By Hadi Fornaji.
Tripoli, 24 August:
One of Libya’s most . . .[restrict]important Sufi shrines, that of the Sidi Abdul-Salam Al-Asmar Al-Fituri in Zliten, has been massively damaged in fighting in the town, some 150 kilometres east of Tripoli. The violence started earlier in the week and according to government officials has left at least three people dead and eight more injured. The conflict is between Zlitenis and, reportedly, members of the small Awlad Al-Shaikh tribe who live in the area.
The attack on the shrine — the most important building in Zliten and part of the town’s Asmariya Islamic University complex — may be entirely separate to the skirmishes. The building appears to have been systematically targeted. It was subject to continued mortar fire and took three direct hits last night.
A senior Sufi figure, who asked not to be named, told the Libya Herald that the destruction of the tomb had been deliberate and was not part of the local clashes. He appeared to blame Salafists. “The fighting was used by those who have been wanting to do this for some time”.
In early March, several hundred Salafists arrived in Zliten from all over the country planning to destroy the tomb. There was then a standoff when local Zliteni revolutionaries supported by those from neighbouring Misrata rushed to the shrine’s defence, threatening to shoot the Salafists unless they withdrew. Negotiations then followed in which it was agreed that the issue of the shrine be referred to the Grand Mufti, Sheikh Sadeq Al-Ghariani.
Although very small in number, Salafists have been trying to impose their view, by force if necessary, that such places are un-Islamic. There have been a number of attacks or attempted attacks on Sufi shrines throughout the country. In October last year, the mosque at Sidi Masri was vandalized and the remains of two Muslim scholars, Abdul-Rahman Al-Masri and Salem Abu Seif, removed. The same month, the cemetery in Gargaresh was ransacked while, in November, Tripoli’s Sidi Nasr mosque was similarly desecrated.
At the beginning of last month, a bomb exploded at the Sahaba Mosque in Derna destroying the tomb housing the grave of Zuhayr Ibn Qais Al-Balawi, a seventh century Arab commander who helped bring Islam to the region. Salafists again were blamed. As in the case of the Zliten attack, the grave itself was not destroyed and the tomb is to be rebuilt.
Sidi Abdul-Salam Al-Asmar Al-Fituri, who died c. 1575, was both an ascetic and a warrior. He took up arms when Zliten was under attack. On his death, this tomb because a centre of pilgrimage. [/restrict]