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Sharia law to be main source of legislation in Libya

Sharia law is set to guide Libyan legislation, but the transitional government insists it will be moderate.

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Implementing Sharia in Libya may not necessarily mean the North African nation will turn into regimes like clergy-ruled Iran or Afghanistan under the Taliban. The extent of how far Sharia law can be applied depends in large part on the interpretation of a large body of Quranic verses and sayings and deeds of Muhammad, Islam's seventh century prophet.

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Sharia law is enshrined the constitution of a number of Middle Eastern countries with Muslim majorities, but the role it plays in society varies according to interpretations. Some nations, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, follow a stricter interpretation that mandates cutting off the hands of thieves, the heads of murderers and stoning adulterers to death. Those who drink alcohol are publicly flogged. Others, such as Egypt, state that Sharia is a main source of legislation but have largely secular laws.

"It may not be quite be the country that NATO thought it was fighting for (when Sharia is implemented in Libya)," said David Hartwell, a British-based Libya expert. "But the huge amounts of oil and gas in Libya will make everyone learn how to reconcile themselves with the new Libya."

Gadhafi's approach to Islam has changed through his nearly 42 years as leader. On coming to power in 1969, he pushed for an interpretation of Islam that encouraged the fight against European colonial powers in Libya and across the globe. He banned alcohol in line with the faith's teachings and turned against liberals and leftists during his early years in power.

In later years, however, Gadhafi saw militants as a threat to his authoritarian rule. He jailed and put to death many of them while sending agents of his powerful security organs to monitor and, in some cases, arrest Libyans showing signs of piety, such as frequenting mosques to offer dawn prayers.

Islamists are a small minority among Libya's population of 6 million, but they were by far the largest and most powerful faction among the fighters who battled pro-Gadhafi forces in eight months of civil war. Abdul-Jalil, analysts said, was likely to have given his address an Islamic slant as a nod to those fighters who were united with other factions by the common goal of ousting Gadhafi but now are jockeying to fill the political vacuum left by his ouster.

"Abdul-Jalil's religious rhetoric reflects moderate Islam," said Ali Ahmida, a Libyan who chairs the Department of Political Science at the University of New England at Biddeford, Maine. "His address was an attempt to appease the Islamic groups that fought Gadhafi, but should have come as no surprise in Libya, where Islam plays a much bigger role than it does in neighboring countries."

The emergence of Libya's Islamists as the strongest faction in the wake of Gadhafi's removal repeats a pattern seen in Tunisia and Egypt.

Early signs from Tunisia's parliamentary election Sunday show that a once-banned Islamist party, Ennahda, has a commanding lead in the first vote since a popular uprising forced President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali to flee the country on Jan. 14.

In Egypt, Islamists also are poised to emerge as the largest bloc when a parliamentary election is held next month. It will be the first nationwide election since Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's ruler of 29 years, was ousted in February.

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