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

Harry T. Norris





In the spelling of Arabic and Islamic proper names and miscellaneous terms, I have followed the system used in the Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies (London).










Abdal (Albanian, from the Arabic badal, (pl. abdāl). The spiritual hierarchy of the ūfīs. According to Baba Rexhebi, ‘those who have the capacity to change from any physical to any spiritual state’.


Āghā (Turkish). Formerly a military title but now largely honorific, applied to a tribal chief or a man in authority.


Arnaut (origin obscure). Applied to the Albanians in Ottoman times and occasionally to Balkan Muslims other than the Bosnians. It is still used to denote Arabs of Albanian origin in the Middle East, especially in Syria.


Ashik (Albanian, from the Arabic ‘āshiq). ‘Lover’, and occasionally a minstrel, who sings of the love of Majnūn and Laylā and other Arab and Persian lovers. In ūfī circles, it denotes a novice who aspires to initiation (e.g. in the Baktāshī order).


Ashura (Arabic, 'Āshūrā’). The tenth day of the month of al-Muarram. It is celebrated in Bosnia and in Albanian regions as in all Muslim countries and, according to Dr Cornelia Sorabji, worshippers at the Kadiri (Qādirī) Hadži Sinanova tekija (tekke, see below), now destroyed, used to offer paper cups of Ašura at the end of the celebrations on that day. Among Baktāshī s, in Albania and elsewhere, the day marks the end of the eleven days of prayer for the martyrs of Karbalā (see Matem below). In Albanian, ashur and ashure indicate a pudding served with walnuts, or a sweet round cake, which is eaten by Muslims, and especially by Baktāshī s, in order to celebrate Noah’s sacrifice. The date in the calendar is May 16.


Ayini-cem (Turkish and Albanian). Baktāshī and other Alavid ceremonies (muhabbat) take place in a maydān or cem. Candles and lights form a major element in these ‘ceremonies of light’ (çerāg ayini) where verse 35 of Sūrat al-Nūr (XXIV) is of singular importance. For full details, see Abdülkadir Haas, Die Bektași, Berlin, 1987, pp. 143-6.


Baba (also atë and prind). Literally ‘father’, a grade in the Baktāshī hierarchy. The director of an order who is responsible for dervishes in a tekke (see below), whether ashik, ‘uninitiated’, or muhip (see below), ‘initiated’.


Bezistan (Turkish, Serbo-Croat). Covered (frequently domed) market-place. The design is often modelled on mosque architecture.


Bogomils. Followers of the Bulgarian priest Bogomil (loved of God), ‘the first to sow heresy in the land of Bulgaria’. The movement was active by 950 AD and was to have a following in Macedonia and Serbia, whence it spread to Bosnia (see Patarins). Its doctrines, which were decidedly dualist, partly gnostic, and with a marked advocacy of renunciation of the world and its temptations, were influenced by Paulicianism (see below). It was iconoclastic and opposed to Orthodox Christianity.


Cheikh (Arabic Shaykh). In Albanian, Sheh is the title of the ‘head of a Moslem monastery,







keeper of sepulchre’ (Stuart Mann, An Historical Albanian- English Dictionary London, 1948, p. 470). A member of a tarikat (see below) who has the right to act as a spiritual guide. He has received this from his predecessor and ultimately back to the founder of the order by a chain of transmission (silsila).


Çiftlik (Turkish and Arabic). A farm, a country estate, government land.


Dār al-arb (Arabic). The non-Muslim world. It is the duty of Muslims to struggle to convert them to the true faith.


Dār al-Islām (Arabic). ‘The Muslim World’, where the religion prevails and where the Sharī‘a (see below) is practised.


Dede (Turkish and Albanian Baktāshī). ‘Grandfather’ (also gjysh), highest grade in the Baktāshī hierarchy. Supreme spiritual guide.


Dervish (a Persian term but one found throughout the Islamic East). Generally, in the Balkans, one initiated in the rules of a ūfī order who has taken a Cheikh (see above) as his spiritual guide. Among the Baktāshī s, in particular, a dervish is not a mendicant, as sometimes in other orders, but one who lives in the spiritually stratified world of a tekke, where he has attained a status superior to a talip or ashik (see above), a candidate for initiation, or to a muhip, an initiated novice (see below). A dervish has progressed to the second degree and this entitles him to wear the tac or taj (see below). His status is below that of a baba. Most Baktāshī dervishes in Albania were celibate.


Devshirme (Turkish). ‘Boy tribute’ or ‘tribute in blood’. A levy of Christian children, widespread in the Balkans, as elsewhere, for training in order to fill the ranks of the Janissaries (see below). They could occupy posts in the service of the Court and the Ottoman administration. The levy dates back to the 14th century in the Balkans.


Fakir (Arabic faqīr). ‘Poor [in heart]’: one who has renounced worldly concerns and who has become pure before God whereby the heart of the believer is emptied of all save God’s presence (to cite Baba Rexhebi).


Ferman (Persian and Turkish). An imperial order.


Halifa (Arabic khalīfa). Caliph or successor. In ūfī terms, one who has power and authority to transmit the teachings of the tarikat (see below).


Halvet (Arabic khalwa). ‘Retreat and solitude’, defined by Baba Rexhebi, in a ūfī context, as a ‘retreat of a ūfī in an enclosed place for a set period of time where he evokes the name of God’. The Khahvatiyya was an important ūfī order in the Balkans. The halvet is not exclusive to that order.


Hoxha (Serbo-Croat hodža; the Albanian word having as its plural hoxhallar, and its feminine form hoxeshë). Usually defined as a ‘Muslim priest’, or a religious teacher.


Hurūfiyya (Arabic and Persian). ‘urūfīsm is described by Baba Rexhebi as ‘an intellectual principle or tenet reflecting culture of the mind’ (dogme kultorore). It expresses a distinct and eclectic view of man’s place in the Universe,





God’s nature and Islamic thought, as it was formulated in the works of Shihāb al-Dīn b. Bahā’ al-Dīn Falallāh al-Astarābādī (martyred in 796/1394 by order of Timur’s son, Mīrān Shāh). His doctrines assimilated beliefs derived from Gnosticism, ufīsm, Cabbalism and Ismā’īlī ideas that are a feature of the ghulāt sects in the Middle East, e.g. the Druze. Two aspects are discernible:


(a) Numerology and symbolism, divine in origin and supremely displayed in the heavenly text of the Qur’ān, itself a miracle of numerology.

(b) The imminence of the Divinity in Man which is mirrored in his physical form and in his facial features and contours as well as in the innermost depths of his soul.


urūfī ideas are discernible in Balkan Muslim literature, especially in Albania. Numerology of a non-urūfī kind, wherein the Qur’ān is shown to be a miracle of numbers, may be read in Ahmed Deedat’s Kur’ani Mrekullia Më e Përsosur (Al-Qur’ān the ultimate miracle), Shkup, Macedonia, 1986, pp. 42-6.


Imām (Arabic). The leader in prayer. The Caliph and his successors, who, in the case of the Baktāshīyya in the Balkans, are acknowledged to be the following successors of the Caliph, ‘Alī b. Abī ālib (the Prophet’s son-in-law): his sons, al-usayn and al-asan, Zayn al-‘Ābidīn, Muammad al-Bāqir, Ja‘far al-ādiq, Mūsā al-Kāim, ‘Alī al-Riā, Muammad al-Taqī, ‘Alī al- Naqī, al-asan al-‘Askarī al-Zakī, Muammad al-Mahdī.


Imara (Arabic ‘Imāra). Public kitchen in which the officials of an endowed institution and the poor receive food.


Janissaries (Turkish yeni-cheri, ‘new troops’). The devshirme system (see above) supplied men for this corps of regular infantry, in fact a semi-religious organisation dating back to the fourteenth century, which was one of the principal forces that brought about the Ottoman conquest. For a brief description, see Ernie Bradford, The Great Siege: Malta, 1565, London, 1961, pp.82-3.


Kizilbaș (Turkish ‘red heads’). A sect of the Shī’īte ghulāt, extremist ‘Alīds, whose name is derived from the hats they wore in commemoration of the blood red headgear worn by the partisans of ‘Alī at the Battle of iffīn (657 AD). Kizilbaș and Baktāshīs are sometimes confused since their practices and feasts have much in common, and honour is paid to common shrines. Today, they are almost exclusively centered in the Balkans in Bulgaria, near the Romanian border, and in Turkey.


Kutb (Arabic qutb, ‘pole’ or ‘pivot’). Applied to the chief of a saintly hierarchy, who, according to Baba Rexhebi, ‘usually remains unknown to believers and friends’, A kutbu alam is the founder of a tarika (see below), ājjī Baktāsh is the kutbu alam of the Baktāshī order.


Madrasa (Arabic ‘school’ or ‘college’). Medresa is usual in Serbo-Croat and medresë in Albanian. Such schools were to be found in major towns or cities





and were often theological seminaries used for the training of teachers and imāms.


Mekteb (Arabic, ‘elementary school’ or office). In the Balkans, as elsewhere, a mekteb is of a religious intention, primarily to inculcate and acquaint the very young with the Qur’ān and the Arabic alphabet.


Matem (Albanian; Arabic ma’tam). According to E.W. Lane’s Arabic-English Lexicon, ‘a place of assembling of women (and of men also) in a case of rejoicing and of mourning’. Now almost entirely understood in the latter sense, also as ‘a place of wailing’. Among the Baktāshī s, the matem celebrates the martyrdom of al-usayn at Karbalā, and, by extension, of all ‘Alīd believers, especially those who were slain as infants. According to Gaspar Kici’s Albanian-English Dictionary, Tivoli, Italy, 1978, ‘a ten day fast of the Bektashi’.


Mesnevija (Turkish mesnevi, Persian mathnawī). A long poem that comprises verses that rhyme in pairs which are harnessed to any suitable metre. The most famous composition of this kind is the mystical Mathnawī-yi ma‘nawī of Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, referred to as Mevlane amongst the mystics in the Balkans who greatly revere him and his poetry.


Mevludi (Arabic mawlid and mawlūd). Celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muammad, 12th Rabī‘ I, hence panegyric poems for recitation and entertainment. The most famous mawlid is Bānat Su‘ād of Ka‘b b. Zuhayr and the Hamziyya of al-Būīrī, the latter often imitated. Both Albanian and Bosnian poets have composed considerable numbers of such poems and examples survive in Arabic script.


Muhip (Arabic muibb, ‘lover’). Initiate in a Baktāshī tekke who participates in all its rituals.


Murshid (Arabic ‘guide’). Pathfinder and teacher, who must conform strictly to the rules of a ūfī order.


Müsāfirhana, (Turkish, Bosnian and Albanian). In Arabic, a musāfir is a ‘traveller’ or ‘passenger’. In Albanian, mysafír means ’guest’. An inn for travellers where they could stay free of charge for three days.


Namāz (Persian) and namazi (Albanian). Statutory prayers for portions of the day and night, for special occasions (rregulla dhe lutje) and also for private supplications. The term may extend to include ritual worship, in general.


Nevruz (Albanian). Persian New Year’s day (Nau-rūz), March 21. Among Baktāshīs the day is a joyful one, since it celebrates the birthday of ‘Alī, whose heroic deeds are sung on that day.


Patarins. Name specifically used for the Bosnian Bogomils (see above), although the Patarins originated in Bulgaria. According to Ivo Andrić, they put down deep roots in Bosnia and spread there on account of the shallowness of Christian beliefs in the country. He comments:


What is most certain and, for us, most important is the fact that Patarins knew how to adjust to Bosnian conditions; the fact that their faith thus





became the people’s faith; and the fact that in so far as there did exist a criterion by which the country’s internal organization could be judged or a palladium in Bosnia’s struggle against foreign intervention, this faith carried weight. In their unequal, bitter fight with Catholicism, the Patarins had begun to erect that wall of stone between Bosnia and the Western world which in the course of time was to be enlarged still more by Islam and raised to such mighty heights that even today, though long since crumbled and fallen to pieces, it still produces the effect of a dark, demarcating line that one dare not step over without effort and danger. (The Development of Spiritual life in Bosnia under the influence of Turkish Rule, pp. 12 and 13.)



Paulicians. A sect, markedly gnostic, the followers of Paul of Samosta who lived in the middle of the 3rd century AD and who preached the doctrine of Adoptionism. This taught that Jesus was a mere man and that Mary did not remain a Virgin after his birth. At his baptism the holy Word entered into him, the Word being engendered by God himself who was One Person. At that point Jesus became a perfect being, brought about through the help of the Word alone (see S. Runciman, The Medieval Manichee, p. 19). From Thrace the doctrines of the Paulicians penetrated west into the Balkans. (Compare these doctrines with those of the Albanian poet Gylbegaj in Chapter 5.)


Pejgamber. Title of the Prophet Muammad among the Albanians, corresponding to the ‘Messenger of God’ (Rasūl Allāh).


Pomaks (pl. Pomaci). Muslim Bulgars who principally reside in Southern Bulgaria in Rhodope near the Greek border and who are now reckoned to number some 270,000. This number is reduced from the former Muslim total in Bulgaria. The following account by Midhat Pasha, published in La Revue Scientifique de la France et de I’Etranger, Revue des Cours Scientifiques (2nd series), 7/49, 8 June 1878, p. 1152 (transl. as The Nineteenth Century [n. d.]), is an impression of the deeply-rooted nature of Islam in Bulgaria at that time. In its treatment it is also prophetic of the perennial dilemma of the Slav Muslims, including those caught up in the human tragedy in Bosnia today:


First of all, one must take into consideration that amongst the Bulgars, for whom one observes such a lively interest, there are more than a million Muslims. Neither the Tatars, nor the Circassians, are included in this number. These Muslims have not come from Asia to establish themselves in Bulgaria, as is commonly believed. They are the descendants of those Bulgars who were converted to Islam at the time of the conquest and during the years that followed. They are children of the same country and of a similar race and are descendants of the same stock. No other tongue but Bulgarian is spoken amongst them. To wish to uproot this community of one million inhabitants from their homes,





and to force them to be expelled from their country constitutes, in my eyes, the most inhuman act that one can commit.


On the strength of what right, in the name of which religion could we act thus? I do not believe that the Christian religion allows it and I know that civilization has its code and that humanity has its laws for which the nineteenth century professes great respect. Besides, we are no longer living in a time when one could say to Muslims, ‘Become Christians if you wish to remain in Europe.’


It is also pertinent to remark that the Bulgars, in respect to the level of their intellect, are very backward. That which I have remarked about in regard to the progress attained by the Christian races does not apply to them. It is the lot of the Greeks, the Armenians and others.


Amongst the Bulgars one reckons fifty out of one hundred labourers and no less than forty out of one hundred shepherds, herders, hay makers and the like. As for the Muslim Bulgars, thanks to the tuition drawn from religious teaching and due to experience resulting from a long experience of government, they have acquired a more distinct development of their intellectual faculties which makes them superior to the others. The Bulgars themselves recognize this.


To wish today that those who were in charge for four centuries should be governed by those who were obedient to them yesterday, when those latter are their inferiors in their intelligence, is plainly to seek to create in the Balkan peninsula a state of affairs so that during a further generation Europe will, as a consequence, be in trouble; for the Muslim Bulgars, before leaving their country, and before giving up their property and their estate, will engage in bloody combat. This has already begun and it will continue, but, were it to be stifled, would be born again from its ashes in order to trouble Europe and Asia.



Roma (Român or Aromân). Elements of the ancient race (originally from India) found throughout the Balkans. In Bulgaria there are over half a million. Many are Muslims who resisted, as best they could, the efforts of the Bulgarian government under Todor Zhivkov (before 1989) to change their names. In Macedonia and Kosovo, an ‘Egipcani’ Association — stressing Egyptian origin — was set up in 1990 by Muslim Romas.


Sahatkullë (Albanian). ‘Clock-tower’, often built adjacent to a mosque.


Samāhane (Albanian samah, in Arabic samā‘). Ritual music and dance performed by certain of the ūfī orders, for example, the Mevlevi (Mawlawiyya). This took place in a galleried hall or high-ceilinged room, called a samahane, examples of which survive in Sarajevo and in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and elsewhere.


Sandžaq (Turkish sanjaq). Originally a ‘flag’ or ‘standard’, but subsequently applied to an administrative district and to a subdivision of a vilayet in the Ottoman empire. Administered (e.g. in Bosnia) by a Sandžaq beg.





Sharī‘a (Arabic, Serbo-Croat šerijat). ‘Canon law of Islam’, though in the Balkans it has a general sense of ‘religious law of the Muslims’ (Albanian, (sheriat), Baba Rexhebi defines it as ‘Islamic legislation codified by the early fakih and ulema and specified in the Quran’. In the view of Alija Izetbegović (The Islamic Declaration, 1970), ‘In the Koran, there are relatively few genuine “laws” but much more “faith” and demands for its practical application.’ Occasionally, in the Balkans, the term is synonymous with Islam itself.


Tac or Taj (Arabic tāj, ‘crown’). In the Baktāshīyya ūfī order, denotes (to quote Baba Rexhebi) ‘head-cover worn by dervishes and Baba; a white cap consisting of twelve or four foldings; the twelve foldings symbolise the Twelve Imāms [see above]; the number four symbolises the four gates: shariah [see above]), marifah [ma‘rifa, ‘spiritual knowledge of the mystics]), hakikah [aqīqa, ‘God as the Ultimate Reality’] and tarikah [see below])’.


Tarikat (Arabic arīqa, ‘way’, ‘path’ or ‘method’). ūfī order or ūfī ‘way’ (Albanian rruge), or ‘Brotherhood of Dervishes’ (Serbo-Croat, derviški red). Some orders take their name from their founders, e.g. qādiriyya (Kadirija) from ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī, while others, e.g. Malāmatiyya or Maāamiyya, indicate some special doctrine or intention of the order or, as in the case of the Khalwatiyya (halvetija), central importance is given to the regular practice of a retreat.


Tekke (Arabic takiyya, pl. takāyā). Usually called a tekije in the Balkans, though other terms of similar designation, derived from Persian and Turkish, such as hanikah and zavija (see below), are also used. A lodge of a ūfī order which is inhabited by a Cheikh or Baba and by dervishes, who, in the case of the Baktāshīyya, were predominantly celibate (myxheret).


Timar (Turkish). Originally a landed estate which yielded less than 20,000 pieces of silver annually. Administered in the Balkans by the timar-defterdar.


Türbe (Turkish, from Arabic turba). Mausoleum, or elaborately canopied grave, often of a notable Ottoman official or a ūfī Shaykh; regarded as the tomb of a saint. They are visited on occasions, prayers are said, offerings are made and cures are effected. A locality called by this name is situated to the west of Travnik in Bosnia. Frequently a türbe is located to one side of a mosque founded by the occupant.


Vlachs. With the Greeks, one of the most ancient Balkan peoples, claiming descent from the original Thracians. Today they live in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia (Bitola, Resen, Kruševo) and Serbia, and they extend inland in East-Central Europe as far as Slovakia. They speak a form of Romanian, and, unlike the Roma, are almost entirely Eastern Orthodox in religion; a few are Uniates. Once many were nomadic pastoralists, but they are now either farmers or have migrated to towns. Small colonies of Vlachs were once found in the Middle East, but these have now been Arabised and absorbed. Recent research by Dr Marian Wenzel suggests that some of the





famous tomb monuments (stečak, pl. stečci) in Bosnia and Hercegovina, usually described as ‘Bogomil’, may have been carved by Vlachs.


Vakuf (Arabic waqf). ‘Pious bequest’, described by N.J. Coulson (A History of Islamic Law, Edinburgh, 1964) as ‘a settlement of a property under which ownership of the property is “immobilised” and the usufruct thereof is devoted to a purpose which is deemed charitable by the law’. This may apply to land, property (in the form of buildings) or sums of money. In the Balkans, vakuf may mean the property of a Muslim community and include socially beneficial property of various kinds. Whole towns and villages in Bosnia and Hercegovina, such as Gorni Vakuf, Donji Vakuf and Skender Vakuf, have perpetuated the name of such an endowment. Poems have been written in honour of those who made the bequest. A vakufnama is an endowment (zakladnica), and the founder or donor of the bequest (zakladnik) is termed a vakif.


Wahdat-i-wujud (Arabic wadat al-wujūd). ‘Oneness of Being’, an extremely important Islamic belief in the Balkans as elsewhere. Often dismissed as ‘pantheism’, it reflects concepts that cannot be so easily defined. According to Taufic Ibrahim and Arthur Sagadeev, in their Classical Islamic Philosophy (transl. H. Campbell Creighton, Moscow, 1990, p. 309)


The philosophy of the Wujudists is above all one of absolute monism. The keystone of their structures is the doctrine of unity, of the absolute unity (wahda mutlaqa) of everything that exists. Behind any plurality they saw the unity encompassing it; they saw in anything a manifestation of the One that linked it with other things, forming them into an organic whole. All being was one, Ibn ‘Arabi wrote, and there was nothing in the world except the supreme One (wahdat al-wahdat) or the One that was manifested in the many, the ‘One-many’ (al-wahid al-kathir).


The monistic intention of ūfīsm is clearly conveyed by the verses of Jalal ad-Din ar-Rūmī, which Hegel cited as a model of the contemplation of the One characteristic of the pantheisms of the Muslim East ‘in His finest purity and sublimity':


I saw but One through all heaven's starry spaces gleaming:

I saw but One in all sea billows wildly streaming.

I looked into the heart, a waste of worlds, a sea —

I saw a thousand dreams, yet One amid all dreaming,

And earth, air, water, fire when thy decree is given.

There is no living heart but beats unfailingly

In the one song of praise to thee, from earth and heaven.



Zavija (Arabic zāwiya). ‘Corner’ and ‘establishment of a religious order’. Nathalie Clayer, L’Albanie pays des derviches, p. 488, explains: ‘In the Balkans, “zawiya” is employed to indicate a place utilised as a tekke, but which is not a true tekke, such as a room in a private dwelling or a mosque





(whereas in the Arab world this term is equivalent to tekke in the Turkish world).’


Zikr (Arabic, dhikr). ‘Invocation’ and ‘evocation’; in ūfī terms, Dhikr Allāh, ‘invocation of God’. This is common to all ūfī orders, namely a repeated calling on the name of God during séances and gatherings held by the different ūfī orders (both men and women separately). In Albanian, dhikër or ziqër (pertnendje e Zotit, lutje e përbashkët e dervishëve), namely ‘mention of God, prayerful petition jointly attended and carried out by dervishes’. According to Baba Rexhebi, ‘The repeating of the names of God: the invocation may be silent, suqut, or vociferous.’


Zot. One of the most commonly used names of God among Albanians (appearing, for example, in Naim’s verse), although All-ahut is also found (also Përend). Hence, ‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful’ (Arabic, Bi-smillah al-Rahman al-Rahīm) is rendered in Albanian either by 'Me emërin e Zotit Bamirës, Mëshirues' or ‘Në emër të All-ahut tegjithmeshirshmit Mëshirëplotit'. 


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