When Religion Turns Into Ash: The Libya Mosque Demolitions

Posted on August 30, 2012

By Madhuri Gautam:

Libya, a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, Egypt to the east, Chad and Niger to the south and Algeria and Tunisia to the west. A country which stretches on an area of almost 1.8 million square kilometres is the third largest country in Africa by area and the 7th largest country in the world. However, in reality, when acts such as the demolishing the Sufi shrine and mosque come into the picture, they portray Libya as one of the smallest countries that cannot have enough land to hold such holy creations. So ironical! With this fact comes a clear view of the grotesque picture in Libya of the desecration of the Sufi shrine and the demolition of the large Sha’ab mosque in Tripoli which housed close to 50 Sufi graves and the tombs of Libyan Sufi scholar Abdullah al-Sha’ab and a martyr who fought Spanish colonialists. This also provides strong evidence that with the increasing development, humans are slowly turning into heartless and robotic creatures sans emotions. The shocking piece of news also resulted into the resignation of the Libyan interim interior minister, after members of the newly-elected parliament accused his ministry of not doing enough to stop the attackers who bulldozed a Sufi shrine and mosque.

It was reported that Fawzi Abdel-Al submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Abdurrahim el-Keib on Sunday. Also Abdel-Moneim al-Hurr, the spokesman for Libya’s security services, said that the interior minister’s resignation had been accepted by both the Prime Minister and the Parliament. Hurr said that 17 people had been arrested in this connection. The attackers destroyed the mosque in broad daylight on Saturday, a day after Sufi shrines in the city of Zlitan were wrecked and a mosque library was burned along with which were burnt several valuable religious and academic writings. What is more shocking is the fact that, it was a crime committed under the nose of the Libyan security forces, some of whom have been suspected as the ones who took part in the destruction activities as told by Mohamed al-Magariaf, the President of Libya’s newly elected National Congress. I think the act is extremely shameful on the part of the security forces because security entails saving lives and not letting people destroy lives ruthlessly. A Reuters reporter saw the bulldozer level the Sha’ab mosque as police surrounded the site and prevented people from approaching and did not stop the demolition. Inside the mosque, empty graves lay open in the rubble.

In Zlitan, witnesses said that an armed group, claiming to be the Salafis, carried out the assault on the Sufi shrine: the tomb of Abdel Salam al-Asmar, a 15th-century Muslim scholar. I wonder what could be the sole reason to carry out a horrendous act such as this. It is said that where there is smoke there must be fire. Here, the fire, i.e. the ruthless demolition has produced smoke that has engulfed the vast, clear and blue sky into accusations and reasons.

A large number of armed militias carrying medium and heavy weapons arrived at the al-Sha’ab mosque with the intention to destroy the mosque because of their belief that the graves were Anti-Islamic. Another reason stated was that the interior ministry had authorised the operation after discovering that people had been worshipping the graves and practicing black magic.

There could be various reasons cited by various people, but I would say no reason in this whole world can justify the act. It is a murder not only of religious beliefs but of the souls of those interwoven in the mosque: those whose bodies have been laid there in peace for several years. This is not humanity. I doubt whether there was any trace of humanity left in those people who desecrate the dead, whether their hands were trembling while doing the act, or whether their eyes held any fear against God. I am afraid, the answer is a no, otherwise, I am certain that the demolition would not have taken place.

This incident marks a grave loss for not only Libya but for people of all countries because it is a loss of humanity. If such terrible actions are not mended on time, they would devour several treasured values, thus leaving behind nothing but laments and heart-wrenching cries.

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