Omar Mukhtar

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Omar Mukhtar

INTRODUCTION: Omar Almukhtar’s life was encapsulated in a film titled the Lion of Desert. The film paints him as a freedom fighter that resisted the Italian occupation of his homeland, Libya. However, there is a lot more to our hero Omar Almukhtar than that. To Libyans and Muslims at large, the name Omar Almukhtar represents “the true” fight against the oppression of the Italian crusade whose desire was not only to occupy the land but also to wipe out the deep-rooted Islamic ideals and teachings. In fact the name Omar Almukhtar is synonymous with Jihad in Libya. There are many lessons that can be learnt from his struggle against the Italians from 1911 to 1931.

BIRTH AND EARLY LIFE: Omer Almukhtar or as often referred to by Libyans as Shaykh A’Shuhdaa (the Shaykh of Martyrs) was born in 1860 in the area of Albutnan, which is located on the western mountains of Libya (known as the Green Mountain). His father died while he was on the way to perform Hajj, when Omer was sixteen years of age. Omar Almukhtar went to the Sanousi Schools (Zawia) where he spent about 8 years learning Quran, and Arabic. He interrupted his education to learn the art of fighting, which included at that time horseback riding and that is when he reportedly developed his leadership skills as well. He was known as a man of his word, very zealous about his religion and one who had a pronounced effect on others. His speeches were very short and to the point. He seldom said anything without quoting a verse from the Quran or a Hadeith to support his speech.

Those surrounding him trusted him; they listened to him and often called upon him to resolve disputes. Bedouin characteristics were evident in his behavior; he was known to be brave, knew the Sahara and its pathways very well, especially routs from Libya to Sudan and Egypt. He also had the knowledge of Nansib (roots) of the tribes and he was very familiar with all medicinal grasses and plants as well and their usage to cure human and animal diseases.

One of those who knew him; Mahmoud Aljahmi, said that “I never seen Omar sleeps till the morning. He sleeps for two hours then wake up, make ablution (Wdu), pray and read Quran until Fajir time”. It was also reported that he used to read the Quran once every seven days. From the period of 1890 to 1911, Omar was appointed as Shaykh of the Jaghboob Zawia (religious school) from which he graduated earlier. During this period, his strong personality and leadership skills became known to influential tribal figures.

HIS JIHAD JOURNEY: The period between 1911 and 1931 was a crucial one, not just because of the life of Omar Almukhtar but for shaping the future of Libya forever. This was the period during which Omar Almukhtar fought the Italian invaders until his capture and later execution in 1931. Omer first heard the news of the invasion during a visit to Kofra, a city in the southern part of Libya, which was the headquarters for the Sounousi movement. Soon after Omar heard the news, he decided to go back to Jaghboob where he gathered every person capable of Jihad and headed towards Benghazi, the first city invaded by the Italians. It was reported that he gathered eighty-three men and marched toward Benghazi to join their fellow Mujahdeen there. There he was immediately given the leadership responsibilities. Some say it was an order of Sir. Ahmed Ashareef, who was the leader of the Sanousi movement at that time, and others say, it was the consciences of the Mujahdeen. Even though this war took place during the Othman Empire, Omar Almukhtar made it clear from the beginning that he was engaging in this war to defend the religion of Allah and resist the Italian occupation of Libya. This was evident from his following quotes “I will not leave this place until I achieve one the Housnayaeen (the two highest levels); martyrhood or victory”, “we will fight the occupiers until we kick them out or we will die in doing so”. It was also reported that when asked to go for Hajj, his reply was “the reward of Hajj does not exceed the reward of defending the religion of Allah and my country”. In Ghretsiani’s book, Barqa Alhadia, (the Calm Barqa), he said that when he was interviewing Omar, after his capture, he asked him: why did you fight us?
O. For the sake of my religion and country.
G. What did you want to achieve from this?
O. Nothing! Except to expel you out of my country. You are occupiers.
Wa ma ansir ela min end Allah (indeed victory is from Allah).

After a few years into the war with the Italians, the Turks decided to leave Libya. This had a huge impact on the Jihaad movement in Libya because the supplies from Egypt and Tunis were cut off as a result of the Turks decision. However, Omar and his fellow Mujahideen continued to fight furiously. Also, in 1917, the Ameer of the Sonousi movement decided to go to Turkey and hand the leadership (Imara) to Mohamed Idris Almahdi Asnousi.

After the failure of talks with dignitaries from the Ottoman Empire, in which he asked for assistance, Ameer Mohamed established contacts with the English and the German to help him in his struggle against the Italians. They were able to convince the Italians to give Ameer Momahed a say in the affairs of the western part of Libya, known as Barqa. However, Omar Almukhtar continued to resist the Italian occupation.

The Italians used the late developments to communicate with Omar via what is now labelled in the Libyan history as “traitors”. The Italians were successful in arranging a meeting with Omar Almukhtar during which they offered him a luxurious house and a monthly salary of 900 Italian Franck (about 650 Egyptian Pounds), a salary offered to the top generals in the Italian army. However, Omar Almukhtar refused all these offers as mentioned by Ghretsiani in his book: “Omar not only refused our offer, he did not listen to it”, he continued to say, “Omar was very harsh with the letter carrier. He was lucky Omar did not kill him”. It was also reported that when Omar received a letter from a Lebanese agent working for the Italians, asking him to give up fighting and give himself up to the Italians and that defeat is imminent because the Italian Army was far superior and more sophisticated. Omar’s reply was: “from Omar Almukhtar to Aboud (that was the name of the agent) the translator: if it was not for the obligation of replying, I would have ignored your letter. As for your advice, we say that asking us to give up fighting cannot be considered an advice. We do not need such advice. We will continue to fight and we depend on the strength of our Iman. Allah SWT says: Indeed Allah has bought from the believers their soles and wealth for Junnah in return. Allah knows our intentions and inshaa Allah he will reward us accordingly”. After that incident, Omar lmukhta was called to a meeting, in Zwetena, with the top Italian generals to discuss Omar’s concerns. However as soon as the meeting commenced, the generals started by offering compensation to families whose homes were damaged and appointing Omar Almukhtar a high executive role or if he chose to retire, they will honor their first offer. Omar’s response was negative as usual. He told the generals “I did not come to this meeting to listen to their nonsense. I do not fight you to gain any respect from you or to get any financial reward. We are fighting for the existence of our nation. We cannot forget the blood of our brothers who died for the sake of their faith and this country. If you want to discuss any thing, we should discuss these points (the points proposed before the meeting) and respect our right for existence. “If you have come here for anything else, the meeting should be adjourned” and he walked out of the tent. The one negative impact of these series of negotiations was that a few people accepted the Italian occupation and started working for the Italian government. Historians say this was the turning point in Omar Almukhtar’s Jihaad journey as some of these “traitors” used to fight along side the Mujahdeen

HIS CAPTURE: Omar Almukhtar continued to fight the Italian occupation until early September 1931and that is when he was captured by the Italians. It was during the battle in which the Italian army waged an offensive on the Mujahideen. The horse, which Omar Almukhtar was riding, got hit and he fell down. Because of his age, he could not save himself. It was reported that the Italian soldiers did not recognize him at first. In fact, it was one of the traitors that identified him for the Italians. The Italians immediately took him to their headquarters in Benghazi where he met with the leader of the Italian army, General Ghretisiani. The next day Ghertisiani interrogated him, among the questions he asked him:

“How long would it take you to order your fellow fighters to cease their fires?” asked General Ghretisiani “I cannot do anything. We the Mujahids swore to Allah that we would fight until we die one after the other. We do not surrender nor do we quit. I have never surrendered and I will continue to fight” replied Omar Almukhtar. General Ghretsiani said in his book that Omar Almukhtar walked out of his office the same way he walked in; with respect and dignity. He said that he has the highest of respect for Omar Almukhtar.

Soon after that meeting, the Italian government ordered him to a court marshal. The sentence was predetermined as later admitted by A`Sharaf Algheriani, one of the biggest traitors. Algheriani said that his Italian superiors were talking about the sentence before the trial and were preparing for it. When the court announced its decision, on the 15th of September, 1931, Omar Almukhtar was heard saying: ena el Allah wa ena eliehe ragoon (we belong to Allah and to him we shall return).

The court sentence was to hang Omar Almukhtar in public in the city of Slooq. The sentence was carried out the next day, i.e. September 16, 1931. It was done in front of thousands of Libyan who were gathered by the Italians from various concentration camps to witness the hanging. Historian reported that the last words uttered by Omar Almukhtar before his death were: ya aytoha alnafs almutmaena ergee ela rabik radheyatan mardhieya (oh peaceful sole return to your lord, satisfied and obedient).

2 Responses for “Omar Mukhtar”

  1. Minhaj says:

    Umar Almukhtar’s legacy should be followed and adored. His love to his nation and determination to his believes portrays a very strong personality which are missing among so called Jihadis who have been derailed from the true Islamic fundamentals. Amin

  2. Umar Almukhtar is an inspiring, heroic figure and while he is first a hero to Libyans and Muslims, like all instruments of divine Providence, he is an exemplar of justice and martyrdom in the cause of human rights and a hero for all people who love justice. Like the Christian freedom fighter, John Brown, Almukhtar must be remembered as a hero, a brave freedom fighter, and a man conscientiously devoted to transcendent authority first and foremost. Like John Brown, Umar Almukhtar’s “soul goes marching on.”

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