Libyan Ultra-hardliner groups fashioning themselves as Salafis have desecrated the tomb of Ahmad Zarruq, a noted 15th century Sufi. This is not an isolated attack, following in the footsteps of destruction of other shrines in Tripoli (of al-Shaab al-Dahmani) and Ziltan (of Abdel Salam al-Asmar) which have been desecrated. These desecrations have involved the digging up of bodies (see images), destruction of mosques, burning of libraries, and even bulldozing of entire shrine complexes with heavy industrial equipment.
This is not the work of individual thieves, but betrays an orchestrated campaign of hundreds of individuals, working with government sanction. They are using heavy construction type equipment (built by Hyundai), and in some cases have shown up ready to break through the locks placed on doors of the shrines.
You can see images of the grave site of Ahmad Zarruq, before and after, here.
As you can see, the body of the saint has been dug up and removed.
Ironically, the snatching of the body proves that even the Salafi puritans acknowledge that there is some kind of power, called "Baraka" in Islamic terms, associated with the body.
The removal of the body is analogous to Christian debates where anti-iconic followers would blacken the eyes of saints in icons.
The Libyan interior minister Fawzi Abdel-Al has already resigned in wake of these controversies.
You can see images of one destruction here.
These Salafi groups seem to be inspired by Saudi Wahhabis, who have a long history of destroying shrines, including those of the family of the Prophet in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
The Libyan groups, following on the footsteps of the Wahhabis, identify pilgrimage to these shrines—rooted in the mystical tradition of Islam—to be tantamount to idolatry and polytheism.
Many other Muslim groups see these sites as places where the name of God is glorified, and serve as centers of learning and piety.
Monitoring the online discussion in the aftermath of these desecration has proven instructive. One user, who acknowledged an overall sympathy to the teachings of the Salafis, expressed shock and sadness when he found out that the hardliners had in fact destroyed mosques and Qur’anic inscriptions in the process.
There has been a rise in these types of destruction and desecrations. The al-Qaeda linked group Ansare Din has destroyed shrines in Timbuktu, which was a major West African center of Islamic learning going back for centuries.
Important Muslim leaders like Faraz Rabbani have spoken out on the destruction of shrines.
The Sufi teachings of Ahmad Zarruq have been foundational in North African Islam for centuries, and have inspired many around the world.
Ahmad Zarruq’s Qawa’id al-tasawwuf (“Principles of Sufism”) can be accessed online.
There is an exquisite book on Ahmad Zarruq by Scott A. Kugle on Ahmad Zarruq.
For the ongoing relevance of Ahmad Zarruq in the North American context, see Hamza Yusuf’s discussion here.
I am grateful to the courageous Abdurrahman Mihirig for taking pictures of the desecrated shrines.