By BosNewsLife Africa and Middle East Services
TRIPOLI, LIBYA (BosNewsLife)-- Minority Christians in Libya have begun the New Year with concern after parliament voted to make sharia, or Islamic law, the source of all legislation.
A special committee has begun reviewing existing laws to ensure that they comply with sharia, BosNewsLife learned Sunday, January 5.
Last month's vote was seen by Christians as an attempt to counter criticism from "militant Islamists", who called some of the country’s lawmakers "un-Islamic".
Advocacy group Barnabas Fund, which supports Christians in Islamic nations, expressed concern about growing influence of Islamists.
After the 'Arab Spring' pro-freedom demonstrations toppled autocratic leaders across the Arab world, it "initially appeared that Islamists had not gained the upper hand in Libya as they had done in Tunisia or Egypt," the group noted.
Though a "broadly liberal and secular coalition took the most seats in Libya’s first election," Islamic militants remain powerful, Barnabas Fund explained.
"Groups such as Ansar al-Sharia, the militia suspected of carrying out a deadly attack on the US consulate in September 2012, have grown in strength. Islamists now have an increasing influence both within politics and outside of it," the group said, adding that "militias control parts of the country."
Barnabas Fund said, the "strengthening Islamism intensifies the threat to Libya’s already vulnerable Christian community, which is composed of expatriate believers and a very small number of Libyan converts from Islam."
The group told BosNewsLife that it had urged supporters to, "Pray that the ascendancy of Islamist militias will not lead to increased attacks on...brothers and sisters."
It said Christians should ask God to "uphold His people in Libya as sharia begins to play a more prominent role in public life" and to pray for protection for forme
Apostasy, or abandoning Islam, potentially carries the death penalty in several countries, though it was not immediately clear if and when this would be imposed in Libya.
Sharia law is among several key issues facing Libya. The status of women and minorities, such as Christians, will have to be addressed in Libya's future constitution, analysts say.
Christian workers involved in evangelism have also been targeted. Earlier this year, Libyan authorities reportedly released four Egyptian missionaries who were detained for proselytising, in exchange for two senior officials linked to ousted, and killed, leader Moammar Gadhafi. The two face charges of corruption in Libya.
A fifth Egyptian Christian, Ezzat Atallah, died while in prison.
Libya retains a law from that makes "proselytising", or evangelism, a criminal offence potentially punishable by death.
The detention of missionaries underscored the difficult relationship between churches and Libya's new leadership. Conservative Islam is deeply rooted in Libya. Christians believe it is a challenge to formulate a new constitution that will draw strongly on sharia, while steering clear of extremism.
(With reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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