Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tripoli Mosques Attacked

The first reports were short incredulous.

10 Oct 2011, 15:30- Libya

A group of more than 200 gunmen have attacked a mosque in Tripoli and ransacked the tombs of two imams, the AFP news agency reports, citing witnesses. "They arrived shortly after 10pm (2000 GMT, Sunday night), between 200 and 300 of them, in pickup trucks fitted with heavy machineguns. They took off at about 1am," said Mahmud Rahman, a resident of Tripoli's northeastern Al-Masri district. "They forced open the mosque's door and then started to dig up the tombs of imams Abdel Rahman el-Masri and Salem Abu Seif, and made off with their relics," said Rahman.

My first thought was that this was retaliation in response to the Old City Islam shiek who the Jewish doctor had talked to and received permission from to clean up and restore the Old City synagogue.

Then another report came in two days later.

Libya's armed Islamists vandalize Muslim graves as idolatrous

by Katerina Nikolas OCT 12, 2011

In yet another display of disunity between Libya's new conquerors there is a growing trend of grave desecration occurring. The interim head of the NTC denounced the practice on Tuesday, which is instigated by rebel fighters who adhere to Salafi Islam.

In post Gaddafi Libya intolerance is becoming the norm. The new wave of grave desecrations and vandalism is carried out by Muslims on Muslim graves, as proponents of Salafi Islamism vent their disapproval of the idolatrous nature of graves.

On Sunday night a mosque in Tripoli’s Al-Masri district was violated by a group of 200 armed gunmen. Gulf News reported that local resident Mahmud Rahman described the incident, saying the gunmen “arrived in pickups fitted with heavy machineguns.” He went on to say "They forced open the mosque's door and then started to dig up the tombs of imams Abdel Rahman el-Masri and Salem Abu Seif, and made off with their relics.”

Another witness recounted that the gunmen were well organized, sealing off the mosque and communicating via walkie-talkies. He said "They had beards and were in military uniform. They must have been Islamic extremists wanting to make trouble. They want power, they want to control Libya.”

Sunday’s attack was at least the third so far. The Tripoli Post reported that last week pneumatic drills were used to attack a Muslim cemetery in Gargaresh and another close to Tripoli airport. Hard line extremists believe that gravestones are in violation of Islamic law.

On Tuesday Mustafa Abdul Jalil, interim head of the NTC, condemned the attacks for the first time. The Wall Street Journal reported he asked religious authorities to issue a decree against such acts, saying “It’s not allowed in Islamic law to do this.”

Jalil has already publicly announced that post Gaddafi Libya will follow sharia law but the extent of its interpretation is already coming to the forefront. Muammar Gaddafi ruled over a country that practiced moderate Islam and kept a constant vigil against the rise of extreme Islam. Without his firm hand at the helm Libya is factoring into divisive groups, not only between anti-Gaddafi groups and pro-Gaddafi loyalists, but between Libya’s new conquerors. There is an increasing trend towards power falling into the hands of extremists, as Gaddafi warned Tripoli’s commander Abdel Hakim Belhadj is an advocate of a caliphate state though has moderated his views when interviewed by the Western media.

Nevertheless he is considered to be the leader of extremists and was imprisoned under Gaddafi due to his leadership role in the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. His influential friend Sheik Ali Al-Salabi has called for a moderate Islam in Libya but the extremists appear to becoming impatient at maintaining the facade of moderatism.

"In yet another display of disunity between Libya's new conquerors there is a growing trend of grave desecration occurring. The interim head of the NTC denounced the practice on Tuesday, which is instigated by rebel fighters who adhere to Salafi Islam."

Wiki synopsis:

A Salafi (Arabic: سلفي‎) is a follower of an Islamic movement, "Salafiyyah", that is supposed to take the Salaf who lived during the patristic period of early Islam as model examples

In contemporary times, Salafism has become associated with literalist and puritanical approaches to Islamic theology. In the West the term Salafi has become particularly associated with Muslims that espouse violent jihad against civilians as a legitimate expression of Islam, the so-called Salafi Jihadis

Salafis view the first three generations of Muslims—the Sahabah, or Companions of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, and the two succeeding generations after them, the Tabi‘un and the Tabi‘ al-Tabi‘in—as an eternal model for all succeeding Muslim generations, especially in their beliefs and methodology of understanding the texts, but also in their method of worship, mannerisms, morality, piety and conduct.

Salafis believe, based on scriptural evidence, that widespread Muslim practices such as venerating the graves of Islamic prophets and saints are shirk. Salafis in general are opposed to both Sufi and Shia doctrines, which Salafis regard as having many aspects of shirk, bid‘ah and impermissible intercession of religious figures.

Muslims are of two groups: Salafis and Khalafis. As for the Salafis, they are the followers of As-Salaf-us-Saalih (the 'pious predecessors' from the first three generations of Muslims). And as for the Khalafis, they are the followers of the understanding of the Khalaf and they are also called Innovators – since everyone who is not pleased and satisfied with the path of the Salaf-us-Saalih, in knowledge and action, understanding and fiqh, then he is a khalafi, an innovator.

Whichever definition is used, Salafis idealize an uncorrupted, pure Islamic religious community. They believe that Islam's decline after the early generations is the result of religious innovations (bid‘ah) and an abandoning of pure Islamic teachings; that an Islamic revival will only result through the emulation of the three early generations of Muslims and the purging of foreign influences from the religion.

Salafis, similar to adherents of most other Islamic denominations, place great emphasis on ritual not only in prayer but in every activity in daily life — many are careful to always use three fingers when eating, drink water in three pauses with the right hand while sitting,[45] make sure their galabea or other garment worn by them does not extend below the ankle — so as to follow the example of Muhammad and his companions as they endeavor to make religion part of every activity in life.

Salafism often appeals to younger Muslims as a way to differentiate themselves from the beliefs of parents and grandparents because it is seen as "pure", stripped of "the local, superstitious, and customary Muslim practices of their families' countries of origin". It often confers a sense of moral superiority. Salafism can be said to have a potent appeal because it underscores Islam's universality.

Salafism insists on the literal truth of Muslim scripture and what might be called a strict constructionist brand of sharia or religious law.[50] Salafism may have more appeal than secularism by appropriating secularisms' traditional role of defending the socially and politically weak against the powerful

Salafism differs from the earlier contemporary Islamic revival movements of the 1970s and 1980s commonly referred to as Islamism, in that (at least many) Salafis reject not only Western ideologies such as Socialism and Capitalism, but also common Western concepts like economics, constitutions, political parties and revolution.

Salafi Muslims often promote not engaging in Western activities like politics, "even by giving them an Islamic slant." Instead, it is thought that Muslims should stick to traditional activities, particularly Dawah. Salafis promote that the Sharia (Islamic law) takes precedence over civil or state law.

Salafist jihadism (also Salafi jihadism) is a school of thought of Salafi Muslims who support jihad. The term was coined by scholar Gilles Kepel to describe Salafi who began developing an interest in jihad during the mid-1990s. Practitioners are often referred to as Salafi jihadis or Salafi jihadists. Journalist Bruce Livesey estimates Salafi jihadists constitute less than 1 percent of the world's 1.9 billion Muslims (c. 10 million).

Islamic shrine desecrations raise fears of religious tensions in post-Gadhafi Libya

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, October 13

TRIPOLI, Libya — Islamic hard-liners have attacked about a half-dozen shrines in and around Tripoli belonging to Muslim sects whose practices they see as sacrilegious, raising religious tensions as Libya struggles to define its identity after Moammar Gadhafi’s ouster.

The vandalism has drawn concern at the highest levels as Libya’s new rulers seek to reassure the international community that extremists will not gain influence in the North African nation.

Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, head of the governing National Transitional Council, reacted with alarm to reports that graves were being desecrated and appealed to a top Muslim cleric, al-Sadek al-Gheriani, to issue a fatwa, or religious ruling, on the issue.

He also called for restraint. “I ask those destroying these mosques to stop doing that because this is not the time to do that,” Abdul-Jalil said Tuesday at a news conference. “What they did is not on the side of the revolution.”

The campaign appears to be aimed mainly at shrines revered by Sufis, a mystical order whose members often pray over the tombs of revered saints and ask for blessings or intervention to bring success, marriage or other desired outcomes. Hard-line Sunnis deem the practice offensive because they consider worshipping over graves to be idolatry.

In one case, witnesses said dozens of armed, bearded men wearing military uniforms ransacked a Sufi shrine in Tripoli this week, burning relics and carrying away the remains of two imams, or prayer leaders, for reburial elsewhere.
The assailants arrived in pickup trucks mounted with heavy weapons and stormed the gate to the compound housing the shrine, then dug up the two imams, identified as Abdul-Rahman al-Masri and Salem Abu Seif, and took the remains to be buried in a cemetery, according to the witnesses.

Many residents in the Al-Masri neighborhood welcomed the attack, accusing worshippers at the shrine of practicing “black magic.” Sufism is a mystical tradition in Islam. The order says its mission is to live a simple life of contemplation and prayer but followers are frequently targeted by extremists.

Witnesses offered conflicting details, with some saying the attackers were heavily armed and came from other parts of the city and others saying it was a small group of unarmed locals.

Abdul-Hamid al-Sunni, one of the residents, said the presence of the bodies had prevented people from the neighborhood from praying there. He claimed it was a small group of some 20 people that exhumed the bodies.

He said residents had long wanted to get rid of the graves and he presented a petition signed by 120 people supporting the action, which began about 11 p.m. Sunday.

Dirt and rocks were piled high around the empty graves that had been dug in the floor of the white and light blue building in Tripoli’s al-Masri neighborhood. Blackened piles of ash and pieces of pottery were in the courtyard outside after the attackers burned relics and other items from the shrine, which sits next to a Quranic school in the same compound.

“We need to build a new school here, a Quranic school, and we need to build a mosque and we need to build a small hospital for the area,” al-Sunni said.
The attackers then jumped back into their vehicles and drove to another neighborhood where they dug up the grave of a man who had built a mosque there and was buried inside.

A shopkeeper in front of the al-Badri mosque who identified himself only as Mohsen said the men used hammers and shovels to exhume the remains, which they planned to bury in a cemetery. Mohsen said about 150 men blocked the roads leading to the compound and bragged about having come from al-Masri and planned to target more mosques.

“They shouldn’t have done this because the relatives had already applied to rebury him anyway,” the witness said Wednesday in an interview outside his store, declining to give his full name because of fear of retaliation.

Nader Omrani, who oversees religious affairs for the Tripoli local council, said three or four incidents had been reported in Tripoli and one in the town of Janzour, six miles (10 kilometers) to the west of the capital.

“Because of the public condemnation and quick action by this council ... this conduct has been contained,” he said Wednesday.

Council members said the attacks were under investigation and it was not yet known who carried them out.

But observers familiar with the issue blamed Islamic fundamentalists known as Salafists and said talks were under way to persuade them to stop.

One man, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said many Libyans opposed Sufi traditions but did not want them handled violently.

Al-Gheriani, who was a key supporter of Libya’s revolution, said in an audio recording posted Monday on his official website that he opposes the building of shrines over graves but he does not sanction their removal, particularly as fighting continues on two fronts, stalling efforts to form a new government.

“The country doesn’t have a government with authorities imposed everywhere. Security is not prevalent, it is shaky and there are too many factions,” he said, calling on groups to stop the attacks. “The time is not right. It may cause sedition ... and more bloodshed.”

Stephen Schwartz, the executive director of the California-based Center for Islamic Pluralism and a Sufi himself, said the act showed Islamic extremists were starting to make their move. He said the targeting of rival mosques and cemeteries has been used throughout history as a highly symbolic way to assert control.

“It illustrates that there’s a void ... and ... the radicals, the fundamentalists are going to try to fill that void,” he said in a telephone interview. “They’ll go where the opportunity is, where Muslims are divided and authority is weakened.”

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