Historicising Alevism: The Evolution of Abdal and Bektashi Doctrine (Zeynep Oktay)
The history of Alevi piety is embodied in the large body of works known under the title of 'Alevi-Bektashi literature', a neglected corpus that is in fact vital for our understanding of the development of vernacular religious traditions in Anatolia and the Balkans. This article presents an overview of the historical evolution of Alevi doctrine between the 14th and 17th centuries, via the study of the literary works written by authors belonging to two major constituents of Alevism: the dervish groups of the Bektashis and the Abdāls of Rūm. The study contains a doctrinal analysis of the works of six abdāls (all of them also Bektashis except for Yemīnī) ranging from the 14th to the 17th centuries, at which time the abdāls had been fully integrated into the Bektashi order. These works are: The corpus of Ḳayġusuz Abdāl (fl. late 14th – early 15th century) consisting of eleven works; the Dīvān of Ṣādıḳ Abdāl (the end of the 14thc. – 15th c.); the Fażīlet-nāme of Yemīnī (d. after 925/1519); the Deh Murġ by Şemsī (d. after 919/1513), the Dīvān of Muḥyiddῑn Abdāl (16th c.); and the Risāle and the Dīvān of Vīrānī (late 16th – early 17th c.). The research demonstrates that, contrary to the generally accepted view, 'extremist' and Twelver Shi'i beliefs existed in the Anatolian Turkmen milieu long before Safavid propaganda. In fact, the doctrine of Muḥammad-ʿAlī was already established in these circles in the late 14th century. On the other hand, antinomian tendencies, expressed by open criticism of exoteric notions of Islam, were a major marker of Abdāl and Bektashi piety since their early days and remained so in the 17th century.