Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Situation Thus Far

On August 15th 2002, and group of extremists armed with Kalashnikovs and pistols busted into the expansive Harabati Baba Tekke in Tetovo, Macedonia and seized control of a large part of it, professing to be "recovering" it in order to perform the five daily prayers there. These ruffians remain there to this day, impressing their religious fanaticism on this picturesque and idyllic Bektashi compound and harassing its many visitors. With the unspoken consent of the Sunni religious hierarchy of Macedonia these men now utilize a structure call the Kubeli Meydan as an ad-hoc mosque, deafeningly blaring the adhan (Muslim call to prayer) from the loud-speakers they have attached to that structure's chimney, two of which opportunely face towards the area the Bektashis still control! They have disfigured the historical integrity of the building by tearing out part of the wall facing southeast and installing a concrete mihrab (the niche indicating the direction of Mecca). "Security" has taken up residence in the old "Mihman Evi" (guest house) and from there they regularly accost visitors telling them that this is the property of the "Islamic Community" and to keep away from the Bektashi "heretics".

The Harabati Baba Tekke was built in the late 18th century around the tomb of the great 16th century Bektashi saint, Sersem Ali Baba. Copies of vakf (Islamic religious trust) documents exist attesting to the fact that the compound was indeed meant to be a Bektashi tekke from the beginning, not a mosque. In fact one of these documents affirms that the compound is to be used as a Bektashi monastery ad infinitum and in the event that this ceases to be the case ownership of all of the properties of the tekke are to revert back to the family of the donor, Rexhep Pasha. The Harabati Baba Tekke was used as a Bektashi lodge until 1945 when the communists confiscated it and removed its last shaykh, Baba Qazim Bakalli. In the 1960s it was turned into a tourist attraction and three of the seven buildings that make up the tekke were utilized as a hotel, a restaurant and a disco. The Kubeli Meydan was put to use as a small art museum. The drunken depravity of many of the "hotel's" guests led to repeated incidents of desecration (tombstones smashed and urinated on, fornication carried out in the türbe etc.) and in 1992 a fire started in the main türbe structure by inebriated partygoers caused significant damage to the graves of the many saints buried within. In 1994 the Bektashi community, led by Baba Tayyar Gashi and Baba Tahir Emini, had enough of this befouling of their sacred site and it staged a sit-in, an act which eventually gained them partial control of the complex. A positive resolution to the issue of ownership of the property was well on its way until August of 2002 when religious fanatics claimed the tekke as a mosque.

It must be emphatically stated that the Harabati Baba Tekke was never used as a mosque. In addition to the testimony offered by the original vakf documents, the fact that the Kubeli Meydan (where the extremists now hold prayers) was devoid of a mihrab should be a rather significant indication that the five canonical daily prayers were never offered here. Bektashis have no need for mihrabs in their meydans, seeing that their ceremonial prayer does not require one. Another discernible sign that the structure was never a mosque is that the Kubeli Meydan does not have a minaret from where the call to prayer is made (adhan). Nevertheless to alleviate this oversight the extremists intruders have hoisted loudspeakers up the building's chimney.

Why would the Sunnis need to appropriate this tekke to use as a mosque? There are over twenty-five mosques on the city of Tetovo, twelve of which are in the locality of the tekke. Why is it that these extremists couldn't see fit to pray in these places? Could there be other reasons for this belligerent invasion? Could it be that the main intention of these fanatics boils down to the control of property?

The Harabati Baba Tekke has the potential for tremendous wealth due to the fact that its vakf property holdings are quite vast. If the tekke, inshallah, is restored in its totality to the Bektashi community, the funds that could be generated through these properties will be significant and they will provide ample income for the maintenance of the community's needs.

To date the Macedonian government has taken little interest in resolving this case. In fact the Bektashi community has not been recognized by the government as a separate religious community vis-à-vis the Sunnis despite regular appeals since 1993. The lack of response from the Macedonian government is rather suspicious given that other Macedonian Sufi orders (Halvetis, Rifais, Sadis, Kadiris and Naqshbandis) have an organization call the Islamic Dervish Religious Community which is recognized by the state as an entity separate from the Sunni community.
The legal action taken by the Bektashis to remove these fanatics has, to date, come to nothing; and in early March, 2008, reports have filtered out of Macedonia that the extremists have taken control of larger portions of the complex, that they are rebuffing any visits, and have begun discharging their machine guns on the tekke grounds.

Please contact your democratic representatives, and let us bring pressure to bear on the Macedonian government to act towards a just and peaceful resolution to this conflict.

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