Haji Bektash Veli (“The Pilgrim Saint Bektash”) was an Islamic mystic, philosopher and dervish (Islamic religious order dedicated to the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God). He is considered a renowned figure in the history and culture of both the Ottoman Empire and the modern nation-state of Turkey as well as one of the principal teachers of the Alevi sect of Islam.
Haji Bektash Veli was born in Khorasan, Turkistan (modern Iran) in 1248. He spent his childhood in Khorasan where he was trained in mathematics, physics, literature and philosophy under Ahmet Yesevi. Becoming a well-known mystic, he left Khorasan to make the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), earning the title “Haji” (pilgrim). He later traveled to Syria, Persia, Iraq, and Arabia before settling in Anatolia in the town of Sulucakarahöyük (modern Hacibektaş, Nevşehir.)
At that time, Anatolia was under Mongol occupation and in a period of severe social and economic crisis. In this difficult climate, Haji Bektash Veli developed his philosophy of love for God and love for man and began to train students. Those who attended Haji Bektash Veli’s lessons and followed his path were called Bektashi. Bektashism developed into an Alevi Sufi order that taught adherents to master their hand (actions), waist (desires) and tongue (speech).
Haji Bektash Veli wrote several works on mysticism with frequent references to the Koran; the best known and most of important of these was Malakat. Much of Haji Bektash Veli‘s biography is based on stories and legends collected centuries after his death into a book entitled Velayetname which is not considered to be a reliable source of historical facts.
It is believed that Haji Bektash Veli died in 1270. His followers, who referred to him as “Veli” (saint), continued to spread throughout Anatolia and into the Balkans, where they helped convert many to Islam. The Bektashi Sufi order named after him became the official order of the Janissary Corps (the elite standing army of the Ottoman Empire) after their establishment. When Sultan Mahmut II disbanded the janissaries in 1826, the Bektashi order was likewise abolished.
Here are some well-known aphorisms of Haji Bektash Veli:
Any road that doesn’t follow science, ends in darkness.
The greatest book to read is man himself.
Harm no one, even if you’ve been hurt.
Whatever you are searching for, search in yourself, it’s neither in Jerusalem, Mecca nor in the Hajj.
Don’t forget that even your enemy is human.
I have three good friends. When I leave this world, one stays at home, one of them stays on the path, and one of them comes with me. The one at home is my possessions. The one on the paths is my friends, and the one who comes with me is my kindness.
The teachings of Haji Bektash Veli have inspired many famous Turkish poets over the centuries, such as Yunus Emre (14th Century), Said Emre (14th Century) and Pir Sultan Abdal (16th Century.) The Haji Bektash Veli’s mausoleum in the town of Hacibektaş (46km north of Nevşehir) was opened as a museum in 1964. Haji Bektash Veli is one of the most important figures in the Alevi sect of Islam and tens of thousands of Alevis gather in Hacibektaş every August to commemorate his life and enduring influence.