Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ottoman Janissaries: Shia-Sufi Warrior Monks


"With rising anti-Muslim sentiment across the country, an untold story is raising greater awareness about the Muslim faith and the teachings of the Quran. That awareness comes from an unlikely source: a small Jewish congregation in Creve Coeur.

Temple Emanuel is premiering a groundbreaking exhibit of photos that reveals Albanian Muslims (Shia Muslim Bektashi Sufis - Descendants of Ottoman Janissaries) who saved 2,000 Jews during World War II.
It's a story you've likely never heard. It is a story told through the faces of Albanian Muslims who risked their own lives to live by a code of faith and honor called Besa."


Recently, I had a friend ask about the Bektashi Sufi Order...which was widespread in the Ottoman Empire (because the majority of Ottoman Janissaries were Shia-Sufis).  The Janissaries were the heavy armored infantry or Foot Knights of the Ottoman Empire.  They did have cavalry brigades too, but the Sipahis (Turkish Nobles) and Ghulams (mostly from Persian stock) were the bulk of the Ottoman Heavy Cavalry.  Something noteworthy is that the Janissaries cousins in Iran (Persia) under the Safavid Dynasty (Persian-Turkic Cousins of the Ottomans) were similar to the Sipahis and Ghulams in that they were like the Janissary, elite soliders, however they were mostly horsemen.  The Safavids and Ottomans were literally cousins that were of Turkic origins but spoke Persian in their courts, just like the Mughals in India.  The Safavid counterpart of the Ottoman Janissaries were called the "Qizilbash".  

Their tekkes or "lodges" were all over Anatolia as well as the Balkans.  Among it's most prominent Ottoman followers were Ali Pasha and Hussein Gradascevic.  The order had close ties with the Janissary Corps, which was the bulk of the Ottoman Army (predominantly Sunni government).  Later, when the Ottoman Sipahis (armored Ottoman Knights mostly from the Turkish Sunni nobility) promoted the abolition of the Janissaries, the Bektashi order was banned throughout the Ottoman Empire.  Sultan Mahmud II was instrumental in this disbanding of the Janissaries in 1826. The Bektashi lodges were closed and their dervishes were exiled to places like Albania and Iran.  The Bektashis slowly regained freedom with the coming of the Tanzimat Era. After the founding of the anti-Ottoman republic by Kemal Ataturk...all Sufi orders along with Islamic traditions and culture was banned.  Hence, the Bektashi leadership moved to Albania (one of the major sources of the devshirma levy that were pulled from mostly Christian balkans that produced the Janissary - Later Muslims seeing the benefits of Janissary life also encouraged their children to join the 'devsirma' levy)  and established their headquarters in the city of Tirana.  

Bektashi Nasheed...

Regardless of the negative attitudes on Bektashi culture, most Bektashis in Turkey have been supportive of secularism to this day, since these reforms have relatively relaxed the religious intolerance that had historically been shown against them by the official Sunni establishment.  In the Balkans the Bektashis had a massive impact on the Islamization of many areas such as Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, and Macedonia.  Albania and Greece were the most fond of Bektashi teachings, because it was in line with their own beliefs.   Bektashism continued to grow rapidly in Greeace and Albania...however in Albania the communists took power in 1945.  Many of the Babas and dervishes were executed and Bektashi influence began to fall.  In the year 1967 all the lodges were shut down when the communists banned all religious practice.  In 1990 the ban was somewhat lifted, Bektashi Sufis re-established themselves.  However, the spiritual teachings and the more orthodox Islamic teachings in the order have been forgotten to a large extent.  About 20% of Albanians identify themselves as having some connection to the Bektashis. Following the post-communist rise of Wahabi Islam (inspiration for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda) in the country, the Bektashi community became the target of threats.  

The Janissary Shia-Sufi Bektashi praying before battle:

The Jannisary at court: 

The Janissaries in the Battle of Rhodes: 

The Janissaries in The Battle of Belgrade: 

Coincidentally, the United States Marine Corps. has borrowed many traditions from the Ottomans, such as the "Mameluke Sword" that they all carry, the Marine Corps. Band, the red color of the Ottoman flag as well as uniforms and other traditions that the Ottoman Empire introduced to the world.  

Update: The President of Turkey (Erdogan) gives historic speech at Ashura celebration in Turkey!

The video below has been removed due to Wahabi complaints:

1 comment:

Just a Cookie but said...

The Janissaries were never ever Shia or Sufis they were Sunni.

They only have the Sufi-Bektashi influences as their patron but not directly involve with religious affairs but politically.