The Senussi Family

The Senussi FamilyThe French historian Marcel Emerit said “most of the revolutions that took place in North Africa at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century were planned, organised and executed by the Sufi orders”.

He meant that these revolutions were led by the Senussi order which was founded and led by Imam Mohammed bin Ali El Senussi and the “Qadari” order of which Amir Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri was the leader.

In addition to the important role in resisting colonization, which the Senussi had played since its foundation at the beginning of the thirteenth century (hijri calendar) in western and central Africa, it also had a clear effect in driving the internal government of Libya to make the Ottoman state rely on it completely in resisting Italian colonization.

When the Italians invaded Libya at the end of 1911 the Senussi order carried the banner of resistance for more than a third of a century and led the most violent and eagerly fought battles, especially in the western half of Libya and the region of Barqa.

From its foundation until its end, the Senussi order had four chiefs and leaders who reformed the order, ran its affairs and spread its teachings. They were: the founder of the order, Imam Mohammed bin Ali El Senussi, his son Sayyid Mohammed El Mahdi, Sayyid Ahmed El Sharif, and the forth was Sayyid Mohammed Idris El Senussi, due to whose efforts the three regions of Libya - Cyrenaica, Tripolitania and Fezzan- were united and Libya became independent under his wise leadership.  It became the first modern constitutional monarchy in the history of this region.

This Sufi order is characterized by its concern for world affairs, nation building, teaching the strong individual, creating the enlightened citizen and organising the general life of mankind.

The genealogy of Imam Mohammed bin Ali El Senussi is linked to Imam Ali bin Abi Talib, may God honour him, by the Adarisiya Hassanyin kings who ruled North Africa and Morocco.

Imam Mohammed bin Ali El Senussi was born on 21st December 1787 in the outskirts of Metha situated on the bank of the Chelif valley in the area belonging to the city of Mostaganem in Algeria.  Both his parents died two years after his birth and his aunt Fatima az-Zaharah bint El Senussi Ibn El Arabi took care of him according to the will of her brother - his father.  A woman of strong personality and well educated, she taught and advised in religious matters. People from various areas came to her to ask for advice, to resolve conflicts and to benefit from her knowledge.

Mohammed bin Ali El Senussi was educated in his birthplace (Mostaganem) then his aunt sent him to Fez in Morocco and he joined Qarawiyin University, where he remained until he became one of its eminent personalities and senior sheikhs.  He then returned to Algeria but could not stand staying there after the French occupation.  He headed for Tunisia, then to Libya, and from there to Egypt.   He continued his travels to Mecca and Yemen.  As a result of this continuous travel he was able to acquaint himself with the Muslim countries and find out about their conditions and problems, and the reasons for their decline.  His vision took shape, he took the principles of the Senussi order and established the parameters for the road to reform and the way to revive the nation and resist the factors of decline, underdevelopment, foreign invasion and colonization.

He finally settled in Jebel Akhdar in eastern Libya where he built the first mosque from which his order began to spread. 

Imam Mohammed bin Ali El Senussi was determined that the attention had to focus on the elimination of illiteracy and correcting the wrong practices of Islam such as ignorant renunciation, apathy, mutual reliance and begging, which were the characteristics of most of the Sufi orders at that time.

His call was based on the foundation of Senussi Mosques and that the mosque would be a religious, cultural, social and military centre set up by the Imam or of one of his close followers for every community of Senussi and its followers.

In the beginning, the centre of Imam Mohammed Ali El Senussi’s call was Jebel Akhdar and he built a mosque in Al-Bayda and named it after himself, then he moved to Jaghbub from where the mosques spread to the remaining cities of Barqa and Tripoli. Imam Mohammed bin Ali El Senussi died in 1860 and was buried in his mosque in Jaghbub. In 1960, after almost ten years of independence, Libya commemorated the passing of a hundred years since his death.  However, the “military revolutionaries” who overthrew the independent Libya in September 1969, unleashed a military campaign in Jaghbub in 1984 on the orders of Muammar Gaddifi to destroy the mosque, blow up the tomb of the Imam, dig up his grave, and throw the remains somewhere in the desert. 

Imam Mohammed bin Ali El Senussi was succeeded by his son Sayyid Mohammed El Mahdi in the leadership of the Senussi order which flourished under his leadership and gained a widely spread  reputation, and he was able to establish order and peace in Barqa.  However, he died unexpectedly shortly afterwards in 1902 at the beginning of the battle between the Senussi and the French in Chad.  He was buried in Kufra and his son, Sayyid Mohammed Idris, assumed leadership of the order, but due to his young age when his father died (13 years), it was his cousin Sayyid Ahmad El Sharif who assumed the leadership at this time and led the armed struggle against the Italian invasion of Libya which began in October 1911.

Sayyid Mohammed Idris reached a suitable age to take command of the Senussi order and continued the resistance against the Italians from inside the country until 1931 when he was forced to move to Egypt where he remained until the outbreak of World War Two.  He then reformed his Senussi army and fought alongside the Allies until the Italians and the axis forces were defeated.  He was able to return to Libya to lead the Libyans’ struggle to complete the liberation of the nation and create an independent Libyan state.

On 21st November 1949 the United Nations recognized the independence of Libya with its three regions, and with the end of the transition phase the Libyans through their representatives in the National Assembly inaugurated Mohammad Idris El Senussi as constitutional King of the Federal Kingdom of Libya.  King Idris announced the independence of the state with its three provinces on 24th December 1951.  The ratification of its modern constitution, drawn from the International Bill of Human Rights, and in which the National Assembly represented the whole population, was formulated.  King Idris appointed his brother, Prince Mohammed El Rida, as Crown Prince but he died in 1955.  In 1956 the King appointed his nephew, Amir Hassan El Rida, as Crown Prince.

On Monday 1st September 1969 a number of young officers and soldiers seized power under the command of an army second lieutenant; Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi, and they tore up the constitution.  They arrested all the statesmen, headed by the Crown Prince Hassan El Rida.  King Idris was receiving treatment abroad with his family when the coup happened and Crown Prince Hassan El Rida was conducting the affairs of the country on his behalf.  The King went to live in Egypt until his death in 1983.  He was buried in the Al-Baqi Cemetery in Medina in Saudi Arabia and his wife, Queen Fatima, died in Cairo in 2009.

The Crown Prince was taken from his house and imprisoned for two years, then placed under strict house arrest for seven years, isolated from all friends and acquaintances.  In 1984 his house was burnt down in front of the eyes of his family by the “revolutionary committees” and personnel from the intelligence services who received their orders from Gaddafi himself.  He was then taken to a small house.  After this, the Crown Prince suffered a stroke which forced him to travel to the United Kingdom in 1988 to receive treatment accompanied by his son, Prince Mohammed; the remaining members of his family joined him afterwards.  The Crown Prince died in London in 1992 and his body, accompanied by five of his children, was flown to Medina to be buried alongside King Idris in the Al-Baqi Cemetery.

On the 18th June 1992 the last will of the late Crown Prince Hassan El Rida El Senussi was read at a press conference in London attended by a crowd of journalists and individuals and in the presence of his five children.  In the will, the deceased appointed his second son, Prince Mohammed El Hassan El Rida El Senussi, heir to the throne of Libya.