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Libya

Religious Opposition

In April 1973, Qadhafi launched the five-point Cultural Revolution (see Political Ideology , this ch.). Among the points was the replacement of existing laws by sharia. In a speech on April 28, he asked University of Benghazi law students to help revise the legal codes and repeatedly emphasized the principle of the primacy of Islamic law over other jurisprudence. The traditional religious establishment gave initial support to Qadhafi's restoration of Islamic jurisprudence, but it soon started to oppose his actions, accusing him of pretensions.

First, Qadhafi challenged the traditional role of the ulama (Islamic jurists or scholars) as expert interpreters of the Quran. Because the Quran is written in Arabic, argued Qadhafi, anyone who knows Arabic can understand it. As did Martin Luther's Protestantism, Qadhafi's interpretation of Islam recognizes no need for intermediaries between God and humans.

Furthermore, Qadhafi in effect arrogated a new role to himself- -that of a mujtahid, a Muslim jurist who renders decisions based on the opinions of one of the four legal schools of Islam. In this case, Qadhafi sought to reinterpret the Quran in light of modern conditions and current needs. His insistence on the necessity to sweep aside virtually the entire body of Islamic commentary and learning, including the hadith (the Prophet Muhammad's sayings and precedents based on his behavior), and to limit the legitimate sources of legislation to the Quran alone has caused misgivings throughout the Islamic world.

Moreover, Qadhafi's interpretation of Islam was considered radical. He considered the Quran to be the only source of sharia and community. As did other Muslim reformers, Quran saw deviation from "true" Islamic teachings as the cause of the weakness of Islamic lands, including Libya. Like them, he also called for a return to the source, the Quran. But unlike most other reformers, Qadhafi excluded the hadith and the sunna (the lifestyle and deeds of the Prophet) as reliable sources of legislation. By questioning the authenticity of the hadith, Qadhafi has in effect dismissed the entire edifice of traditional fikh (Islamic jurisprudence). As one scholar, Ann Elizabeth Mayer, put it, "discrediting the hadith entails rejection of by far the greater part of Islamic law." In essence, Qadhafi rejected taqlid (obedience to received authority, i.e., the revelation of God to the Prophet Muhammad) in favor of ijtihad (the right to interpretation).

In 1977 Qadhafi took yet another unprecedented, no less controversial step, altering the Muslim calendar. Instead of starting from the date of the Prophet's migration to Medina, the year began with the date of the Prophet's death. Shocked by Qadhafi's radical reinterpretation of Islam, the ulama accused him of heresy. Characteristically, however, the Libyan leader was undaunted.

The confrontation with the ulama began in the mid-1970s, when they criticized some aspects of Qadhafi's increasingly idiosyncratic and radical ideology. In 1977, for example, the grand mufti (chief religious judge) of Libya criticized the sequestration of private property, which resulted from the new law prohibiting the ownership of more than one house.

The clergy were upset because, in effect, The Green Book was displacing sharia as the blueprint for Libya's political and social development. Furthermore, inasmuch as the Third Universal Theory is purportedly a relevant model for non-Muslim Third World countries, the theory's reliance on Islamic precepts had to be diluted (see Third Universal Theory , this ch.).

Accusing the ulama of siding with the upper classes, in February 1978 Qadhafi warned them against interfering in the regime's socialist policies. A few months later, some mosques were seized and their imams (prayer leaders) replaced by more compliant ones. To undermine further the legitimacy of the religious leaders, Qadhafi blamed the grand mufti for failing to declare a jihad (see Glossary) against the Italians during the 1930s. Qadhafi's relentless attacks on the traditional religious establishment succeeded in eroding it hitherto lofty status, thereby removing a powerful center of opposition to regime-sponsored changes.

Apart from conflicts with the traditional religious hierarchy, Qadhafi had a longstanding conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist groups, whose membership went into exile or underground during Qadhafi's tenure. In March 1987, it was reported that nine Muslim dissidents, members of a little-known group called Holy War, were executed for plotting to assassinate Soviet advisers. A revolutionary committee member was assassinated in Benghazi in October 1986 by the hitherto unknown Hizballah (Party of God). As a result, the revolutionary committees began to monitor more closely than before the activities of the mosques, the imams, and the fundamentalists. The country's forty-eight Islamic institutes reportedly were closed in late 1986, apparently to stem the tide of religious, particularly fundamentalist, opposition.

Data as of 1987


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