Tapping the table for emphasis, Alaa Murabit, Libyan women’s rights campaigner and former revolutionary, speaks passionately about the need for Islamic law in the country she’s lived in since the age of 15.
“It’s extremely important for the (Libyan) constitution to use Islam as one of the sources – not the sole source, but one of the sources. We have to have a constitution which speaks to the people, which is indigenous to us,” she said in an interview on the sidelines of last week’s Trust Women Conference in London.
Murabit, now in her early 20s, is one of Libya’s leading voices on women’s rights and is the founder of The Voice of Libyan Women, an NGO working to help women shape the future of their society.
Because Libyans are very devout, they wouldn’t abide by Western-style secular laws, she said. “People will think you’re kidding them.”
Her words may surprise some human rights experts who view with concern the growing demand for sharia in Arab Spring countries now drafting their constitutions.
She said Islam gives women their rights, but people have manipulated it to suit themselves. The form of sharia that’s understood by most Muslims and the international community is actually culture, so it’s crucial that sharia is interpreted correctly, she added. “Islamically I don’t have to cover my face, culturally in a lot of countries you do.”
…Let us return to the late Gaddafi before he was lynched by his own people. Muammar Gaddafi had ruled Libya since the military coup of 1969. He had been less important as a social or religious reformer domestically than in his efforts to be a political player globally. How far did Islam affect his attitude to women and the gender question?
On the gender question Gaddafi used symbolism. Far from regarding women as unsuited for military roles, or incapable of using firearms efficiently,Gaddafi theoretically entrusted his life to female bodyguards. These were often referred to as “the Amazons.” Women in oil-rich Libya were more liberated than in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Was Gaddafi influenced by the memory of the widow of the Prophet Muhammad Aisha? She participated in the Battle of the Camel during the Caliphate rivalry. She was riding in the middle of the battle.
The Pope in history has had the physical protection of the Swiss guards and the spiritual protection of the Virgin Mary. Gaddafi had women body guards who were spiritually required to be virgins.
On the link between virginity and military effectiveness, Gaddafi in North Africa in the 21st century had shared a characteristic with Shaka Zulu of South Africa in the eighteenth century. Shaka wanted his male soldiers to be celibate, totally denying themselves sex. Gaddafi had wanted his female guards as virgins from the start — and committed to celibacy until military retirement.
Before the revolution, I met Libyan women who discouraged their sons from participating in Libyan society, even if the events were not political, because of the fear of government brutality. Over the past six months these same women became some of the biggest cheerleaders, encouraging their sons or husbands to go out and fight.
Now, a year later and six months into the people’s uprising to oust Gaddafi and his family, I’ve met with countless women activists who are torn between where to focus their energy in the midst of a refugee and humanitarian crisis and the tragedy of on-going war. How can you gauge what has the most priority, when in Libya Gaddafi destroyed- and is destroying- everything that was ever built?