Minority Muslim Groups

Though the majority of the Libyan population belongs to the Maliki tradition, small numbers of Sufi and Ibadi Muslims also reside in Libya. Sufi Muslims emphasize mysticism and have recently been the target of violent attacks by Salafi extremists, including the destruction of a Benghazi cemetery and school. In March 2012, the sons of a sheikh in Zlitan accused a group of intending to destroy the grave of a Sufi saint, al-Asmar. The sheikh’s sons called this a violation of moderate Islam. Ibadi Muslims belong to the Kharijite sect of Islam, which rejects the leadership of the final Rashidun Caliph and adheres to a conservative version of Islam. Though Ibadi Islam is separate from Sunni and Shi’a Islam, Ibadi Muslims in Libya often pray alongside Sunni Muslims, since Libyan Ibadis do not have their own mosques or Sheikhs. The majority of Libya’s Amazigh (Berber) population is Ibadi Muslim. Amazigh make up roughly 4-10% of Libya’s population and primarily reside in the South. Gadhafi marginalized Amazigh heritage, and insisted that Amazigh identity is a colonial construction. Gadhafi banned use of the Amazigh language in public schools, celebration of traditional Amazigh holidays, and giving children Amazigh names. Amazigh forces from the Western Mountains made significant military contributions to the rebel effort against Gadhafi. However, the Amazigh do not enjoy any representation in the interim cabinet. In November 2011, dozens of Amazigh demonstrated in front of NTC headquarters, demanding that the government resign because it does not represent them.

The Gadhafi government exerted special pressure on minority Muslim groups, and outlawed several Islamist groups and the once-prominent Sanusi Islamic order. The Sanusi sect, founded by Muhammad bin Ali al-Sanusi (1787-1859), was based in Sufism and emphasized a return to Islamic orthodoxy. The group held particular appeal for the Bedouin communities of Cyrenaica in eastern Libya. Sanusi influence culminated in the leadership of a Sanusi monarchy following World War II. Gadhafi banned the Sanusi religion, seeing it as a threat to his power.

Next: Christian Communities