Amid the spiritual, historical atmosphere of Jaghbub Oasis, the capital of eastern Libya’s Senussi state, we met the godfather of the dynasty named after it. He shared his memories of the colonial days, and the glorious resistance to the Italian occupation until their departure in 1947.
At his residence, Sheikh Mohamed Nassib, 83, recalled memories of his ancestors, praying for peace for his beloved Libya, surrounded by portraits of the founding fathers, historic books and manuscripts, inside this calm oasis, 280 km east of Tobruk city.
“I wish prosperity to all Libyans,” he said commenting on the chaotic conditions the North African state has gone through.
The Senussi movement’s name was linked both to the resistance against the Italians in the first half of the 20th century, and to the last king of Libya, Mohamed Idris al-Senussi, before he was overthrown by late president Muammar Al-Gaddafi in 1969.
The old Sheikh was detained five times during the rule of Gaddafi, in an attempt to bury the last flame of the Senussi era. Not only that, the late dictator demolished all the historic monuments of the Senussi movement at Jaghbub, stealing the remains of the founder of the Senussi movement, Mohamed bin Ali Al-Senussi, who died in 1859.
“Gaddafi’s men raided Jaghbub, obliterated the milestones of our civilization, including the mosque of the founding father that is 168 years old,” Sheikh Nassib said in a sad voice, which became more upset when he added: “They took the remains of our founder, never told us where he was buried.”
The mosque, where students also used to receive their primary education, embraced the late veteran fighter against the Italian occupation, Omar Al-Mukhtar, for eight years.
After Gaddafi’s military coup and overthrow of King Idris, the movement lost its momentum. Gaddafi then quashed them by bombing their capital in 1984. Although nearly 35 years have passed since this incident, the old sheikh is still remembers that heart-breaking moment with clarity.
“The government’s forces came to the village, alleging they are here to establish farms, but their cars were loaded with dynamite. They demolished the centre of the movement, and took away the body of Mohamed Al-Senussi.”
Before Gaddafi’s forces left, they detained Sheikh Nassib in Tripoli, releasing him after tearing down the whole village.
“Going back to Jaghbub and seeing the damage they caused, left my heart in deep pain,” he said weakly. “They destroyed priceless monuments, the studying corners, the library and its rare books, and irreplaceable wooden crafts from Malaysia.”
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Senussi Movement backed by the Ottoman Empire established hundreds of mosques, which were also used as centres of religious education and science, in a number of African and Arab countries. This ignited fears in European countries such as France and Italy of its wider influence on the population.
Eight years after the fall of Gaddafi, the number of Senussi mosques has been increased in Jaghbub, now considered to be one of the most important educational and intellectual centres in the country. This was affirmed by the spokesperson of the Jaghbub elders’ council, Idris Abdullah al-Tawati.
“Jaghbub has a significant spiritual meaning for all Libyans; in the darkest ages of Libya it used to be the centre of the Islamic, Sunni, reform movement, which inspired the jihadists fighting against Italian colonialism in Libya,” Minister of Culture Jomaa Al-Fakheri told 7D News.
Jaghbub is one of the most beautiful oases in the Western Desert, with freshwater springs and several sulphur lakes. The interim government plans to organize an annual celebration to promote Jaghbub as an intellectual and tourist destination, said Jomaa.
“The oasis is blessed,” said Sheikh Nassib while he offered his guests a plate of dates collected from the oasis’s palms.
“Who lives in Jaghbub, lives happily ever after, and who dies for Jaghbub, dies as a martyr,” he added.