Book: Religion as Resistance, Negotiating Authority in Italian Libya

Eileen Ryan, Religion as Resistance, Negotiating Authority in Italian Libya (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).

From the description: “When Italian forces landed on the shores of Libya in 1911, many in Italy hailed it as an opportunity to embrace a Catholic national identity through imperial expansion. After decades of acrimony between an intransigent Church and the Italian state, enthusiasm for the imperial adventure helped incorporate Catholic interests in a new era of mass politics. Others among Italian imperialists-military officers and civil administrators-were more concerned with the challenges of governing a Muslim society, one in which the Sufi brotherhood of the Sanusiyya seemed dominant. Eileen Ryan illustrates what Italian imperialists thought would be the best methods to govern in Muslim North Africa and in turn highlights the contentious connection between religious and political authority in Italy.

Telling this story requires an unraveling of the history of the Sanusiyya. During the fall of Qaddafi, Libyan protestors took up the flag of the Libyan Kingdom of Idris al-Sanusi, signaling an opportunity to reexamine Libya’s colonial past. After decades of historiography discounting the influence of Sanusi elites in Libyan nationalism, the end of this regime opened up the possibility of reinterpreting the importance of religion, resistance, and Sanusi elites in Libya’s colonial history. Religion as Resistance provides new perspectives on the history of collaboration between the Italian state and Idris al-Sanusi and questions the dichotomy between resistance and collaboration in the colonial world.”

Islamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania

sanctuari-islamiciIslamic Sanctuaries in 17th-century Tripolitania is the translation of a work by the Libyan religious scholar ‘Abd as-Salām al-‘Ālam al-Tajouri.* It gives details about the many shrines and mosques in Tripolitania (western Libya), as they were known in the 17th-century. The Italian translation of the work, shown here, is the only scholarly work on the text that I know of. Antonio Cesàro, an Arabist who also wrote a grammar of the Tripoli dialect of Arabic, teamed up with the human geographer Enrico de Agostini to also track down the sites mentioned by al-Tajouri and document them in photos and with maps.

An interesting, though probably discouraging, project would be to go to these sites today, in and around Tripoli, Tajoura, Tarhuna, Zliten, and Misrata, and document as many as possible—both those that have survived the past five years of turmoil and those that have not.

*The full reference is Tajouri, A. Santuari Islamica nel secolo XVII in Tripolitania, tr. by Antonio Cesàro. Tripoli: Maggi, 1933.

The Ibadite Mosques of Jabal Nafusa | الجوامع الاباضية في جبل نفوسة

The newest publication of the Society for Libyan Studies’ monograph series is a much-anticipated study of the Ibadite mosques in the Nafusa mountains of western Libya by Virginie Prevost, a scholar of the Ibadites in North Africa.

Virginie Prevost (2016) Les mosquées ibadites du Djebel Nafūsa: Architecture, histoire et religions du nord-ouest de la Libye (VIIe-XIIIe siècle). [The Ibadite Mosques of the Jabal Nafūsa: Architecture, history and religion of North West Libya (7th-13th centuries)]. London.

From the publisher’s description: “The mosques of the Djebel Nafūsa, little known and under threat, personify the continuity of traditions and faith of the Ibadites, who have retained their grip over the centuries on this rugged landscape, despite their many trials and tribulations. This book is the result of a mission carried out in 2010 with the photographer Axel Derriks and examines twenty or so mosques, bringing to light their architectural features and linking them to medieval Ibadite texts.” The book features over 150 full-color photographs, maps, and plans.