by Muhib Dawud Jones
The most common questions asked of the Bektashis often have to do with the seemingly neglectful attitude toward the rituals of normative Islam. It is understandable, as Islam has become a religion mostly understood by its practitioners as a codified set of divinely inspired principles and rituals that can be traced back to the example of the Prophet Muhammad, and salvation is attained through living life in obedience to this understanding. As we have discussed above, the Bektashis arose from an understanding of spirituality we have referred to as the path of renunciation. It was understood by Bektashis that religion and its mysteries possess levels of understanding. Bektashis often refer to these levels as the “Four Gates,” which are:
The shari`ah is the first of these gates, and naturally, the first that we pass through on the spiritual journey. It is in the shari`ah we find the sacred law of Islam, codified principles of faith and traditions, rites and rituals. They are derived from an interpretation of the Qur’an and the recorded traditions and sayings of the Prophet. The explanation of these sources by various proven methods and analytical reasoning were done in the hope of providing Muslims with an accurate tradition to cultivate mindfulness of the prophetic tradition in their daily lives and an awareness of the divine in all action and thought. This necessary dogma provides a foundation for religion, and naturally for its mystical tradition. Bektashis do not divert from this, but rather build upon it. The differences occur in how the Bektashi understand attachment, in this particular matter, our attachment to the shari`ah.
The question “do Bektashis pray?” is a question fallacy, as the notion that Bektashis would instruct anyone to pray or not pray is uncharacteristic of the dervishes of the carefree path. What the Bektashis encourage is the removal of attachment from the belief in the obligation of prayer, as the attitude of obligation enforces the sense of duality, and is counterproductive to the mystical teachings of Islam that instruct us on selflessness or the unity of being. In other words, if people would pray let them pray in genuine sincerity (not out of fear or obedience), for that is a prayer of one who has attained awakening through selflessness. Bektashis encourage not the obligation to ritual, but the responsibility to sacred rite. The distinction is delicate and important. Obligation, when it pertains to matters of the spirit, is born of the illusion of separation, that terrible feeling that we are absolutely detached from all else, namely the divine. We perhaps say to ourselves, “I must pray, for if I don’t it’s a sin, and in the hereafter I shall be punished,” or perhaps we say, “I must pray, for I must be mindful for God at all times, and perhaps I will be granted His love,” and so on the variations of our fears and cautions go as we mull over the feeling of obligation. The responsibility to sacred rite that is encouraged by the Bektashi is the understanding that because we are naturally and innately one with the divine, we are responsible to act by that reality. The dervish prays not because they must, but simply because that is what the dervish does. We are naturally aware of the presence of the divine because we are one with that presence. When our existence is understood in this manner, we seek worship not out of obligation, but rather through an understanding that worship is what we are, as what we are is the praise of the divine itself. The rites and rituals of worship are but the ways humans have created through divine inspiration to cultivate mindfulness of that reality.