laperi to convert to Islam. He sent an imam from Ioannina for this purpose and took offspring as ‘hostages’ to ensure the sound ‘conversion’ of their parents and sent them to Muslim households in Ioannina to be taught the faith.


According to Manzour Efendi, ‘Alī Pasha was moved deeply by religious song and chant, ‘Many times have I seen him weep while a young singer, born in Arabia, sang illahis (hymns), although the vizir did not understand the Arabic language. But the melody alone used to soften his fierce heart.’ [45] He was also superstitious, believing that predictions of his longevity by the devout were not to be lightly dismissed, even if a century and a half was predicted. ‘I am no prophet, for after Muammad there can be none other since he is Akher pêighâmbar — the last — but I am a man destined to be above others: consequently God does for me what he would in no way do for another.’


A hatred for the Umayyid Caliphs, Yazīd in particular, who is accused of the slaughter of Imām usayn and his followers at Karbalā on October 10, 680, and the desecration of his mortal remains, is not a mere hearsay report from Orientals and Westerners who visited Albania at that time. It can be confirmed by Albanian poetry of a semivernacular kind. One such poem is an anonymous composition by a Baktāshī opponent of ‘Alī Pasha. Between 1793 and 1812, the latter brought much distress to the city of Gjirokastër. The poet calls on the aid of the Almighty to thwart the evils of a treacherous ‘jezid i Qerbelase’ who is castigated in several verses. Later Shaykh Nesibi, also of Gjirokastër, in a poem composed in 1897 (since it refers to the fighting



45. Ilahī is discussed by Hajdar Salihu, Poezia e Bejtexhinjve, Prishtinë, 1987, p. 490, as himn, vjershë e lartë fetare, ‘verses of a lofty devotion.’ Hobhouse (A Journey through Albania, op. cit., vol. I, pp. 113) sees the girl as one of ‘Alī’s harem.





between Greeks and Turks, and the bombardment of Saranda on April 18 of that year), makes bitter remarks about the evil deeds being committed, which he calls ‘jezidija'. This term of abuse was found among the Tosks, many of whom were Baktāshiyya or ‘Alīds.


However, it was the ambiguity of ‘Alī Pasha’s religious loyalties and those of his people that struck Thomas Smart Hughes during his travels at that time: [46]


After the death of the great Scanderbeg, when the Albanians, who had made a most brave resistance, fell beneath the Ottoman yoke, an innovation was introduced into their religious faith; till this time they at least professed Christianity, however uninstructed they might have been in its peculiar tenets and doctrines: the progress of the apostasy however was at first very slow, and the religion of Mahomet did not gain many adherents till about the end of the sixteenth century: at this time a law was promulgated which secured their estates in the possession of all those Albanian families who should bring up one of their members in the Mahometan faith. This had the double effect of keeping the country more clear of Osmanli settlers than the rest of Turkey, and of soon transferring the chief property into the hands of the new proselytes. At various times however whole villages, towns or districts, for political advantages, have voluntarily renounced the religion of their ancestors: and these instances occur not unfrequently at the present day. Yet the Albanian Mahometan is not more observant of doctrines, rites and ceremonies under his new law than he was under his old one, and is looked upon with great contempt by the rigid Osmanli. He frequently takes a Christian woman to be his wife, carries his sons to mosque, and allows his daughters to attend their mother to church; nay, he even goes himself alternately to both places of worship, and eats with his family out of the same dish, in which are viands forbidden to the disciples of Mahomet. Very few of them undergo the rite of circumcision: hence when the pasha, in a fit of religious zeal, has sent sheiks to perform the operation throughout certain districts, many of the adults have died in consequence. They are in general too poor to avail themselves of the licence which their religion grants for polygamy, but are content with one wife, who is chosen, like any other animal, more for a slave or drudge than for a companion: they are by no means jealous of their women, nor do they confine them like the Turks and Greeks. The wretched creature of a wife, with one or two infants tied in a bag behind her back, cultivates the ground and attends to the household affairs by turns, whilst her lordly master ranges over the forest in search of game, or



46. Thomas Smart Hughes, op. cit., pp. 97-8. For a useful summing up of ‘Alī Pasha’s career see Stanford J. Shaw, Between Old and New: The Ottoman Empire under Sulān Selim III, 1789-1807, Harvard University Press, 1971.





guards the flocks, or watches behind a projecting rock with his fusil ready to aim at the unwary traveller.



One of the most balanced comments on ‘Alī Pasha’s religious attitude and policy comes from Henry Holland, writing at about the same time as Hughes. He specifically comments on ‘Alī’s strange mixture of tolerance, superstition and expediency. Islam among the Albanians was at this time of a kind that defied any coherent assessment by either a Western or an Oriental onlooker, nor could the growth of tekkes, fuelled by scholars, Babas and the like, or the show of fanaticism fuelled sometimes by the devout from the Arab East, be seen as indicative of popular devotion. Even less did it provide any indication as to the piety of ‘Alī himself:


The adherence of Ali Pasha to the tenets of the Mahomedan religion is by no means rigid, and probably depending more on a sense of interest than upon any zeal or affection for these tenets. He has few of the prejudices of a Mussulman; and in regarding those around him, his consideration obviously is, not the religion of the man, but whether he can be of service to any of his views. I have seen a Christian, a Turkish and a Jewish secretary, sitting on the ground before him at the same moment — an instance of the principle which is carried throughout every branch of his government. In Albania especially, the Christian and Mussulman population are virtually on the same footing as to political liberty; all indeed slaves, but the former not oppressed, as elsewhere in Turkey, by those subordinate agencies of tyranny, which render more grating the chain that binds them. It may fairly be said that under this government all religions find an ample toleration. I have even known instances where Ali Pasha has directed Greek churches to be built for the use of the peasants, as is the case in one or two of the villages on the plain of Arta.


Though without religious bigotry, however (or perhaps religious feeling) Ali Pasha exhibits certain superstitions, which possibly may have been engrafted on his early youth. He has his lucky and unlucky days, and is said to have shewn belief at times in the magic arts of charm and conjuration. Mixed with the good sense of his conversation, I have now and then noticed a tone of credulity, which perhaps, however, could not be construed into more than a belief, that human art went further into the mysteries of nature than it really does — a natural mistake in a man of talent, partially instructed. I have once or twice seen a Dervish with him, one of those strange appendages of eastern states which combine the repute of sanctity with buffoonery, or even idiocy of manner. It did not appear, however, that he paid any attention to the gesticulations of this man, or thought of him otherwise than merely as an adjunct to his court.






7. The Albanians in Syria


Though not as famous as Egypt as a home for Albania’s exiled community in the Eastern Arab world, Syria (and to a degree Lebanon) was to become a significant centre for Muslim Albanians, so that today the tiny Arnā’ū community in Damascus, as elsewhere, is not only respected but has already made a significant contribution to modern Arabic literature and cultural life in Syria. Damascus has for centuries acted as a magnet for Albanian Muslim scholars and students, and it is not uncommon to meet imāms of mosques in Yugoslavia, a few of them Yugoslav Albanians, who have perfected their Arabic in Damascus.


During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a number of Ottoman governors and administrators were of Albanian origin. Among the most famous of these was Sinān Pasha, whose achievements as a builder were distinguished in many parts of the Ottoman empire. He was born about 1500 in the region of Topoyani, in Central Albania, and rose to importance through the devshirme system. Five times appointed Grand Vizir, he could be ruthless and harsh (he allegedly destroyed the holy relics of Saint Sava, patron saint of Serbia), but he was also a major builder of caravanserais, bridges, baths and mosques. These included the town of Kacanik, in Kosovo, important buildings in Salonica and Belgrade, and, in the Arab countries, in Cairo and in Damascus. The latter owed much to him, so that Muibbī described him as ‘the founder’, the man responsible for major monuments in the country, including the mosque in Damascus outside Bāb al-Jābiya, the bath and the market, both of equal beauty and refined workmanship. To him are also attributed similar works in Qaīfa, Sa‘sa‘, ‘Uyūn al-Tujjār and ‘Akkā (now in Israel), including caravanserais.


Damascus figured prominently in the life of Ibrāhīm Pasha and in the writings of Ismā‘īl Kamāl Bey (Ismael Qemali), who was to proclaim Albania an independent state on November 28, 1912, and was appointed head of government and foreign minister. Lataqiya district and the life of the downtrodden heterodox Alawites, close by, were to leave a deep mark on his memory.


Such men, however renowned, were in a sense birds of passage. Students who came to Damascus stayed longer, some of them for good. They would settle in such quarters as Sūq Sārūja and Sūq al-Muhājirīn. If they returned, they would teach in Qur’ān schools in Kosovo and elsewhere. Others, of a ūfī spirit, acted as human bridges between Albania and the centres of the ūfī orders in the Middle East, Syria included.





One specific order, the Sadiyya, founded by Sa‘d al-Dīn al- Jibāwī and his successors in about 1335, was especially associated with Damascus, although it later spread to Turkey and Egypt, and in the eighteenth century gained a foothold in Kosovo and Yugoslav Macedonia.


According to Muammad Mūfākū:


It suffices to mention here that the Sa'diyya was transported by these men [students, scholars and shaykhs] to Albanian regions. It was spread and disseminated in a number of Albanian cities. So too there were, among the Albanians, distinguished personalities, geniuses of this order, such as Sulaymān Ajīza Bābā (Sulejman Adzizi-baba, of Gjakova), [47] who had the nickname ‘the second great teacher’, bearing in mind that the founder of this order, Sa‘d al-Dīn al-Jibāwī, was ‘the first teacher’. The spread of this order in Albanian groups necessarily led to a sort of tie with Damascus since it was the spiritual home of this order, and shaykhs of this arīqa used to be given licenses (ijāzāt), or take the latter from Syria.



Damascus and its Albanian circles were centres of Muslim orthodoxy. The Syrian influence on Muslim Albanians is characterised by its support for traditional orthodox Islam, freed from any taint of heterodoxy or excess, and it is therefore not surprising that studies in Arabic by Albanians published in Damascus, should reflect this preference. Examples of such books are a study of the thought of Imām Abū anīfa by Wahbī Sulaymān Ghāwijī al-Albānī, published in Damascus and Beirut in 1973, an edition of al-Tadhkira fī fal al-adhkār, by Abū ‘Abdallāh Muammad al-Ourubī al-Andalusī (d. 671/1273), edited by ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Arnīu and Ibrāhīm al-Arnā’ūt, published in Damascus in 1972, and Riyā al-āliīn, by the Imām al-Nawawī, edited by Muammad Nasir al-Dīn al-Albānī, and published by the Islamic Office in 1398/1978. These typify the serious scholarly work that has recently characterised the Arnā’ūs in Syria. Potentially Syria has offered a scope and ambience for their efforts that is rarely to be found, elsewhere, in the Arab world in recent years.


Syria is the home of a very active family of Arnā’ūt novelists, short story writers, poets, dramatists, literary critics and artists, still active, names such as Abdylkader Arna’ūi, the sisters Ajshe and Hatixhe Arna’ūi,



47. Cited and extensively discussed in his article ‘al-Albāniyyūn fi Sūriyah wa-dawruhum fī‘l-ayāh al-Sūriyyah, Second International Congress on the History of Syria (1516-1939), part 1, Damascus, 1980. On the Sadiyya in Albania see Nathalie Clayer, op. cit., pp. 163-72.





Muammad Barakāt Laīf Arna’ūi and Rakha Arna’ūi who later moved to Algeria. These writers are completely Arab in their expression, though of course retaining a great affection and pride in their origins. Within those areas of literature where specifically Islamic sentiments are expressed, we should mention three names. First, Muṣṭafā Khalqī (Muṣṭafā Huluki, 1851-1915), the lyrical yet realistic poet and protestor against social and anti-Ottoman abuses whose ancestors came from Kavalla and whose father, ‘Uthmān Bey al-Nūrī, was a commander in the army of Ibrāhīm Pasha but ‘like many others’ later settled in Damascus. For a time he was head of the Sultanije school in Beirut. Islamic sentiment, critical of the mercenary religious establishment, frequently surfaces in his verse. Muammad Mūfākū cites two verses from a famous (manuscript) poem of his, derived from his dīwān:


How many a worshipper and servant of God, who displays

his integrity and his piety, yet who, in the closet, is in direct contact with sins,

If he beholds the Dinar, bows adoringly, and says ‘O

Lord of ours, O fulfiller of our needs, our heart's desires.'


A quite different case is presented by Thābit Nu‘mān Farīzāy Sabit / Thabit Niman Ferizaj (1860-1950), whose sentiments were more obviously focused on Albanian aspirations, and who wrote in Albanian though in Arabic script. He was born in a region that was claimed by Serbia during the war between Turkey and Russia in 1877. His family moved to Kosovo and settled in the town of Frizay, where he grew up. He learnt Arabic as well as Albanian, became a teacher and also a poet in both languages, being heavily influenced in his writing by ūfī thoughts.


Since local custom forbade his marriage to the girl of his choice, they eloped and settled first in Istanbul, moving to Syria in 1890. He lived in Amman, in Kerak and in a converted windmill in Hauran, although Damascus was to become the centre of his academic life up to his death. In his last years he devoted much time to preaching and to carpentry. He made his retreat the Albanian mosque (Jāmi‘ al-Arnā’ū) in the Dīwāniyya and Barrāniyya quarter of Damascus. Apart from poetry and literature in general, he was also especially interested in astrology and the natural sciences. He constructed a telescope, an electric generator and a large clock, which, apart from its spring mechanism, was made entirely of wood. One of his books bore the title ‘My views regarding history and about Arabic, Turkish, Persian and Albanian literature’ (Ārā‘ī al-khāṣṣ fī’l-tārīkh wal-adab al-‘arabī wal-fārisī wal-turkī wal-albānī).





His other interests were reflected in such books as ‘The Zodiac and its effect on the life of men’ (al-Burūj al-falakiyya wa-atharuhā fī ayāt al-nās), ‘The Albanian astronomy [or talisman?] for the explanation of the astrological commentator’ (Raad al-Arnā’ūī ‘ala bayān al-mufassir al-falakī), ‘The storehouse of trinkets’ (Khazīnat al-mujaivharāt), ‘Terms of the natural sciences’ (Mufradāt al-‘ulūm al-tabī‘iyya), ‘The benefits and the uses of plants and herbs for man’ (Manāf‘ al-nabāt lil-insān), ‘Herbs and their effect on medicine’ (al-A‘shāb wa-ta’thīruhā fi’l-ibb), ‘A clear exposition of the nature of plants and the symptoms of the change of human temperament’ (Bayān abīat al-nabātā wa-‘alāmāt taghayyur al-mizāj al-insānī), and his commentary on Qur’ānic verses (Tafsīr āyāt Qur’āniyya). He was particularly interested in Firdawsi’s Shāh Nāmeh, a portion of which he translated into Albanian. He left a son and a daughter, the latter a noted poet of strong ūfī sentiments. To this may be added his original contribution to the creation of an alphabet in Arabic script to express Albanian. Thabit Ferizaj was far from being the first Albanian to attempt this task. We have already seen in Chapter 2 the direct contact of Albanian men of letters with Arabic, especially in such towns as Berat, Shkodër and Elbasan. Nezim Frakulla (c. 1680-1700) is credited with the invention of such an alphabet and later examples were Mulla Hysen Dobraçi (c. 1785), Daut Boriçi (1825-96) — his Albanian primer printed in Arabic script was published in Istanbul in 1861 — and Hoxha asan Tahsin (1812-81).


Necip P. Alpan, discussing the question of the Albanian alphabet in relation to Turco-Ottoman influence on Albania, writes:


When they became Muslims, the Albanians used the Arabo-Ottoman alphabet. However, this alphabet was insufficient, since it did not have letters that corresponded to the sounds and consonants of the Albanian language. For example, the Arabic alphabet had no character for the vowels.


In the eighteenth century Albanian writers, both Catholic and Orthodox, began to prepare purely national alphabets. In 1844-5 an intellectual of Korça, Naum Panajot Bredhi of Vithkuqi, published L’Evëtori Shqip Fort i Shkurtër (the most handy and concise Albanian alphabet). According to the great Austrian Albanologist Johannes Georg von Hahn, this alphabet was quite original. But the Phanariot church of Istanbul, by sending its author into obscurity, prevented its use in the teaching of Albanian.


Then Sh. Sami Frashëri, Hoxha H. Tahsin Filati, Kostardin N. Kristoforidhi Elbasanasi, Vasso Pasha Shkodrani, Jovan Vreto Postenani, Koto Hoxhi Gjirokastriti and other Albanian intellectuals residing in Istanbul in 1879





formed another Latin-based alphabet consisting of 25 Latin letters, 6 Cyrillic letters and 5 Greek letters. It was revised in 1908 by the Congress of Monastir, and the alphabet decided there is that and the alphabet used today. [48]



This question was not simply one of academic experiment, but had strong religious implications and led to heated dispute involving orthodox clerics who were in favour of keeping the Arabic script dominant and actively promoting it, as opposed to those like the Frashëri brothers and a growing following especially among Baktāshīs who favoured the Latin script. Those in favour of Arabic were to be the losers, but only some time after the Congress of the Society for the Printing of Albanian, held at Monastir (Bitolj) in November 1908, mentioned before, where the partly Arabic alphabet of Hoxha Tahsin was rejected as too complicated. When a further Congress was convened in Elbasan in the following year, there was still opposition form the ‘ulamā’. According to Odile Daniel, ‘The Sublime Porte, under pressure from Albanian Muslims, made its response a month after the decisions were taken by the Monastir Congress. The Ministry of Education forced the Albanians from the Vilayet of Kosovo to use the Albanian alphabet in Arabic characters.’ [49] The effort to promote a Latin and Greek alphabet continued to attract much opposition and caused rifts in Albania. The Arabic alphabet implicitly paid homage to the Qur’ān, whereas Greek characters implied an adherence to Greece and everything Greek. The Albanians were caught in a dilemma between religious and nationalist loyalties. Harder still was the ultimate choice facing the Muslim Albanians whether to look to Europe or remain a frontier region of the Islamic East. Kosovo was not involved directly in the matter. The use of Arabic script survived longer there than in Albania proper. Thabit Ferizaj invented his own alphabet in Damascus, and if the research carried out by Muammad Mūfākū and his conclusions are accepted, it reflected the archaisms of that region and was strongly influenced by the prevailing Arabic of Syria; it has been described as the most compact way of presenting Albanian in an Arabic script, with a mere twenty- three letters as opposed to forty-four in the alphabet of Rexhep Voka from Tetova in Macedonia, published as an Elifbaja shqip in Istanbul in 1910.



48. See Necip Alpan, ‘Influence turco-ottomane dans la littérature albanaise’, Makedonski Folklor, Skopje, 1979, pp. 161-8. For a more accessible source see Odile Daniel, ‘The Historical Role of the Muslim Community in Albania’, op. cit., pp. 13-16, together with references given in her notes.

49. Odile Daniel, ibid., p. 14.





On the other hand, Thabit Ferizaj’s alphabet was unpublished and written in manuscript form only and appealed to a community that had survived, after a fashion, in a solely Arabic or Arabo-Turkish environment.


The Syrian writer and dramatist Ma‘rūf al-Arnā’ū (1892-1948) is probably the best known, at least by name, of all the Syro-Albanians. [50] Arab nationalism figures prominently in his work, and furthermore is preached across sectarian and religious divides. There is a heroic feeling about his style and in his socio-historical novels about the early days of Islam and the events that preceded and followed its revelation. Social history and a knowledge of the Byzantine background to the history of the Middle East are apparent. His tripartite ‘The Lord of the Quraysh’ (Sayyid Quraysh), of some 1,000 pages, is perhaps the best known of these works. It caused a literary stir when it was published in 1928, since the birth of the Prophet of Islam is discussed against a more comprehensive background than the Muslim Arab world had hitherto been prepared to envisage. The origins of Islam were rooted in social history. The Arab nation existed before Islam. The Syrian Arabs were civilised, in a close relationship with Byzantium and with a far wider world than the Arabian peninsula. The Arabs (the Banū Ghassān figuring prominently among them), regardless of whether they were Christian or Muslim, supported each other and cooperated on the basis of their ‘Arab identity’. A single identity determined their communal relationships. One is struck by similarities between this approach by a Syro-Albanian and that of Naim Frashëri somewhat earlier in Qerbelaja and his other works, where an Albanian identity took precedence over religious allegiances.


Ma‘rūf al-Arnā’ū had been inspired by two heroic prototypes since his boyhood in Beirut. The first of these was ‘The Father of Knights’, ‘Antar b. Shaddād, to the extent reported by Professor Yūsuf Ibrāhīm Yazbak: [51]


On the day of the publication of his novel Sayyid Quraysh, causing as it did an uproar in literary circles until the echo of it reached the more distant world of Islam, I heard tell from my friend Shaykh usayn al-Habbal some of his



50. A short bibliography, together with a list of works may be read in Yūsuf Sa‘d Dāghir, Maādir al-Dirāsāt al-Adabiyya, Part 2, Section 1: al-Rāilūn, (the deceased), 1800-1955, Beirut: ‘Marouf Amad Arnaout’ (1892-1948), pp. 107-10.

51. Ma‘rūf al-Arnā’ū, Sayyid Quraysh, Parts 1 and 2, 3rd edn, Beirut: Dār al Qalam, 1391/1971, pp. 7-13.





memories about his distinguished pupil Ma‘rūf al-Arnā’ū. Among them was the story that when Ma‘rūf was very young he passionately loved ‘Antar and his heroism. One day he made a lance of wood, dyed his face black from a cooking-pot as to resemble the blackness of the ‘Absī hero, and then went forth reciting his verses. He continued in his violent emotion until a warlike enthusiasm got total power over him. He forgot the dye on his face and walked ahead of his companions to his home while continuing his recitation. When his mother saw him, she ran to him and led him into the kitchen. She washed his face so that his father, who was of a dry Albanian temperament, would not see it. What is recalled of that Albanian temperament is that Ma‘rūf and his brothers never knew their father ever give them a kiss. So perhaps a ‘reaction’ spurred Ma‘rūf after he himself had become a father, that made him always kiss his infant children. How often he used to bend over Marwān, Ghassān and Māriya.



‘Antar is the ‘homme armé’ of the Arabs, par excellence. However, there was another fighter that imposed his two-horned image, also, upon the youthful mind of Ma‘rūf al-Arnā’ū. Gjergj Kastriote (Skanderbeg), with his bearded figure portrayed riding his steed, bore a resemblance, aside from the colour of his skin and his flowing beard, to ‘Antar, the supreme Arabian hero, ‘Antara. His portrait was hung in many an Albanian home. Ma‘rūf was born into a family tradition of story-telling about that other ‘homme armé’, Albania’s national hero, and the hero of Naim Frashëri’s greatest composition.


According to Yūsuf Ibrāhīm Yazbak,


In the first half of the nineteenth century, there came to Beirut a young man of beautiful appearance and noble stock. His name was asan Āghā al-Mawliyy Yūsuf. He was an emigrant from the Albanian town of Vlorë (Aulon) and with him were his mother, his brother and their woman servant, to work in the service of the government. On his arrival, he was placed in charge of ensuring the security and order of the city — Beirut at that time being a small spot within the walls that surrounded it — and he traced out the plan of moving about in the night from quarter to alley and from district to market, ever wakeful, on his own, in order to chase ‘the company of law-breakers, criminals, touts and pimps’. He had no knowledge of Arabic, all he spoke being Turkish and Albanian; however, his silver-handled whip was the most eloquent interpreter for his justice and his boldness. In a short time, the name of asan Āghā al-Arnā’ū — the latter name being added as indicative of his country — was on every tongue. People of all kinds were delighted by his manly qualities since Beirut was in very direct need of security and discipline.


Our friend, in his true situation, was none other than one who had been placed at a far distance from his country by order from ‘His majesty the Sulān,





son of the Sulān, Sulān ‘Abd al-Majīd Khān’, for fear lest he should show Albanian nationalist tendencies. So, they applied to him the rule of his employment as a deportee. This rule is followed by the pious, though pleasureloving Ottoman leaders with those whom they considered undesirables and were deemed to be of importance within their realm banishing them to confined localities and appointing them as officials, confined strictly within remote Ottoman territory so that they would feel safe from their influence upon their communities and their milieu.


Our Lord, the Sulān, the Sublime Porte, ordered the appointment of asan Agha al-Mawliyy Yusuf as an official in the city of Beirut, that youth who aroused fear with his beautiful appearance and his valour had come to the ears of those of influence, it was said of him that he narrated tales and anecdotes, that had been told by his father and uncles and by very old men among his own people, about the life of their greatest forebear Skanderbeg (Gjergj Kastriote) who lived in the fifteenth century, tracing the heroes of his noble family in the declared cause of liberating Albanian soil from Austrian, Balkan and Turkish occupation, striving to unite its torn lands and resurrect it whole and free. From the splendour of nationalism in those narratives, veritable legends came into being which became national traditions among the dispersed Albanian nation. It thus became a legacy handed down among the Albanians to love their national hero, Skanderbeg, and make him into the symbol of their pride and dignity, and their deepest wishes and aspirations. In the nineteenth century they proclaimed his name as a sacred war-cry in their struggle for liberation and gave him the nickname ‘the national hero of Albania’.


asan Āghā al-Mawliyy Yūsuf knew that thousands of his race, who had fought against the Ottoman occupation for many years in a bitter and stubborn fight in their mountains and plains under their leader Skanderbeg, had emigrated after his death to Southern Italy, especially to Sicily. Their sons and grandsons had then lived in their new abode, preserving their language and traditions. In a word, the grandson asan Āghā had contact with those exiled relations, ‘feeling their pulse’ to ascertain their Albanian hardiness. It is said that he did not stop his dedication to the principals of his grandfather Skanderbeg, when he sang about the legends of his nationalism and his heroism. It was his wish that the people should be guided positively by their goals.


Because of all this, it was natural that his majesty, our lord, the Commander of the Faithful should favour our young man with an august glance of his eye and appoint him [banish him] as a superintendent in the government of Beirut, the small town sleeping with its dreams in the shelter of Mount Lebanon, severed from the country of the Albanians by mountains, plains and sea. But asan Āghā did not see a land of banishment in Beirut. Rather, he found it to be a fine new homeland where he lived with an awesome reputation. Young and old, in fear, sought his succour. Tales were told of his dignified





mien and his courage, and that it used to suffice for a thjef or a murderer only to be told, when he denied his crime, ‘Verily, asan Āghā says to you that you should confess the whole truth’ for that suspect to disclose the offence he had committed!


It was not long before the mutaarrif, Khalīl Pasha, selected him as a military companion and gave him permanent control of security. His name began to fill the city and the mountain.


His mother chose a pious, meek and good-natured neighbour for him to marry. She was Maryam, the widow of Shaykh Muṣṭafā al-Rifī‘ ī, and daughter of Yūsuf Sāsīn, from the Beirut Maronite family of Sharfān. asan Āghā followed his mother’s wish and with his good wife enjoyed the most pleasant manner of living the family had known at that fortunate time. They were blessed with two boys. One of them was Amad al-Arnā’ū, the father of Ma‘rūf, the author of Sayyid Quraysh. [52]



Such was the history of one talented Albanian family that was to leave its mark in the history and literature of Syria and Lebanon. There had been countless others earlier who not only found a new home there (as many Albanians had done centuries before elsewhere, in Calabria or in Istanbul), but who had made a positive contribution to the cultural life of the Arab East. Culture flows in more than one direction, and Albanians such as these were channels of communication. The life of the Muslim communities in the Balkans owed a substantial debt to their kith and kin who were destined to live beyond the Bosphorus divide.



52. ibid., p. 10, in an extended footnote.


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