Ataman Title

Title Turkey


Our HotelTurkeyCappadociaDaily ToursViewsGuestbookRequest FormHome

Hacı Bektaş and the Bektaşi Order

hacibektas-veli_s.jpg (9612 bytes)Between the 12th and 14th centuries the Kırşehir area made a remarkable contribution to Turkish culture, producing such outstanding figures as Hacı Bektaş, founder of the Bektaşi order; the famous poet and philosopher Aşık Paşa (1272-1333), author of the Garipnâme; Gülşehri, who produced a verse translation of Feridüddin Attar's Mantiku't-Tayr; Ahi Evren, the leader of merchants and craftsmen; Caca Bey, who conquered Smyrna; and Sheikh Edebali, father in law of Osman Gazi.

Hacı Bektaş and the Bektaşi doctrine have attracted particular interest both in Turkey and in other countries, since they played an important part in Turkish political and cultural history.

Unfortunately we know very little about the life of Hacı Bektaş, who is believed to have lived from 1208 to 1270. The story of his life is recounted in the book known as the Velayetnâme or Menakıbnâme of Hacı Bektaş of Khorasan. This work cannot, however, be entirely relied on, since it records various unusual events, miracles and other happenings which cannot be reconciled with the historical facts. This is mainly because it was written many years after Hacı Bektaş's death on the basis of oral traditions rather than reliable documents; and during the intervening years the sect had undergone considerable changes and lost its original identity under pressure of external circumstances.

The book tells us that Hacı Bektaş was a hünkar (gentleman), the son of İbrahim-i Sanî, a descendant of Ali, the fourth Caliph, who lived in Nishapur (Khorasan), and of Hatem Hatun. It also says that he was educated by a mystic named Lokman-i Perende and afterwards by the great Turkish Sheikh Ahmet Yesevî, and that he came to Anatolia on Yesevî's orders. It is, however, impossible to take these statements at their face value, since Ahmet Yesevî died in 1167.

The historical sources describe Hacı Bektaş as a Turkish sheikh from Khorasan, well versed in religion and mysticism. It is said that after much journeying and pilgrimage he returned to Anatolia with his brother Menteş and lived in Kayseri, Kırşehir and Sivas. His brother was killed in a battle and thereafter he was associated for some time with a Babaî sheikh, Baba İlyas, who also came from Khorasan. Hacı Bektaş then settled in Suluca Karahöyük, a hamlet of only seven houses 40 kilometers south-east of Kırşehir (now Hacıbektaş in Nevşehir province).

It was a common practice, based on social and religious motives, to establish settlements along the roads with the necessary accommodation and facilities to provide for the safety, overnight lodging and refreshment of travelers; and it seems likely that Suluca Karahöyük, situated at a reasonable distance from Kırşehir on a road which had been very busy in previous centuries, was built for this purpose.

Here Hacı Bektaş surrounded himself with a company of dervishes, many of whom he sent as missionaries to other countries. Although the Menakıbnâme tells us that he was associated with Akçakoca, San Saltik, Ahmed Karaca, Tapdik Emre, Yunus Emre, Ahi Evren and Seyyid Mahmud Hayranî, as well as the young Osman Gazi, Alaeddin Keykubad and others, there is no confirmation of all this from other sources.

Hacı Bektaş died at Suluca Karahöyük in 1270, a date attested in various documents. His tomb is surrounded by a number of houses and other buildings erected at different dates in attractive architectural styles. The place is known as Pirevi, the House of the Patron Saint, and here memorial services are held every year from 16th to 18th August, attracting large crowds of visitors.

Hacı Bektaş wrote a number of works on tasavvuf (mysticism), the best known and most important of which is the Makalât. Although the vagueness and incompleteness of other historical records bas produced conflicting theories about his personality, the Makalât gives us a valuable account of his thinking, showing that he was a humble, sincere and mature student of mysticism.

The Makalât contains eight chapters:

  1. The four categories of Moslem, their characteristics and manner of prayer
  2. The grades of Şeriat
  3. The grades of Tarikat
  4. The grades of Marifet
  5. The grades of Hakikat
  6. The nature and circumstances of the heart
  7. The devil and the bad habits which aid him in his work
  8. The creation of man and his value

According to Hacı Bektaş there are four stages in the approach to God:

  1. Şeriat:the divine commands (the laws of religion)
  2. Tarikat: the principles of the mystical orders
  3. Marifet: enlightenment in religious and spiritual matters
  4. Hakikat: enlightenment in all the mysteries of religion, life and the universe

On the basis of this classification Moslems are divided into four categories: the abids or followers of şeriat; the zahids or followers of the mystical orders (the dervishes); the arifs or theistical philosophers; and the milhibs, the true lovers of God.

hacibektas.jpg (17959 bytes)

Plan of convent of Hacıbektaş:
  1. Main entrance
  2. Outer courtyard.
  3. Fountain
  4. Doorway of Trees
  5. Laundry
  6. Court-room
  7. Pool
  8. Main courtyard
  9. Horsemen's Gate
  10. Lion Fountain
  11. Mosque
  12. Kitchens
  1. Tombs
  2. Square of the Forty
  3. Court of Goodness
  4. Torahs
  5. Tombs
  6. Infirmary
  7. Güvens Abdal
  8. Mausoleum
  9. Mausoleum
  10. Rooms of the Sages
  11. Mausoleum of Sultan Balum

Hacı Bektaş defines the four categories as follows:

  • Şeriat (rules): the ability to judge between clean and dirty, between right and wrong. A man must learn judgment, practicing what God has prescribed in the Koran and avoiding what He has told us should be avoided. But knowledge alone cannot elevate a man.
  • Tarikat (order): the way of the dervishes who pray night and day, calling on God's name. They are striving towards the future life, but must avoid a dull and listless manner; if a man's worship is not sufficiently active and he gives way to pride he cannot hope to achieve elevation.
  • Marifet (enlightenment): Enlightened mystics are like water, which is clean and makes other things clean. They are beloved by God, for even if they do not look for worldly and heavenly interests they faithfully respect the rules.
  • Hakikat (realities): Men who know realities are the highest of the four categories. They practice modesty, resignation and submission; they have effaced themselves in the presence of God; they have attained the level of constant contemplation and prayer (münacat), they are holy men who love God and are loved by Him.

Thus these four categories are like four successive gateways (Dört Kapı) through which man must pass to reach the highest level. Each is approached by ten steps or obligations, making a total of forty in all (Kırk Makan). No man can reach God without ascending each step. For example if a man prays without truly believing, or acts dishonestly in his charity, or changes his mind on returning from his pilgrimage, or does not have faith in Muhammed or one of his disciples, all is in vain.

In man the devilish and the angelic are always in conflict. The king of one side is wisdom, his chief deputy is faith, and his commanders are knowledge, generosity, decency, modesty, patience, the avoidance of sin, the fear of God, morality and other virtues. Each of these virtues bas hundreds of thousands of soldiers under its command. The king of the other side is the devil, his deputy is man's self, and his commanders include pride, envy, meanness, avarice, anger, idle talk, buffoonery and loud laughter. Each of these also bas hundreds of thousands of soldiers under its command.

It is not possible to win battles without knowing oneself and one's own good and bad qualities. Hacı Bektaş recommends men, therefore, to look into themselves. He emphasizes that a man who does not know himself cannot know God either, since God is closer to man than is his own physical existence. He attributes great importance to this matter, and in one chapter of his book he analyses the human body, noting the similarities between the body and the external world and the universal and concluding that man is a "world in little".

The faults which cause Hacı Bektaş most concern are ostentation, hypocrisy and inconsistency. "Poor wretch!" he cries. "Faith bas lost its meaning for you. You say, 'I have faith in God,' but you do not follow His orders. You say, 'l have faith in the angels,' but you commit sins when you are alone, out of the sight of others, not realizing that there are three hundred and sixty angels within your own body. You say, 'l have faith in the Book, the Koran,' but in your heart and in your deeds are all kinds of evil. What book tells you to behave in this manner? Even the elect of God, going hungry one day and sated the next, spending day and night in prayer, cannot be sure of their future life: even they live in fear of the supreme judgment. You may be sure that your faults will rise up to confront you."

Elsewhere he says: "It is of no avail to be clean outside if there is evil within your soul. In the same way if your pot is dirty inside and you close it up tightly, you may wash the outside thousands of times a day for ten years, but the inside will still be dirty. It is a pity, therefore, that you are full of arrogance, envy, meanness, anger, calumny, loud laughter and folly. How is it possible to cleanse yourself with water when all the dirt is within you? If you commit only one of these sins all your prayers are vain. And if all eight are round within a man, what then shall be his punishment?"

Hacı Bektaş accordingly attached great importance to prayers which expressed the true desire and love for God; and it was for this reason that he regarded the mühibs ("lovers") as the highest category of believers. It is significant that Nishapur, his birthplace, was a centre of the Melamet sect of dervishes, who were known for their advocacy of love and harmony and the stress they laid on sincerity and the avoidance of hypocrisy and external show as a means of attaining God. His own thoughts on the love of God are given poetic expression in the following passage:

When a man calls on God with the words 'O my Lord!' God answers, welcoming him. From this invocation and response comes a light, and from the beams of the light hundreds of thousands of flowers grow in the seventh level of Heaven; the sixth level is irradiated with the light of the flowers; the fifth is inundated with the smell of ambergris; the fourth with abir, the third with sweet basil; the second with musk; the first with roses. In the seventh heaven the angels pick these flowers and decorate the eight heavens. When a man loved by God comes to the end of his life the angels offer him these flowers to smell, and take away his life while he is enjoying the perfume.

Such a man does not suffer the fears and pains of death. Faced with the beauty of the prophet Joseph, the ladies of Egypt cut their hands inadvertently instead of the apples they were eating.

Hacı Bektaş himself had infinite love for man and great tolerance. He taught that a mature person should be modest in his life on earth, should not despise the seventy-two nations, and should not criticize others. He should treat all creatures well, both humans and animals, and should do them no harm.

Some students have suggested that he belonged to the Batinite sect; but this suggestion is incompatible with his ideas as summarized above. Eflaki's assertions that he did not follow the rules of Şeriat and that he did not even pray, although he had knowledge and insight, are likewise untenable in the light of his own clear and definite statements. Nor can it be accepted that he was attracted to the Shiite sect which believed in the Twelve Imams, tevella (the love of Ali and his family) and tebarra (the hatred of all those who do not love Ali).

The style of Hacı Bektaş's works, the frequent references to verses from the Koran and the traditions of the Prophet, and the fact that although addressed to Turks his works were written in Arabic, which was fashionable among the educated classes of the period: all these are indications of Hacı Bektaş's innate sense of conservatism.

Hacı Bektaş and his order were also associated with the Fütüvva, a society of young men distinguished by courage, generosity, unselfishness, self-sacrifice, abstinence, self-control, forbearance and other virtues. At an earlier period an order based on these qualities and associated with mysticism had developed on a considerable scale in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Egypt; and there is evidence of the existence of this order in Anatolia in the 13th and 14th centuries. The famous traveler İbn Batuta was looked after by this order during his journeys, and speaks of the fetas (young men) who wore special dress and were ruled by a sheikh known as the Ahi. The members of this order were noted for their hospitality to travelers and strangers, providing armed escorts to ensure their safety, taking vigorous action to put down banditry and maintaining links with the guilds of merchants and craftsmen.

The early Bektaşis thus had intimate connections with the Ahi order. The Melamet sect in Khorasan to which Hacı Bektaş belonged, indeed, was connected with the Fütüvva from its earliest days, and many adherents of tasavvuf followed the rules of both orders.

The Velayetnâme tells us that Hacı Bektaş and Ahi Evren, a leader of the guilds of merchants and craftsmen of Anatolia, were close friends; and Ahi Evren himself is recorded as saying: "He who has me as a sheikh also has Hacı Bektaş." Most of the early Bektaşis, indeed, were also members of the Ahi and moved into Western Anatolia with the Turkish forces who carried out the Ottoman conquest. There after they continued westward to settle in the Balkans, taking Turkish culture with them.

It is also significant that the Bektaşi initiation ceremonies (kissing the saddle, putting on the belt, drinking from the same cup), together with the special dress worn and prayers said during these ceremonies, are wholly derived from those of the Ahi order.

The idea that Hacı Bektaş preached his doctrine to the Janissaries seems to have arisen from the fact that the founders of the Corps of Janissaries - Kara Rüstem, Seyyid Ali Sultan, Gazi Evrenos and a number of soldiers like Abdal Musa - had connections with the Ahi order and consequently with Hacı Bektaş. In fact Hacı Bektaş died long before the establishment of the Janissaries-indeed before the foundation of the Ottoman principality.

Nevertheless the Janissaries saw in Hacı Bektaş just the right patron for their corps. Some of the rulers of the Ottoman Empire and the commanders of their armies erected buildings or fountains in Hacı Bektaş's convent and made donations of money for the benefit of the Bektaşi order. The Janissaries were known as the “sons of Hacı Bektaş" and the 94th Orta (regiment) always had a member of the order attached to it; and during the ceremony of induction of a leader of the order he was crowned by the chief janissary.

These two closely associated organizations, the Janissaries and the Bektaşis, shared a similar fate; for when Mehmet II abolished the Janissaries he also put an end to the Bektaşi sect.

Hacı Bektaş was a contemporary of the famous Mevlâna Celaleddin-i Rumî, who was connected with the Melamet sect in Khorasan. The two men had much in common, both being remarkable for their tolerance and humanitarian spirit. Mevlâna, however, wrote in literary Persian and addressed himself to the educated classes, while Hacı Bektaş sought followers mainly among peasants and time-served soldiers. Mevlâna's influence spread through Cappadocia and made itself felt in Kırşehir, where two of his followers, Sheikh Süleyman Türkmenî and Muhammed Aksarayî, established convents of dervishes. The Emir Nureddin of Kırşehir, who built a mosque and school in 1273, was also a disciple of Hacı Bektaş. We are told by Eflaki (d. 1360) that Hacı Bektaş sent one of his khalifs, Sheikh İshak, to Konya with some of his dervishes to see Mevlâna.

A well known anecdote illustrates the different characters of the two men-one a modest and dignified teacher who disliked all external show, the other a poet who was always in an exalted state of love, ecstasy and frenzy. Hacı Bektaş asked Mevlâna:

"Why do you behave in this manner? What do you want? Why are you so restless? If you have found what you were seeking, you have achieved your goal: would it not then be better to rest and keep quiet? If you have not, is it not foolish to disturb the public order with such a noise and let everyone see you in this state?"

To this reasonable criticism, however, Mevlâna replied only with a poem:

"If you have no lover, why should you not look for one? If you have won a lover, why should you not enjoy him? Sitting quietly at your ease, you say, 'What a strange way to behave!' But indeed you are the one who ought to be surprised that you do not desire to become involved in this strange but delightful situation.”

The connections between the Bektaşi and Mevlevi orders continued after the deaths of Hacı Bektaş and Mevlâna. In the 15th century a Mevlevi sheikh, Divane Mehmet Çelebi, accompanied by members of the Bektaşi order, visited the town of Hacıbektaş; and in the Velayetnâme, written in the 15th century, there are very friendly references to Mevlâna.

In the poems of Yunus Emre (d. 1320), one of the greatest poets in Turkish literature, we find some of Hacı Bektaş's ideas expressed. Like Hacı Bektaş, Yunus Emre speaks of the forty steps and the four gateways, the value of continuous prayer and contemplation of God, the need to avoid disdaining the seventy-two nations, the continual struggle between the satanic and divine forces within men, the commanders and soldiers on both fronts, the good and bad habits of men. It is now generally agreed that some of these references were added by Yunus at a later date, and some others were introduced into El Risaletül Nushiyye. It is clear, therefore, that there was a close relationship, either direct or indirect, between Hacı Bektaş and Yunus Emre.

Another 14th century poet, Said Emre, also refers to Hacı Bektaş with respect and uses some of his ideas and expressions. Clearly the poems of these followers of Bektaşi doctrines matched the national taste, and accordingly they played au important part in the development of Turkish language and literature from an early stage.

The Bektaşi doctrines spread rapidly through the conquered countries, particularly under the influence of the Janissaries; but within a short time, lacking strong leaders, an established corpus of literature and body of doctrine, and any centralized authority, the sect admitted numerous deviations from its basic ideals. In rater years the admission of various persecuted heretical groups like the Haydariye, Edhemi, Kalenderiye and Hurufi sects into what had earlier been a pure and carefully selected order, contacts with other religions and cultures, the influence of converts and intensive Shiite propaganda from Iran in the 16th century changed the strict Bektaşi order into an ill-defined, heterogeneous and cosmopolitan association which satisfied the needs of the most diverse types of people, from the practitioner of canon law to the atheist. Recent studies have stressed this aspect and drawn attention to the great difference between the purity, fervour and practical helpfulness of the earlier dervishes and the Bektaşis of later periods who misunderstood their attitudes and deviated from their purposes and ideals.

As a religions leader and ethical teacher Hacı Bektaş must count among the greatest of those who prepared the way for the Ottoman Empire. While Mevlâna wrote for the educated classes and influenced scholars, poets and artists, Hacı Bektaş was the recognized spiritual leader of the soldiers and peasants, inspiring their imagination and arousing their emotions. His reputation spread into many countries and continents; he dedicated himself to the people, serving directly as their educator and indirectly as a promoter of Turkish language and literature, and accordingly surviving in the hearts of millions of people down the centuries.

Arts of Cappadocia
Barrie & Jenkins
London 1971
by Esad Coşan