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Religion in Libya: Wikis


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By far the predominant religion in Libya is Islam with 97% of the population associating with the faith.[1] The vast majority of Libyan Muslims adhere to Sunni Islam, which provides both a spiritual guide for individuals and a keystone for government policy, but a minority (between 5 and 10%) adhere to Ibadism (a branch of Kharijism), above all in the Jebel Nefusa and the town of Zuwarah.

Mosque in Ghadames, close to the Tunisian and Algerian border. About 97% of Libyans are followers of Islam.

Other than the overwhelming majority of Sunni Muslims, there are also small Christian communities, composed exclusively of foreigners. Coptic Orthodox Christianity, which is the Christian Church of Egypt, is the largest and most historical Christian denomination in Libya. There are over 60,000 Egyptian Copts in Libya, as they comprise of over 1% of the population alone. [2] There are an estimated 40,000 Roman Catholics in Libya who are served by two Bishops, one in Tripoli (serving the Italian community) and one in Benghazi (serving the Maltese community). There is also a small Anglican community, made up mostly of African immigrant workers in Tripoli; it is part of the Anglican Diocese of Egypt.[3]

Libya was until recent times the home of one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, dating back to at least 300 BC.[4] A series of pogroms beginning in November 1945 lasted for almost three years, drastically reducing Libya's Jewish population.[5] In 1948, about 38,000 Jews remained in the country. Upon Libya's independence in 1951, most of the Jewish community emigrated. After the Suez Crisis in 1956, all but about 100 Jews were forced to flee.



Most Libyans adhere to the Sunni branch of Islam, which provides both spiritual guidance for individuals and a keystone for government policy. Its tenets stress unity of religion and state rather than a separation or distinction between the two, and even those Muslims who have ceased to believe fully in Islam retain Islamic habits and attitudes. Since the 1969 coup (see: History of Libya), the Muammar al-Gaddafi regime has explicitly endeavored to reaffirm Muslim values, enhance appreciation of Islamic culture, elevate the status of Qur'anic law and, to a considerable degree, emphasize Qur'anic practice in everyday Libyan life.

During the seventh century, Muslim conquerors reached Libya, and by the eighth century most of the resistance mounted by the indigenous Berbers had ended. The urban centers soon became substantially Islamic, but widespread conversion of the nomads of the desert did not come until after large-scale invasions in the eleventh century by beduin tribes from Arabia and Egypt.

A residue of pre-Islamic beliefs blended with the pure Islam of the Arabs. Hence, popular Islam became an overlay of Qur'anic ritual and principles upon the vestiges of earlier beliefs -- prevalent throughout North Africa -- in jinns (spirits), the evil eye, rites to ensure good fortune, and cult veneration of local saints. The educated of the cities and towns served as the primary bearers and guardians of the more austere brand of orthodox Islam.

Before the 1930s, the Sanusi Movement was the primary Islamic movement in Libya. This was a religious revival adapted to desert life. Its zawaayaa (lodges) were found in Tripolitania and Fezzan, but Sanusi influence was strongest in Cyrenaica. Rescuing the region from unrest and anarchy, the Sanusi movement gave the Cyrenaican tribal people a religious attachment and feelings of unity and purpose.[6] This Islamic movement, which was eventually destroyed by both Italian invasion and later the Gaddafi government,[6] was very conservative and somewhat different from the Islam that exists in Libya today. Gaddafi asserts that he is a devout Muslim, and his government is taking a role in supporting Islamic institutions and in worldwide proselytizing on behalf of Islam.[7] A Libyan form of Sufism is also common in parts of the country.[8]


Christianity is a minority religion in Libya. The largest Christian group in Libya is the Coptic Orthodox, with a population of over 60,000. [9] The Coptic (Egyptian) Church is known to have several historical roots in Libya long before the Arabs advanced westward from Egypt into Libya. However, the Roman Catholics have a large number as well, with 40,000 members. Orthodox communites other than that of the Egyptian Copts include the Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, and the Greek Orthodox. There is one Anglican congregation in Tripoli, made up mostly of African immigrant workers in Tripoli and which belongs to the Egyptian Anglican diocese. The Anglican bishop of Libya has his seat in Cairo, as most Christians in Libya originate from Egypt, including the Copts. There are relatively peaceful relations between Christians and Muslims in Libya.


Jews have lived in Libya since the 3rd century BC, when North Africa was under Roman rule. During World War II, Libya's Jewish population was subjected to anti-Semitic laws by the Fascist Italian regime and deportations by German troops. After the war, anti-Jewish violence caused many Jews to leave the country usually for Israel. Under Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, who has ruled the country since 1969, the situation became a lot worse, which led almost all Jews to emigrate; now, only one Jewish woman still lives in the country. Al-Gaddafi's attempts to become a respected member of the international community again since the 1990s, have, however, led to a more friendly policy towards Jewish people.


With 0.3% of its population identifying as Buddhist, Libya has the largest proportion of Buddhists of any North African country. Many Buddhists are immigrants from Asia. However, there are no Buddhist pagodas or temples in Libya.

Freedom of religion

Freedom of religion is restricted in Libya.

See also


  1. ^ Religious adherents by location, "'42,000 religious geography and religion statistics', Libya", Accessed July 15, 2006
  2. ^ Looklex Encyclopedia: 1% of Libya's population (6.1 million) adhere to the Coptic Orthodox faith
  3. ^ (2004), "International Religious Freedom Report: Libya" Jewish Virtual Library, Accessed July 19 2006
  4. ^ The World Jewish Congress, "History of the Jewish Community in Libya", University of California at Berkeley, Accessed July 16 2006
  5. ^ Harris, David A. (2001), "In the Trenches: Selected Speeches and Writings of an American Jewish Activist", 1979–1999, pp. 149–150
  6. ^ a b Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, (1989), "The Sanusis", U.S. Library of Congress, Accessed July 22, 2006
  7. ^ Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress, (1989), "Islam in Revolutionary Libya", US Library of Congress, Accessed July 19 2006
  8. ^ Libya - Religion, (July 8, 2006), "Sufi Movement to be involved in Libya" Arabic News, Accessed July 19 2006
  9. ^ Looklex Encyclopedia: 1% of Libya's population (6.1 million) adhere to the Coptic Orthodox faith


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