Attacks on Sufi Islamic sites in Libya have left the religious group feeling targeted, as instability in parts of the fragile nation continues following the 2011 revolution that deposed longtime autocrat Moammar Gadhafi. Sufis often come under criticism from hard-line Salafi Muslims, who oppose their interpretation of Islam for supposedly not comporting with “true” Islam.
“Successive interim authorities since the 2011 uprising and across Libya have failed to protect Libya’s Sufi religious sites from attacks and destruction by extremist militias,” Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch, noted in an HRW press release on Dec. 7. “The unpunished attacks on Sufi mosques are endangering one of Libya’s historic minority communities.”
Tarek Megerisi, a Libyan political analyst and researcher, told Al-Monitor, “Libya’s Sufi community has been under siege ever since the end of the revolution, mainly from Salafi groups who have correspondingly risen in prominence since the revolution.” He noted that Salafi preachers took over a number of mosques in Libya in the immediate aftermath of the revolution and later, as Gen. Khalifa Hifter’s Libyan National Army made gains in Benghazi.
“Salafi militias have destroyed ancient Sufi mosques, which contain shrines, libraries and which are generally considered landmarks of Libya’s Sufi community,” Megerisi said. “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 Salafists seems likely to worsen in the near-term future.”
Sufis have become an easy target for hard-line Muslim militias. Dozens of Sufi religious sites — “including mosques, shrines, tombs, and libraries containing ancient scriptures” — have been destroyed since 2011, according to HRW. Followers of Sufism have also been kidnapped and killed, but their killers have gone unpunished.