Freed from Gaddafi, Libyan Sufis now face violent Islamists

February 1, 2012

(A Libyan Sufi man chants a hymn of praise to Prophet Mohammad in the Uthman Pasha madrassa in Tripoli. Picture taken January 16, 2012. REUTERS/Tom Heneghan)

Freed from Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year dictatorship, Libya’s Sufi Muslims find themselves under renewed pressure from violent Islamists who have been attacking them and their beliefs as heretical. The desecration of graves belonging to Sufi saints and sages in recent months have put the peaceful Sufis on the defensive, prompting some to post armed guards at their mosques and lodges to ward off hardline thugs.

But the birthday of Islam’s Prophet Mohammad, one of the highpoints in the Sufi calendar, is on Saturday and Libyan Sufis are determined to take their traditional processions through the streets to show they will not be cowed.

At a meeting of Sufi scholars to plan the celebrations, Sheikh Adl Al-Aref Al-Hadad said even being driven out of his zawiyah (Islamic school) late last year by Islamists known as Salafis would not deter him from marching. “I’m worried but I’m not afraid,” said Al-Hadad, whose Tripoli school was stormed by armed men who burned its library, destroyed office equipment and dug up graves of sages buried there. They turned the school into a Salafi mosque.

On January 13, extremists crashed a bulldozer through the walls of the old cemetery in the eastern city of Benghazi, destroyed its tombs and carried off 29 bodies of respected sages and scholars. They also demolished a nearby Sufi school.

Sheikh Khaled Mohammad Saidan, whose Dargut Pasha Mosque faces Tripoli’s port, said most Islamists in post-Gaddafi Libya disagreed with Sufis, but peacefully. “But there are no police around and you never know what some people might do,” he added.

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