I haven’t lived in Libya very long so i’m not sure i can paint a full or accurate picture of Islam and Muslims in Libya. However I did observe a few things around me and discovered some aspects of life as a Muslim in Libya.
Islam in Libya
Libya is a Muslim country and very conservative too, especially in some cities. The capital Tripoli seems to have a more “liberal” approach but in Misurata and Zawia, where there aren’t that many Westerners, people are quite conservative. The only ladies I have seen without hijabs are non Muslim expats from Asia, men are also dressed very modestly.
As far as I understand and from what I have been told, only Sunni Islam is practiced in Libya and if there are any Shia communities, they would be very small and very much a minority.
Mosques are everywhere, of all sizes and shapes, many with Turkish influence in their designs. They are are very well maintained and always clean, including the toilet and wudhu (ablution) areas. Ladies are welcome in the mosques for prayers (including Taraweeh) but some mosques will only offer space for men to pray.
Expat and Muslim in Libya
This was my first time living in a Muslim country and it was very exciting. The one thing I couldn’t wait to experience was hearing the Adhan (call for prayer) on the loudspeakers. Every day, it can be heard not just once but 4 or 5 times per prayer depending where you are and how many mosques are around. It really is something special.
Libya has got a strict ban on pork and alcohol so you can shop anywhere without worrying. Unlike some of its neighbors Libya is not as open to tourists, so Islam has not been “compromised” in favor of business and profit alhamdulillah.
I’m often asked about the status of women there: here again I haven’t seen it all but Libyan women are allowed to work, to drive, to walk around, to attend prayers in the mosque… As a woman I have not felt restricted in my movement in anyway (could be because I am non-Libyan) and I have never been in a situation where being a woman caused any trouble at all.
Having said that, while women are allowed to shop alone or drive alone and such, you rarely see women on their own, they tend to let their husband do all the shopping and driving around. Women on their own in the street can be the target of rude comments (especially in Zawia) I’ve been told, although it never happened to me. This is probably why ladies shop in groups rather than completely alone. There is also a security factor although I’m not sure how much is security and how much is about personal preference.
One funny or at least unusual practice there is that ladies are not really supposed to greet men even with ‘Salam Alaykum‘. I used to do it when I would come into an office or inside a taxi and such, and I have been told that it is not expected so I had to shake this ‘habit’ of mine.
Being a Muslim in Libya is…
Awesome! I just loved living in a Muslim country to the point that I find it hard to go back to the UK or France. It’s great being among Muslims, there is a strong sense of community and as a result, a sense of security and peace of mind (I’m not talking about the political climate here).
However let’s be clear, Muslim country doesn’t mean perfect country. You’ll see some odd behaviors and some practices that are 100% cultural and not compatible with Islam. But as I always say when asked about those, the key differences between those behaviors in Libya and in a non Muslim country is that in Libya, they are frowned upon and even illegal. As a mum trying to raise Muslim children it’s great to be able to explain how bad those practices are when society as a whole backs you up.
If I had some advice for future Muslim expats in Libya is to choose your local community carefully (like everywhere) and don’t expect the impossible. Libya is a Muslim country but Muslims will always be people; with their flaws, their mistakes and their misunderstandings.