(Beirut)– The Libyan government should urgently deploy security forces in numbers sufficient to protect Sufi religious sites and announce that people who attack these sites will be held accountable for these crimes.
“The government has failed both to protect sites sacred to Libyan Muslims who follow Sufi practices and to arrest those who have destroyed the tombs,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Inaction and impunity can only encourage further attacks.”
Mainstream Islamic scholars consider Sufism a practice of Islam that emphasizes esoteric and mystical elements. The followers pray over tombs of saints and ask for blessings, practices that some conservative Muslims reject as idolatry.
In the most recent attack, on August 28, 2012, armed assailants reportedly attacked the Uthman Basha mosque in Tripoli’s old town with heavy drills. The attack caused extensive damage and destroyed 30 graves within the compound. The historic site, which serves as a madrasa, a school of religious learning, also includes a library that the reports said was looted and damaged.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks on Sufi sites. Interior Minister Fawzi Abdel A’al was quoted describing them as “groups that have a strict Islamic ideology where they believe that graves and shrines must be desecrated.” It was an apparent reference to Salafists, Muslims who advocate a return to Islam, as they believe it was practiced in the days of the Prophet Muhammad.