Religion News Service: In-depth. Impartial. Engaged.

Blogs » Omid Safi - What Would Muhammad Do?

What Would Muhammad Do? has moved: Click here to read the latest posts

Attack of the body-snatching, shrine-bulldozing, mosque-destroying extremists


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.

Tags: body, desecration, grave, idol worship, libya, salafi, saudi, shrine, wahhabi


  1. Very sad to see violence used to enforce religious conformity!

  2. Its really very sad. This act is giving Islam a very bad image.

  3. The wahabi salafis are the stooges of the West. They do not have an idea of the sites and significance of the tombs deep in Libyan Sunni Society. In reality, the culprits behind these desecrations are the perennialists in the west, who are infiltrators within Sunni Sufism and are in direct mutual relationship with the western enemies of Islam and their partners the salafi wahabi states of saudi and qatar and kuwait.

    These western perennialists are

    Mark Hanson who goes by the name hamza yusuf
    Noah Keller
    Rickey J Mitchell who goes by the name zaid shakir
    Weyman Landgraff who goes by the stolen name umar faruq abdallah
    John Rhodes who goes by the name yahya rhodes
    sherman jackson
    abdallah hamid ali

    these perennialists orientalists infiltrators within Sunni Islam are the biggest danger to Islam. They are the ones who instigated the west to attack Sunni Sufi sites in Mali and Libya.

    Allah’s curse is on these devils

  4. Dear “A Libyan Sufi”.  I am not sure who you are, what you are basing your information on, but there are so many contradictions in your post as to make it grossly inaccurate and distorted.

    The folks you mention are not all Perennialists (Sherman Jackson is not, for example), nor are they affiliated with the Perennialist school of Seyyed Hossein Nasr and the Traditionalists. 

    If you are going to insult people, get your facts right.  Better yet, don’t insult people, engage them in a factual conversation. 

    The perennialists are in many ways the very opposite of the Wahhabis you despise, and they are by and large quite friendly towards Sufism.    Many of the Perennialists actually see Sufism as the very heart of Islam.

    If you knew something about the teachings of Shaykh Hamza, Dr. Umar, and Imam Zaid, you would see the silliness of the accusations you are making against them.  Many people (myself included) share your admiration for Sufism and the tradition of indigenous Libyan Islam, but the way to get your point across is not by making spurious accusations.

    Omid Safi (author of blog)

  5. Thank you Professor Omid for making these issues known.

Sign In

Forgot Password?

You also can sign in with Facebook or Twitter if you've connected your account to them.

Sign In Using Facebook

Sign In Using Twitter