Religious Custom and The Problems of the New Libya

I’ve noticed a trend in the issues plaguing the Libyan corner of Facebook. Religion seems to evoke a barrage of emotion and debate unlike anything else.

Before I go on, let me elaborate; ever since the revolution, Facebook has become the social tool in Libya. People turn to it not just for news and updates, but to give their opinions and hear what others have to say. A big change from the tightly controlled censorship of the Gadhafi days, and one that is readily accepted. The amount of Libyan Facebook-ers is increasing exponentially, with more than 150,000 new users in the past six months alone.

If you want to get an idea of popular thought in Libya, spend some time on a few of the numerous Libyan Facebook pages, such as Only Libya ( news) or Libyan Youth Movement (social activism).

If you browse any of these pages, you’ll notice that any topic posted that relates to religion almost always has a raging debate revolving around it. People are divided over what exactly freedom should entail when it comes to Islamic tradition. Should a person be able to do whatever they want, as long as it doesn’t break the law? What about morals and social etiquette? To give you an example, here’s a recent story that has everyone talking. 

Sarah Emsalati was giving a presentation to the National Transitional Council, when a congressman told her to wear a headscarf. When she refused the congressman walked out, and she was asked to leave.

There as been widespread condemnation, and a Facebook page was started supported Ms. Emsalati. What she says should be more important to the council than what’s on her head, right? But there are people who believe that the congressman who expressed his displeasure was not incorrect. They take the issue further; why doesn’t she wear the headscarf, what’s wrong with it? Is she not a Muslim? From there it usually descends into a deeply religious discussion of social and religious ethics.

Another example; a Facebook post claims that the appointed Grand Mufti of Libya, Sheikh Saadeq Gheryani, is working to pass a law to segregate institutes of learning. Whether true or not, what’s interesting is the discussion going on in the comments section. To translate a couple of the comments –

“Thank God, we have been waiting for this to happen.”


“Oh no, the new Afghanistan is coming”


“Focus on the bigger problems in the country before you focus on these trivial issues”

That last comment was echoed several times, and it is this lowly blogger’s opinion that, indeed, we should be focusing on the bigger problems. What about our economy’s dependency on oil, the drafting of a constitution, our collapsed infrastructure? No, let’s bicker about headscarves and whether we should start segregating schools.

I believe this stems from the fear that, as we progress, we’ll lose ties with our faith. Development and modernism is, for some, synonymous with Westernization, and they speak out of fear. Libyans deeply love their religion, they’ve always found security and solace in it during times of hardship.

And so, let the people talk. After 42 years of quiet fear, let the floodgates open and allow the torrent of thought to come flooding out. Eventually, hopefully, the pettier subjects will be  worn out and people will turn to the issues that matter. As long as we’re getting a dialogue going, it’s a start. It’s a start.

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