ANALYSIS: THE DEMOLITION OF SUFI SHRINES IN LIBYA AND ISLAMIC POLITICAL ACTIVISM


Libya, time and again, has been in storm of international news for a variety of reasons.

Last time, it distracted the attention of global reverie when a group of ultra-conservative Islamists wrecked the century old Sufi shrines at various places in Libya.

Al-Shaab mosque near the centre of Tripoli and Abdel Salam al-Asmar mosque in the city of Zlitan were the most notable ones.

The incidents happened at a time when world expectations about democratic aspirations in Libya were very high after the successful completion of elections since the overthrow of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi last year.

The New York Times, dated August 25, 2012, reported the events thus:
‘Attackers bulldozed a mosque containing Sufi Muslim graves in the center of Tripoli in broad daylight on Saturday, in what appeared to be the boldest sectarian attack in Libya…It was the second razing of a Sufi site in two days. Ultraconservative Islamists wrecked Sufi shrines with bombs and another bulldozer and set fire to a mosque library in the city of Zlitan early on Friday’.

The BBC News, UK, on 26 August 2012, had this to update: ‘Libya Sufi shrines attacked ‘by Islamist hardliners’’.

‘UNESCO Urges End to Attacks on Libyan Sufi Mosques, Graves’ was carried out by The Times of India on Aug 30, 2012.

Then followed the media debate about future of secularism, democracy and tolerance in Libya and so on.

The destruction of shrines in what appeared to be ‘worshipping graves’ did not unfold overnight. It has its root in history.

In the immediate aftermath of the 1969 revolution which toppled King Idris, the new Revolutionary Command Council which ruled Libya thereafter instituted a number of Islamic measures.

The sale and consumption of alcohol was forbidden, nightclubs were closed down, and many such Islamic actions were taken.

In October 1969, an Egyptian jurist was invited to investigate how the Sharia might replace extant Libyan laws.

Furthermore, committees were set up to assess the compatibility of existing laws with Sharia.

However, the idiosyncratic nature of Qaddafi who subordinated Islam to his personal view of unorthodox religious reforms departing from the norm, such as his unilateral amendment of the Hijra calendar, led to hostile relation between his government and many Islamists.

The contemporary political activism of Islam in Libya or for that matter in the entire Middle East has its struggle between what is known as the separation of state and religion in Western societies and what is termed as no contradiction between the realms of religious and temporal affairs in Muslim societies.

‘Worshipping graves’ is what has led to the destruction of century old shrines is in sharp contrast to the oneness of God known as Tawheed in Islam.

Visiting graves and asking the dead for forgiveness amount to the grievous sin termed as Shirk in Islam.

Practice as such jolts the foundation of Islamic beliefs in oneness of God and equals the kind of spiritual illness to idolatry.

While leaders across political spectrum have expressed concern over the destruction, by and large public in general seem to have approved in private the elimination of such existing structures that undermine the sanctity of monotheistic Islamic foundation.

One of the teaching staff members and also Dean of the college, Abdussalam Wogbaig, reacts over the development: ‘By allowing such existing structures to continue, we grant illegitimate principles to guide us’.

While ultra conservatives outright endorsed the Islamists move in what is termed as ‘spiritual cleanliness’, the moderate ones were very cautious:

Hussain Abdulrazzaq Kreiba, one of social thinkers and a regular columnist to The Tripoli Post, was considerate in his articulation: ‘I do not believe in worshipping graves and I also do not sanction why others do it’.
He added after a pause:

‘But destruction of physical structures does not end up anywhere, rather they lead to social tensions. If at all reforms are needed, they should be through teachings of our prophet and not through violence’.

Whatever the debate concerning the demolitions of shrines, the broader public affirmation concerning the events should be seen through the larger spectrum of contemporary Islamic political activism in the Middle East as well as in North Africa.

An explanation of the rise of religious political activism lies in the failure of secular political systems that banned women’s hijab, disapproved growing traditional beard for men and denied sermons on Friday prayer, seen by many as acts of godlessness, apart from being unable to contain the violence directed particularly at Islamic groups.

A number of factors have contributed to the emergence of popular Islam as the primary opposition to the government in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Libya.

The ability of the Islamic movement to mobilize the masses and effect revolution clearly demonstrates how Islam is going to be the most basic obligation of the future government in the region.

The demolition of century old ‘worshipping graves’ is one of such reforms regarded by many as the harbinger of a broader Islamic ideological renaissance…a reawakening of the political values manifested in Islamic political thought and a search for institutions that represent these values.

Published: The Tripoli Post, http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=9200



Categories: Democracy in Libya

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