Near the end of the Ottoman caliphate, the Muslims around the world were already suffering as the Western colonialists tore their lands apart. One of the military geniuses of this time, who tactically humiliated the Italian colonialists is Omar Mukhtar, also known as ‘The Lion of the Desert’ for courageousness and also his outstanding character.

Omar was first a humbled Qur’an teacher until 1911 when the Italians began their invasion of Libya. By this time, Omar was 53 years old but he had the might of a 20-year-old. Omar became a strategical and strong-willed general and led guerrilla attacks on many Italian outposts and cut critical supply routes. He embarrassed the Italians who even with their seemingly unlimited weapons, advanced machines and thousands of soldiers could not defeat an old man with a small group of inexperienced soldiers of Allah, whose guns were nothing compared to the Italians.

The Italian occupation of Libya dated back to verbal discussions after the Congress of Berlin (1878), in which France and Great Britain had agreed for the occupation of Tunisia and Cyprus respectively, which at that time, were both part of the ailing Ottoman Empire. The Italians and the French also made a secret deal which ensured the Italians, the freedom of intervention of Libya which could be simplified to the invasion of Libya. In 1911, shortly after the deposition of Sultan Abdulhamid and the establishment of new reforms in the Ottoman government, the Italians launched their invasion. It wasn’t defended well, with only 4,000 Ottoman soldiers in Libya. Furthermore, the native Libyan people showed resistance and fought defiantly against the foreign invaders which is where Omar Mukhtar comes in. The Italian occupation continued throughout WW1 and Libya would soon be subdued under the fascist government of Benito Mussolini around 1935. This was only a part of the Scramble for Africa, where the western nations plotted to carve Africa and make it into colonies, sucking them dry of their resources, and forcefully implementing their western ideologies and culture into the minds of the people. It’s the reason why Africa isn’t an advanced, wealthy continent like it had been before.

Nevertheless, the works carried out by Omar Mukhtar kept the region in the hands of the Muslims for another 20 years until at the age of 73, he was captured after being injured during battle. He was offered many bribes by the Italians to call off his men, but never gave up, resisting and saying: “We will never surrender. We win or we die.”

By Muhaimin Hussain

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