Albanians seek healing, good luck at annual Mount Tomor pilgrimage

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 23, 2018 11:47

Albanians seek healing, good luck at annual Mount Tomor pilgrimage

TIRANA, Aug. 22 – Dozens of thousands of Bektashi believers and pilgrims of all religions have taken to Mount Tomor, southwest Albania, in an annual August pilgrimage commemorating Abbas ibn Ali, a saint who died at the 7th century battle of Karbala in a pilgrimage believed to bring healing and luck.

Pilgrims set up tents, slaughter animals and pray to Abbas Ali, to whose mausoleum on top of Mount Tomor the faithful go on pilgrimage every August 20 to 25.

One of the four traditional religions in Albania that is respected with a national holiday, the Bektashi, an ultra-liberal mystical Muslim sect with roots in Sufism and Shia Islam, make up between 2 to 3 percent of Albania’s population, mainly concentrated in southern Albania.

The Novruz Day, celebrated on March 22, has been a public holiday in Albania since 1996. The holiday is celebrated with a special pie and the traditional Bektashi dessert called Ashure, also known as Noah’s Pudding, consisting of grains, dried fruit and nuts.

The annual gathering brings together pilgrims who slaughter sheep and lambs, perform rituals such as painting foreheads in blood in honor of cleric Abbas Ali, have barbecues and light candles and pray at the saint’s tomb.

“This ritual is about everybody who believes, we pray to have our desires fulfilled,” pilgrims say.

The landmark Kulmak tekke, a shrine where pilgrims come to seek healing, has been led by some of the most renowned Bektashi leaders.

Zalo Qato of the Bektashi community, says the tekke was set up in honor of Abbas Ali by Dervish Iliazi, a very respected Albanian cleric who was the first to serve in this tekke.

Abbas Ali lies buried in a tyrbe (mausoleum) on the southern peak of Mount Tomor and is venerated there by pilgrims. His tyrbe, constructed in 1620, later became a Bektashi pilgrimage site, being a few hundreds meters above the Bektashi tekke there, which was built in 1916.

According to one legend, Abbas Ali is said to have come from Arabia on a white horse to save the country from the barbarians and is supposed to have spent five days on Mount Tomor before departing to live on Mount Olympus.

Naim Frasheri, Albania’s late 19th century national Renaissance poet who dedicated much of his work to the awakening of Albanians to seek independence, also mentions Abbas Ali in one of his poems.

“Abbas Ali took over Tomor/ he came to live with us / Albania was no longer afflicted/ for God came to love it” says Frasheri’s poem as quoted in a translation by late Canadian-German Albanologist Robert Elsie.


President’s appeal

In his visit to Mount Tomor this week, President Meta described the pilgrimage and massive attendance as a message to the challenges facing the country, especially young men and women leaving the country in search of a better future abroad.

“We need to love each other more and offer more hope, confidence and patience to young men and women so that they can build their future in these wonderful territories where there are great development opportunities. And for this, we always have to look back to those values that keep a family, a nation and a society together, strong, healthy and hopeful especially for the younger generation,” said President Meta, a Bektashi believer.

Around 250,000 people visit the mountain each year during the six-day pilgrimage.


Mount Tomor, Shna Ndou pilgrimages 

The pilgrimage to the 2,400 meter Mount Tomor peak, a symbol of Bektashism and Albanian 19th and 20th century Renaissance, takes place in Skrapar region, also famous for its Osumi River Canyon and rafting and canoeing.

Mount Tomor is sacred both to the Christians who used to climb it on August 15, Assumption Day, in honor of the Virgin Mary and to the Bektashi, who honor Abbas Ali during the annual August pilgrimage.

The mountain is considered the home of the gods in central Albanian popular belief, similar to Greece’s Mount Olympus.

The mountain is personified as a god itself and known as Baba Tomor (Father Tomor) and swearing by Father Tomor among local residents is considered stronger than any sworn on the Bible or the Koran.

The Mount Tomor pilgrimage is not the sole religious holiday that brings together people of all religions in Albania, known for its religious harmony.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims of all religions visit the Shna Ndoi (St. Anthony) church in the northern Laç each year concluding a pilgrimage of 13 Tuesdays which stars in March. People of all faiths take the road to the popular church located on a hill some 50 kilometres from Tirana in a religious festival believed to bring healing and luck. Pilgrims believe that the rock at Shna Ndo is holy and touching it brings healing. St. Anthony was a pilgrim who is believed to have made some miracles during his stop to Albania on his way from Jerusalem to Vatican.


Bektashism in Albania


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, where a month-long pilgrimage is also held each year from August 14 to September 14.

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 leading to the country’s independence, 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.

Last year, Father Edmond Brahimaj, the head of the Bektashi community in Albania and around the world, was 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.”

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

Surveys show residents of Albania to be among Europe’s least religious people in terms of practicing any of the country’s four traditional 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 Bektashi (a form of Shia Sufism) 2 percent.


Tirana Times
By Tirana Times August 23, 2018 11:47