Abdul-Razaq al-Motarabiah Jilkhaf, the last surviving companion of the Libyan resistance leader Omar al-Mukhtar, who fought against Italian fascist colonists, died last Sunday, 26 February 2017 at the age of 112 (rahimahullāh).
Omar Mukhtar etched his name in the annals of history when he valiantly defended his people, their property and honour by waging the noble concept of Jihād against the brute of European colonialism.
It is reported that our hero Omar earned his nickname as Asad al-Sahara’ – ‘Lion of the Desert’ – during his caravan trails to Sudan as a young man. Such a journey was fraught with dangers not least of it being on the route of a fearsome lion. On one such journey, Omar decided to face the danger head on when with a shotgun in hand and on horseback, he pursued the lion and killed it.
Omar lived a simple life as a teacher having been educated in the schools of the powerful Sanusi Sufi order. He had memorised the Qur’ān in its entirety and was known as a humble and deeply religious man. In 1911 however, the Italians made a grab for Libya from the disintegrating Ottoman Caliphate when Omar was approximately 53 years of age; Abdul-Razaq would have only been approximately five at the time. The Italian fascists, led by Benito Mussolini referred to invasion of Libya as the ‘Roman Reconquista’ – “reclaiming” lands which once fell under Roman rule. The usage of the word “Reconquista” was of course interesting given that it is widely associated with the period in history where as part of wider Crusades, Christians set out to conquer Muslim Spain, which they eventually succeeded in.
Omar was deeply concerned about the occupation of their land which had been forcibly and inhumanly taken away from them. He proclaimed that it was their God-given right to resist such injustice as he refused to be conquered. The event marked the beginning of a series of battles between the Italian occupiers and the Muslim forces led by Omar.
His skills of guerrilla warfare, his strength, spirit and zeal would put one of the world’s most powerful armies at the time, with its superior and modern weaponry and men half his age, to shame. Against Italian tanks and aeroplanes, Omar’s active fighters numbered between 1,000 and 3,000, on horseback and for the most part lightly armed, who trounced Mussolini’s armed forces almost on a daily basis, fighting more than 250 skirmishes and engagements a year. To counter this, the Italian fascists set up concentration camps to target civilians. In 1930, up to 100,000 Bedouin men, women and children – about half the tribal population of Cyrenaica at the time – were herded into desert camps where many died. Much like today with the approach of Israel in their war with Palestinians, the more defeats they would suffer, the more severe the punishments they would afflict on civilians.
After 20 years of resisting and inflicting severe defeats and setbacks to their unwanted European invaders, Allāh sought to elevate Omar’s rank in the hereafter (inshā’Allāh) and immortalise his heroic status in this earthly life when He, in His wisdom permitted that that Omar be captured and wounded by Italian colonial forces in 1931. In captivity, Omar was made lucrative offers by the Italians to end the resistance to which he responded that he would not cease to resist:
“until I achieve one of the two highest levels; martyrdom or victory. And I swear by Him who knows what is in men’s hearts that if my hands were not bound this very moment, I would fight you with my bare hands, old and broken as I am.”
At the age of 73, Omar was executed and martyred by hanging. When asked if he wished to say any last words, he replied with the Qur’anic response: “Innā lillāhi wa innā ilayhī rāji’ūn” Certainly from Allāh we have come, and to Allāh we will return. Twenty thousand concentration camp inmates and Cyrenaican notables were forced to watch Omar Mukhtar’s death. It is very likely that Abdul-Razaq al-Motarabiah Jilkhaf, who was approximately 26 years of age at the time, was also present.
Points to Note:
This brief narrative of the story of Omar Mukhtar is to simply highlight the blessed struggle that Abdul-Razaq al-Motarabiah Jilkhaf was a part of. If Allāh permits, I hope to dedicate a detailed article on Omar Mukhtar another time, inshā’Allāh.
Abdul-Razaq al-Motarabiah Jilkhaf’s death provides us with a link to the struggle of Omar Mukhtar which should continue to inspire Muslims in an age where the colonialist and imperialists which started their ceding of Muslim lands at the time of Omar Mukhtar, has continued unabated today through the use of their agents, dictators and despots whom they had played a hand in installing to continue their dominance over the Muslim world.
Indeed, right to this very day, Omar Mukhtar is recognised as a symbol of resistance in the Muslim world. This was not on account of him sitting quietly whilst injustice, tyranny and oppression descended and spread in the land, but rather because he courageously stood up having full certainty of the promise of Allāh and exemplified the verse in the glorious Qur’ān:
“How often has a small party vanquished a numerous host by Allāh’s permission, and Allāh is with the patient.”
It is important that young Muslims revisit the life and thoughts of these great exemplars to gain confidence and to unite to free themselves and the ummah from the grip of the enduring imperialism and coloniality by being upholders of justice and speaking truth to power. It is also worth reminding those who seek to pigeonhole Muslims to divide them by portraying some as ‘violent’ and others as ‘peaceful’, that Omar Mukhtar was a Sufi, part of a group who are today often thought of as being pacifist or otherwise compatible with western hegemony.
We should not let those in contemporary times who claim to wear the garb of Sufism and “peace”, whilst being complicit and providing cover for the crimes of dictators such as Sisi in Egypt or Ramzan Kadyrov in Chechnya as well as others, to misrepresent to us the great tradition of Sufis who have always fought (with their words and deeds) to defend themselves and their communities from aggression and oppression.
May Allāh have mercy on Omar Mukhtar, Abdul-Razaqal-Motarabiah Jilkhaf and all those who valiantly fought against invaders.
 Politics of Convenience!: Upset the Balance of Power, by Go Pal
 The Making of Modern Libya: State Formation, Colonization, and Resistance, 1830-1932, by Ali Abdullatif Ahmida
 Politics of Convenience!: Upset the Balance of Power, by Go Pal
 Omar al-Mukhtar : The Italian Reconquest of Libya (1986) by Enzo Santarelli, Giorgio Rochat, Romain Rainero and Luigi Goglia, as translated by John Gilbert
 Al-Qur’an 2:249
Z.A Rahman is a community activist and a member of a large Mosque in the UK. He has a keen interest in politics and history, particularly Islamic history. He also enjoys traveling and has visited numerous countries in the Middle East and North Africa.