Postcard showing an Albanian boy in folk costume. Dukagjin highlands, 1929. Photograph by Mark (Shan) Pici.
From The Ocean of the Soul: Men, the World and God in the Stories of Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār (Das Meer der Seele:
Mensch, Welt und Gott in den Geschichten des Farīduddīn ʿAṭṭār, 1955) by Hellmut Ritter, translated by John O'Kane with editorial assistance of Bernd Radtke, Handbook of Oriental Studies (Leiden, Netherlands; Boston: Brill, 2003).
Communal admiration of youthful male beauty (al-naẓar ilā’l-murd) persisted in many Islamic countries up until very recent times. In the newspaper Haber in 1936 there appeared Memoirs on Albania by Nesip Karacay under the title “How We Lost Rumeli” (Rumeliyi nasil kaybettik). On 21/6/1936, in number 11 of these serialized articles, a report occurs about an Albanian practice which apparently remained completely incomprehensible to the author. The report says:
Still another oddity: among the Albanians there is “love of beauty” (cemal aşkı). Fifty to sixty people are united through love for a beautiful youth. Quite frequently they ask the father’s permission in the morning, take the boy with them and have him sit on a table. Everyone sits in front of him and gazes at him admiringly for hours. These youths are called “dilber”. They’re dressed up like a girl, i.e. with fingerrings, a pleated silk shirt... silk sash and a small hat tilted to one side (küçak bir külah yan yatırılmış. Cf. the Turk above p. 462), etc. Their hair is allowed to grow long and it’s called “zülf”, in Albanian “flok”. What’s odd is that this behavior carries with it no moral taint, neither for the boy nor for his family. The lovers do him no harm. The fact that they ask the father for permission shows, moreover, that this tradition has an innocent character. If the “dilber” is famous, he makes use of his influence. He sends beans and maize to the rich and owners of herds, and demands one lira for a cob of maize and one mecīdīye for a bean. No one dares to refuse. He distributes part of this money among his poorer lovers, and part he keeps for himself.—Afterwards these young men allegedly often become leaders of gangs and exercise a kind of self-appointed authority in the Albanian cities.
Since Albania from far back in time has been a home for Ṣūfī orders, it is not far-fetched to assume that the described practice is also of Ṣūfī origin.
The Sufi abbot Baba Mehmet Çeno among the Bektashi dervishes at the monastery of Fushë-Krujë, Albania (circa late 1920s).