I was just wondering if you could please tell me how the 13th century ‘saint’ Hajji Bektash is regarded by mainstream Sunni ulama? And also, is the Bektashi order that he founded considered an authentic tariqa of Tasawwuf?
Wa `alaykum as-Salam wa rahmatullah.
The legitimacy of Hajji Bektash al-Wali – may Allah sanctify his secret – is intimately bound to the legitimacy of the Ottomans. Without doubt he had a distinguished and manifest rank among the legion of saints to direct the Ottoman state. The supports of the sultan’s power were embodied in the so-called Agas of the Stirrup; included in their number was the Janissary Aga, who would stand in the Divan when the name of Hajji Bektash was mentioned. Indeed, the Janissaries were recognized as the “Sons of Hajji Bektash,” with a shaykh of the Bektashi Order even serving as commander of the 99th division. While its historical origins remain hidden in obscurity, this patronage of Hajji Bektash properly extends beyond the Janissaries to all the recruits of the Devshirme, that is, to all European youths from the borderlands of the Empire who through this system became Ottoman.
For the greater part of its history, Ottoman authorities recognized the Bektashi Order as authentic. Still, it should be observed that the branch of the order sanctioned by the Ottomans was opposed by a rival branch, and that even the officially recognized branch of the order held doctrines of varying degrees of orthodoxy. For example, veneration of the Imam `Ali – may Allah ennoble his face – was a focus of their way; yet rather than being a proof of Shi`ite sectarianism, it may instead be offered that it is right for `Ali to be accorded a central role by those like the Janissaries with a knightly vocation, since “There is no knight if not `Ali.” More generally, if certain of its doctrines seem outside orthodox Islam, this may in fact relate to the role of the order in helping to incorporate elements from the “borderlands of the Empire” – and this was notably the case with the symbols of the Qalandars – and so to transmute them in the service of orthodoxy.
In 1826, political upheavals brought a violent end to the Janissaries whose reliability had waned, and the concurrent outlawing of the Bektashi Order to which they belonged. It is of interest to note that properties belonging to the Bektashis were thereafter turned over to the Naqshbandi inheritors of the Khwajagan. Since Hajji Bektash was considered a representative of Khwaja Ahmed Yesevi, may Allah sanctify their secrets, this transference was no doubt in recognition of this affiliation. Nevertheless, the Empire would not long stand without the presence of the Bektashi Janissaries.
Throughout the many centuries of the Ottoman dynasty, the Bektashi Order seems to have shared with the Mevlevis a role in the ritual investiture of the ruler at Eyyub Sultan. Girded with the Sword of Osman, the Ottoman inheritor would afterwards salute the “Sons of Hajji Bektash,” saying to them, “May we meet at the Red Apple!” Of course, this formula affirms a relationship not between individuals but rather between the functions they embody; and since this formula was repeated long after the conquest of Constantinople, “Red Apple” here clearly refers to an eschatological realization not yet attained. We are confronted with a clear indication, then, that just as the Ottoman function has survived the turmoils of the 20th century – as was mentioned in an earlier post – so too does the legacy of Hajji Bektash – may Allah sanctify his secret – not only belong to the past.