Libya disavows extreme Islam as world looks on

Sep 14, 2011, 4:56 a.m.

By Mohammed Abbas

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - - When it comes to Islam, moderation is the keyword in Libya, a country at pains to assure the world that it will not become a center of extremism now that anti-Islamist leader Muammar Gaddafi has gone.

On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York by al Qaeda, Libya's new de-facto president made a point of addressing the future of Islam in his country, which many abroad fear could take a militant turn.

"Ninety percent of us are moderate Muslims ... five percent are on the right and left sides," said Mustafa Abdel Jalil late on Saturday, in his first public appearance in Tripoli since it fell to anti-Gaddafi fighters on August 23.

He urged unity and asked those with more marginal views on religion to restrict their sparring to debate.

Many abroad point to the surge of violent Islamists in Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion and fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, but so far, Islam appears likely to have a more benign influence in Libya.

Long oppressed Islamic groups and institutions are quietly renewing themselves and swelling their ranks, but they say they have little political ambition for now, and are more interested in furthering national unity and Islamic values.

"We don't want power or position or politics," said Mohammed Hammadi, a heavily bearded Salafist, a sect whose adherents follow what they see as a purer form of Islam as practiced by the Prophet Mohammad in the seventh century.

"Look, if you're going to drink, drink at home, don't let it affect us," said Mustapha al-Kikili, another bearded Salafist standing outside a Tripoli mosque.

The long beards of the devout have proliferated in Libya after the fall of Gaddafi, who clamped down hard on Islamists, seeing them as a threat to his absolute rule. Many Islamists, or suspected Islamists, were imprisoned and executed.


Libya, with a population of six million, is almost completely Sunni Muslim and religiously conservative, but there are still varied views on Islam's role in post-Gaddafi Libya.

"A man who does not fear God has no place in Libya," said Nabeel Shoukry, an anti-Gaddafi fighter sitting at a coffee shop down the road from the Tripoli mosque.

Another men sat nearby countered.

"But there are people, revolutionaries who stood with us, who do not pray," said sweet shop owner Nader al-Thayyab.

A third man butted in.

"Libya is 100 percent Muslim, but there are three levels. A small level that is devout, a second that just follow the general laws and a third who don't pray, the technocrats, and are Muslim only in name. All have a role in the new Libya," said unemployed Mohammed al-Sagheer.

Nader Omrani, who heads the Tripoli body that oversees the city's Islamic affairs and its mosques, said Western fears of extremism taking root in Libya were unfounded.

"That's a false idea. We've had six months of revolution and we haven't seen any evidence of this," he said.

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