Tomb thefts leave Libya’s Sufis in fear of fundamentalism
Checking with Religious Council to see if it is a sin.
ALL THAT remains of the stone sarcophagus that had sat for more than 100 years on the terrace of Tripoli’s Abu Garara mosque is a bare patch in the marble tiles.
The sarcophagus, and the body it contained, were ripped from the terrace by an armed gang who struck two weeks ago – one of several dozen raids that have Libya’s Sufis literally up in arms. “They came with weapons and everything,” said Ali Salem, a local merchant who lives across the street.
The raid is one of more than 70 that have been carried out in the past six weeks on Sufi mosques across the country by unidentified robbers. Sufis have no doubt who is behind the attacks, blaming followers of Muhammed Ibn Abd al Wahhab, an 18th-century scholar, known locally as Wahhabists.
Wahhabists, some of whom say interring bodies in mosques is a sin, are blamed for another raid this month on the Saif Nassar mosque where Saif al Nassar, a noted Islamic scholar, had lain undisturbed for 155 years.
His body, and that of a recently buried imam, were ripped from a stone sarcophagus in a specially built room, and the walls sprayed with graffiti stating that they had been buried in Islamic cemeteries.
Sufis are now taking matters into their own hands, posting armed militiamen at their remaining mosques. They fear armed confrontation is inevitable.
At Tripoli’s Sha’b Mosque on the downtown waterfront, armed Sufis in combat uniforms guard a tomb holding the remains of Abdullah Sha’b which have been there for 1,200 years.
“The Wahhabis want to deny this building,” said one of the guards, Mohammed Abdulla. “We will not let them in.” Sufis are angry that the Tripoli Military Council, which controls security in the capital, has failed to take action to catch the robbers.
However the council’s deputy leader, Mohammed Goaider, said security units would not take action because no laws were broken.
“It is not a crime,” he insisted. “The problem is caused by a group of men who are Salafists [adherents of Salafiyyah, who preached a pure form of Islam].”
He said he was awaiting a verdict by a religious council, still to be formed, on whether it was wrong to inter bodies in mosques.
If the religious leaders ruled the practice was a sin, he added, security forces would remove the remaining sarcophaguses, by force if necessary.
This policy appears at odds with the oft-repeated promises to respect human rights and the rule of law by Libya’s ruling National Transitional Council, which elected its first post-war cabinet this week.
Tripoli’s civilian authorities have objected to the break-ins. “Disturbing the dead is harming the living. It is a crime that the law punishes,” said Abdulrezaq Abuhjaar, leader of the Tripoli Council, the city’s civilian administration.
He pointed out however that he had no control over the capital’s security forces.