Monday, 20 September 2010

Sheikh Al-Qarni visits Libya to give a series of lectures

Following the hugely popular visit to Libya of Saudi Islamic scholar Salman al-Awda at the start of June, organised by Saif al-Islam, his sister Aisha Qadhafi has jumped on the bandwagon.

In the spirit of Ramadan in which it is traditional to invite scholars and sheikhs to give lectures, the Leader's daughter, through her Al-Watassimu charity, hosted another important Saudi religious figure in the Jamahiriya.

Sheikh Aidh Al-Qarni, a highly popular Islamic scholar, gave a series of lectures that were so well attended that in some locations the security forces struggled with crowd control. In Benghazi, for example, it was necessary for security personnel to form a row to protect the sheikh from the surging crowds all trying to shake his hand.

There was even a rumour that spread like wildfire by SMS that Al-Qarni had been the victim of an assassination attack during the push to get closer to him. The regime's willingness to host another Saudi sheikh demonstrates a new openness on the part of the Jamahiriya towards religious personalities. In the past it would have been unthinkable for figures such as Al-Qarni to make such public appearances in Libya.

However, like other states in the region, a greater willingness is emerging within the regime to allow space for certain Salafist currents such as that promoted by Al-Qarni and Al-Awda. This presumably constitutes a way to offer a religious outlet other than the more overtly politicised forms of Islamist opposition such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Such currents preach obedience to the ruler of the day, and it seems that the Libyans are as keen as some of their neighbours to cash in on the sentiment. Moreover, inviting such figures is another means by which Saif al-Islam (and now Aisha) can boost their popularity among ordinary Libyans and demonstrate their own piety and religious conviction.

Libya also sought to make use of Al-Qarni in other ways. The Saudi sheikh was invited to give a lecture on the theme of tolerance in the Abu Slim prison. His audience comprised 400 Islamists, some of whom were released for the 1st September anniversary celebrations.

For more news and expert analysis about Libya, please see Libya Focus and Libya Politics & Security.

© 2010 Menas Associates

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