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A small percentage of the Muslims of Albania belong to the Bektashi community, which used to be based in Constantinople (Istanbul), until Kemal Ataturk drove them away because they denied removing their cassocks. After their persecution in 1929 they were transferred to Tirana, where they built their tekke, a place for spiritual retreat and character reformation, something like a monastery.
They don't fight for religion
During our visit to the Bektashi's tekke in Tirana we met Mikel, a young dervish who was working near the memorable religious leader of the community Haji Dent Resat Bardot.Mikel who has worked for years at Perama's shipyard in Piraeus and at a big coffee grinder in Athens, speaks Greek fluently.
"When Kemal Ataturk asked us to take off our cassocks we told him that we would rather give our heads than do it. We don't get married and we live in tekkes. We give our oath to our religion with the Bouchimp ritual, similar to the Christian baptism. We equally love all people who believe in the one and only God. We came from God and to God we will go. We also love the other prophets and the Bible. We never fight for religion, because for Muhammad, jihad doesn't mean fighting against others for your faith, but fighting against yourself in order to be purified from your sins".
Mikel, the young dervish, in a quite impressive way is inherently calm and kind in his speech and behaviour. Not for one moment did he speak in a negative way for the Christians of Albania. The Hoxha regime tried to uproot the religious sentiments from the Albanian people's soul, which unexpectedly resulted in the decrease of religious feuds. Muslims and Christians now live together in harmony, in contrast to what is happening to the rest of the Balkans. From this point of view, Albania is considered to be one of the world's most progressive countries.
In any case, Albania is not at all like Greece, in regards to religion, because in Greece, Hellenism is identically connected to Orthodoxy. This can be explained considering that the enslaved Greeks, by the Ottomans, kept their national consciousness, mainly via their religious homogeneity. In Albania, though, national self-awareness and historical memory are not connected with religious beliefs. The religion of a citizen there is not enough for the safety of national identification.
Hope for the Balkans
A few hours before we met Mikel the dervish at the Bektashi's tekke in Tirana, we had met another Albanian, a peer of father Asti, at the Orthodox church of the Annunciation, on the other side of the city. He also described to us the peaceful coexistence of both Christians and Muslims in Albania, as the most natural thing in the world.
The two young Albanian priests know each other very well and work together without prejudice. We heard them talking on the phone like two good pals and we felt that we were in front of a new, unprecedented and hopeful reality for the Balkans.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS