WORDS THAT CHANGED AFRICA - Part 4 'The Lion Of The Desert' Omar Al-Mukhtar
Omar al-Mukhṭār Muḥammad bin Farḥāṭ al-Manifī, called fondly the Lion
of the Desert, and not so fondly the Matari of the Mnifa by the
colonial Italians was the charismatic leader of native resistance in
Eastern Libya under the Senussids, against the Italian colonization of
A teacher-turned-general, Omar is considered the national hero of Libya and a symbol of resistance in the Arab and Islamic worlds. Beginning in 1911, he organised and, for nearly twenty years, led the Libyan resistance movement against the colonial Italians during the Pacification of Libya.
Omar al-Mukhtar also fought against the French colonization of Chad and the British occupation of Egypt. A teacher of the Qur'an by profession, Mukhtar was also skilled in the strategies and tactics of desert warfare. He knew local geography well and used that knowledge to advantage in battles against the Regio Esercito (Italian Royal Army), who were unaccustomed to desert warfare and left repeatedly embarrassed.
Many of us today don't know that long before we were introduced to the terms Mujāhideen and concentration camps they both existed in Libya. They are not Afghani or German inventions. The Mujāhideen is what Omar's troops were called and the Italians in frustration would intern 100,000 of their kin in concentration camps on the coast. They were imprisoned in sub-human conditions just as bad, if not worse to what the English did to the Boers in South Africa or the Nazi's to the Jews.
Robbed of their vital aid and support Mukhtar continued to struggle despite increased hardships and risks, but on 11 September 1931, he was ambushed near Slonta, injured and captured (click for photo). He was a spry 73.
The Lion of Desert was just as regal in captivity as he had been on the battlefield. Never once did he cower even when paraded around like
Related: Money-making Rituals: Real Or Imaginary?
.jpg">an animal in chains (click for photo). Over and over the Italians tried to break him promising him freedom outside the country if he publicly asked his followers to quit their resistance.
He refused saying:
“We'll never surrender, we'll win or die,
you've (got) to fight the next generation and the next
and (by that) I'll live more than my hanger”
While this alone is enough to mention him honorably it is his next speech at his final trial that was his ultimate triumph. It is not as long as many that we have featured in our series but it lacks not one iota in essence or spirit. The message is loud and clear "Africa would rather die than be pushed around anymore!". Here is an unfolding from the court in Libya in 1931 and the dialogue between the Italian judge and Omar Mukhtar:
- Did you fight against the Italian state?
- Did you encourage people to fight against Italy?
- Are you aware of the penalty for what you did?
- For how many years did you fight against Italy?
Omar: For 20 years already
- Do you regret what you have done?
- Do you realize that you will be executed?
- It's a dismal end for a man like you.
Omar: On the contrary, it is the best way to end my life!
The judge then wanted to acquit him and as said deport him from the country if he would appeal to Mujahideen in a statement to stop the Jihad.
Then Omar Mukhtar said his famous words:
"My forefinger that admits in every prayer that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah cannot write a word of falsehood, we do not surrender, we win or die!
The Judge in stunned silence almost fell out of his seat.
He was hung a few days later but eventually, the Italian occupation would flop and Italy would leave Africa in disgrace.
Omar al-Mukhtar 20 August 1858 - 16 September 1931