On Libya

I want to share some quick thoughts and recollections inspired by the current turmoil taking place in Libya, which pains me deeply. Ghaddafi reminds me of Shakespeare’s tyrant, Richard III: conniving, mutant, dark, and absolutely cruel, with no concern for his family, friends, or companions, let alone the people he rules over. He kills to get to power and maintain it, but as power diminishes before his eyes, he unleashes his fury and decimates his own army, only to end up alone, condemned to die a traitor to his country and people.

I hope Ghaddafi’s reign comes to an end soon for the sake of Libya’s beautiful people. They deserve much better and, in sha Allah, they will get better. In each of our daily prayers, we should all pray for their succor and divine aid. God answers prayers, and there is no barrier between the oppressed and God. The iniquitous suffering Ghaddafi has ravaged upon Libya’s cities and towns is worse than reprehensible and reveals his low nature. I have personally known some of those who were closest to him at his career’s outset and then fled Libya as a result of his unspeakable treatment of his coterie; they know too well how evil this man is and has been.

I have visited Libya once, which was in 1979 and was quite a bizarre experience. Ghaddafi had been in power for just a decade, seizing control through a military coup in 1969 while King Idris was out of the country for medical treatment. On this trip, I accompanied a British convert to Islam who was raising money for a mosque project in England. I had been Muslim for only a few years and was just starting my studies in Arabic, so I was not yet fluent. Everywhere we went, I saw posters that read, “Alijan fi kulli makan” (Committees in everyplace) based on the “Colonel-leader’s” legerdemain of a true “people’s democracy” in which local committees decided their own fates. But after seeing through the illusion, Libyans, I was told, interpreted it to mean “Al-jan fi kulli makan,” (Devils in everyplace).

At the outset of the coup, in their misguided support, some of the less perspicacious Libyans actually chanted, “Iblis wa la Idris” ( the devil and not Idris). Beware of what you ask for; sometimes you actually get it.

While in Libya, I visited the home of a delightful and cultured Libyan named Sidi Abdal Hamid Ben Halim, now deceased, may God have mercy on his soul. He had been a student at al-Azhar University before becoming a politician and went on to become an ambassador to Italy for Libya. At that time, his was the single most important Libyan diplomatic post. His brother, Mustafa, had been the prime minister under King Idris, who ruled Libya in the post-colonial period until the 1969 coup. From his close and personal knowledge of King Idris, Sidi Abdal Hamid recounted that not only was King Idris a just ruler, he was also a pious and erudite Muslim who dreamed of building Islamic schools and colleges throughout Africa with the newly acquired oil revenue. The King was of the Sanussi tradition and represented the best of the benign monarchies of the old Muslim world that crumbled throughout the twentieth century, only to be replaced by malevolent dictators, all of whom came in the name of progress, freedom, and democracy; despite their claims to reform, they became tyrants aspiring to the very monarchies they had supplanted by setting up their sons for ascension to their newly acquired “thrones.”

In a classic example of his feigned madness, Ghaddafi actually stated that “democracy” was a hybrid Arabic word from dema and karasi, and hence that “democracy” really means “the thrones continue.” Most probably this nugget of “Ghaddafism” will end up in Bartlett’s, alongside the Bushisms. Never “misunderestimate” tyrants. (By the way, one who thinks Ghaddafi is certifiably insane is not paying enough attention. He is an excellent executor of the special interests that put him into power in the first place. He has worked well with BP, Occidental, Halliburton, and others for decades. The British Government has military contracts with Libya and trained Ghaddafi’s soldiers. Those beneficiaries of his “madness” don’t seem to be bothered by his quirks and idiosyncrasies. Moreover, his sanity makes him perfectly responsible for his actions. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes, “Feign ignorance , and send your enemies into disarray.” Or, perhaps more apropos is an English phrase that Ghaddafi may have learned during his training at the British military academy, Sandhurst, “Crazy like a Fox.” A CNN reporter was recently surprised at how “lucid” Ghaddafi was in his private interview with her.)

Some time after that visit, my courageous Libyan friend, Fathi – who was from a very prestigious Benghazian family – and I had a brush with Ghaddafi’s hospitality in Granada, Spain, in 1984. While on a visit from the Emirates, I was staying at Fathi’s apartment in Granada, and one morning we went out intending to drive to a café for breakfast, only to find the inside of his blue Mercedes completely destroyed from a firebomb, courtesy of the Colonel, who had ordered the assassination of dissident Libyan expatriates all over the world. The two of us felt as if we just had a brush with our own mortality. All that remained intact from the firebomb were my Warsh Mus’haf, from which I had been memorizing the Qur’an, and a leather-bound copy of Ibn Abi Zayd’s al-Risalah (The Epistle) in Maliki jurisprudence that I was studying at the time. While the outside covers of the two books were charred, all of the pages inside them were miraculously intact and unblemished. Both the reminder of the fragility of life as well as the clear sign of providential care for God’s Book and the Prophet’s shariah, as embodied in The Epistle, were a cogent proof for me that I was spending my life studying what will, God-willing, save me from the Fire, and this had a profound impact on me. God is my Witness for what I relate here.

Fathi had been part of the resistance movement of Libyans who were living in Morocco, and many of his friends and associates had been successfully eliminated by Libyan hit teams. Between 1980 and 1987, at least 25 Libyan dissidents were assassinated worldwide, most of them highly educated and decent people. Thirty years later, most of them are dead, and Ghaddafi himself is in the death throes, losing power.

In my experience, Libyans are some of the most wonderful, loyal, and deeply religious Muslims that I have met. In my youth, my dream was to end up in Misurata, where Sidi Ahmad Zarruq’s school is and where he is buried. I used to talk with my Libyan friends about getting a plot of land there. Sidi Ahmad Zarruq loved the Libyans, and despite being a widely celebrated scholar and highly desirable resident anywhere in the Muslim world, he chose to live among the Libyans. The greatest commentator of later Maliki tradition was from a Libyan family of scholars known as al-Hataab.

My dear friend of many years, A.R.M., his wife Amnah, and his family are in Tripoli right now, and many of my other Libyan friends have family and friends who are now in terrible circumstances. Libya is a place of much significance for Muslims, and Libyans deserve our heartfelt prayers and tears during this trying time. I don’t remember having ever imprecated against anyone by name since becoming a Muslim, but now I find myself asking God to give Ghaddafi what he deserves for the terror and suffering he has inflicted upon “his people.”

My friend and teacher through his works, Shaykh Sadiq al-Ghiryani, who in my opinion represents the highest example of a scholar-warrior with his intrepid statement on al-Jazeerah, chose to speak the truth despite being in Tripoli, hence putting his life on the line. He is now in hiding and posting videos from his hideout to encourage the resistance. I recommend watching his post to see a true scholar fulfilling his duty. This is indeed the greatest jihad: to speak the truth in the presence of unjust tyranny. May God reward and protect him and his family during these trying times.

The recording of the Du’a al-Nasiri recited by the Fes Singers is posted here on the Sandala website. (The text of the prayer along with my translation will also soon be posted.) I advise people to recite it with the intention of succor for our brothers and sisters in Libya. This prayer is noted for its power and the effects it has on removing troubles due to the sincerity of its author. It was used by Moroccans as a means to ask God to expel the French during the colonial period and was proscribed by law under French authority.