Albania is often characterised in foreign media as a majority Muslim country, despite being rather secular in practise and also having significant numbers of Orthodox and Catholic believers. One aspect of Albanian religious life is truly unique, the Bektashi Sufi order, which is part of the Islamic mystic tradition, and is considered blasphemous in many eastern Muslim countries.
Bektashis are Muslims and also believe in one God, but their liberal understanding of this is close to the Western concept of pantheism. Their beliefs are based on the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed and the Koran. Bektashi's also venerate the wider prophetic family, especially Mohammed's cousin Ali, and his two grandsons Hassan and Hussein. In this they are close to the Shia branch of Islam. Instead of using mosques, Bektashis meet and pray at temples called tekkes. Bektashism is also noted for its tolerance of other religious faiths.
The Bektashi order was founded by Haji Bektash Veli in the 13th century. Haji Bektash Veli came from Nishapur in Persia (present day Iran) but spent most of his life in Anatolia (now Turkey) as a missionary. During the Ottoman era Bektashism spread to the Balkans, and became particularly strong in the southof what is now Albania. In 1925, Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk banned all Sufi orders, closed the tekkes, and the Bektashis had to relocate their headquarters – Albania was an obvious choice. Soon after, the third Bektashi Congress held in the southern city of Korca in 1929 decided to relocate the headquarters to Tirana.