(Beirut) – The Supreme Fatwa Committee linked to one of Libya’s competing governments should repeal a discriminatory religious edict accusing `Ibadi faith followers in Libya of “deviance” and adherence to an “infidel” doctrine, Human Rights Watch said today. The government linked to the committee, the Interim Government based in Al-Bayda, and parliament have yet to respond publicly to this edict.
In July 2017, the Supreme Fatwa Committee under the General Authority for Endowments and Islamic Affairs, the religious authority of the Interim Government, issued a religious edict or fatwa on the suitability of an `Ibadi preacher leading prayers in a mosque in the Nafussa Mountains, in western Libya. In the edict, the committee said that the minority sect of Islam was “a misguided and aberrant group. They are Kharijites with secret beliefs and infidels without dignity.” Kharijites is used to describe Muslims who rebelled against the Caliphate in the early ages of Islam.
“Religious authorities in Libya should stop pandering to extremists by castigating minorities in incendiary language,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The Interim Government should repudiate this dangerous edict and affirm that all faiths and sects deserve tolerance and equal protection.”
`Ibadi Muslims number between 300,000 and 400,000 in Libya, according to the Libyan Tmazight Congress, an organization that advocates on behalf of members of the Amazigh community. The `Ibadi faith is practiced by Amazighs in the Nafussa Mountains, Tripoli, and the western coastal town of Zuwara. Amazighs constitute 5 to 10 percent of the Libyan population. Neighboring Tunisia and Algeria also have `Ibadi Muslim residents.
On July 10, the Amazigh Supreme Council, a body representing some Amazigh communities in Libya, decried the edict, as did The Libyan Tmazight Congress. On July 18, more than 200 Libyan writers, academics, activists, politicians, and journalists signed a statement in response to the fatwa, stating they “categorically rejected the sectarian religious discourse, which divides Libyans and strives to disseminate hate speech.”
Attacks against religious minorities in Libya have gone unpunished since the end of the 2011 uprising against the strongman Muammar Gaddafi. In 2012, armed groups with radical ideologies, attacked religious sites across the country, including in Tripoli, Zliten, and Misrata, destroying several mosques and tombs of Sufi religious leaders and scholars. Authorities at the time failed to stop the attacks and made no arrests. In 2015, an armed group that pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) murdered 21 mostly Egyptian Coptic Christians because of their faith, in the vicinity of the central coastal town of Sirte.
Armed conflict and insecurity have plagued Libya since May 2014, and caused the collapse of central authority and the emergence of three competing governments, including the Interim Government headed by Abdullah Al-Thinni, based in the eastern part of the country. Key institutions, most notably law enforcement and the judiciary, are either dysfunctional or unable to exercise their powers.
Given widespread insecurity across the country and lack of central authority, there is a real risk of persecution and attacks against `Ibadi faith members, who can be easily singled out and targeted, no matter where they are located, Human Rights Watch said. The incendiary edict issued by the religious authority in eastern Libya was in response to a request from an individual in the Nafussa Mountains in western Libya, who asked about the suitability of praying “behind” a preacher who followed the `Ibadi faith.
The Interim Government’s religious authority, the General Authority for Endowments and Islamic Affairs, oversees the Supreme Fatwa Committee as one of its divisions, and pays the salaries of staff and committee members. The Libyan National Army forces under General Khalifa Hiftar and Libya’s parliament, the House of Representatives headed by Agilah Saleh, support the Interim Government. The Government of National Accord (GNA), the only internationally recognized and UN-backed authority in Libya, is based in Tripoli.