These assertions are, of course, disputed and not only by patriotic Albanians. But what is truly indisputable is that Albania is the world centre of Bektashism. Many of you may well be saying to yourselves at this point 'What?' And it is true that Bektashism, to say the least, is not well known.
So I hope, in a number of forthcoming posts to say a little more about Bektashim, and perhaps, in the process, say a little more about Albania. For today, here is a little background information.
Bektashism is a Sufi order. Sufism is part of the Islamic tradition, and is often described as a 'mystical' tradition. The order was founded by Haji Bektash Veli in the 13th C. Haji Bektash Veli came from Nishapur in Iran but spent most of his life in Anatolia (modern turkey) as a missionary.
During the Ottoman era Bektashism spread into the Balkans, and became particularly strong in what is now Albania, particularly the south. Thus in 1925 when Kemal Ataturk banned all Sufi orders, the Bektashi took the obvious step and moved their world headquarters to Tirana.
Like all religious communities in Albania the Bektashis were repressed and then banned during the communist era. Following the collapse of communism the Bektashi community reemerged and has been recovering slowly.
Bektashism has much in common with Shia Islam, especially the veneration of Imam Ali and the Twelve Imams, but has also been influenced by other branches of Islam and according to some - especially their detractors - by non-Islamic forms of religion.
One of the centres of Bektashism is at Kruja. Visitors to the castle can also visit two burial sites containing the tombs of leaders of the community. If someone from the community is on hand it is also possible to visit the meeting house - or teqe - where you will be given a warm welcome and boiled sweets. The pictures below are from Kruja. The gentleman who showed us round is Neki Emin.