FaithWorld

Libyan clerics in rebel-held east see big role for Islam after Gaddafi

(A Libyan woman wearing a niqab with the colours of the Kingdom of Libya attends Friday prayers in rebel-held Benghazi April 22, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

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.

Libya’s Gaddafi upsets Italy with bid to convert women to Islam

gaddafi 1Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s attempt to convert dozens of young women to Islam during a visit to Italy led to an angry reaction from Italian media on Monday. The mercurial Gaddafi invited a large group of young women hired by a hostessing agency to an event at a Libyan cultural centre in Rome on Sunday and tried to convert them to Islam.

“What would happen if a European head of state went to Libya or another Islamic country and invited everyone to convert to Christianity?” asked the daily Il Messagero. “We believe it would provoke very strong reactions across the Islamic world.” (Photo: Italian woman with Koran at Gaddafi meeting, 30 August 2010/Max Rossi)

gaddafi 2Press reports said three women had converted, but there was no way to verify if that was true. The event, due to be repeated on Monday, followed a similar reception involving some 200 women on a previous visit by Gaddafi to Rome last year.