Speculation continues regarding the role of Islam in post-Gaddafi Libya. Divisions are apparent between the leading members of the unelected National Transitional Council, as secularists and Islamists vie for power. A leading voice in Libya is that of Sheik Ali Al-Salabi, a Muslim cleric, who on Sunday addressed a meeting where he demanded a role for Islam in the governance of Libya.
, which describes Salabi as a prominent spokesman for groups of excluded Islamists, reported that Salabi said
"We call for a moderate Islam. But you all have to understand that Islam is not just about punishment, cutting hands and beheading with swords."
The influential cleric added
“I believe that Islam covers all, including politics. In the past we were deprived from implementing the principles of Islam. I am a religious person. I am also a Libyan citizen. I have my say with regard to the political issue."
Salabi did not have the full support of all who heard him, with even some Islamic scholars telling him religion has no place in politics.
Salabi was once a prisoner of the Gaddafi regime and supported the overthrow of Gaddafi. In fact it could be said that his influence exacerbated the civil war. Prior to the Libyan uprising Saif al-Islam Gaddafi called on Salabi to help negotiate with political prisoners who were former members of LIFG. Saif was working on their release if they renounced violence. Salabi has close ties with former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) member Abdel Hakim Belhadj, one of the prisoners released, who is now the controversial military commander of Tripoli.
As fighting began in Libya, Salabi said
"National unity is not in danger. There will be no civil war, but all the people are against the African mercenaries”
according to Islam online
. Salabi lives in Qatar and was used by the Gulf country to communicate with the NTC as war progressed. Qatar openly funded the NTC and was the most prominent Arab nation to engage in direct support of the NTC.
Salabi was the communications like between the NTC and the Gaddafi regime.
Mustafa Abd-al-Jalil said (WSJ)"There were some indirect communications about three months ago through Ali al-Sallabi but these communications were short lived. This happened when those participating in these talks left the meeting after Ali al-Sallabi made the condition that Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi must step down from power and leave the country. Al-Sallabi said that we cannot engage in any talks before this condition is met.”
This condition was adhered to even though peace plans were brokered by African nations which were acceptable to the Gaddafi regime but meant Gaddafi would stay in Libya.
In March Salabi stated that the NTC had the support of Islamist scholars. Speaking to Reuters
from Qatar he said
“The Libyans want Gaddafi, his sons and his miserable regime out. The Libyans want the international community to recognise the transitional council and to support it with arms, food and medicine.”
However council members no longer enjoy his full support as he has accused interim NTC leader Mohammed Jibril of being a tyrant in waiting.
The future political face of Libya will be determined by either secularism of Islamism. The NTC has said the new Libya will be based on sharia law. However Salabi’s calls for a moderate Islam may simply be a token gesture as leaders including Belhadj have long wanted a caliphate state. One of the two main aims of the LIFG have been achieved through civil war, the overthrow of Gaddafi. Their second aim of turning Libya into an Islamic caliphate may become the next reality, despite Salabi’s moderate words.