No need to remind you of my interest and fascination with Bektashism and Bektashi heritage. Most of you already know that I have tried to visit every Tekke or Turba that I found on my way when I was living in Albania. So when I heard about the first (and the only) Albanian Bektashi center in US in Michigan, I knew I had to visit it!
The First Albanian Bektashi Tekke (teqe in Albanian) is located in Taylor, Michigan which is about 30 minutes drive from Detroit. Detroit and its suburbs has one of the most important Albanian community from the diaspora in America. The Tekke was established in the 15th of May 1954 by one of the main figures of Bektashism in America: Baba Rexheb. In 1954, the tekke was pretty different than the nowadays one. When Baba Rexheb, and other albanian members of the Bektashi community created the Tekke, it was an old farm that they restored. A part of the building became the Tekke and the rest was still used as a farm. It was a good way to feed the dervishes living in the monastery and to get funds through the sale of surplus production. Of course more than 50 years later the center has changed. This last fall I had a pleasure to visit it. The center is composed of a ritual room for prayer, a small museum containing archives, personal belongings of Baba Rexheb, a library, the turba of Baba Rexheb and a conference room. In the facilities of the tekke there are some apartments that the center rents to albanians newly arrived in the States or in need. These rents help to finance the Center.
Who is Baba Rexheb?
I could not speak about the Tekke without mentioning Baba Rexheb who is a major figure of Bektashism both in his home country and in the USA. He really sought to spread and make known the Bektashism through the Albanian diaspora but also to make it known to other audiences by proposing publications in English and having the wish to always want to keep the Tekke open to all.
Baba Rexheb was born Rexheb Beqiri in the 18th August 1901 in Gjirokaster, Albania. He was born in a very important Bektashi family, from Gjakova and Elbasan that moved to Gjirokastra region. When Rexheb was 17 years old he was introduced to Bektashi order by his uncle Selim Ruhi Baba, a spiritual leader of the Teqe e Zallit. At the age of 21 he became a dervish and by 24 he was resident of the teqe e Zallit in Gjirokaster. For 20 years he served in the teqe e Zallit and followed the guidance of his uncle. When the Second World War started Baba Rexheb fought against foreign enemies (Italians and then Germans), but also against communists trying to take over the country. Baba Rexheb was a supporter of Balli Kombëtar (National Front). In 1944 communists took power in Albania, thus he was forced to flee his own country. He spent 4 years in a refugees camp in Italy and then went in Cairo, Egypt where he served as a dervish in the Kaygusuz Tekke under the direction of Ahmed Surri Dede until 1952. By the end of 1952 he arrived in America.
As soon as he arrived in America Baba Rexheb worked to establish and maintain Bektashism faith by creating the Tekke. That’s how in 1953 with the financial help of the albanian community he bought an 18 acres farm in Taylor and build the First Albanian Bektashi tekke in America. In 1954, the Tekke was approved by the state and dervish Rexheb became Baba Rexheb after he was ordained a Baba by Ahmed Surri Dede. Baba Rexheb was joined by Baba Bajram, Dervish Arshi, and a small number of other Bektashi clerics from Egypt and the Balkans. The mission of the tekke was/is « to preserve, promote and transcend our rich Albanian culture, language, religion, customs and values onto our younger generation. To protect the Albanian-American community from the damaging effects of ignorance, bigotry, fanaticism, extremism and divisive deviations by highlighting the values which are consistent with that of contemporary America ». In this context, he decided to set up the publication of a magazine called Zeri i bektashizmës (The Voice of Bektashism) with articles in both English and Albanian. Only 4 numbers have been published but it really showed the desire to make Bektashism accessible to English-speaking young generation of albanians, also to the general american public. The major literary and spiritual work of Baba Rexheb is undoubtedly his book Misticizma Islame dhe Bektashizme translated into English by Islamic Mysticism and the Betakshi Path published in 1970 which presents in an accessible manner Sufism and its history as well as the Bektashi order through different mystical texts and poems.
Baba Rexheb died in 1996 leaving behind a significant spiritual and historical legacy for both the Albanian diaspora and the Bektashi order.
However with the death of Baba Rexhep the Tekke has not disappeared. Today, the spiritual leader of the tekke is dervish Eliton Pashaj, who welcomed me very cordially and informed me about the First Albanian Bektashi Tekke in America. The magazine The Bektashi Voice is published again but in an independent way. Both continue to perpetuate the inheritance left by Baba Rexheb while offering in a very accessible way for all who want to discover and understand the fundamental principles of Bektashism, its history around the world, and its role in Albania.