Table of Contents


One evening in November 2015, just after 6:00 p.m., five men carrying assault rifles entered a government office in the Libyan capital of Tripoli and arrested the office’s director.1 At first glance, the incident is unremarkable and barely newsworthy—one of countless instances of coercion after the fall of late dictator Muammar Qadhafi in Libya, where a succession of weak governments has faced pressure from unaccountable militias. In this case, the abductors belonged to a powerful, Tripoli-based armed group called the Special Deterrence Force. Nominally under the Ministry of Interior, the Special Deterrence Force has long acted as de facto police and moral enforcers in the Libyan capital and its environs. Their ranks include a sizeable number of adherents of Salafism—the doctrinaire, literalist, Islamic current.

This ideological outlook partially explains the arrest that night. In a statement, the militia claimed that the office director was supporting propaganda and recruitment by the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Tripoli’s mosques.2 Yet this was a flimsy pretext. To be sure, the government functionary—a former Quran teacher and building contractor in his forties named Muhammad Ala’ al-Din al-Taktik—followed the so-called Libya Dawn coalition that included revolutionary Islamists and some sympathizers of jihadi militancy.3 And his doctrinal interpretation of Islam certainly clashed with that of the Salafists. But he was no friend of the Islamic State either.

In place of the charge of extremism, a more credible explanation for the brusque abduction that night is to be found in al-Taktik’s appointment. He was the director of the Tripoli office charged with overseeing Libya’s awqaf (singular waqf, or Islamic endowments, such as financial or property assets), a religious institution that has long wielded immense economic, political, and moral power both in Libya and throughout the Muslim world.4

Abolished at one point during Qadhafi’s rule, the national awqaf office—at various times termed a ministry or an authority—and its local branches have become the objects of a fierce and occasionally violent contest between contending political factions since the dictator’s demise in 2011. At stake is the endowment’s authority to manage vast sums of rental income from the buildings, real estate, and other financial assets donated as waqf; oversee zakat (mandatory annual charitable donations made by Muslims); and regulate Islamic discourse through the appointments of imams (mosque leaders), khatibs (preachers at Friday prayers), and Quran teachers. The implications of such roles are far-reaching in Libya’s economic and political affairs, extending well beyond the nominally religious role of the General Authority for Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, as the current national bureaucracy in Tripoli is known.

“It’s more important than the presidency,” noted one Libyan community leader and religious scholar.5 “When you control it, you get hayba [prestige] and income,” noted a Libyan scholar who studies the country’s religious currents.6 Echoing this, a Muslim cleric and community leader pointed to the authority’s financial resources and its ability to shape popular opinions as evidence that controlling it was “more important than oil.”7

While some might take issue with such sweeping assertions, the battle for the ministry has still been an important corollary to the more high-profile and better-studied rivalries to influence and control Libya’s central bank, investment authority, national oil corporation, and security sector. Disputes over the awqaf authority have shaped the institution’s authority and roles, battered Libya’s already dire economy, added to its political turmoil, widened its social fissures, and sometimes exploded into violence. Those associated with awqaf offices have experienced these tribulations firsthand, often at great personal risk.

In the case of the Tripoli cleric, al-Taktik was lucky. The Special Deterrence Force released him not long after his arrest, though he was summarily dismissed from his post and replaced by a figure from a rival ideological and political current that was aligned, unsurprisingly, with the militia that had detained him.8 And al-Taktik would not be the last Libyan awqaf official to be threatened or coerced in the years ahead.

The competition for the management of awqaf as a source of political and social authority but also an economic asset stems in large measure from its long-standing repression during Qadhafi’s decades-long dictatorship as well as the formative period of Italian colonial rule from 1911 to 1943. Following the 2011 revolution that toppled Qadhafi, the escalating rivalry over the awqaf authority mirrors the broader trends of political fragmentation, hyper-localization, and descent into nationwide armed conflict.9 This chaos was itself the result of weak or nonexistent governing institutions, inter-elite contestation, and growing international intervention, especially by the competing regional powers of Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, who have advanced different visions of ideological and political order in the Middle East.10

In particular, the struggle embodies the tensions between national and local authority, the misappropriation of oil-derived government funds, and the recourse to armed intimidation as a zero-sum expression of politics. Disputes over property ownership, an especially disruptive legacy of Qadhafi’s rule, have worsened awqaf-related turmoil.11 As part of his collectivist ideology, Qadhafi appropriated awqaf-managed real estate and used it to build housing, universities, airports, and regime facilities. Since the 2011 revolution, resurgent awqaf authorities and citizens have laid competing claims to these holdings, though the absence of accurate land surveys and record keeping have made establishing proper entitlements especially contentious.12 In some cases, Libyan citizens have tried to appropriate real estate assets claimed by the awqaf ministry, eliciting frequent warnings from religious authorities.13

At another level, the awqaf have become a casualty of competition within Libya’s religious field over social legitimacy, economic resources, and political power. This contest, broadly speaking, has been waged between two loose constellations: on the one hand, adherents of Salafism—especially a Saudi-inspired variant of Salafism whose followers are colloquially known as Madkhalis for their deference to the Medina-based Saudi cleric Rabi bin Hadi al-Madkhali—versus more revolutionary and activist Islamist currents, including those aligned with or supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist elements, as well as adherents of Sufism.14

Far from being an arcane religious debate or solely the domain of Islamic clerics, the question of the awqaf in Libya has broad implications for the country’s economic, political, and social stability.

Far from being an arcane religious debate or solely the domain of Islamic clerics, the question of the awqaf in Libya has broad implications for the country’s economic, political, and social stability. Foreign, and especially Western, policymakers who seek to engage with Libya’s religious field—as part of broader efforts at societal outreach, conflict resolution, or countering violent extremism—need an understanding of how the institution’s roles, authorities, and practices have been shaped by armed conflict, political contestation, and foreign influences. Importantly, Western policymakers should understand that the awqaf bodies are not above politics. Nor is there such a thing as a so-called authentically Libyan or religiously pure awqaf authority: the institutions have always been shaped by politics, diverse and sometimes contending Islamic currents, and foreign influences throughout Libya’s modern history. Conversely, diplomats and nongovernmental organizations should be aware of two important dynamics: how the competition for the awqaf institution has contributed to Libya’s current fragmentation and divisions and how Libya’s elites and citizens perceive the awqaf body’s dynamic roles. More specifically, those investigating and trying to eliminate corruption within Libya’s state institutions should understand the impact of corruption on the awqaf authority’s financial roles, especially its management of real estate and supervision of zakat.

The Long Shadow of Italian Rule

The current political rivalries for control of offices of the awqaf and their attendant moral and social authority, along with the disputes over waqf land and properties, stem in many respects from the legacy of Qadhafi’s torturous rule (1969–2011) and the preceding disruptive period of Italian colonial occupation (1911–1943).15 Yet it is important when examining these periods to avoid the analytical pitfall of positing a primordial and doctrinally pure awqaf that is uncorrupted by politics or foreign influence. Throughout history, the institutions of the awqaf in Libya and elsewhere in the Muslim world have always been inherently political. They have also been influenced by an array of foreign powers, from within the Arab and Muslim world and from outside. These legacies, combined with the decade of factional violence and political contestation of post-2011 Libya, have undoubtedly shaped the authority of the institution today and how Libyan citizens perceive its significance and roles.

Throughout Libya’s modern history, the types of awqaf assets were marked by regional differences. For centuries in eastern Libya, awqaf consisted primarily of land administered by the Sanusi Sufi brotherhood and dynasty, associated with local zawaya (singular zawiya, or religious schools, lodges, or orders that play an important social role in their surrounding communities).16 In the colonial region of Tripolitania, in contrast, awqaf holdings were more diverse and were administered by the Ottoman sultan until 1915 when they fell under Italian control.17 In subsequent years, the Italian colonial powers dealing with the awqaf tried to incorporate preexisting legal and administrative frameworks from the Ottoman era—associated with the Hanafi and Maliki schools of jurisprudence—as part of their efforts to impart an Islamic face to their rule.18 Rome’s subsequent changes to the awqaf administration were often couched as Islamically sanctioned reforms, undertaken with token input from pro-Italian Libyan notables, that safeguarded—the Italian authorities maintained—the religious integrity of the institution.19 More broadly, Italian colonial policies in Libya occurred during a time of intense criticism and introspection from within the Muslim and Arab world about the institution’s economic viability and overall efficiency.20 When Italian colonial officials moved more forcefully to seize eastern awqaf properties in the late 1920s as part of a brutal counterinsurgency strategy against Sanusi-led resistance, they cited these voices in an attempt to justify their policies.21

The net effect of this foreign interference and manipulation in the awqaf left behind a legacy of ambiguity and politicization that persisted until well after the demise of Italian rule. The post-Italian period before the Qadhafi regime constituted a period of relative continuity, if not a renaissance, of awqaf administration. Notably, the Allies did not interfere in the institution during their postwar governance from 1943 to 1951, when the British administered the Libyan regions of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica and the French oversaw the southern region of Fezzan.22 Under the independent United Kingdom of Libya, formed in 1951, awqaf holdings, particularly those overseen by the Sanusi zawaya, formed an important source of authority for the short-lived Sanusi monarch, King Idris. Here again awqaf administration did not change significantly.23

The Awqaf Under Qadhafi

When Qadhafi toppled the monarchy in 1969, he implemented several policies to undercut the vestiges of the Sanusis, replacing Sanusi figures with non-Sanusi ulema, or religious scholars, as well as putting the zawaya under government supervision and forbidding the building of new ones.24 But, by and large, he did not significantly intrude on the awqaf institutions during this initial period. Rather, he sought to maintain their authority and influence, albeit under non-Sanusi clerical control, to bolster the Islamic credentials of his new regime.25 Resulting changes to the awqaf bodies were modest and mostly administrative, designed to further diminish Sanusi influence. In 1971, for example, the regime enacted a law that unified the awqaf offices under the newly created General Authority for Awqaf, which brought under its purview the administration of Islamic universities (which had previously been under Sanusi supervision), Islamic proselytization, the administration of mosques, and the zawaya.26 Shortly thereafter, the 1972 creation of the Islamic Call Society subsumed the general authority’s supervision of the awqaf, and then another law, modeled after Syrian and Egyptian legislation, clarified certain provisions related to the awqaf’s authority over inheritance and other matters.27

The regime undertook increasingly repressive measures against outspoken ulema, while greater power on religious matters was devolved to the regime’s popular committees.

But starting in 1973, regime policies toward the awqaf shifted dramatically. That momentous year saw the start of Qadhafi’s purported cultural revolution, which incorporated a farrago of socialism, Islamic doctrine, and the so-called direct democracy articulated in Qadhafi’s Green Book and formalized in 1977 with the proclamation of the new state of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. The consequences of this ideological shift for Islamic institutions and Muslim clergy were profound. As part of this new vision, Qadhafi came to see the clerical class as anachronistic interlopers between God and the masses and as political threats to his authority.28 Consequently, the regime undertook increasingly repressive measures against outspoken ulema—who resented being stripped of their clerical authority and privileges, including oversight of the awqaf—while greater power on religious matters was devolved to the regime’s popular committees.29 By the 1980s, increased pushes toward collectivization—including the forbidding of rental income—led to the regime’s outright abolition of the awqaf authority and a ban on donations on behalf of the awqaf.30 Qadhafi’s government also transferred some awqaf holdings in cities and towns to the regime’s favored tribes, who had recently arrived from rural areas.31

From the 1990s to the 2000s, the awqaf authority enjoyed something of a resurgence, albeit under tight regime control.32 Specifically, it became a proxy for the government in administering mosques, supervising imams, and aligning all religious practices with a state-approved form of Islam. This became especially apparent by the mid-2000s, when the regime began instrumentalizing the Madkhalis, the pro-regime Salafist current, as a bulwark against jihadi militancy.33 Mosque imams, appointed by awqaf authorities, increasingly came to be dominated by Madkhalis, who were approved by and in some cases connected to the security services. A former member of the awqaf authority in the port city of Misrata described serving on an awqaf committee before the 2011 revolution charged with appointing mosque imams and khatibs and being compelled to pass the resumés of candidates to internal security authorities for vetting. Invariably, Madkhalis were chosen, often with only thin formal education and training.34 Echoing this, another Libyan observer close to the Salafists asserted that, by the late 2000s, “the manabar [mosque pulpits] were overflowing with Madkhalis.”35

The ascendant Madkhali current would become one of several contestants for control of the awqaf body and other Islamic institutions after the collapse of the Qadhafi regime in 2011.

The Prize: The Awqaf After Qadhafi (2011–2014)

In many respects, the fall of the Qadhafi regime represented a definitive historical break for Libya’s Islamic institutions and Islamic actors, creating newfound opportunities and dilemmas alike. On the one hand, they enjoyed newfound latitude to speak, write, organize, and proselytize. And yet, this sudden opening also presented them with newfound dilemmas and choices as well—about their participation in the country’s new political order and their relations with other political and Islamic currents, who were also maneuvering for ascendancy and influence in governance institutions, the security sector, and especially at the grassroots level and on the street.36 The struggle for the awqaf institution, then, must be situated within this ideological and doctrinal ferment in Libya’s Islamic field in the years following the dictator’s demise.

A key prize in this contest was the national awqaf office because of its mandated role in overseeing the appointment and monitoring of imams and its administrative influence over Quranic schools and the dissemination of Islamic materials.37 But the awqaf authority also exists at the center of a political and economic contest. Its responsibility for regulating and administrating religious endowments of land and real estate assets to support mosques, schools, and charitable causes made it a prize of factional contestation. According to one former head of the national awqaf office, it consists of the following five sections: Administration of the Awqaf, Department of Waqf Properties, Department of Zakat Funds, Department of Mosques and Quranic Schools, and a section for management of Sufi zawaya.38 Conversely, the office has sometimes taken on theology-based rehabilitation for imprisoned jihadists and offered itself as a platform for national reconciliation.39 Awqaf officials have also engaged in diplomacy with foreign actors—most notably Saudi Arabia but also Egypt, Morocco, Qatar, and Turkey. Unsurprisingly, these overtures have been met with criticism by factional and ideological opponents who charge that the officials are overstepping their mandate.40

Since 2011, ideological and political factions have competed to control the awqaf authority’s financial resources and its oversight over mosque appointments. Further, Libya’s broader Islamic discourse has been frequently propagated by religious figures who have enjoyed tacit backing from militias, who themselves often had ties to powerful political elites and were receiving state funds.41 In tandem, a variety of social and political actors have made claims and counterclaims about its holdings and assets, dating back decades and reflecting the policies of manipulation and interference by Qadhafi and Italian officials.42 Memories of these policies, colored through rivalries that arose during and after the 2011 revolution, continue to inform a wide range of property-related grievances today, including those related to the awqaf. Overlaying these tensions are disputes over budgets and administrative authority between the awqaf institution in Tripoli and its offices in Libyan cities, towns, and communities outside the capital. Here again, this gap between the center, or the capital, and the periphery, or the provinces, is a deep-seated problem stemming from the Qadhafi era that affects other aspects of Libyan governance.

In the first year after the revolution, multiple sources from Libya’s clerical community and Islamist currents described a low-level contest among Islamic actors for influence in mosques, schools, and social life—chiefly, between Madkhalis, the Muslim Brotherhood, Sufis, and the more activist and militant figures loosely affiliated with Libya’s Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani.43 The latter current, associated with the mufti, is especially important in any analysis of the awqaf authority or ministry because of al-Ghariani’s oversight of Libya’s Dar al-Ifta, or Office of Fatwa (a legal opinion on a point of Islamic law). Since 2011, the Dar al-Ifta has existed as a social and moral authority parallel to the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs (earlier called the General Authority for Awqaf and Islamic Affairs), issuing fatwas on matters of arbitration and conflict resolution. And at various times, depending on the factional control of the office of awqaf, the Dar al-Ifta and al-Ghariani himself both supported and clashed with awqaf authorities.44

In the immediate aftermath of Qadhafi’s fall, the most significant change to the awqaf office was its April 2012 elevation by the transitional government to the status of a ministry rather than a general authority.45 To head this new body as minister, the government of interim prime minister Abdurrahim el-Keib in November 2011 appointed a Libyan cleric named Hamza Abu Faris, a mosque imam and scholar whose outspoken and dissident views incurred the wrath of the Qadhafi regime in 2010.46 His appointment attracted immediate attention from the government of Saudi Arabia, which appeared especially concerned about his Islamist leanings and influence: an alleged Saudi intelligence memo, leaked to Wikileaks, flagged his supervision of the awqaf as being an important channel for the resurgence of political Islam in Libyan social and political life.47 While this assessment was undoubtedly an exaggeration and a misreading of the Libyan political landscape, it does highlight the importance a major Arab and Islamic foreign power ascribed to the institution of the awqaf in Libya. This foreign interest would only increase as factional contestation for the awqaf increased in the years ahead.

The real rivalry at this time was for grassroots influence in social spaces and over local mosque appointments, the establishment of private schools, some municipal awqaf offices, and the distribution of Islamic materials.

Libyan clerics and Islamist interlocutors describe the struggle for the national awqaf authority in 2012 as fairly muted. The real rivalry at this time was for grassroots influence in social spaces and over local mosque appointments, the establishment of private schools, some municipal awqaf offices, and the distribution of Islamic materials.48 In this shifting landscape, the Madkhalis dominated the scene with increasingly assertive tactics. This represented a shift from their passivity during the 2011 revolution, when many either sat on the sidelines or actively sided with the regime—a reflection partially of their previous alignment with the Qadhafi government but also their ideological aversion to taking up arms against the wali al-amr (the ruler or leader of a community, though certain Salafist doctrines use this term to mean a sitting head of state or bureaucratic or political authority to whom obedience is required).49 But by the beginning of 2012, they had started using lobbying, petitions, payments, and other means to influence appointments in the mosques and Quranic schools of western Libya.50 Increasingly, a development that paralleled these tactics was the formation of Salafist Madkhali-leaning armed groups.51 Among the most powerful of these was the Tripoli militia that would become the aforementioned Special Deterrence Force.52

In the early years after Qadhafi’s fall, a major expression of Madkhali Salafist violence occurred against physical sites connected to Libya’s Sufi heritage—most notably graves, shrines, and libraries.53 Here again, acquiescence and, in some cases, complicity from Libyan security officials played a role. But so too did a bureaucratic development in the newly created Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs. In early 2012, administration of the Sufi zawaya was reportedly taken out of the ministry’s portfolio of responsibilities. According to several interlocutors, this left the zawaya politically exposed and with reduced funding streams. “When the zawaya were under the ministry of awqaf, they were protected,” noted one Libyan scholar of Islamism.54 He went on to assert that the waves of Salafist attacks on sites of Sufi heritage in early 2012—especially the graves of Sufi scholars, which are overseen and administered by zawaya—were in part enabled by this move from Libya’s transitional government.55

In tandem, the port city of Misrata, a commercial and political powerhouse to the east of Tripoli, became the site of increasing competition between the Madkhalis and their opponents from other Islamic and Islamist currents—such as the Muslim Brotherhood, former members of the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, some supporters of al-Ghariani (a minority), and some Sufis—over social space, economic and political power, and religious authority. The awqaf branch was an especially important source of contention given its oversight of financial assets and property in Misrata, which represented the second-largest real estate holding in monetary value in Libya after Tripoli.56 But with that branch reportedly in the hands of a Muslim Brotherhood–aligned figure after the 2011 revolution, Madkhali Salafists shifted toward a grassroots strategy of trying to control the city’s mosques by aggressively influencing the appointments of imams. A former awqaf official in Misrata described these influence tactics in 2012 as the following:

If the [Madkhali] Salafis didn’t agree with an imam, they would go as a group to the mosque. After hearing the sermon, they would submit a petition to the awqaf office [saying] that the imam made mistakes in his understanding of the Quran or hadith—really, any excuse [they could find]. The awqaf office would then send a committee by surprise to attend the sermon and would ask for the names of the petitioners. . . . Eighty percent of the names were fake or were not regular mosque goers. Neighbors would say to the awqaf committee, ‘We don’t know these people [the Madkhalis] and we’ve never seen them before at this mosque.’57

By the second year of Libya’s transition, however, these local contests had escalated to national-level political conflict over the awqaf office in the capital. Starting in 2013, then prime minister Ali Zeidan, a former member of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, a longtime opposition movement that included an Islamist component, took office. Zeidan’s appointment introduced the perception among opposing factions that the front dominated Libya’s key political and administrative institutions, including the onetime elected legislature, the General National Congress, and the awqaf ministry.58 On February 10, 2013, Zeidan appointed Abd al-Salaam Saad, a Sufi scholar and former head of the Senegal-based branch of the Libyan Islamic Call Society under Qadhafi, as minister of awqaf and Islamic affairs.59 Saad’s appointment had been a concession to former prime minister Mahmoud Jibril, the leader of the National Forces Alliance, a sprawling political coalition that included Islamists but has often been erroneously described as secular. But Saad immediately faced opposition from Islamists centered around al-Ghariani—reportedly due to Saad’s proximity to the former regime and especially his personal ties to former foreign minister and Qadhafi confidante Moussa Koussa.60 As a result, the post was left unfilled until July 2013 when Zeidan appointed Ali Hammuda, a former head of Misrata’s awqaf office and a longtime member of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, including its military wing.61

Zeidan intended for Hammuda to be a compromise candidate, acceptable to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamists loosely gathered around the mufti, and Jibril’s diverse National Forces Alliance. And by many accounts, Hammuda was able to straddle a relatively nonpartisan position.62 Yet his tenure was buffeted by pressure from an increasingly assertive Madkhali Salafist current, which sought to undercut his authority by seeking to replace mosque imams and khatibs throughout Tripoli and beyond through lobbying, bribe payments, and sometimes force.63 As the head of the awqaf ministry, Hammuda diagnosed the root of the institution’s problems as a product of the broader governing weakness of the Zeidan government in the face of factionalism and the power wielded by armed groups, as illustrated starkly by the brazen kidnapping of Zeidan himself in October 2013.64 Outside the capital, the government of Tripoli’s writ was tenuous to nonexistent, especially in the south and in the east, degrading service provision, security, and the authority of the Tripoli-based awqaf office.

While deriving religious inspiration, guidance, and education from Saudi-based clerics, Libya’s Salafists often acted autonomously from Saudi Arabia on many issues, especially those related to local alliances, politics, and military action.

Exasperated by the feebleness of the Libyan government and worried about the Madkhalis’ increasing power, Hammuda turned to Saudi Arabia, the foreign state from which he believed the Madkhalis derived spiritual inspiration, political guidance, and funding. During a trip to Riyadh in 2013, he asked the Saudi foreign minister about the government’s alleged support to Libya’s Madkhalis, but the Saudi official’s response was, “we don’t have any knowledge of this.”65 While official Saudi denials should not be taken entirely at face value, they do illuminate an important aspect of Libya’s Salafist-Madkhali current. While deriving religious inspiration, guidance, and education from Saudi-based clerics, Libya’s Salafists often acted autonomously from Saudi Arabia on many issues, especially those related to local alliances, politics, and military action. And while they respect and follow many Saudi Arabia–based clerics, not just al-Madkhali himself, they do not obey their guidance in lockstep. In some cases, they even modified or reinterpreted injunctions and statements from Saudi-based clerics, including al-Madkhali, to suit their agendas inside Libya.66 Put differently, they were not acting on figurative remote control from Riyadh or Medina, nor as a Trojan horse for state-directed Saudi ideology, as some commentators inside and outside Libya have alleged.67

This relationship with Saudi Arabia would become ever more contentious during the series of stark political choices and fragmentation that was thrust upon the Madkhalis and the awqaf during Libya’s civil war, which erupted in the summer of 2014.

The Awqaf and Libya’s Civil War (2014–2018)

On May 16, 2014, a loose coalition of disaffected army units and aging military aircraft aligned with an eastern-based military commander named General Khalifa Haftar attacked militia bases in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. The attack, dubbed Operation Dignity, would set in motion a spiraling conflict which, by the end of that summer, would split Libya into two opposing political administrations loosely aligned with local militias, towns, and communal groups like tribes—drawing in an array of dueling outside powers whose military proxy war continues to the present.

The ostensible and immediate motive for Operation Dignity, spearheaded by Haftar’s Libyan National Army—which later became the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF)—was the restoration of security in Benghazi, which had declined precipitously since 2013, and the elimination of Islamist militias, though the attack reflected a host of other political and social tensions in eastern Libya and across the country. These included tensions between political Islamists and their opponents, worsening ideological rivalries across the Middle East in the aftermath of the coup in Egypt led by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi against the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, the growing power and politicization of Libyan militias and the backlash this induced from the officers and technocrats of the old regime, grievances over the distribution of Libya’s wealth, and factionalism and dysfunction within Libya’s national legislature—the General National Congress.68

At the center of the operation, however, was Haftar’s own desire to seize national power. His repeated threats to do just that by attacking Tripoli triggered a counteroperation, known as Libya Dawn, by a coalition of western-based forces and Islamist militias that attacked Tripoli’s international airport in July 2014 and soon established a rival political administration based in the capital, the National Salvation Government.69 Over the next four years, this coalition, acting through Misrata, would battle Haftar’s forces across the country and especially in the contested eastern city of Benghazi. This political fracturing of the country mobilized and polarized Libya’s Islamists, Muslim clerics, and Islamic institutions. It also presented them newfound opportunities for political ascendancy and social expansion. In Benghazi, Misrata, and parts of Tripoli, militant Islamists, jihadists, Muslim Brotherhood members and their supporters, and followers of al-Ghariani lined up behind Libya Dawn and the National Salvation Government.70

The country’s Madkhali current was similarly galvanized, though not without some degree of doctrinal debate among leading figures about the permissibility of taking up arms—a debate that for some echoed the dilemma posed by the 2011 revolution.71 In eastern Libya, many Madkhalis joined Haftar’s operation, either as fighters in his Libyan National Army and later LAAF or associated paramilitaries or by lending moral and propaganda support. Many did so after a series of Islamist and jihadist assassinations of notable Madkhali figures in eastern Libya in early 2014, though also partly because of the Islamic State’s seizure of power that summer in the central city of Sirte. The Islamic State’s claim to power in Sirte was also accompanied by violent repression of local Madkhalis, especially during a summer 2014 uprising by tribal members from the Firjan tribe, to which Haftar belongs.72 The resulting crackdown electrified Madkhalis across the country, but especially those in eastern Libya and Benghazi. Buoyed by the resulting injection of military and political support from the Madkhalis and from an array of tribal and local militias, Haftar’s gradual consolidation of power across eastern Libya resulted in the Madkhalis’ expansion of social influence and control over Islamic institutions like mosques, schools, and an eastern-based General Authority for Awqaf and Islamic Affairs.73

In western Libya, however, the situation was reversed. The seizure of power in Tripoli by activist and militant Islamists aligned with the mufti dealt a staggering blow to Madkhalis; some leading clerics in Tripoli fled for havens in the Nafusa Mountains, like the town of Zintan. Others simply stayed home and stayed silent. Meanwhile, Madkhali-leaning armed groups, namely the Special Deterrence Force, continued to operate and clashed with Islamist opponents aligned with the mufti.74 But overall, the Salafists and their supporters acknowledged that the summer of 2014 produced a seismic shift in the ideological balance of power in the capital region.75

The result was that, for the first time since the revolution, the leadership of the national and Tripoli awqaf ministry was aligned with the mufti’s Dar al-Ifta and other networks.

This shift in the balance of power affected the awqaf organizations as well. With the Zeidan government gone after the prime minister fled the country in March 2014, the head of the awqaf ministry, Hammuda, resigned in October of that year.76 In his place, the Libya Dawn government–appointed minister of awqaf was a cleric, former merchant, and revolutionary militia leader from the town of Bani Walid named Mubarak al-Futmani. Two vice ministers also exerted power: Abd al-Basit Yarbua from the northwestern city of Zawiya and Abu Bakr Buswayr from Misrata. Abdul-Basit Ghweila, a dual Libyan-Canadian citizen, took the helm of the Tripoli awqaf office.77 All three had Islamist ideological orientations that can best be described as activist, revolutionary, and, in some instances, militant.78 The result was that, for the first time since the revolution, the leadership of the national and Tripoli awqaf ministry was aligned with the mufti’s Dar al-Ifta and other networks.79 And with the Madkhali current’s major and most outspoken clerics silenced or evicted from Tripoli, the capital saw, at least on the surface and in key positions, a degree of ideological homogeneity.80

In the coming years, both Dar al-Ifta and the Islamist-controlled awqaf ministry in Tripoli would play important roles in Libya’s civil war and political factionalism, offering moral and rhetorical support to militia forces battling Haftar across the country, particularly the Benghazi-based armed group coalition the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council (BRSC), which included the hardline jihadist and United Nations (UN)–designated terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia. At the same time, they faced a twin ideological challenge from the Islamic State, which lambasted the Libya Dawn government as un-Islamic and staged violent attacks against mosques, eliciting countercriticism from awqaf officials.81 Moreover, the National Salvation Government’s ministry of awqaf tried to push back against the growth of Madkhalism in regions beyond Tripoli—partly because such growth represented political influence from Haftar’s camp. In 2015, for example, an awqaf official visited municipal endowment officials in the southern city of Sabha and stressed the importance of rejecting all fatwas “imported from abroad”—a reference that applied to Saudi-backed Madkhali statements, sympathetic to Haftar, and also Islamic State pronouncements.82 For their part, Madkhali Salafist hardliners, including within the Special Deterrence Force, issued threats against awqaf officials and sometimes kidnapped them, as in the case of the abduction of the aforementioned al-Taktik, the director of the Tripoli awqaf office. This in turn prompted awqaf officials to turn to their own militias, like the powerful Libya Shield.83

In some instances, hardline statements and actions from Tripoli-based awqaf officials during the National Salvation Government period courted outrage and criticism from Libyan citizens, their ideological opponents, and outside diplomats. The head of the Tripoli awqaf office, Ghweila, in particular became a lightning rod for controversy from ideological opponents. In 2014, for example, during a gathering in the western town of Zliten, he issued a video supporting jihad—a video that his opponents quickly seized as evidence of radicalism but which he maintained was taken out of context and referred to the anti-Qadhafi revolution.84 Two years later, in 2016, his son was killed in Benghazi fighting Haftar. This death was erroneously reported in Libyan anti-Islamist outlets and even Western outlets as evidence of the son’s membership to, variously, Ansar al-Sharia, the BRSC, and the Islamic State; but he was actually fighting with a Benghazi-based anti-Haftar militia, the Omar Mukhtar Brigade, which was formally independent from all of these groups or coalitions.85 Finally, Ghweila was also linked by media sources and Western officials to the father of the Islamic State militant Salman Abedi, a dual Libyan-British citizen who attacked a Manchester nightclub in May 2017—a charge Ghweila also sought to refute.86

For his part, Yarbua’s reputation was affected by his close association with his fellow Zawiyan, Shaaban Hadiya, the leader of the Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room, which had kidnapped Zeidan in October 2013. But perhaps most significantly, the head of the national awqaf ministry, al-Futmani, suffered a major political blow when his son was revealed to have reportedly fought and died for the Islamic State in Sirte in 2015—at the hands of militia forces allied with the National Salvation Government, of which his father was a part. 87 As a result, al-Futmani reportedly lost influence politically toward the end of his tenure, with his vice ministers increasingly running affairs.88

By mid-to-late 2015, the fissiparous coalition of elites, militias, and towns that comprised the Libya Dawn coalition and National Salvation Government was unraveling, in part due to the launch of a UN-brokered peace process aimed at ending the Libyan civil war and producing a unity government. This process reverberated across the Islamist milieu and through Islamic institutions in Tripolitania, sparking debate and dissent among elites connected to the Libya Dawn coalition. Specifically, an Islamist coterie of awqaf figures led by al-Futmani offered their resignations in protest of the UN talks and their acceptance by figures formerly supportive of Libya Dawn, especially from Misrata.89

On March 3, 2016, the National Salvation Government appointed a Misratan cleric and scholar named Ahmed Shtewi to head the national awqaf office—which was changed from a ministry to the General Authority for Awqaf and Islamic Affairs under then prime minister Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord (GNA), which arrived in Tripoli later that month. As was the case with his predecessors, al-Sarraj’s tenure was rocked by administrative difficulties and political challenges from multiple directions. For starters, he told a delegation prime minister’s office that he was still loyal to the now-defunct National Salvation Government and not the GNA. Moreover, in early and mid-2016, the awqaf authority was drawn into the escalating military operations by GNA-aligned forces against the Islamic State’s base in Sirte and its cells in and around Tripoli and along Libya’s western seaboard in the town of Sabratha. To support the counterterrorism campaign, the awqaf ministry used its authority to warn against ideological recruitment by the terrorist group in the capital’s mosques.90

In addition, the awqaf office in Tripoli became entangled in the parallel military battle under way in the eastern city of Benghazi between Haftar’s forces, which included Salafist Madkhalis, and anti-Haftar armed groups, which included Islamists and jihadists backed by supporters in Tripoli and Misrata. Given this ideological dimension, the conflict unsurprisingly reverberated in the religious sphere: in July 2016, for example, al-Madkhali issued a statement calling on his followers to fight the BRSC because, he alleged, it was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.91 In response, Shtewi’s awqaf ministry issued a statement castigating al-Madkhali for his interference in Libya’s internal affairs.92 On top of this, the Tripoli awqaf authority aligned with the GNA and, theoretically national in authority, faced a political and ideological challenge from a separate awqaf office, aligned with Haftar’s eastern camp, dominated by Madkhalis, and based in the eastern city of Tobruk. For months, there had been no coordination or communication between the two. But by August 2016, there were signs of a brief thaw: the Tripoli-based religious authorities cooperated with their counterparts in the east on facilitating the travel of Libyan citizens for the hajj pilgrimage.93

But perhaps the most serious conflict the Tripoli-based awqaf ministry faced was mounting tension between the Islamists affiliated with al-Ghariani and the Madkhali Salafists.

But perhaps the most serious conflict the Tripoli-based awqaf ministry faced was mounting tension between the Islamists affiliated with al-Ghariani and the Madkhali Salafists. “[We were] caught between the Dar al-Ifta and the Madkhalis,” a former Tripoli awqaf official said of himself and his colleagues about these tensions.94

The conflict between the two currents erupted into their most serious bout of violence in November 2016, when a hardline Salafist subunit of Abdelraouf Kara’s Special Deterrence Force in Tripoli killed a cleric, Nader al-Omrani, a confidante of al-Ghariani’s who headed the Dar al-Ifta’s Islamic Research and Studies Council. While the facts of the killing and the degree of Madkhali involvement are murky, the incident resulted in a backlash against the Madkhali Salafist current in the capital, especially among armed groups affiliated with or associated with the Dar al-Ifta and the BRSC.95 To deescalate tensions and temper the Madkhalis’ newfound rhetorical and military boldness, the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs under Shtewi issued a statement banning eleven Madkhali figures from preaching in mosques.96 Elsewhere, Shtewi replaced the awqaf office head in the northwestern city of Gharyan, reportedly in response to a request from the municipality, with a new cleric, a self-described Maliki mosque preacher with a master’s degree in project management who was friendly to al-Ghariani.97 A member of the awqaf office in Gharyan described the ensuing efforts to remove imams in the town, many of whom were Madkhalis.

There were thirty-two khatibs who were Madkhalis; they were focusing on the wali al-amr in their khutba [sermons] and saying bad things about the ulema. And going against our traditions, like [saying that] ‘it is haram [forbidden] to give money, you have to give asida [a traditional dish]. And also, why are you in Western clothes.’ But [the awqaf office] only removed two or three, because . . . of problems and pressure from the [Madkhali] armed groups.98

By early 2017, Shtewi and his awqaf ministry became increasingly embroiled in financial disputes related to the ministry’s oversight of the sunduq al-zakat (zakat fund) and real estate. Starting in 2016, a local militia, the Bab al-Tajura Brigade, surrounded the fund’s office in Tripoli’s Nufliyin neighborhood and was allegedly channeling the assets to its members.99 Officials from the GNA were powerless to stop the strong arming, with al-Sarraj reportedly sending several injunctions to the militia to stand down.100 Meanwhile, tensions mounted between the prime minister’s office and the National Salvation Government holdover awqaf ministry over real estate rental prices: Shtewi had raised the rent on awqaf-supervised land, especially in the capital’s Old City, because citizens were renting real estate from the awqaf authority and then subleasing it at far higher prices.101

By April 2017, the friction had reached its apogee and Shtewi was removed from his position by a GNA edict. The new minister, a former school principal named Abbas al-Qadi, was, by many accounts, relatively nonideological and nonpartisan, though he hailed from a prominent Tripoli family and was close to al-Sarraj. Yet his tenure lasted just over a year, partly due to shifting dynamics in the respective influence of armed groups in Tripoli.102 In the spring and early summer of 2017, nominally pro-GNA militias in Tripoli, some aligned with the Madkhali Salafists, launched a military push to evict militias and hardline Islamist holdouts from the National Salvation Government, some aligned with the Dar al-Ifta and some hailing from the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group an armed jihadist opposition group active in the Qadhafi era. With their bases overrun, surviving armed group leaders and clerics from these Islamist currents fled to enclaves in the capital—like Tajoura—or to the western city of Misrata or left the country altogether, often for Turkey.103 By removing the Islamist military challenge to Madkhali influence, these military developments on the ground cleared the way for the accelerated return of Madkhali clerics to the capital’s mosques—an ascent that was mirrored in a corresponding power shift in the national awqaf office.

The Madkhalis Ascendant (2018 to the Present)

In November 2018, the GNA sacked al-Qadi and appointed a Madkhali Salafist cleric from Tripoli’s Fashlum neighborhood named Mohamed Ahmeida al-Abbani to the position of head of the General Authority for Awqaf and Islamic Affairs.104 An ostensible reason for the firing was al-Qadi’s support for the tradition of the Mawlid (a minor holiday marking the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad), which Madkhalis opposed as a heretical practice.105 More significantly, though, the move reflected the growing power of Madkhali armed groups, especially the Special Deterrence Force with whom Abbani enjoyed close ties.106 The appointment was thus part of a newfound ascendancy of Madkhalis in Tripoli’s security sector, its streets, and its mosques and schools. In contrast, the Islamists and al-Ghariani’s supporters suffered a stunning reversal since their victory in the 2014 Libya Dawn operation. Yet the struggle was far from over.

Under Abbani, the awqaf ministry undertook wide-ranging efforts to elevate the Madkhali Salafists in western Libya’s social and religious spaces. Madkhali figures who had fled the capital returned and enjoyed protection by Madkhali-leaning militias.107 In various cities around the capital—especially Misrata, Gharyan, Zliten, al-Khums and Zawiya—Abbani tried to alter the clerical composition of local awqaf authority leadership, often provoking dissent and protests.108 In some cases, like Zawiya, rival awqaf offices emerged.109 In Gharyan, Abbani removed the aforementioned long-standing head of the awqaf office, reportedly at the behest of local Madkhalis.110 In the Nafusa Mountains, Abbani’s rise spurred the parallel ascendancy of Madkhalis in towns where awqaf offices had overlapping responsibilities for Islamic matters like the hajj and antagonized ethnic Imazighen (singular, Amazigh), many of whom follow the ‘Ibadi faith.111

Predictably, the Madkhalis’ rise stirred tensions with al-Ghariani and the Dar Al-Ifta.

Predictably, the Madkhalis’ rise stirred tensions with al-Ghariani and the Dar Al-Ifta. In response, al-Ghariani—now in exile in Turkey—deployed a broad array of clerical and media weapons, including a television station called Tanasuh run by his son reportedly with funds from Qatar.112 Imputing undue foreign influence over the awqaf office, al-Ghariani has routinely accused the Madkhalis now running the awqaf ministry of being handmaidens of Saudi intelligence.113 In turn, Abbani issued a memorandum in response to what he considered “seven allegations” from al-Ghariani, accusing al-Ghariani of blocking local awqaf offices in Zliten and al-Khums with piles of sand.114

The tug-of-war between these ideological factions and the polarization sparked by Abbani’s appointment and subsequent assertiveness was inextricably linked to political tensions related to the rise of the Haftar-aligned faction in eastern Libya. There, Madkhalis consolidated their control over both the Bayda-based awqaf office and in the awqaf of the long-contested town of Derna, which Haftar’s LAAF forces conquered from Islamists and jihadists in late 2018.115 As part of this dominance, the leaders of the now-Madkhali-leaning awqaf office tried to exert influence over social norms, like opposing the mixing of genders in public spaces, influencing the content of mosque sermons, and imposing restrictions on art and musical events they deemed un-Islamic.116 Yet their influence was not uncontested; these efforts sometimes engendered pushback by protesters and civil society.117

Still, Haftar continued to enjoy strong military and political support from the Madkhalis as he pushed out of eastern Libya into Fezzan in the south in late 2018.118 As he encroached on the capital in early 2019, he enjoyed support from some western-based towns and communities that included Madkhalis, especially in Surman, Sabratha, Zintan, and even some parts of Tripoli—including elements within powerful armed groups like the Special Deterrence Force. Thus, the ideological and religious contest for the awqaf and other institutions became colored by politics: Madkhalis were widely assumed to be Trojan horses or fifth columns for Haftar when his military forces arrived at the capital. To be sure, this was sometimes the case; several interviews with key Salafist figures in Sabratha and Tripoli in January 2019 revealed a sympathy for Haftar, often obliquely conveyed at the time as support for a “strong army” and “order”—a sympathy that ignored Haftar’s own calculated use of social and political violence.119 Similar sentiments were voiced by Salafist Madkhalis in Zawiya at this time.

Yet in other instances the reality was more complex. Madkhalis were in many cases pragmatic and opportunistic; if Haftar were to emerge as the most powerful figure in the capital, then they would be quick to align themselves with him, justified on the basis of the Salafist doctrine of obedience to the wali al-amr. However, plenty of other non-Salafist Tripolitanian armed groups and figures were just as opportunistic. For his part, Abbani maintained in public that he was staunchly supportive of the GNA, citing various Salafist doctrinal precepts to justify this allegiance to the Tripoli government, a position which was corroborated in interviews with former awqaf officials.120 He also withheld monetary support to awqaf offices in those towns he deemed supportive of Haftar, especially towns in Tripolitania like Sabratha, while he did give money to awqaf offices in Fezzan, which relied on support from both of the opposing political administrations in eastern and western Libya.121

With Haftar’s surprise attack on the capital in early April 2019, the tensions escalated. Capturing Gharyan, Haftar’s LAAF quickly formed an alliance with local Madkhalis, whose influence had been steadily rising since 2019. “When Haftar arrived there, the Madkhalis were waiting for him,” according to one official from Gharyan.122 Under the LAAF’s control, local Madkhalis came to dominate mosques, the awqaf, and the hospital, according to interviews with citizens from the town. Yet in other instances, Madkhalis in western Libya found themselves constrained by social and political pressures and the pointed mobilization of armed groups, many of whom had once been at odds with one another. Some, like the Madkhali-leaning military unit known as 20–20 within the Special Deterrence Force, sat on the fence until the summer of 2019. The unit mobilized only when it became clear that the GNA’s militia defenders had halted Haftar’s advance, after feeling pressure from other armed groups, and after it sent a delegation seeking clerical guidance from Saudi Arabia, according to a source close to the 20–20 unit commander.123 In tandem, Madkhali preachers in Tripoli’s mosques faced criticism from congregants and from rival Islamists that their sermons were not sufficiently critical of Haftar’s attack and that they skirted mentioning the Islamic imperative to defend the city.124

For his part, Abbani sought to use the awqaf office’s authority to counter Haftar ideologically.

For his part, Abbani sought to use the awqaf office’s authority to counter Haftar ideologically, even going so far as to visit al-Madkhali himself in Saudi Arabia to ascertain whether or not his previous fatwa endorsing Haftar was still valid.125 Abbani reportedly used al-Madkhali’s noncommittal response to try to induce defections among eastern Libyan Madkhalis in Haftar’s camp, though there’s little evidence of this happening.126 Separately, during a trip to Mecca that same year, Abbani reportedly met a delegation of Madkhali Salafists from the Dar al-Ifta committee from eastern Libya who had come to solicit an endorsement from al-Madkhali for Haftar’s military campaign. In the course of that meeting, Abbani told them that if they were truly committed to fighting the khawarij (meaning jihadists and the Islamic State), then they should recognize that the GNA, which they sought to topple, had detained these extremists in the Special Deterrence Force’s prison in Tripoli.127 Relatedly, Abbani met with Khalid al-Mishri, the head of the High State Council in Tripoli, to help defuse Salafist-Islamist tensions in Zawiya, asserting to Mishri that he was a “Salafi but not a Madkhali,” according to one source with knowledge of the meeting.128

By April 2020, however, battlefield developments further affected awqaf-related instability. In the summer of 2020, GNA-affiliated armed groups—backed by Turkish drone strikes and Syrian mercenaries—pushed out of Tripoli, capturing several towns that were either held by the LAAF or sympathetic to Haftar. The GNA advance resulted in the retreat of Madkhalis from local awqaf offices, mosques, and other Islamic spaces. In some towns, supporters of al-Ghariani or figures aligned with (or in the case of Zawiya, sympathetic to) the Islamist leader Mishri tried to fill the vacuum. 129

In tandem with this political reshuffling, the awqaf offices in Tripoli, and those in the east, faced a significant humanitarian challenge from the coronavirus pandemic, which Libya’s conflict, political divisions, and depleted medical infrastructure left the country uniquely exposed to. During this crisis, religious authorities became an important adjunct to public health edicts by the weak GNA in Tripoli. Similarly, in the east, the awqaf authorities supported the LAAF’s militarized response to the public health crisis. By mid-March 2020, both awqaf offices had issued statements urging people to stay in their homes and to stop daily and Friday prayers in mosques. In Tripoli, in particular, these Islam-based appeals were undercut by intense politicization of the public health response and challenges to the GNA awqaf office’s authority, coming from both rival Islamists aligned with al-Ghariani and local, town-based authorities.130

By early 2021, power and religious influence in the capital region seemed set for another reshuffle. After a ceasefire signed in October 2020 and a set of UN-brokered talks called the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum, Libyan delegates agreed in February 2021 to the formation of a new executive authority, the Government of National Unity (GNU), with Misratan tycoon Abdul Hamid Dabaiba as its prime minister. Contrary to popular assumptions, the new government is not a boon to political Islamists, though Dabaiba does have prior ties to the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood and activist Islamist figures, especially those residing in Turkey and Qatar.131 Even so, clerical figures and Islamists aligned with al-Ghariani are seeking to exploit the new government’s apportioning of appointments.132 Meanwhile, political and business figures in the west and east alike have the potential to temper any intra-Islamist tensions by striking alliances and bargains that cross ideological lines.

Contrary to popular assumptions, the new government is not a boon to political Islamists.

As of this writing, no new appointments have been announced for the leadership of the Tripoli-based General Authority for Awqaf and Islamic Affairs—which is technically supposed to incorporate the eastern awqaf authority under the GNU. As is the case with other economic and political institutions, it is likely that the awqaf authority will fall victim to continued intra-elite contestation and some degree of renewed ideological jockeying in the period before the proposed Libyan elections in late 2021 to replace the GNU.


In the near decade since the fall of Qadhafi, a broad array of Libyan economic and political institutions have fragmented or collapsed in the face of competing pressures from ideological and political factions. As a body with a long historical pedigree and broad powers of moral authority, land ownership, and revenue allocation, it is not surprising that the awqaf offices would become a magnet for contestation. Its travails since 2011 reflect the frequent turnover of power in the capital, the rise of armed groups with local and ideological affiliations, a national split between parallel administrations in eastern and western Libya, and endemic tensions over political authority and financial autonomy between the capital and Libya’s far-flung towns and municipalities.

More significantly, perhaps, awqaf offices and holdings have been buffeted by severe rivalries within Libya’s Islamist field among various doctrinal currents, ideologies, and clashing clerical personalities. Relatedly, the struggle for control of the awqaf has been linked to debates about the degree of foreign influence over the country’s religious sphere, most notably after the rise of the so-called Saudi-inspired Madkhali current—whose subservience to Saudi Arabia has been vastly overstated by foreign and Libyan voices alike. Offices of awqaf have also been weaponized as part of the battle against terrorism in Libya, with rival personalities and currents accusing awqaf officials of complicity with so-called extremists. Awqaf officials in both the east and west have been mobilized purportedly to deradicalize imprisoned jihadists from the Islamic State. And most recently, awqaf authorities have been deployed as part of the country’s public health initiatives by authorities in the west and the east to regulate Islamic public spaces in the wake of the spread of the coronavirus in Libya.

Underpinning all of these developments has been the fraught legacy of the awqaf since the reign of Qadhafi, when these offices and assets became inextricably linked to the late dictator’s co-option and control of Islamic discourse and his collectivist approach to property and land—the fruits of which continue to be a source of conflict and instability. Yet even before the dictator, awqaf holdings were instrumentalized by Libya’s ruling colonial powers, principally the Ottomans and the Italians, and the awqaf office’s authority and functions were shaped by reformist debates and deliberations underway at the time across the Arab and Muslim world. Thus, the notion of a pristine and uncorrupted awqaf that is somehow insulated from political and foreign influence is misguided.

With their presence in the religious sphere through mosque appointments and influence over Islamic discourse, awqaf will continue to be viewed as important sources of moral and social authority.

Moving forward, awqaf offices will feature prominently in Libya’s broader challenges of state building and reconciliation. With their presence in the religious sphere through mosque appointments and influence over Islamic discourse, they will continue to be viewed as important sources of moral and social authority. Their supervision of property assets makes them similarly valuable as economic prizes. Reducing factional competition over the institution will require the same broad-based reforms that Libya has so desperately needed over the years and that have proven so elusive: security sector reform, financial transparency and accountability, decentralization, and, perhaps most importantly, a commitment by elites to furthering the public good rather than self-enrichment.


The author wishes to thank the numerous Libyan interlocutors who helped him during fieldwork in western Libya in 2019 and 2020 and earlier in eastern Libya in 2017. He is also grateful to Jacqueline Stomski and Sandy Alkoutami for their research assistance. Alison Pargeter, Alex Thurston, and Jalel Harchaoui kindly provided feedback on earlier drafts.

About the Author

Frederic Wehrey is a senior fellow in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His research deals with armed conflict, security sector governance, and Islamist politics, with a focus on Libya, North Africa, and the Gulf.


1 For a video of the arrest, see “Exclusively on Video . . . the Moment of Muhammad Ala al-Din al-Tektek’s, Director of the Tripoli Endowments Office, Arrest From His Office” (Arabic), Ewan Libya, November 26, 2015,

2 Muhammad al-Arabi, “Militias Arrest the Official Responsible for the Tripoli Awqaf” (Arabic), Al-Arabiya, November 26, 2015, For more on the Special Deterrence Force’s motives and the alleged recruitment of Islamic State fighters from Tripoli mosques under awqaf auspices, see the United Nations Security Council Panel of Experts, “Final Report of the Panel of Experts on Libya Established Pursuant to Resolution 1973 (2011),” United Nations Security Council, March 9, 2016,

3 Author interview with a former member of the Tripoli awqaf office, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020.

4 For background, see Pascale Gazaleh, Held in Trust: Waqf in the Islamic World (Cairo: The American University Press in Cairo, 2011); and Nathan J. Brown, “Official Islam in the Arab World: The Contest for Religious Authority,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, May 2017,

5 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

6 Author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

7 Author interview with a former member of the local awqaf committee, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

8 Muhammad al-Arabi, “Militias Arrest the Official Responsible for the Tripoli Awqaf.”

9 For a discussion of Libya’s post-2011 dissolution, see Frederic Wehrey, The Burning Shores: Inside the Battle for the New Libya (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018); Wolfram Lacher, Libya’s Fragmentation: Structure and Process in Violent Conflict (London: I.B. Tauris, 2020); and Ulf Laessing, Understanding Libya Since Gaddafi (London: Hurst, 2020).

10 For the international proxy war, see Jalel Harchaoui and Mohamed-Essaïd Lazib, Proxy War Dynamics in Libya (Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, 2019); and Frederic Wehrey “‘This War Is Out of Our Hands:’ The Internationalization of Libya’s Post-2011 Conflicts From Proxies to Boots on the Ground,” New America, September 14, 2020,

11 Author interviews with former awqaf officials in Tripoli and Misrata, Libya, November 2019 and January 2020.

12 “In Pictures . . . Properties of the Awqaf Looted . . . The “Hilat” Is Claiming Lands From the Gaddafi Era” (Arabic), New Arab, June 22, 2015,

13 Ibid.

14 For a discussion of the Madkhali movement and tensions with other Islamist currents, see Frederic Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse: The Case of the Madkhalis” in Frederic Wehrey and Anouar Boukhars, Salafism in the Maghreb: Politics, Piety and Militancy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019),

15 For a foundational historical study on the awqaf during the Italian period, see Anna Maria Medici, “Waqfs of Cyrenaica and Italian Colonialism in Libya (1911–1941),” in Held in Trust Waqf in the Islamic World (Cairo: The American University of Cairo Press, June 15, 2011).

16 Ali Ahmida, The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization, and Resistance, 1830–1932 (Albany, New York: State University Press, 1994), 36. For background on Sanusi doctrine, practices, social influence, and relationships with colonial authorities, see Matteo Capasso and Karim Mezran, “The Idea of the Islamic State in Libyan Politics Since Independence,” Storia del Pensiero Politico 3 (September–December 2014): 423–438,; and Eileen Ryan, “Italy and the Sanusiyya: Negotiating Authority in Colonial Libya, 1911–1931” (PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 2012),

17 Medici, “Waqfs of Cyrenaica and Italian Colonialism in Libya (1911-1941).”

18 Claudia Gazzini, “Saranno Rispettati Come Per il Passato. Italian Colonial Policy Towards Libyan Religious Endowments,” European University Institute, Working Paper no. 10, June 2010,

19 Hervé Bleuchot, “Notice sur les ‘awqâf’ libyens de 1969 à 1978, Annuaire de l’Afrique du Nord,” Centre de recherches et d’études sur les sociétés Méditerrannéenes (Paris, Editions du CNRS, 1980), 397,; and Medici, “Waqfs of Cyrenaica and Italian Colonialism in Libya (1911–1941),” 6.

20 Medici, “Waqfs of Cyrenaica and Italian Colonialism in Libya (1911–1941),” 14.

21 Ibid., 11.

22 Interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, January 2020.

23 Bleuchot, “Notice sur les ‘awqâf’ libyens de 1969 à 1978, Annuaire de l'Afrique du Nord,” 397.

24 Lisa Anderson, “Religion and Politics in Libya,” Journal of Arab Affairs 1, no. 1 (October 31, 1981).

25 Author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

26 Bleuchot, “Notice sur les ‘awqâf’ libyens de 1969 à 1978, Annuaire de l'Afrique du Nord,” 397.

27 Ibid., 398.

28 For a discussion of this period, see George Joffe, “Islamic Opposition in Libya,” Third World Quarterly 10, no. 2 (April 1988), 615–631; Lisa Anderson, “Religion and State in Libya: The Politics of Identity,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 483 (January 1986): 61–72; and Lisa Anderson, “Qaddafi's Islam,” in Voices of Resurgent Islam, edited by John L. Esposito (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).

29 Alison Pargeter, “Qadhafi and Political Islam,” in Libya Since 1969: Qadhafi’s Revolution Revisited, edited by Dirk Vandewalle (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008).

30 Author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islam, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

31 Suliman Ibrahim, “Property Claims in Post-Gaddafi Libya: Political Debates and Justice Seeking in the Aftermath of Law 4/1978,” Hague Journal on the Rule of Law 9 (2017): 135–156,; and author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

32 Author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, November 2019, and author interview with a former awqaf official from the western town of Gharyan, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

33 This shift toward recognizing diverse strands of Salafism, differentiating between potentially useful so-called quietist currents that could be used against the jihadists, reportedly came at the behest of Egyptian intelligence and was managed through Qadhafi’s son Saadi, whose embrace of Madkhalism was, according to various Libya Salafist interlocutors, both personally and politically instrumental. See Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 114–115.

34 Author interview with a former member of the local awqaf committee, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

35 Even so, several interlocutors maintained that the Madkhalis never fully dominated Quranic schools. From an author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, November 2019, and author interviews with municipal officials from Yefren, Nalut, and Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

36 Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 131.

37 For an overview, see Habib al-Aswad, “War of the Dar Al-Ifta on Endowments in Libya: A Political Battle With Religious Cover” (Arabic), Al Arab, May 8, 2020,

38 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020.

39 Author interview with a Salafist cleric affiliated with the eastern-based awqaf authority, Benghazi, Libya, May 2017.

40 Author interviews with awqaf officials in Tripoli, Misrata, and Benghazi, Libya, 2017 to 2020.

41 For the early origins of armed group alignment with the state, see Frederic Wehrey, “Ending Libya’s Civil War: Reconciling Politics, Rebuilding Security,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 24, 2014, For the influence of ideologically oriented armed groups in the hybrid policing sector, see Frederic Wehrey, “Libya’s Policing Sector: The Dilemmas of Hybridity and Security Pluralism,” Project on Middle East Political Science Studies 30: The Politics of Post-Conflict Reconstruction, September 2018; and Emadeddin Badi, “Exploring Armed Groups in Libya: Perspectives on SSR in a Hybrid Environment,” Geneva Center for Democratic Control of the Armed Forces November, 23, 2020,

42 Ibrahim, “Property Claims in Post-Gaddafi Libya,” 135–156; and author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

43 For a biography of al-Ghariani and his doctrinal influences and ideology, see Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 131.

44 Local Salafist interlocutors use various terms rooted in politics and doctrine to describe the loose constellation of activist, revolutionary, and militant Islamic actors affiliated with al-Ghariani. At the very broadest level, they include haraki (activist) Salafists, as opposed to the so-called “quietist” Salafists embodied by the Madkhalis; the Muslim Brotherhood, and the muqatila, referring to former members of the now-defunct Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. At a more specific level, some Islamists in his orbit are derisively known by their Salafi opponents as Ma’ribis or the Ma’ribiya because of their doctrinal adherence to the teachings of a Yemen-based cleric Abu Hassan al-Ma’ribi, who was a major player in an intra-Salafist doctrinal schism in the mid-2000s. In contrast to his clerical progenitor in Yemen, Muqbil al-Wadi’i, al-Ma’ribi advocated a more politically active interpretation of Salafism, which carried over into his Libyan followers participating in the 2011 revolution. Among the more prominent of al-Ma’ribi’s Libyan followers was an Islamist named Shaaban Hadiya, who played a defining role in Libya’s post-2011 Islamist militancy as the head of the self-styled Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room, a coalition of like-minded Islamists drawn from towns and cities in western Libya. From author interviews with Salafist interlocutors, Tripoli, Libya, June and November 2019.

45 This took shape as Resolution No. 27 on March 18, 2012. See Libyan National Transitional Council, Resolution No. 27, March 18, 2012,

46 Francois Murphy and Ali Shuaib, “Libya’s NTC Unveils New Government Line-up,” Reuters, November 22, 2011, In 2010, religious authorities under Qadhafi prohibited Abu Faris from giving lectures in mosques and issuing fatwas without first obtaining permission from the awqaf authority. See Khaled Al-Muhair, “Libya Stops the Activity of an Islamic Preacher,” Al Jazeera, August 15, 2010,

47 “A Saudi Intelligence Shows That the “Political Islam Stream” Will Play a Decisive Role in Libya” (Arabic), Al Wasat, June 19, 2015, The document states, “in the event of the success of the transitional stage through the conduct of the upcoming entitlements, the Islamic and tribal orientation will play an effective and decisive role in drawing the Libyan political future map.” See “Saudi Cables,” Wikileaks, The Saudi intelligence document notes that the Muslim Brotherhood “depends on the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs headed by Sheikh Hamza Abu Faris, a member of the World Federation of Muslim Scholars open to Brotherhood thought, which allowed the Sheikhs and members of the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood to take the platforms to deliver lessons to preach, guide and give sermons on Friday, as mosques are overseen by many imams imbued with Muslim Brotherhood thought.”

48 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli and Misrata, Libya, June 2019, November 2019, and January 2020. See also, Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 131.

49 Author interviews with Madkhali Salafist figures in Tripoli, Misrata, and Benghazi, Libya, 2017 to 2019. Salafist figures often use a range of complex legal and doctrinal formulations to designate the wali al-amr. For a discussion, see Nathan J. Brown, “Who or What Is the Wali al-Amr: The Unposed Question,” Oñati Socio-Legal Series, Oñati International Institute for the Sociology of Law, forthcoming,

50 For an overview of these tactics, see “Dr. Hamza Abu Fares: The Extremists Usurping Manabar [Mosque Pulpits] Are Supported by External Parties,”, April 16, 2012,

51 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli and Misrata, Libya, November 2019 and January 2020.

52 Acting as self-proclaimed morality police linked to the Ministry of Interior, the Special Deterrence Force focused on combating vices like narcotics, alcohol, and prostitution on the basis of the Islamic precept of “commanding right and forbidding wrong.” A source close to the force put the percentage of practicing Salafists at 60 percent. From author interviews with Special Deterrence Force personnel, Tripoli, Libya, 2013 and 2016. The commander of the force, Abdelraouf Kara, appears to follow a scripturalist, dawa-based version of Salafism rather than a rigid adherence to Madkhalism. In a 2013 interview with the author, for example, he did not count al-Madkhali as one of his clerical referents, listing instead the Saudi clerics Muhammad bin Uthaymin, Nasr al-Din al-Albani, Abd al-Aziz bin Baz, and the Yemeni cleric Muqbil al-Wadi’i. Also from author interview with Abdelraouf Kara, Tripoli, Libya, May 15, 2013.

53 See Igor Chertisch, “Religious Violence in Libya: Who Is to Blame,” Huffington Post (blog),

December 5, 2012,

54 Author interview with Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

55 Ibid.

56 Author interviews with a former member of the local awqaf committee, Misrata, Libya, January 2020.

57 Author interviews with a former member of the local awqaf committee, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

58 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, June and November 2019.

59 For a bio, see Abdul Salam Al-Asmar Al-Fitouri, Facebook post, February 10, 2013,

60 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

61 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

62 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019

63 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

64 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Misrata, Libya, November 2019. For a discussion of factional and armed group challenges to the Zeidan government, see Wehrey, The Burning Shores, 160–170.

65 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

66 See Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 124.

67 The “remote control” moniker was deployed by several Libyan critics of the Madkhalis in author interviews in Tripoli, Libya, 2019 and 2020. For the Trojan horse narrative, see George Joffe, “The Trojan Horse: The Madkhali Movement in North Africa,” Journal of North African Studies 23, no. 5, (2018) 739–744.

68 For the drivers of Operation Dignity and the run-up to Haftar’s May 2014 attack, see Wehrey, The Burning Shores, 187–205. Also, see Frederic Wehrey, “The Battle for Benghazi,” Atlantic, February 28, 2014,

69 For an interview account of Haftar’s threats to take Tripoli in the summer of 2014, see Frederic Wehrey, “Taking Sides in Libya,” New York Times, July 7, 2014,

70 Wehrey, The Burning Shores, 191–205.

71 Author interview with the son of a deceased Madkhali cleric in Benghazi, Libya, May 2017; and Frederic Wehrey, “Quiet No More: ‘Madkhali’ Salafists in Libya Are Active in the Battle Against the Islamic State, and in Factional Conflicts,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, October 13, 2016,; and Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse.”

72 Ibid.

73 Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 133.

74 According to one Salafist interlocutor, “The [Special] Deterrence Force protected the Salafis in Suq al-Juma and Gheneiwa [a reference to Abd al-Ghani al-Kikli, a powerful Tripoli armed group commander], protected them in Abu Slim.” From author interview with a Salafi interlocutor, Abu Slim neighborhood, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

75 Author interviews with Madkhali Salafist interlocutors, Tripoli, Libya, June and November 2019.

76 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

77 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli and Misrata, Libya, November 2019 and January 2020.

78 Al-Futmani, in particular, had a well-established and polarizing reputation as the head of the May 28 Brigade in Bani Walid, which had committed abuses during the 2011 revolution and had been evicted from the town in 2012 by pro-Qadhafi residents. See Reuters Staff, “Interview—a Libyan Commander Says His Forces Are Gathering to Retake Bani Walid” (Arabic), Reuters, January 28, 2012, See also Wolfram Lacher, “Libya’s Local Elites and the Politics of Alliance Building,” Mediterranean Politics, 21, no. 1 (2016): 74.

79 Ghweila formed a close alliance with al-Ghariani and currently heads the Guidance and Awareness Department of al-Ghariani’s Tanasuh Foundation.

80 Reportedly, however, the new awqaf officials left in place Madkhali imams inside Tripoli’s mosques—at least initially. “When Fajr took over the capital, the major Salafi ulema left Tripoli for the mountains,” according to one Salafi interlocutor. “But Fajr didn’t replace the mosque preachers.” From author interviews with Makdhali Salafist interlocutors, Tripoli, Libya, June and November 2019.

81 Frederic Wehrey and Ala’ Alrababa’h, “Taking on Operation Dawn: The Creeping Advance of the Islamic State in Western Libya,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Diwan (blog), June 24, 2015;

82 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019. See also “The Minister of Endowments and Islamic Affairs Is Visiting the Southern Region to Follow Up on the Ministry’s Work” (Arabic), Libya News Agency, April 4, 2015,

83 According to two former awqaf officials familiar with the matter, in 2015, Mahmud Hamza, a powerful Special Deterrence Force commander, made threats against Abu Bakr Buswayr, the vice minister of awqaf, accusing him of being in the Brotherhood. Buswayr turned to a commander of the Central Libya Shield Force to issue a counterthreat.

84 For the video, see “Abdel Basit Ghweila, What Is Happening in Libya’s Jihad for the Sake of God” (Arabic), YouTube, posted by Alwasat Channel, August 11, 2014,; and “Libyan Scholars Blast Reports Linking Abdulbaset Ghwaila With Manchester Bomber,” Libya Herald, June 6, 2014,

85 Contrary to many assumptions, the Omar Mukhtar Brigade never joined the BRSC and was opposed to Ansar al-Sharia; its leader Ziad Ballam had been wounded in the arm by an Ansar al-Sharia ambush. From author interviews with Benghazi-based armed group commanders, Misrata, Libya, February 2016.

86 Lisa Laventure and Evan Dyer, “Libyan-Canadian Cleric Linked to Manchester Bomber Plans Return to Canada to Clear His Name,” Canadian Broadcasting Cooperation, June 4, 2017,

87 Author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, November 2019, and author interview with a former awqaf official, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020. His son’s death has also been reported on social media, including the following photo posted on Facebook. Sirte News Network (Arabic), Facebook post, April 9, 2015,

88 Author interview with awqaf officials, Tripoli and Misrata, Libya, November 2019.

89 For an overview of these debates, especially in the city of Misrata, see Frederic Wehrey, “Libya’s War-Weary Make Peace? Letter From Misrata,” Foreign Affairs, February 2, 2015,

90 “The Waqf of Tripoli Calls on Preachers to Warn of the Danger of ISIS” (Arabic), Ajwa, May 19, 2016,

91 A video of the statement was once found via this YouTube link but has now been removed, See also, Wehrey, “Quiet No More.”

92 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

93 The cooperation came amid several other instances of low-level outreach and dialogue by the Tripoli awqaf ministry to communities aligned with Haftar, demonstrating the institution’s mediation potential. These included holding a Quran recitation competition in Zintan and facilitating the visit of a Sufi scholar from the east. Some of the initial outreach came from an eastern awqaf official who hailed from the Firjan tribe—Haftar’s tribe. “Haftar couldn’t hurt him because he’s Firjani,” noted one former awqaf official. Even so, coordination remained limited because of entrenched opposition from more hardline voices in the eastern awqaf. Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019 and January 2020.

94 Author interview with a former awqaf official, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

95 See Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 132.

96 Abdulkader Assad, “Tripoli Awqaf: Madkhali Preachers Not Allowed to Give Religious Speeches at Mosques,” Libya Observer, November 24, 2016,

97 Author interview with a former awqaf official from Gharyan, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

98 Ibid.

99 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli and Misrata, November 2019.

100 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli and Misrata, November 2019.

101 Ibid.

102 Al-Qadi was also briefly detained in August 2018 by Tripoli’s General Investigation Department, allegedly over the failure to allow elderly hajj pilgrims to be accompanied by family members. See Safa Alharathy, “Head of Awqaf Authority Arrested in Tripoli,” Libya Observer, August 4, 2018,

103 Ahmed Elumami, “Tripoli Armed Factions Take Over Rival’s Compound in Heavy Fighting,” Reuters, March 15, 2017,

104 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020.

105 Ibid.

106 Abbani’s brother, a Salafist cleric who was imprisoned for over a decade by the Qadhafi regime, is a confidant of the Special Deterrence Force’s commander, with one clerical source describing him as a “clerical referent” or a “mufti.” Abbani himself described dispatching Salafist clerics to the Special Deterrence Force–run prison to conduct theological reeducation of imprisoned militants. From author interviews with Salafist adherents and former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019. For an account of this Salafist-led prison rehabilitation, see Frederic Wehrey, “When the Islamic State Came to Libya,” Atlantic, February 10, 2018, Some interlocutors also stated that the sacking was undertaken with pressure from another Tripoli armed group leader, Haytham Tajouri, the head of the Tripoli Revolutionaries Brigade. From author interviews with Salafist adherents and former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

107 The most significant of these was the noted Madkhali preacher Majdi Hafala. From author interviews with Salafist interlocutors in Tripoli, Libya, June and November 2019.

108 Alison Pargeter, “The Rise of the ‘Madkhalists’: Inside Libya’s Struggle for Religious Supremacy,” Middle East Eye, May 19, 2020,

109 See “Sheikh Abdel-Razzaq Al-Bashti, Director of the Office of Endowments for Al-Zawiya,” Tanasuh, April 28, 2020,

110 Author interview with a former awqaf official from Gharyan, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

111 Author interview with a municipal official from Yefren, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020. This came on top of an earlier pronouncement from the eastern-based awqaf authority that denigrated Libya’s ‘Ibadi adherents as “infidels.” See Human Rights Watch, “Libya: Incitement Against Religious Minority,” July 20, 2017,

112 Wolfram Lacher, “Magnates, Media, and Mercenaries: How Libya’s Conflicts Produce Transnational Networks Straddling Africa and the Middle East,” Project on Middle East Political Science Studies 40: Africa and the Middle East: Beyond the Divides, June 2020,

113 Habib al-Aswad, “War of the Dar Al-Ifta on Endowments in Libya: A Political Battle With Religious Cover” (Arabic), Al Arab, May 8, 2020,; and Sarah Rashad, “The Disagreement of Gharyani and Awqaf Al-Wefaq . . . a Struggle for Political Purposes” (Arabic), Al Marjie, May 12, 2020,

114 “Document in Response to the Condemned Gharyani and Abu Ujaili,” General Authority of Endowments and Islamic Affairs, May 5, 2020.

115 Author telephone interviews with residents of eastern Libya, November 2019.

116 Author observations and conversations with residents and social figures in Benghazi and Bayda, Libya, May 2017.

117 Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 134.

118 For the dynamics of this push, see Emadeddin Badi, “General Hafter’s Southern Strategy and the Repercussions of the Fezzan Campaign,” Middle East Institute, March 7, 2019,

119 Author interview with Madkhali figures in Sabratha and Tripoli, Libya, January 2019. See also Frederic Wehrey, “A Minister, a General, and the Militias: Libya’s Shifting Balance of Power,” New York Review of Books, March 3, 2019,

120 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020.

121 Ibid.

122 Author interview with a former awqaf official from Gharyan, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020.

123 For a discussion of this unit’s stance and its reported engagement with Saudi clerical figures affiliated with Rabi bin Hadi al-Madkhali in Medina, see Wehrey, “Salafism and Libya’s State Collapse,” 23.

124 Author interviews with a Salafi interlocutor, Tripoli, Libya, November 2019.

125 The conflicting accounts of that meeting, by Abbani and by an associate of al-Madkhali, stirred dissent within the Madkhali milieu; according to press reports, Abbani reported that al-Madkhali “did not recall issuing a fatwa.” Later, al-Madkhali’s son posted a statement refuting his father’s statement. For a summary of the dispute, see Abd al-Salam Sakya, “The War for Shaykh Rabi” (Arabic), AlSharouq Online, December 29, 2019,

126 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020.

127 Author interviews with former awqaf officials, Tripoli, Libya, January 2020.

128 Author interview with a Libyan scholar of Islamic affairs, Misrata, Libya, January 2020.

129 Abdul Hadi Rabie, “Al-Serraj Militia Stormed the Awqaf Offices in Western Libya” (Arabic), Al-Ain, May 5, 2020,

130 For an overview of these disputes in Libya, see Frederic Wehrey et al., “Islamic Authority and Arab States in a Time of Pandemic,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 16, 2020,

131 Jalel Harchaoui, “Who Are Libya’s New Leaders,” OrientXXI, February 20, 2021,,4539.

132 As an example, see this March 22, 2020 memo issued by the Ghariani-aligned National Association of Libyan Scholars and Sheikhs about the awqaf authority. “Statement by the National Association of Libyan Scholars and Sheikhs Regarding the Coronavirus Pandemic,” National Association of Libyan Scholars and Sheikhs, Facebook post, March 22, 2020,