Libyan Sufis mark Prophet's birthday despite tension

Sat Feb 4, 2012 5:50pm GMT

* Libyan Sufis defy pressure from radical Islamists

* Sufis say they are majority, hardliners tiny minority

* Sufi-Salafi rivalry emerging in Libyan politics

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

TRIPOLI, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Libyan Sufis staged a joyous parade through the heart of Tripoli on Saturday to mark the Prophet Mohammad's birthday, defying radical Salafi Muslims pressuring them to scrap the centuries-old tradition.

Chanting hymns to the beat of drums and cymbals, marchers choked the narrow alleys of the walled old town to celebrate the feast of Mawlid, a favourite event for the pious Sufis whose spirituality is an integral part of North African Islam.

The celebrations were the first since the fall last August of Muammar Gaddafi, who kept religion under firm control during his 42-year dictatorship, and went ahead despite concerns that hardliners might attack the marchers as heretics.

The tension between the traditional Sufis and the Salafis, a group influenced by Saudi Wahhabis and other ultra-conservative foreign Islamists, has become a key divide in Libyan politics as parties begin to form to contest free elections in June.

"We fought the tyrant (Gaddafi) because he was a dictator and we don't want anyone like him to govern us again," said biology teacher Mohammad Aref. "We are the majority."   Continued...

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