Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed concern about growing violence against Sufi Muslims in Libya on Thursday, noting that two Sufi mosques in Tripoli have been attacked in the past two months.
“On November 28, 2017, unidentified assailants set fire to Zawiyat Sheikha Radiya, a historic Sufi mosque in Tripoli, heavily damaging it. This attack follows the October 20 destruction of Sidi Abu Gharara, another historic Sufi mosque in Tripoli,” HRW reports.
Disturbingly, the Sufi community accused the Special Deterrence Force, an armed unit linked to the Libyan Government of National Accord – i.e. the internationally recognized Libyan government – of deliberately damaging the mosque in al-Ghararat. The SDF has denied the allegation and promised to punish those responsible.
Human Rights Watch faults both the Government of National Accord and other governments claiming authority over post-Qaddafi Libya for doing little to stop the wave of anti-Sufi violence. On one occasion in 2012, a group of armed militants knocked down a Sufi mosque with bulldozers “in the presence of law enforcement units.”
These are but the latest in a series of attacks on Sufi religious sites, cemeteries, and libraries, along with the abduction and murder of Sufis themselves, stretching back to 2011. Other religious minorities in Libya have also been attacked, notoriously including the execution of 21 Coptic Christians by the Libyan wing of the Islamic State in 2015.
Sufis have suffered violent attacks in other quarters of the Middle East, including Egypt, where a horrific bomb and gun attack on a Sufi mosque killed hundreds of people in November. Adherents of the strict Salafi school of Islam, including ISIS, often accuse the Sufis of heresy because they use some rituals and prayers that were not authorized by Mohammed, and they pray for the intervention of saints instead of reserving prayer for Allah alone.
”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. The unpunished attacks on Sufi mosques are endangering one of Libya’s historic minority communities,” said Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director Eric Goldstein of Human Rights Watch.