Libyan leader's embrace of Sharia raises eyebrows

Libya adopts Sharia law, causing concern
Libyans celebrate during a ceremony announcing the liberation of the country in the eastern city of Benghazi on October 23, 2011.

    JUST WATCHED

    Libya adopts Sharia law, causing concern

MUST WATCH

Libya adopts Sharia law, causing concern 02:38

Story highlights

  • NTC leader Jalil said: "We have adopted the Islamic Sharia as the main source of law"
  • That kind of talk could raise concerns among the fledgling government's Western backers
  • In many Muslim countries, Sharia law is interpreted moderately
  • But in some, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is interpreted and enforced strictly

Officials with Libya's interim government are reassuring the West that their religious views are moderate, after the country's interim leader called for the country's new laws to be based on Sharia, or Islamic law.

At a rally on Sunday in Benghazi, National Transitional Council leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil said, "As a Muslim country, we have adopted the Islamic Sharia as the main source of law. Accordingly, any law that contradicts Islamic principles with the Islamic Sharia is ineffective legally."

Jalil also suggested in his speech that he would like to see new Islamic rules implemented to limit how banks charge interest, and put an end to some of the Gadhafi-era restrictions on polygamy.

"The law of marriage and divorce, which deals with polygamy -- this law is against Islamic Sharia, and is now halted," he said.

That kind of talk could raise concerns among the fledgling government's Western backers.

In many Muslim countries, Sharia law forms the basis for the constitution, but is interpreted moderately. But in some, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, it is seen as grounds for cutting off the hand of a convicted thief, or even stoning a woman to death for adultery.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, visiting Tripoli just last week, offered a warning when she was asked whether there should be a role for Islamists in the new Libya.

"Groups and individuals who really believe in democracy should be welcome into that process," she said. "But groups that want to undermine democracy or subvert it are going to have to be dealt with -- by the Libyans themselves."

But Libya's ambassador to the United States, Ali Suleiman Aujali, says the West should not be alarmed. "Sharia law, Islamic law, it is not against democracy, it is not against equality, is not against the relations with the other countries based on interests and respect and cooperation."

He says that women now enjoy new rights since the end of Moammar Gadhafi's regime. "There is no restriction against Libyan women to do anything now in Libya," he says.

And Jalil on Monday quickly reassured the international community that Libyans are moderate Muslims.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "We were encouraged to see President Jalil make a clarification." But she reiterated a warning to Libya and other Islamic countries in transition, saying that "the number one thing is that universal human rights, rights for women, rights for minorities, right to due process, right to transparency be fully respected."

Jalil's embrace of Islam's role in Libya comes just as voters in neighboring Tunisia handed a victory to the moderate Islamist party Ennahda.

"Islam is clearly going to play a much stronger role across the region," says Robin Wright, a Mideast expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "Whether it's Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and beyond -- as countries redefine their political systems, they are going to want to use the values of their faith to help define what they want next. But that doesn't mean necessarily they're going to be rigid Islamist regimes."

Still, she says, Libyan women are very concerned about equal rights in the post-Gadhafi era.

"The idea of allowing polygamy again -- or allowing the husband to marry again without asking permission of the first wife -- is something that is going to really resonate throughout Libya," she said.

      Death of a dictator

    • mann gadhafi speaks_00000000

      Moammar Gadhafi: A look back

      CNN's John Vause looks back at the rise and fall of mercurial Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed on Thursday.
    • A policeman examines the site where a Boeing 747 crashed after exploding over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988. The incident left 270 people dead.

      Opinion: Justice for Pan Am victims

      Brian Flynn, the brother of a victim of the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am flight over Scotland, says Moammar Gadhafi's death is justice long delayed.
    • The end of the Gadhafi era

      After months of fighting between rebels and pro-Gadhafi forces, deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has been killed.
    • DAKAR, SENEGAL:  Libyan Head of State Colonel Moamer Kadhafi (C) reviews troops 03 December 1985 in Dakar upon his arrival for three-day official visit to Senegal. Kadhafi, born in 1942, formed in 1963 the Free Officers Movement, a group of revolutionary army officers, which overthrew 01 September 1969 King Mohammed Idris of Libya and proclaimed Libya, in the name of "freedom, socialism and unity," Socialist People's  Jamahiriya. (Photo credit should read JOEL ROBINE/AFP/Getty Images)

      Why Gadhafi wouldn't surrender

      Fareed Zakaria on Gadhafi's fate: "He had always been a fighter -- romantic, mad, crazy -- so I always suspected he would go down fighting"
    • nr gadhafi last moments alive_00001224

      Gadhafi's last moments alive

      Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi is seen in what may be his final moments as he is captured by rebel forces.
    • TRIPOLI, LIBYA:  Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi salutes his troops participating 07 September 1999 in a military parade in Tripoli to mark the 30th anniversary of the Libyan Revolution that brought Kadhafi to power. Troops from 24 African states joined the flamboyant, five-hour parade which also heralds this week's extraordinary summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). (Photo credit should read MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

      How Gadhafi sought world stage

      Over four decades in power in Libya, Moammar Gadhafi portrayed himself as the leader of a united Africa and the "king of kings" of his oil-rich desert nation.
    • A National Transitional Council fighter stands on a small rug with a portrait of Moammar Gadhafi at the frontline in Bani Walid.

      Gadhafi's legacy in Africa

      The African stage once belonged to Moammar Gadhafi, nicknamed the "king of kings of Africa" by fellow leaders.
    • NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 23: Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi addresses at the 64th General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters on September 23, 2009 in New York City. Over 120 heads of state will converge in New York for the 64th session of the United Nations' General Assembly over the next seven days. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

      A long 8 months in Libya

      Fighting in Libya started with anti-government demonstrations in February and escalated into a civil war.
    • Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi, surrounded by his female bodyguards, attends a meeting with female personalities, 12 December 2007 in Paris.   AFP PHOTO / POOL / Jacky Naegelen (Photo credit should read JACKY NAEGELEN/AFP/Getty Images)

      World reacts to Gadhafi

      Reactions to the reported death of deposed Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has started to trickle in from around the world.
    • Libyan children waving National Transitional Council (NTC) flags celebrate in the streets of Tripoli following news of Moamer Kahdafi's capture on October 20, 2011. An NTC spokesman said Kadhafi has been killed by new regime forces in their final assault on the last pocket of resistance in his hometown Sirte on October 20, 2011. AFP PHOTO / MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

      Warning to dictators: You're next

      Dictators around the Middle East should pay close attention to the fate of Moammar Gadhafi, opposition activists from Syria and Yemen say.