From "Islamic convoys" to education

TRIPOLI (Reuters) - If outsiders didn’t notice the dark side of WICS, it’s probably because the Society has done so much legitimate work as a religious and humanitarian NGO. It has built scores of mosques and Islamic centers for Muslim communities around the world and set up hospitals and clinics, especially in many African countries.

The Society’s offices in 36 countries employ about 2,000 teachers - many of them Arabic language instructors - and as many preachers, or “doats,” to spread the Muslim faith.

Since the early 1980s, WICS has sent “Islamic convoys” to needy African countries with trucks full of medicines, food, clothing and other relief aid. During Ramadan, it sends Libyan preachers and Koran reciters to Muslim communities and distributes food for celebrations of iftar, the evening break in the day-long fast. It has also provided free Haj trips to Mecca for hundreds of Muslims from 60 different countries.

The Islamic Call College (ICC) at the Tripoli campus has graduated about 7,000 students from 92 countries since opening in 1974. The 80 faculty members focus mainly on Islamic studies, but students can also major in secular studies such as finance or computer science.

The education is completely free, a key attraction for many students from Africa and Asia. “I could not have had a university education without this scholarship,” said Salman Balamaze, an Arabic language major from Uganda, on the campus.

The ICC has opened branch colleges in Damascus, Ndjamena and Dakar as well as a department of Arabic Language and Islamic Culture at Benin’s National University. It has also financed the Muslim College in London.

The WICS claims to have won over 300,000 converts to Islam, 5,545 inspired by Gaddafi himself. It espouses Libya’s traditional, Sufi-inspired Islam. This has put it in competition with Saudi Arabia’s Muslim World League, which has been spreading the kingdom’s strict Wahhabi doctrines since 1962.

The WICS also actively preached interfaith understanding. It launched a dialogue with the Vatican as far back as 1976 and later expanded to meet with Anglicans, mainline and evangelical Protestants.

Pope Benedict met a WICS delegation in Rome in 2008 and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, gave a lecture at the Tripoli campus the following year. Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, secretary general of the World Council of Churches (WCC), spoke at WICS in January 2011.

Edited by Sara Ledwith