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Sanusiyah

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Sanusiyah

    The Sanusiyah is a Sufi brotherhood that began in the early 1800s in present-day Libya and the central Sahara. Sayyid Muhammad ibn Ali al-Sanusi ( 1787 – 1859 ), an Algerian scholar, founded the organization. In his youth, al-Sanusi studied Islamic law and Sufism. He moved to Mecca in the 1820s, where he came under the influence of the Sufi teacher Ahmad ibn Idris . He adopted Idris's view that Muslims should follow the lifestyle of early Muslims. He disapproved of excessive rituals, such as dancing and singing, and urged his followers to look to the Prophet as a guide. He also promoted the use of ijtihad, or reasoned interpretation of Islamic law.

    Al-Sanusi wanted not only to reform Islam, but also to spread it among non-Muslims. He established a network of Sanusi zawiyahs in Cyrenaica (in present-day Libya) in the mid-1800s. Each lodge served as a meeting place, a house of worship, and a place where Bedouin traders could rest and resolve disputes. The Sanusis converted many Bedouins and gained a great deal of political influence. Several lodges arose in Arabia and Libya, including one on the Libya-Egypt border. The Sanusi brotherhood continued to spread after al-Sanusi's death, especially along key trading routes. By the late 1800s, the brotherhood had attracted a large following throughout North and Central Africa.

    French forces clashed with the Sanusis in Central Africa in the late 1800s, and when the Italians invaded in the early 1900s, the Sanusi brotherhood rallied the Libyan population to fight off the Europeans. Eventually, however, the Italians overpowered the Libyans, and the country fell under Italian rule. Many members of the brotherhood were killed, and its leaders fled to Egypt.

    When the United Kingdom of Libya gained its independence in 1951 , al-Sanusi's grandson Idris—then the head of the Sanusi brotherhood—became king. In 1969 Colonel Mu'ammar al-Qaddafi overthrew King Idris . He later banned the Sanusi brotherhood in Libya. Only a few Sanusi lodges remain. See also Idrisi; Libya; Qaddafi, Mu'ammar al-; Sufism; Zawiyah.

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