After the Libyan Studies Centre, the GNA’s Awqaf Tries to Grab Historical Documents at Qur’an Memorisation Centres – Al Marsad

Informed sources revealed to AlMarsad the policy taken by the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments (GAIAE) of the Government of National Accord (GNA) is targeting manuscript centres throughout the country. The sources say hidden hands behind the project aim to empty the country of its national memory and its historical legacy.

(Libya, 13 January 2021) – AlMarsad’ has been investigating on the background  of the peculiar actions taken by GAIAE of the GNA in Tripoli, which is controlled by the Salafi movement, against the Libyan Centre for Historical Studies and National Archives (formerly the Libyan Jihad Centre) with the support of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).

Over the past few days, after a letter addressed by GAIAE to the management of the Libyan Studies Centre (as the Centre is commonly known) demanded that it vacate its headquarters and hands it over to the GAIAE within three days, documents issued by the Awqaf reveals broader project. The actions by GAIAE cause outrage in Libya and mobilised prominent Libyans and organisations to call the GNA to protect the Libyan Studies Centre and its national archive.

The Libyan Studies Centre proved that the land on which the institute is located does not belong to GAIAE, but to the Municipality of Tripoli since the 1940s. GAIAE however, continues to charge tens of thousands of Libyan dinars each month in rent to the Libyan Studies Centre because it considers the land to belong to them. The Presidential Council agreed to reduce the rent from an exorbitant 100,000 LYD to 40,000 LYD per month—all of which indicates that GAIAE was extorting the state to either pay up or they would control the building.

MANUSCRIPTS AT THE QUR’AN MEMORIZATION CENTRES

The GAIAE is, however, pursuing more sinister aims. AlMarsad received a copy of a letter circulated by GAIAE to its offices in more than one Libyan city requesting all Qur’an Memorization Centres to provide an inventory of manuscripts they hold in their libraries.

The letter, signed by Director of the Department of Studies and Institutional Excellence at GAIAE, dated 2 September 2020, was sent from GAIAE office branches to Qur’an Memorization Centres requesting them to “urgently to provide us with the titles of all scientific manuscripts with the name of the author and the memorization center where the manuscript is held”. It said the deadline for submitting the required inventory was the middle  October 2020.

While it is not yet known how many manuscripts are controlled by GAIAE, it is important to know that the Qur’an Memorization Centres were previously knows as the Zawiya Memorization Centres. This older name was how it was known traditionally in Libya for centuries, but the Salafi movements, including those at GAIAE, rejected the name “Zawiya” because of its link to Sufi orders who established them in the first place. With the collapse of law, order and governance in the wake of the 2011 revolution, Salafi groups used the prevailing chaos to launch a systematic campaign of destruction and desecration of Sufi sites, exhuming graves of key scholars and personalities, and destroying libraries.

For example, the Salafi attack on the Mausoleum of Sidi Abdulsalam al-Asmar al-Fituri and the madrassa complex in Zliten left a large number of priceless manuscripts completely destroyed. Some of the texts destroyed were almost 700 years old. Such attacks took place across the country in an effort to eradicate the Islamic legacy of the country and replace it with puritanical movements.

Numerous studies and catalogs issued by the Libyan Studies Centre document the fact that the Zawiyas had large quantities of manuscripts and documents of national and historic importance. Throughout the history of Libya, the Zawiyas had played the role of educational institutions, social reconciliation, desert outposts to protect trade and pilgrim routes, and some of key personalities have contributed to political life and national identity of Libya.

DESTROYING ZAWIYAS AND HISTORICAL AND NATIONAL HERITAGE

The Zawiyas are independent according to Law No.124 of 1972. This law prevents GAIAE departments from interfering in the affairs of Zawiyas since they are special endowments set up by its respective founders for educational purposes and teaching the Qur’an. However, GAIAE has since 2012, under the influence of Salafi groups and militant affiliated to the Dar al-Ifta, raided Zawiyas for several years in Zliten, Msallata, Misrata, Tripoli and throughout much of the country.

The first fatwa that authorized uncontrolled exhumations of Sufi graves emerged after 2011, when the radical Islamist cleric currently based in Istanbul, Sadiq al-Gharyani authorized the demolition of the mausoleum of Sidi Abdelra’ouf, located south of Misrata under the pretext that Gaddafi brigades were using it. Despite his later denial of having issued a fatwa, other fatwas from outside and inside the country were subsequently issued and became the religious basis for puritanical movements and their crimes against the Zawiyas. Instead of closing these graves they had issues with or transporting them in a humane manner to cemeteries elsewhere, they preferred instead to bulldoze, demolish and detonate them.

STEALING DOCUMENTS FROM ZAWIYAS

In July last year,  GAIAE tried to hold the Zawiyas responsible for the spread of the COVID-19. It also claimed, in a statement, that the “epidemic” of Sufism was more dangerous and deadly than COVID-19. It argued that the situation of the nation would not be improved until Sufism was eradicated from the Zawiyas.

In flagrant violation of Libyan legislation, GAIAE encroached on private endowments, which is prohibited by Law No.124 of 1972.

In this context, we have identified a new campaign to combat witchcraft and magic by GAIAE against the Zawiyas, but this time under a different slogan: the pretext of spreading of “magic” at the graves. GAIAE announced a new programme to “eradicate” such practices which it alleged was happening at the Zawiyas. The programme was composed of members of GAIAE and local and interior ministry authorities but failed to have any effect as the main culprits of such “magic” operate clandestinely from their homes and not from any Zawiyas.

It was clear that the entire programme organised by GAIAE was a ploy to target the strongholds of Libyan heritage and national identity. Last week, GAIAE targeted Zawiyas in Surman, where heavily armed groups raided them and seized their contents under the pretext of combating magic. What they seized had nothing to do with magic.

Another one targeted was the zawiya and mosque of Sheikh Zakri al-Mahjoub, which is considered of key Libyan historical landmark that dates back more than 600 years. Historical studies mention that this zawiya and mosque was founded in 1353 AH, before Sheikh Zakri renewed them in 1465 AH.

According to the correspondence and official documents obtained by AlMarsad, the new Fortitude Campaign will be conducted in coordination with the Ministry of Interior of the GNA and the Ministry of Local Government. Although the Interior Ministry denied its relationship to the attack on the city of Surman, in a statement issued last Sunday, and that it “did not issue any instructions to any security agency affiliated with it to provide assistance to those who did such acts”. However, the Interior Ministry threatened to prosecute “those who committed such acts [i.e. magic] and legal measures will be taken and the seizure of graves by security directorates in the regions according to articles No.294, 293 and 292 of the Libyan Penal Code.” In effect, he Interior Ministry is tacitly supporting the new campaign by GAIAE.

GAIAE’s decision, signed by Mohammed Ahamida al-Abani that was issued on 22 December on the formation of a committee to implement the program to combat witchcraft and magic” included the nomination of Muadth al-Taghdi, who is known as Abu Miqdad and a member of the Committee from the Ministry of Interior, and the decision was named by a member of the Ministry of Local Government and another from the General Services Company. 

The orchestrated campaign by GAIAE is yet another surreptitious attempt to confiscate and control manuscripts that are vital to Libya’s national memory and heritage. The pressure exerted by GAIAE against the Libyan Studies Centre, and demanding it to vacate its property so that it can take over the national archives, is part of the wider attempt to alter Libya’s national memory and weaponise it for political ends.

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