Libya: Religion for Social Justice

This article was first published in the October 1988 edition of THE ANALYST magazine, which was a left wing magazine. It was wriiten by the late Dr. Bala Usman and four others. I culled and reproduced it because for quite some time now we have been bombarded with news about Muammar Gaddafi, especially from the Western media with its patterned view on anything African. As usual, Gaddafi was seen in bad light in most of those reports. This article took a different wholistic approach which established the dialectical relationship between the man {Gaddafi} and his society {Libya}. Happy reading.

“Libya: Religion for Social Justice”
“Religion can be used to advance the cause of the people, or to subvert it. Whether it is used for the one or the other is determined by the material interests and social composition of those using it. Libya provides an example of how the Islamic religion can be used to advance the cause of the people.

The Libyan Revolution of September 1, 1969, was a historic turning point in the country. On that day, the Libyan monarchy, headed by king Idris El-Sanusi, was overthrown by young army officers under the command of a 29 year old major, Muammar Gaddafi. Although a descendant of the great Sanusi family which led the resistance against the Italian occupation of Libya, the King literally turned the human and material resources of the country into private fortunes of relatives, friends and foreign companies.

Even though Libya had become independent since 24th December 1951, and had made a net revenue totalling 4.3 billion dollars from oil alone between 1962-69, little progress had been recorded in the economic and social development of the country. For example, the number of students attending secondary schools increased from 537 in 1951 to 6,237 in 1969. The country’s food imports rose from 1.7 million dollars in 1959 to 95 million dollars in 1969. Agricultural export, on the other hand, declined from 4.2 million dollars in 1956 to 108,800 dollars in 1968. Very little progress was recorded in other social service sectors like health, housing, transport,etc.

Since 1969, Libya has been declared an Islamic state, where the Qur’an serves as the constitution and the sole point of reference in personal matters. No alcohol is brewed, sold or consumed in Libya, and there are no prostitutes parading the towns and villages. But the Islamic State of Libya does not rely on such external appearances as proof of its Islamic character. Factors which make it a popular Islamic State are the ways in which the leadership has made efforts to establish a just society since 1969, in accordance with Islamic principles.

By the time of the first anniversary of the Libyan Revolution in September 1970, the government had increased the minimum wage by about 50%. It also set out to provide housing to all those in need, free of charge. Rents were slashed by 40%. The government also made interest- free loans available to the people to build their own houses. By the second anniversary of the Revolution, the Libyan government had made factory workers part-owners of the companies where they work. This entitled the workers to receive up to half of the profits declared by the companies.

In the case of the peasants, the 1969 Revolution eliminated landlessness – farmers were in many cases given up to 25 acres in addition to interest-free loans to purchase farm inputs. This interest-free loan was payable in 20 years. As for the agricultural estates owned by the Italians, these were confiscated and distributed to the farmers in the nearby villages and to farm labourers.

Since 1969, Libya has recorded tremendous achievements in the provision of such basic services like housing, education and health. For example, the government built 480,156 houses between 1975-1980. In the case of education, the number of pupils in pri-primary, primary and secondary schools rose from 214,954 in 1969 to 809,268 in 1980, an increase of about 400% in just one decade.

The most spectacular achievement in the field of education is the way the enrolment of girls rose dramatically. At independence in 1951, there was not a single girl enroled in secondary school. But by 1975, 43% of the 734,000 total enrolment in schools were girls. In the case of primary schools, 46% of the total enrolment of 556,000 by 1975 were girls. Of the 12,000 enroled in universities in 1975, 17% were girls. By 1981, Libya with a population of just three million people had a total of 870,000 students in school. This means that by 1981, about one Libyan in every three was in school. Indeed, between 1969-1988, Libya had almost wiped out illiteracy.

In the provision of health care too, Libya’s achievement is very impressive. For example, the number of hospital beds increased from 6,421 in 1969 to 14,695 in 1975. And by 1980, the ratio of hospital beds to population stood at seven to 1,000; and that of doctors to population was one to 1,000. This is comparable to the advanced countries. Similarly, only five years after the revolution, as many as 102 health centres had been built. The attention given to health by the new government had by 1980 made Libyans among the healthiest people in Africa.

But the beauty of the Libyan revolution does not just lie in these statistics, impressive as they are. Indeed, these real achievements would never have been realised but the fact that the regime paid careful and serious attention to ensuring that power was firmly placed in the hands of the people. The democratic principles promoted by the new regime were based on such authorities as that provided in the Holy Qur’an, Suratul Al-Imran, verse 160: “It is by the great mercy of Allah that thou art gentle with them, for if thou hadst been rough and hard-hearted they would surely have dispersed from around thee. So bear with them and pray for forgiveness for them and take counsel with them in matters of administration.”

On the basis of such holy injunctions, the Gaddafi-led government embarked on a bold democratisation programme in the Libyan society. This involved the setting up of People’s Assemblies in the urban and rural areas, in homes, factories and offices, and even within the armed and security forces. The standing army was disbanded, and a people’s militia was given responsibility for defence and security. Libyan women, who had suffered centuries of oppression under patriachal domination dressed in Islamic garb, were consciously encouraged to take part in all aspects of public life. – the militia, the professions, and in cultural revival.

Today, whatever the many shortcomings which the Libyan – like all other popular revolutions – must have, Libya everywhere is a force to be reckoned with, and the Libyan people are the better for it. The experience of Libya shows that there can certainly be marraige between Islam and social progress, but this matrimony has to be entered into by the popular masses, and not by self-proclaimed qadis in the clothing of foxes.”

MY ADDENDUM:
This is a sweet article, very, very sweet. Like I had pointed out, it was written by Bala Usman, Hauwa Mahdi, Gabriel Abu, Alkasum Abba, and Pius Gbasha. The time frame when this article was written {Oct 1988 – 21 years ago} and now, in Libya, may not have made much of a difference. Within that time lag, Gaddafi has accumulated more money from crude oil sales and have developed and expanded the social infrastructures and had strengthened the institutions of the Libyan society. Unfortunately for our country Nigeria, this is the same religion that most of our past leaders and our current president, Yar’adua, professes. In the same magazine, one could read another well researched article titled, “A THEOLOGY FOR LIBERATION” written by Richard Umaru which contained very moving and touchy quotes made by activel

y involved revolutionary Reverends and Bishops in some of the latin American countries. I wish I could reproduce this article and some others. However, let me reproduce a SAMPLAR of quotes contained in some of the articles, most of which, are enough to prick the conscience of our comatosed Nigerian Christian and Moslem communities. Read this first ‘stanza’ and meditate on it:

There is no incompatibility between Christianity and Marxism,” says the Nicaraquan Reverend Ernesto Cardenal, “they aren’t the same thing – they are different – but they are not incompatible . . . . Marxism is a scientific method for studying society and changing it. What Christ did was to present us with the goals of social change, the goals of perfect humanity, which we are to co-create with him. These goals are a community of brothers and sisters, and love. But he did not tell us which scientific method to use in order to arrive at the goal. Science has to tell us this – in our case, the social sciences. Some take one science, others another. But if anyone substitutes Marxism for Christianity, that person has made a mistake. . . . I have said many times that I am a Marxist for Christ and his gospel, and that I was not drawn to Marxism by reading Marx, but by reading the Gospel. I am a Marxist who believes in God, follows Christ, and is a revolutionary for the sake of the Kingdom.” What a divine knowledge and what a quote! What a revelation that comes from within a deeper understanding of one’s society: an understanding which incubates and sprouts from the innermost privacy of one’s intellectual armament. I love this quote to pieces.

Yet another: “When I give food to the poor,” says Dom Helda Camara, a north Brazilian catholic bishop, “they call me a saint, when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist“. Now, who are the “they” being referred to by this sharp and highly conscious bishop? Your guess is as good as mine; but, you can get the answer in a book which the Venezulan leader, Hugo Chavez, parted and handed as gift to President Barack Obama, titled “OPEN VEINS OF LATIN AMERICA: five centuries of the pillage of a continent” {1998}, written by Eduardo Galeano. The “they” answer is in that book.

Above all says Camilo Torres {A Colombian Priest}, “any Christain who is not a revolutionary is living in mortal sin“. With the deteriorating political and economic situation in Nigeria and the death of Chief Gani Fawehinmi and the ageing of most radicals and left wing activists, I can aptly deduce and extend this quote thus; that, any Nigerian Christian or Moslem who is not happy with the way Nigeria is going and, is still not revolutionary in thoughts and behaviour, is living in mortal sin. Continues Camilo Torres, who was at one point in history, a Colombian priest and former lecturer in Sociology at the Bogota National University where he had doubled as the university’s chaplain, “the duty of every Christian is to be a revolutionary; the duty of every revolutionary is to make the revolution“. This is a fundamental fact. Now, can we Nigerians compare the attitude of our prosperity Pentecostal preachers and that of our Imams and Qadis, to the progressive, positive and practical approach of these latin American clergies? It is important to note that each quotation was applicable to a particular context but that context was not and is still not far different from Nigeria’s.

By summation, it is quite clear that with the Libyan experience, religion can be used for the good of a generality. It can however, as we have seen in the case of our Byzantine Nigerian state, be used for bad too. My judgement is that any believing leader who uses religion efficiently and effectively for the good of the people he leads, will fine peace with the Lord when that leader finally leaves this mother earth; but any leader who uses or has exploited and used it to persecute, torture, secretly and openly kills, abuse and maim, pursue and implement selfish, wicked, evil economic policies that had brought hardship and avoidable pains to the generality of the led, that leader definitely has a date with hell, where he will rest and roast for eternity. Atoned! Is this article and my addendum, a call for arms for Nigerian moslem and Christians? Call it whatever, but it is more of a clarion call to the base followership of both religions in Nigeria to reflect on our history as a nation and to start getting actively involved in praxis. I rest my case!

2 thoughts on “Libya: Religion for Social Justice

  • Ephraim Adinlofu: The article you find “sweet and very very sweet” I find sad and very very sad.

    I am a Christian. I find it sad that you would quote leftist Christians who, under the cloak of Christianity, promote and defend evil ideology of Marxism.

    Am I now supposed to believe that those Marxists who use Christian vocabulary, but never Christian dictionary, represent the truth of the Word of God of the Holy Bible? Weren’t some so-called Christians ahead of Scientists in accepting the truth of the theory of evolution as presented by Darwin? Should I believe and follow those Christians too?

    I find it very very sad that someone like you will sanction totalitarianism of any sort in the name of “social justice”. Whose social justice? What is social justice in the relationship between the people and the authority over them?

    In the context of our own country of Nigeria, for example, does your own idea of social justice through the instrumentality of religion include those who are neither Christians nor muslims?

    I must tell you that I find the piece you posted, as well as your own opinion of it, very depressing. What is even more depressing is the fact that it was posted by someone who claims to have received an advanced degree in Sociology.

    How I wish you could join us at the “Discussion Boards” of this site where you and I can discuss the piece in-depth. If you are able to join us, please do so ASAP before I lose the fire that’s now burning in my belly regarding the silly and sad piece from a leftist publication.

    Reply
  • May the soul of Dr. Bala Usman rest in peace. This is a man who drove a rickety and ever smoking Volks-wagen virtually throughout his stay as a lecturer in the ABU. Dr. Bala had every opportunity to acquire and accumulate wealth and property in Nigeria but he declined to use those opportunities. He was rare gem. He died an unhappy man, just like Gani, because of the way the Nigerian STATE was and is still being run.

    Reply

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