A little over a month after Libya held its first free elections in decades, the governments grip on power remains tenuous as groups of the most radical Salafists have taken to targeting mausoleums and tombs across the country, which, despite being Muslim institutions, they believe to be symbols of heresy.
Observers france24 The first attack took place in Zliten, a town just 160 kilometres east of the capital Tripoli, on Friday, August 24. Using bulldozers, explosives and jackhammers, a group of Salafists wrecked a Sufi shrine (Sufism is a mystical branch of Islam). They also destroyed the mosque attached to it and its library, while yelling Allah Akbar! (God is great!). The following day, Sufi shrines in Tripoli and the northern city of Misrata were also destroyed. These incidents were filmed by the Salafists themselves, who then posted the footage online.
This is not the first time that religious sites have been destroyed in Libya. Just last December, a tomb was bulldozed in Misrata. In videos of this incident, the attackers can be seen holding books and signs with Muammar Gaddafis face on them, declaring that the former Libyan leader had financed the mausoleums.
Mohamed al-Magariaf, head of the countrys newly elected National Congress, has condemned the string of shrine attacks, vowing to arrest and severely punish those responsible. Libyas Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A’al, however, resigned from office after coming under fire for not having done enough to prevent the attacks in Tripoli.
The incidents have triggered a wave of demonstrations in the capital over the past few days to protest against the vandalism.
Libyan blogger Enas writes:
What really shocked me was how equipped the Salafists were when they came to destroy the mausoleum
“This is not the first time that extremists attacked the mausoleum in Zliten. Just four months ago there was a group that tried to destroy it, but the local community stood up against them. This time around, they took advantage of the fact that everyone was distracted by a fight that had erupted between two of the towns families [which claimed two lives on August 23] to attack the site.”
They destroyed texts that were 700 years old
“Not only did they wreck the shrine and vandalise the saints tomb, but they also destroyed a number of texts that were 700 years old. The Salafists justified their actions by saying that the Sufi mausoleum was a place of heresy where people go to worship men rather than God [the tombs are those of Muslim scholars who were sainted after their deaths. Some visitors come to seek their blessings and to pray that they will act on their behalf before God, which is prohibited under Islam]. What they dont realise is that this mausoleums mosque is an actual place of prayer, which is why they dont think twice about destroying it.”
“After Zlitens mausoleum was attacked, Mohamed al-Madkhali, a Saudi extremist imam, fanned the flames by praising the demolition and encouraging other Salafists to do the same. This encouraged extremists to attack mausoleums in Tripoli and Misrata. It could have been even worse. In Tajura, a number of people stepped up to guard the al-Andaloussi shrine and the Mourad Agha mosque.”