Sharia: Obama-encouraged Libyan transitional council approves polygamy, bans banking interest

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Libya’s transitional government, established as a result of President Obama’s intervention, announced its first rulings Sunday following the death of deposed dictator Moammar Gadhafi. They include reestablishing polygamy for men and banning Western-style interest on bank loans.

Both provisions are features of Sharia, or Islamic law; Mohammed, Islam’s founder, introduced both some 1,400 years ago.

On Sunday, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil abruptly announced that Islamic law, or Sharia, would provide the “basic source” of Libyan law. “This revolution was looked after by Allah to achieve victory,” Abdul-Jalil, the leader of the Transitional National Council, said to a celebratory crowd in Benghazi. Libyans are slated to approve or disprove a proposed constitution in June 2012, prior to elections for a new government. (SEE ALSO: Libyan rebel: I killed Gadhafi)

U.S. officials have repeatedly fended off questions about the goals of the rebel forces in the traditionalist Islamic country. “We have a good, we believe, feeling for and understanding of [the TNC],” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Oct. 20, shortly after Gadhafi’s death was announced.

The same day, Obama insisted in a Rose Garden statement that Gadhafi’s removal gave Libyans “a great responsibility — to build an inclusive and tolerant and democratic Libya that stands as the ultimate rebuke to [the] dictatorship.”

The president also used an Oct. 20 press conference to declare that “what we’ve seen in the Arab Spring — in Libya, in Tunisia, in Egypt — is this deep longing on the part of people for freedom and opportunity.”

Since March, the U.S. spent more than $1 billion in Libya to initially defend the rebel forces from Gadhafi’s large tank-equipped army, and then to carve out routes for the rebel offensive to use.

The ragtag rebels would likely have been destroyed by Gadhafi’s modern army but for pinpoint attacks by NATO aircraft. Gadhafi’s escape attempt from his tribal town of Sirte was stopped Thursday, and his final contingent of guards killed, by airstrikes from a French and U.S. aircraft. A short time later, Gadhafi was captured nearby and killed by a mob of rebel fighters.

In his Sunday statement, Abdul-Jalil thanked “the fighters who achieved victory, both civilians and military,” and added that NATO and U.S. air forces completed their missions with “efficiency and professionalism.”

Abdul-Jalil’s announced support for Islamic law could have meant anything between a symbolic nod to fundamentalist rebel groups and a promise for Saudi-style theocracy — complete with apartheid-style treatment of Muslim women and Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims.

His announcement ending the Gadhafi-era ban on polygamy suggests that he and his allies intend to implement much of Sharia.

Polygamy is legal but constrained in most Muslim countries. The practice is banned in neighboring Tunisia, which was ruled for many decades by France, and in Bosnia. Gadhafi sharply curtailed polygamy during the first years of his rule, when he had declared himself to be a modernizing socialist.

Polygamy has survived in some Arab countries because most Arab states base their laws on the Koran, which orthodox Muslims believe is an exact, detailed and unchangeable transcript of Allah’s rules for personal conduct and government actions.

Islam’s founder, Mohammed, had as many as 11 wives; he announced that Allah permitted men to have up to four wives, and to marry girls before they entered puberty.

Polygamy and early marriage is common in Saudi Arabia, several Gulf states, and many African states with Muslim populations.

The practice has a fundamental impact on society, limiting marriage options for poor men and increasing relatives’ pressure on women to marry wealthy men. Large pools of unmarried men tend to destabilize societies unless they are diverted to other activities, such as war.

Muslim women are not permitted to marry more than one man. In some countries they may not marry non-Muslim men.

Abdul-Jalil’s announced ban on interest, however, does leave room for so-called “Sharia-compliant” banking.

Arab Islamic countries have banned interest on loans since the time of Mohammed. But some fundamentalist Muslim states, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq, have a hybrid banking system which they say is Sharia-compliant banking. It allows banks to earn a profit by charging extra fees when a loan is first issued. This system helps wealthy people and companies earn money from their oil-based wealth without formally charging interest.

Without effective banking and an available pool of capital, Libyan companies will face difficulties when seeking investment funds to restart their economy and rebuild their oil industry.

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