Albanian Bektashi leader handed ‘Global Peace Icon’ award

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 7, 2017 11:08

Albanian Bektashi leader handed ‘Global Peace Icon’ award

TIRANA, Nov. 6 – Father Edmond Brahimaj, the head of the Bektashi community in Albania and around the world, has been awarded the Global Peace Icon award by a U.S. based NGO for his “insight and unique ability to inundate the soul with immense love and humbleness.”

The leader of the Tirana-based world headquarters of Bektashism, an ultra-liberal mystical Muslim sect with roots in Sufism and Shia Islam, was handed the Global Official of Dignity award by U.S. ‘We care for Humanity’ non-profit organization in late October at a ceremony held at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Speaking to VoA in the local Albanian service upon receiving the award, the 58-year-old father locally known as Baba (Father) Mondi said the “UN award is a great honor for him and the Albanian people.”

“Our mission is to serve the people and the award was given for three main reasons, first of all for blessing of children, secondly for assisting refugees and thirdly for helping in times of misfortune in three decades but especially from 2014 to 2016,” said the Bektashi leader.

Speaking of Albania’s special religious harmony, Father Brahimaj said the co-existence is excellent as also quoted by Pope Francis during his historic visit Albania visit in 2014 and the fact that inter-religious marriages are quite common in Albania.

“In fact Albania has small problems compared to other peoples, but this is not only a result of the religious community, but also government cooperation with the religious community to achieve this and show the people the right and true path and the way to goodness and peace,” Father Brahimaj added.

Albania’s religious harmony is praised internationally as an example to be followed.

Back in January 2015, four Albanian religious leaders, representing all of the country’s traditional faiths, traveled to Paris to march in a solidarity rally paying tribute to the terrorist killings at the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Their hand-to-hand march as evidence of the religious harmony in Albania was applauded by French citizens for several minutes.

The Bektashi leader says recent radicalism and extremism trends also observed in Albania are a result influences by some foreign associations operating in Albania and religious leaders attending non-mainstream schools abroad.

“The Bektashi World Center has taught the younger generation on its own with our beautiful and wonderful Albanian tradition and not taken them to other schools in Turkey, Iran or any other place,” he added.

Father Brahimaj says although religion was brutally oppressed for about a quarter of a century under communism until the early 1990s, Albanians showed what they could do by welcoming hundreds of thousands of Kosovo-Albanians fleeing their country after being kicked out from the Serbian regime of the then-president Slobodan Milosevic.

One of the four mainstream religious communities in Albania, the Bektashis make up 2 to 3 percent of Albania’s population, mainly concentrated in southern Albania. Their Novruz holiday commemorating the Persian New Year and the birthday of Prophet Ali has been a public holiday in Albania since 1996. The holiday is celebrated with a traditional dessert called Ashure, also known as Noah’s Pudding, consisting of grains, dried fruit and nuts.

The world Bektashi headquarters have had their seat in Tirana since 1925 following a decision by the then-Turkish government to ban Bektashi tekkes.

The new Odeon of the Bektashi world headquarters in Tirana, inaugurated in September 2015, serves as a central place of worship, a multipurpose center, and the seat of the global Bektashi community.

Bektashi believers and pilgrims of all religions take to Mount Tomorr every August, commemorating Abbas ibn Ali, who died at the battle of Karbala in the 7th century, in a pilgrimage believed to bring healing and luck.

The Bektashi trace their entry into Albania to the famous 14th century legendary figure Sari Salltek associated with the town of Kruja, some 50 km off modern Tirana.

The Bektashi leaders were expelled from Turkey in the 1800s and early 1900s as heretics and found shelter in Albania as refugees because the country already had a strong Bektashi community and was tolerant on matters of religion. Some of Albania’s key figures from the national Renaissance era, like the Frasheri Brothers, were Bektashi.

Likewise the other religious communities in Albania, the Bektashi community was persecuted by the communist authorities until dissolving in 1967 when Albania banned religion, becoming the world’s first official atheist country.

During the religion ban under communism, the Albanian Bektashi tradition was kept alive by a tekke in Gjakova, Kosovo and another one Detroit, the U.S.

The Tirana tekke and its world headquarters reopened in January 1991 as the communist regime collapsed.

Surveys show residents of Albania to be among Europe’s least religious people in terms of practicing any of the country’s four faiths, but according to the latest 2011 census, Sunni Muslims constitute nearly 57 percent of the population, Roman Catholics 10 percent, Orthodox Christians nearly 7 percent, and the Bektashi, a form of Shia Sufism, 2 percent.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times November 7, 2017 11:08