Libyan clerics in rebel-held east see big role for Islam after Gaddafi
An Islamic revival is taking hold in rebel-held eastern Libya after decades of tough curbs on worship by Muammar Gaddafi, but clerics say this will not be a new source of religious extremism as the West may fear. Restrictions on Islamic piety have become history in the east of the Arab North African state since its takeover by anti-Gaddafi insurgents, and clerics see a much bigger role for Islam in the country if Gaddafi is ultimately driven from power.
Under the autocratic Gaddafi’s idiosyncratic brand of communal socialism overlaying Islam, worship was carefully regulated and any apparent manifestation of political, or militant, Islam drew harsh security crackdowns. Yet Libyan society remained religiously conservative in character and that is now flowering anew in the rebel-held east.
In signs of greater Muslim piety, some rebels have grown longer beards, public prayer has become ostentatious, religious books are selling well and plans are afoot for more centres for the study of sharia, or Islamic law — all of which, under Gaddafi, could have led to arrest and imprisonment.
“The situation in free Libya will revert to its natural state — the natural state of the practice of religion in life, in the morals of the people, their ways, their return to the mosques,” said Osama al-Salaaby, a well-known cleric and professor of sharia in Benghazi, the rebels’ de facto capital.
The rebels’ slow battlefield progress has benefited the cause of Islam in Libya, said Salem Jaber, the most senior cleric in the east and head of its mosque oversight body. “We’ve been mixing, and the Islamists and the secularists are coming together to create a middle road,” said Jaber.