When Politics becomes Idolatry: The Demise of the Moammar Qaddafi and his Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
By Ibrahim Ramey
When I personally met the supreme leader of the Libyan people in June, 1990, the world was a different place, and his unflinching grip on the reins of absolute national power was as close to unshakable as one could imagine.
Colonel Qaddafi was cool, elegantly attired, quite gracious, and also typically incoherent when he appeared, unannounced to a session of a conference in Sirte, Libya, where my friend Greg Payton and I were, as far as we could tell, the only persons from the United States in attendance. Qaddafi, quite interestingly, was making overtures to the global peace and disarmament movement (where I located myself at the time), and more than a few of us benefited from the largess of the Libyan leader and his cronies.
But now, as events clearly show, the construction of the popular Jamahiriya, or “state of the masses” was little more than a front to consolidate power in the hands of one man, whose rule has gone from reckless to crazy to almost genocidal. The Libya of today is deeply submerged in the pit of civil war, and forces loyal to Qaddafi are engaging in an orgy of murder and, reportedly, rape of unarmed demonstrators, all to to keep their leader in power and their juice flowing from the oil wealth that has been expropriated from the Libyan people for decades. This is a bloody struggle, with no clear victor and no clear end in sight.
And it is also a contest that teaches us a bit about the danger of ego worship, and the idolatry (in Arabic, Shirk) that compels people to reject the worship of God and substitute it for the deification of a human being.
In the case of Moammar Qaddafi, I suspect that the deviation from the worship of God was not sudden, but that it happened over time. When he presented himself at the conference where I met him nearly 21 years ago, he interrupted his rambling and extemporaneous talk to go to the mosque next door to pray when we heard the sound of the Athan (call to prayer). He made a point to tell the audience about the importance of prayer as he and his entourage left the room for 30 minutes while his guests stopped everything to wait for his return. I had not taken my declaration of faith in Islam at the time, but I remember how impressed I was that the leader of a nation could demonstrate such piety, especially to a largely non-Muslim conference.
But now, some 21 years later, this “pious” Muslim leader is slaughtering his own people as punishment for their crime of demanding freedom and democracy.
The spiritual lesson that I learn from this is that when individuals abandon God for the worship of a human personality, and the worship of absolute (worldly) power that a dictator possesses, they have committed the most grave of all sins in Islam. Leaders can be mistaken, or corrupt, or even delusional, but when they take for themselves the power of literal life or death to their compatriots, based on nothing more than personal loyalty and submission, they become monstrosities.
God enjoins us, in whatever capacity we find ourselves, to be just and honorable, and compassionate. And when dictators become objects of worship, they become false gods that can destroy a nation.
Qaddafi may well have been a decent Muslim sometime in the past. But now,as the world recoils from the mass killing in the streets of Libya, he is only barely recognized as still human. And those of us who love and worship the One Lord of Creation (Allah) and follow the guidance of His Qur’an, must do all we can to save the people of Libya from the horrible consequence of this worship of the human personality.