Spiritual Discourse: Learning with an Islamic Master

Spiritual Discourse: Learning with an Islamic Master

Spiritual Discourse: Learning with an Islamic Master

Spiritual Discourse: Learning with an Islamic Master


Spiritual Discourse is a study of the process by which Baba Rexheb, a ninety-year-old Albanian leader of the Bektashi order, and Frances Trix, an American student who has studied with him for over twenty years, come to share a common universe of experience and attunement. Overall what is being passed on is not facts but a relationship, for the relationship of "seeker" and "master" mirrors that of the human and God.


In which the topic of master-disciple relations emerges, and an approach to examining this relationship is proposed

In the thirteenth century, with the Mongols pushing at their backs, Haji Bektash along with other Islamicized Turkmen peoples came westward from Khorasan across Iran to Anatolia. In central Anatolia, Haji Bektash drew followers around him, and a Sufi or Islamic mystic order, the Bektashis, was founded in his name. Two centuries later, in the fifteenth century, Sari Saltik and other babas or Bektashi leaders came westward with Ottoman armies from Anatolia to the Balkans, where they got as far as Albania. There, more tekkes, or Bektashi "monasteries," were established. Five centuries passed. Then, most recently, in the twentieth century, Baba Rexheb had to flee the Communist forces in his native Albania, who saw established religious leaders like himself as enemies of the state. He too came westward, eventually settling in Michigan. In 1954, along with a group of Albanian immigrants, Baba established the First Albanian Bektashi Tekke in America.

I mention this broad sweep of westward movement as a preliminary, a sort of stretching, before settling into a study that is severely limited in geographical space. The physical parameters of this study are in fact two rooms, one above the other, in an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Detroit. The upper room was amply described in the Prologue. It is there that lessons with Baba have taken place, and where I continue to study with him. The other room, beneath, is the basement kitchen, where daily meals are cooked and served and where people drink coffee less formally, talk interminably, and Baba presides most comfortably at the head of the long table.

Behind Baba's place in the basement kitchen is the squat, black twelve-burner stove whose heat warms the classroom above. Toward the end of the morning lessons, the smells of the midday meal waft upward as well. In the same way, the talk around the meal table, the prayers at the . . .

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