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Libya PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 14:42
Religious Freedom Ranking:
2.5 out of 5 stars: Poor


Libya is currently experiencing a regime change reflecting the Arab Spring upheavals and the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The outcome of these changes may affect the situation of religious freedom in the country.

The 5,800,000 Libyan citizenry is ninety-seven percent Sunni Muslim. Almost all others (1.5 - 2 million) are either refugees or foreign workers. The government defines religion as a direct relationship with the creator, “without mediators.” There is currently no specific law concerning religious freedom, but generally this principle is respected as long as its practice does not interfere with the government’s interpretation of its Shari’a guidelines. Significantly, no law currently exists to block conversion from Islam to another religion. However, proselytizing of Muslims is prohibited, and prosecution and imprisonment can result from violating this stricture. Any sort of militant Islam was strongly opposed by the Gaddafi regime and seen as a security threat.

The source of the religious freedom that exists in Libya is the result of The Great Green Charter on Human Rights of 1988, which states: "The members of Jamahiriya Society…proclaim that religion is absolute faith in the Divinity, and that it is a sacred spiritual value. Religion is personal to each one and common to all. It is a direct relationship with the Creator, without any intermediary. Jamahiriya Society proscribes the monopoly of religion as well as its exploitation for purposes of subversion, fanaticism, sectarianism, partisan spirit, and fratricidal wars."

There is currently no legal recourse if a person feels that his/her religious freedom rights have been violated. The Gaddafi government closely monitored and regulated Islam to keep out any political activities.

All public and private schools must have Islamic religious instruction, and no in-depth study of any other religion is allowed. Minority religions are allowed to conduct religious services. Both Orthodox and protestant Christians have congregations in several cities, although the government limited each Christian domination to only one place of worship per city. The estimated 750,000 Egyptian foreign residents include approximately 50,000 Coptic Christians. Roman Catholic clergy are primarily engaged in service work in hospitals, orphanages, or with the elderly and physically impaired. Others include Anglicans, Greek Orthodox and several non-denominational, evangelical churches serving a population of primarily African and Filipino migrant workers. Historically there have been no Shi'a Muslims, but small numbers of Iraqi Shi'as have been reported immigrating due to tensions in Iraq. Hindus, Baha'is, and Buddhists have no houses of worship but are allowed to practice in their homes and to display and sell religious items at bazaars and other public areas. Visas and residence papers are generally issued to religious staff from other countries and, like other classes of resident migrants, clergy are generally offered one-year residency permits.

The government banned the once powerful Sufi Sanusiyya order. The order played an important role in the country's history and is closely associated with the former monarchy.

Religious freedom and women: Shari’a law determines the rights of women. Some recent developments include the freedom to leave the country without the need for a male relative’s consent. Traditional Islamic law, practiced in Libya, states that a non-Muslim woman who married a Muslim man was not required to convert to Islam, although many do so; however, a non-Muslim man must convert to marry a Muslim woman. Female genital mutilation is reported in rural areas; it is unknown if this is a religious practice.

Religious violence: Although much violence has occurred during the civil war to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, it does not appear to be religiously motivated.


2010 US State Department International Religious Freedom Report on Libya

Libya - New World Encyclopedia

Last Updated on Monday, 21 November 2011 20:39