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What remains of Islam in Libya?


By: A. Monem Mahjoub*

Different images, intersecting phenomena, multiple conditions.

A. Monem Mahjoub
A. Monem Mahjoub

When we analyze the religious situation in Libya, as shown in the formats of public religiosity, we will discover that there are many religious sects and groups, which control people’s behavior, each of them understands and practices Sharia in different manners. Accurately we are dealing with many “Islam’s” in Libya.

Initially, Libya is characterized by unity of doctrine and consistency of belief. When they talk about religion, people used to say that discord, disunity, and dissension are extinct volcanoes that do not pollute the air or disturb the ears with the raucous roar. In fact, we may not agree on the description of the manifestations of religiosity to express the Islam. Here we move from moderation and tolerance to the maximum extent of extremism and militancy.

Religious UNITY in Libya seems to be just a deceptive veneer. Communities, sects, and doctrines in this country like any other Muslim country: Maliki, Ibadi, Sufi, Salafi, secret Shiites, Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabi, and finally Da’esh (IS) which has different jurisprudence, doctrine, and practice, and does not hesitate to show lethal hostility to the rest.

Yes, these labels are in other countries too, but what makes it different in Libya is that each sect is not only committed to its belief and ritual practice, as in most of these countries but rather seeks to prove its existence by force and authority on the ground. Each of these sects is followed by supporters, preachers, and militias. Each sect has its army ready to move when necessary.

The Libyans – like other Muslims – do not agree to look at religion from a critical perspective, they rather tend to exclude Islam from the conflicts and differences, and present themselves on behalf of the contradictions of their religion and its ability to explode at any moment.

Ibn Arabi, who was a moderate and rational Sufi, was celebrating a multi-ego that accepts all of the different images (= beliefs), but this unique example is very rare in Islamic history. Each sect now prefers to have its various slogan and its symbol of jurists or historical leaders, but they all walk under one cover-name, i.e. Islam, while they launch curses and kill each other. Islamic theology is a loose title under which any religious spectrum can declare itself claiming certainty and truth.

Meantime we could speak of Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, such as Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). They together constitute religious government to establish a new theological state, and they immoderately use the group of Ulama (Religion scholars) who will go with Shari’a enthusiastically as far away as they can, until the conceived end.

Ulama defends themselves by claiming inherited irrevocable sources of spiritual authority. They try to install and dedicate the religious hierarchy in Muslim society using Sharia as the only legitimate law of God. Islamic clericalism has religious powers backed by political power, which in turn benefits by enforcement of compliance systems. Politicians and Ulama share together the mainstream politics and they maintain a combination of constitutional and jurisprudential privileges. No matter after all that Libyans gains out of the propagation of radical movements and political violence as long as that raises the slogans of Islam and laws of Allah.

Libyans now are defending an identity which is no more than just a naive emotional affiliation, and since the state is semi-theological, seculars are – let’s say – timid, and they cannot dare to speak so others can see them.

*A Libyan writer and linguist