Reaching the Nations


By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Area: 1,759,540 square km.  Located in North Africa, Libya borders Egypt, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Algeria, Tunisia, and the Mediterranean Sea.  Libya possesses some of the driest and hottest areas of the Sahara Desert, which occupies the entire country with the exception of some coastal areas.  Terrain primarily consists of barren flat plains with scattered depressions and plateaus.  Coastal areas experience a Mediterranean climate and in some coastal locations there is arable land suited for agriculture.  Frequent dust storms and sandstorms are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include desertification and inadequate fresh water supplies.  At present, Libya is constructing the world's largest water development project by extracting ancient aquifers deep under the Sahara and transporting the water to coastal areas.  Libya is divided into 22 administrative states.    

Population: 6,461,454 (July 2010)       

Annual Growth Rate: 2.117% (2010)    

Fertility Rate: 3.01 children born per woman (2010)   

Life Expectancy: 75.18 male, 79.88 female (2010)


Berber and Arab: 97%

other: 3%

Most the population is mixed Berber-Arab.  There are some Berber communities in the interior with few inhabitants.  Foreigners primarily originate from other North African  and Middle Eastern nations and are estimated to number between 1.5 and two million (23-30% of the national population).

Languages: Arabic dialects [primarily Libyan-spoken] (95%), Berber languages [primarily Nafusi] (3%), immigrant/migrant worker languages (2%).  Standard Arabic is the official language.  Italian and English are commonly spoken second languages.  Only Arabic dialects have over one million speakers (6.14 million).

Literacy: 82.6% (2003)


Foreign civilizations, empires, and nations have ruled present-day Libya throughout much of its known history beginning with the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, and Byzantines.  Islam spread in the seventh century as a result of invading Arab forces and overtime lead to the conversion of most native peoples and adoption of the Arabic language and cultural customs.  The Ottoman Empire conquered Libya in the sixteenth century and meddled little with local affairs until Italy invaded in 1911 and made Libya a colony.  Italy retained control of Libya until Italian forces were defeated by Allied powers in 1943 during World War II.  Libya achieved independence in 1951 and was among the first African countries to become independent.   A constitutional monarchy under King Idris governed until ousted by a coup in 1969 lead by Mu'ammar Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi and the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which emphasized socialism and tribally-influenced Islam to create a "direct democracy."  Foreign interests and military forces stationed in Libya were promptly ordered to leave and by the early 1970s, all foreign installations were closed.  Qadhafi attempted to spread his unique political ideologies abroad by sponsoring terrorism targeting Western interests.  Bombings sponsored by Libya in the 1980s included an attack on American military personnel at a discotheque in Berlin, Germany and the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.  The United States responded militarily in 1986 by attacking targets inside Libya.  Throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, Libya was isolated from much of the worldwide community through the United Nations sanctions.[1]  In the 2000s, Libya took responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and began to comply with the international community's demands to end its development of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist sponsorship.  Political relations with much of Western Europe and the United States were reestablished with Libya in the late 2000s.  Sparked by the Arab Spring movement, civil war erupted in early 2011. By the end of 2011, rebel forces killed Qadhafi and overthrew his regime.  Currently the government is in transition.  


Islam is the primary influence on Libyan culture.  In recent times, Qaddafi has contributed to Libyan culture through propagating his Islamic-socialist philosophies.  Mediterranean and Arab cuisine are commonly consumed.  Asida, an Arab pudding dish, is the traditional dessert.[2] Like many Muslim nations, alcohol is banned in accordance with Muslim teachings.  Cigarette consumption rates compare to the worldwide average.  Polygamy is permitted, but a man desiring to take a second wife must obtain the free consent of his first wife.[3]


GDP per capita: $13,400 (2009) [28.9% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.755

Corruption Index: 2.2

The economy is largely petroleum-based as oil revenues constitute 95% of export earnings and 25% of the GDP.  With the ninth largest proven oil reserves and some of the world's highest quality petroleum discovered, Libya's oil wealth has yet to improve living standards and economic conditions for common citizens.  Other natural resources include natural gas and gypsum.  Economic sanctions were removed in the 2000s and have contributed to economic growth and development as foreign investment has increased.  Unemployment and low living standards continue to be major challenges toward improving economic development and growth.  As a result of limited arable land, Libya relies on food imports to meet its needs.  The Great Manmade River Project and seawater desalinization are methods in which the government has sought to address water scarcity issues and to potentially increase agricultural output.  Services employ 59% of the work force and generate 26% of the GDP whereas industry employs 23% of the work force and generates 71% of the GDP.  Primary industries include oil, chemicals, mining, food processing, textiles, and cement.  Agriculture employs 17% of the work force and generates 3% of the GDP.  Grains, olives, dates, fruit, vegetables, and peanuts are major crops.  Italy, Germany, and France are primary trade partners.   

In 2010, Libya tied with Iran and Yemen as the second most corrupt nation in the Middle East and North Africa according to Transparency International.[4]  Government corruption has prevented greater improvements of living conditions.  Libya is a destination and transshipment country for human trafficking for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.  Little has been done by the government to address human trafficking issues.


Muslim: 97%

other: 3%


Denominations  Members  Congregations

Coptic Christians  50,000

Catholic  40,000

Greek Orthodox  80

Seventh Day Adventists  190  3 (includes Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Western Sahara)

Jehovah's Witnesses  less than 100

Latter-Day Saints  less than 20


Sunni Muslims account for 97% of the population.  Christians constitute the majority of the remaining population and consist almost entirely of non-natives, namely sub-Saharan Africans, Egyptians, and Westerners.  Copts and Catholics are the largest Christian denominations.[5]  Nearly the entire indigenous Jewish population has emigrated to Israel. 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

There is no constitution and no legal basis for religious freedom.  The Great Green Charter on Human Rights from 1988 protects some religious freedom rights.  The government tolerates religious activity among Muslims and non-Muslims alike with the exception of militant Islamist sects.  Religious practices not in harmony with the government's interpretation of Shari'a law are prohibited, including the proselytism of Muslims by other religious groups.  Religious activity is regulated and at times restricted.  At present there is no legislation prohibiting conversion, religious conversations, and the sharing of religious beliefs, but the government does prosecute those violating the proselytism ban.  There have been no recent instances of societal abuse of religious freedom.  Major Islamic holidays are recognized by the government.  Religious education on Islam is required in public schools.  The government limits each Christian denomination to one meeting location per city.  Arabic-language non-Islamic materials are often confiscated by government authorities. [6]  It is unclear how the status of religious freedom will change if at all following the establishment of a new government.

Largest Cities

Urban: 78%

Tripoli, Bangha-zi, Misra-tah, Tarhu-nah, Al Khums, Ha-rat az Za-wiyah, Zuwa-rah

Ajda-biya, Surt, Al Jadi-d, Tobruk, Sabra-tah.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

None of the 12 largest cities has an LDS presence.  55% of the national population resides in the 12 largest cities.

LDS History

Latter-day Saints among the United States military held meetings in Libya prior to the removal of all foreign military personnel in the early1970s.[7]  In 2000, Libya was assigned to the Europe West Area.[8]  In 2008, the Middle East/Africa North Area began administering Libya. 

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: less than 20 (2009)

There are no known indigenous Libyan Latter-day Saints.  Any Latter-day Saints in Libya today are likely Westerners and Southeast Asians. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 0

In late 2010, It was unclear whether a branch or group operated.  Any LDS congregation likely meets as a dependent unit under the Middle East/Africa North Area Branch.  

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: Arabic, Italian, English

All LDS scriptures and many church materials are available in Arabic and Italian. 


Church meetings for expatriates likely occur in members homes if they occur at all.

Humanitarian and Development Work

As of late 2010, the LDS Church had not taken part in any humanitarian or development work in Libya. 


Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The government provides greater religious freedom and tolerance for Christians than many other Maghreb states.  Latter-day Saints benefit from the lack of legislation opposing the conversion of citizens from Islam and potential freedom to hold meetings for non-Muslims pending government approval.  Government restrictions regarding the importation of religious literature, bans on proselytism directed toward Muslims, the limitation of Christian groups to one meeting location per city, and lack of concrete legislation protecting religious freedom rights may present barriers for Latter-day Saints to overcome if mission outreach one day becomes possible.  Prospects for a church establishment among non-natives appear uncertain due to the government in transition, although prospects for outreach to native Libyans remain distant. 

Cultural Issues

Islam strongly influences daily life and local culture.  Latter-day Saints have as of yet not found successful approaches toward performing mission outreach in nations that implement many elements of Shari'a law like Libya, and consequently will likely experience little success with the Arab-Berber population if mission outreach occurs one day.  Those engaged in a polygamous marriage must end relations in divorce and be interviewed by a member of a mission or area presidency to be baptized.  Increasing numbers of immigrants may generate a cosmopolitan atmosphere in the larger cities that is more suitable for Latter-day Saint mission outreach over the long-term. 

National Outreach

The entire population remains unreached by the Church with the exception of those who have close personal contacts with foreign Latter-day Saints temporarily living or visiting the country.  Proselytism bans render the entire Muslim population legally unreached by the Church.  18% of the national population would be reached by the Church if mission outreach centers were established in Tripoli.  Restrictions on Arabic-language non-Muslim religious materials challenges efforts to establish the Church among natives. 

European and Egyptian Christians appear to be the most realistic populations for mission outreach as proselytism bans do not apply to non-Muslims.  Locating Christians may be challenging due to the somewhat private nature of their worship and limited numbers.   

There are over one million North Africans in Italy.  Concentrated outreach among North Africans may facilitate the development of an LDS community among Libyans abroad in countries which they can be legally reached.  Many Libyans do not return to their home country, but the establishment of an LDS community may contribute to an eventual Church presence among Libyans in their home country.   

Member Activity and Convert Retention

No convert baptisms appear to have occurred in Libya since the departure of American military personnel following the 1969 revolution.  Member activity rates likely resemble those of nations from which foreigner Latter-day Saints originate, namely the United States and Europe. 

Ethnic Issues and Integration

Immigration and migrant workers have diversified the demographics of the population, but most non-natives originate from the Arab world and assimilate into Libyan culture with few challenges.  A potential Latter-day Saint presence among non-Westerners will likely encounter few challenges integration various ethnicities into the same congregations.  Integrating non-Arab foreign Latter-day Saints with Libyan or Arab converts into the same congregation may initially create some challenges due to language and cultural barriers. 

Language Issues

A wide selection of LDS Church materials is available in Arabic, but no materials have been translated into the Libyan dialect.  Italian and English-language church materials may be used in mission outreach as these languages are frequently spoken second languages.  Speakers of Berber languages indigenous to Libya will likely have no LDS materials translated for decades following any official church establishment  due to the lack of Latter-day Saints speaking these languages and lack of mission outreach opportunities in nations where most Berbers live.

Missionary Service

No LDS missionaries appear to have served from Libya and no full-time missionaries or humanitarian couples had been assigned to Libya as of late 2010. 


Any current church leadership positions in Libya are held by foreigners.


Libya pertains to the Frankfurt Germany Temple district.  Organized temple trips do not appear to occur.  Members attend the temple on an individual basis or with members in other nations in the Middle East/Africa North Area.   

Comparative Growth

Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt are the only North African nations with branches or permanent groups that have been established for many years.  Egypt appears to be the only nation in North Africa which has some native members attending congregations, whereas there are greater numbers of native Latter-day Saints in the Middle East in Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel.  Algeria and Libya appear to have only small groups of Latter-day Saints meeting on an inconsistent basis.  No nations in North Africa have an official LDS presence.  No Islamic nations in the Middle East or North Africa have proselytizing missionaries. 

Missionary-oriented Christian denominations report no significant breakthroughs with the Arab-Berber population and their membership almost entirely consist of foreigners.  Proselytism bans has resulted in few or no indigenous converts over the past decade.

Future Prospects

Improving political relations with Western Europe and the United States, increasing foreign investment by Westerners, and greater tolerance for Christians to worship create an optimistic outlook for a permanent future LDS presence among non-natives.  However it is unclear whether the toppling of the Qadhafi regime will improve or deteriorate prospects for a permanent LDS establishment over the medium and long term among foreigners. Proselytism bans on missionary activity directed toward the Muslim population, restrictions on the possession and dissemination of Arabic-language Christian materials, and a lack of Libyan Latter-day Saints pose major challenges for performing mission outreach for the foreseeable future.   

[1]  "Background Note: Libya," Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, 17 November 2010. 

[2]  "Culture of Libya,", retrieved 11 December 2010.

[3]   "Polygamy in Libya,", retrieved 11 December 2010.

[4]  "Corruption Perceptions Index 2010," Transparency International, retrieved 11 December 2010.

[5]  "Libya," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.

[6]  "Libya," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.

[7]  "The Church in Europe", Ensign, Aug. 1973, 16-35

[8]  Lloyd, Scott.  "European continent realigned into three new areas," LDS Church News, 16 September 2000.