News / Middle East

Role of Islam in New Libya Uncertain

Rebel guns near a mosque in Tripoli, August 27, 2011
Rebel guns near a mosque in Tripoli, August 27, 2011
Elizabeth Arrott

Libyan rebels are still hunting for Moammar Gadhafi, but many of their countrymen are taking time marking the end of the first holy month of Ramadan without their longtime secular leader.  Islam in Libya is undergoing a resurgence. The question now being asked is how much it will influence the next government.  

The call to prayer rings out over Tripoli, a city of mosques until recently tightly controlled by Moammar Gadhafi.

These are pivotal times for Libya's faithful, who for decades had to follow a leader who put the celebration of himself before that of God.

At the Mawlai Mohammad Mosque, one of Tripoli's largest,  Abdallah Ahmed Bilal takes pride in what the congregation accomplished.

"The mosque has had a very important role during this period," he said. "It organized some revolutionary people to go to fight Gadhafi in any way.  And he [Gadhafi] also shelled it.  He bombed this mosque."

The mosque survived the attack largely unscathed.  But the symbolism proved powerful.

One man, his anger just barely contained, says "This is the mosque of God."  He explains that when they tried to praise God, "Allahu Akbar" over the loudspeakers, Gadhafi forces attacked.  He calls his former leader a dictator.

At the beginning of the uprising, the secular Moammar Gadhafi demonized the rebels as Islamic terrorists.  But as the tide of battle turned Gadhafi and his inner circle began reaching out to Islamic leaders.

His son, Seif al Islam, gave up his English-tailored suits and clean-shaven demeanor for a beard and prayer beads.  He called for a religion-led Libya that would be like Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Many dismissed it as brazen pandering to the citizens of this overwhelmingly Muslim nation.  Because, as some here see it, the victory of the rebels will be a victory for Islam.

Faiq Shieb is one of the managers at the mosque.   He says he wants to see Islam practiced everywhere - in schools, in businesses and in the courts.  Islam, he says, will be the law of Libya.

If he gets that wish - and abundant references to God by both rebels and ordinary Libyans suggest he might - what form of Islamic rule would prevail is unclear.

In the past, some rebels have praised Osama bin Laden as "excellent." And an al-Qaida leader, killed in recent days, was Libyan.

The opposition Transitional National Council is overwhelmed now with immediate demands, including critical shortages of water.  At the mosque, they are one step ahead, with water saved for washing before prayers.  At some point soon, the religious nature of the new Libya will have to be addressed.

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