Sufism under attack in Libya

Since the political changes that took place in 2011, dozens of Sufi sites (mosques, shrines, tombs, and libraries) have been destroyed in Libya, while a number of Sufi religious leaders have been kidnapped and killed, with little protection from authorities, according to a statement by Human Rights Watch (Dec. 7, 2017). Two historic Sufi mosques in the capital, Tripoli, have been heavily damaged during the last quarter of 2017. The development is striking if one considers that Sufism used to be very popular in Libya, with a great historical significance in the Senussi brotherhood, although it had been first weakened by Italian colonialism, and then severely controlled under Colonel Gaddafi’s regime.

Islamist violence against Sufis in Libya started very soon after Gaddafi’s removal, with the desecration of graves of Sufi saints and accusations of idolatry (as reported by Reuters, Feb. 1, 2012). As elsewhere in Muslim areas around the world, opposition to Sufism is seen as directly linked to the rise of Salafi ideas and influence, according to Libyan political analyst and researcher Tarek Megerisi, quoted in an article by Justin Salhani in Al-Monitor (Dec. 28). “Given that Salafi militias are continuing to grow in power across the country, and the constituency of Salafists in Libya is also steadily climbing, the persecution of Libya’s [Sufis] seems likely to worsen in the near-term future,” says Megerisi. Formerly, most Muslims would have seen Sufis as fellow believers, while Salafists consider them as departing from “true Islam.”

(Human Rights Watch,; Al-Monitor,; Reuters,