Libya Table of Contents

The shahadah (profession of faith, or testimony) states succinctly the central belief, "There is no God but God Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet." The faithful repeat this simple profession on ritual occasions, and its recital designates the speaker as a Muslim. The term Islam means submission to God, and he who submits is a Muslim.

The God preached by Muhammad was previously known to his countrymen, for Allah is the general Arabic term for the supreme being rather than the name of a particular deity. Rather than introducing a new deity, Muhammad denied the existence of the pantheon of gods and spirits worshipped before his prophethood and declared the omnipotence of God, the unique creator. Muhammad is the "Seal of the Prophets," the last of the prophetic line. His revelations are said to complete for all time the series of revelations that had been given earlier to Jews and Christians. God is believed to have remained one and the same throughout time, but humans are seen as having misunderstood or strayed from God's true teachings until set aright by Muhammad. Prophets and sages of the biblical tradition, such as Abraham, Moses, and Jesus are recognized as inspired vehicles of God's will. Islam, however, reveres as sacred only the message, rejecting Christianity's deification of the messenger. It accepts the concepts of guardian angels, the Day of Judgment, resurrection, and the eternal life of the soul.

The duties of the Muslim form the "five pillars" of the faith. These are shahadah, salat (daily prayer), zakat (almsgiving), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage). The believer prays facing Mecca at five specified times during the day. Whenever possible, men observe their prayers in congregation at a mosque under direction of an imam, or prayer leader, and on Fridays are obliged to do so. Women are permitted to attend public worship at the mosque, where they are segregated from men, but their attendance tends to be discouraged, and more frequently they pray in the seclusion of their homes.

In the early days of Islam, a tax for charitable purposes was imposed on personal property in proportion to the owner's wealth; the payment purified the remaining wealth and made it religiously legitimate. The collection of this tax and its distribution to the needy were originally functions of the state. But with the breakdown of Muslim religiopolitical authority, alms became an individual responsibility. With the discovery of petroleum in Libya and the establishment of a welfare society, almsgiving has been largely replaced by public welfare and its significance diluted accordingly.

Fasting is practiced during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan, the time during which the first chapters of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad. It is a period during which most Muslims must abstain from food, drinking, smoking, and sexual activity during the daylight hours. The well-to-do accomplish little work during this period, and many businesses close or operate on reduced schedules. Because the months of the lunar calendar revolve through the solar year, Ramadan occurs during various seasons. In Libya, among the strictest of Muslim countries, cafes must remain closed during the day. But they open their doors after dark, and feasting takes place during the night.

Finally, at least once during their lifetime all Muslims should make the hajj to the holy city of Mecca to participate in the special rites that occur during the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. Upon completion of this and certain other ritual assignments, the returning pilgrim is entitled to the honorific "al Haj," before his name.

In addition to prescribing specific duties, Islam imposes a code of conduct entailing generosity, fairness, honesty, and respect for others. Its proscribes adultery, gambling, usury, and the consumption of carrion, blood, pork, and alcohol. Although proscription of alcohol is irregularly enforced in most Muslim countries, the Libyan revolutionary government has been strict in ensuring that its prohibition be effective, even in the households of foreign diplomats.

Muslims traditionally are subject to the sharia, or religious law, which--as interpreted by religious courts--covers most aspects of life. In Libya the Maliki school is followed. One of several schools of Islamic law, it predominates throughout North Africa. The sharia, which was developed by jurists from the Quran and from the traditions of the Prophet, provides a complete pattern for human conduct.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress