The Church, the Mosque and our Society

The Gambia will never be the same again!

Among many, the prominent scholars, leaders, journalists and the physique of our security force are to blame for our seemingly decaying society. But, this way, the statement seems very absurd and depressing. When I examine what is responsible for the ugly atmosphere we are surviving; why we are so divided between the very few who are rich and the poor majority, between the free and the oppressed, and how the government have been ‘out there’ instead of been ‘in here’ for the citizenry, has its roots in our fundamental institutions; the church, the mosque and the society in general. The fragile results that make us a highly unproductive society are strongly shaped by our economic, social and political performance.

That we will live a democratic society is accurate and attainable. Yet, democracy is a necessity for a civilized society but calls for a trans-valuation of all values –the sharpening of our horizons of reality.

Traditional explanations such as slavery, colonialism, imperialism, dependency, and racism are no more sufficient explanations for why we are still very poor, ailing and intolerant to change. We are not dead until we make essence of our living. Our society is in a transitional phase from a system of total injustice to an unknown world –what we meet tomorrow depends on what we collectively pursue today.

At a moment very decisive in our history, ignorance has thrown us into black holes and we cannot see anything. Why this? And what can be done about it? In trying to answer these questions, I want to focus primarily on three institutions (mosque, church and society) nearest to us that make up our social fabric. If we want to reach an achievable minimal standard of  living for all, it is dangerous on the one hand to say the mosque and the church are independent truthful institutions and that our society is basically a mirror of the church and the mosque on the other. This proposition is myopic for several reasons; our religious scholars who seem to preach the same book(s) of God are at ill with each other and their disciples even more. Those of us on the sideline are at best ignorant and at worst hypocrites unwilling to show our true colours. But by now, it seems quite clear that if we continue slumbering in our realities, we will not only breed another dictatorship, but create a highly inscrutable injustice. Our problems are artificial and can be solved only by our collective efforts that make us into a state. These are not extraordinary circumstances. It is humiliating, hearing from prominent scholars that most of the evil we face are natural, thus, undermining our collective intelligence to eliminate poverty, diseases and hunger. Our intellectuals and religious leaders have frowned at what should be considered a common good for what they would want to maintain as a private good. The sense of inner values and attitudes has now become abnormalities.

It is difficult to reconcile with the fact that, in the face of all these injustices, our religious leaders are still counted as the best breeds among us. In thoughtful moments, social scientists among others have seen this to be a misconception. Indeed, religious leaders can only assume the role of preachers and the rest must be done by us through a cultural revolution that will pay attention not to beliefs but in identifying problems to be solved. If we are to keep our religious faiths at all, we must have to optimise our beliefs and practices to march our common realities. We have to do it now or be compelled to do it when any response would be illusive and ineffective. Those times are nearing at a pace we are not aware of. I am an optimist but not all convinced that with our present paradigm of living, we will not compromise with the future of generations yet unborn. It is very difficult to give a map of where our fundamental problems lie. Yet, many rational thinkers have diagnosed culture as the core of shaping society from the worst to the imaginable. We now reach considerable understanding that if other cultures are appreciable, then others are to be adaptive to improve their own. If mosques and churches should wear the throne of injustice we then are in a silly problem. Rather than being used as a tool for social organisation, religion is now under increasing attack from within and outside. Many people now began to seek answers for themselves than ask in a religious gathering; why so much injustices in a small society where everyone could live peacefully and in dignity? Laziness as a cultural product cannot be ignored. Culture is what really matters to what we are and what we want to be. Defining culture in this case, will be not to understand it, as our very ugly situation is nothing but a cultural product. What we want to call culture will highly depend on what we achieve in the nearest future. Until that time, intolerance and retrogress is our culture.  Many Gambians are ready to follow religious and party flags rather than doing their quarter to create a fairer society regardless of their faiths. This mischaracterisation of individual and collective priorities for flag colours could have been best placed in the domain for a collective enterprise of justice.

Men have come to define themselves the processors of every good and bad and this is scientifically understandable. Since we cannot blame the poor father for making a squad of children of his own, why should we blame God or governments for not providing all the basic necessities? The answer, of course, is found in our culture(s). Culture is not an independent variable, but if everything we do is qualified as culture, then nothing is culture –and culture, therefore, misses its substantive importance. Let me drive you to this transparent taboo imbedded in our faiths: it is normal for a poor man to marry two wives or more and become a social liability but it is impermissible for a vulnerable teenager to abort her pregnancy; it is no injustice for our religious scholars to be seen as the judges (in the cinema) but many times (the audiences) are deliberately insensitive to their misbehaviours. Culture is the subsistence of our living. These trying times are surmountable only when viewed as the fear for a more equitable population and that a cultural revolution is definitely a necessity.

Culture is the nucleus of our society – for achieving a progress we will be collectively proud of, we must create a vision that must serve as our lens of perseverance that encourages people to change their actions and inactions. If we ask why other societies are better than us, we will likely find the answer in our culture. We have all argued that our culture is under attack for why we still are very poor and speedily breeding injustice. Some easily point at political leaders and religious scholars only secondarily. Others blame the media, the poor and the market society we are now living. For these reasons, the analysis becomes a lot deeper, conflict-ridden and complex, and through this blame-game we consciously and unconsciously create a culture. But, even in prosperous democracies not far from our borders have troubling gaps. The increasing gaps within our society, it seems to me, to be embedded in our traditional religions of Islam and Christianity. Most of us when troubled by the reality of our existence we find excuse in religion. Our religious gatherings give more questions than answers but with high and raising standards of living, we now should find most answers for ourselves in a drastically changing world of ours. Our over-dependence on others, and reluctance to meet a civilized standard of living for all is not a choice between economic growth and social equity but what we perceived and examined as justice. We should acknowledge that most of the vices we face today such as unnecessary polygamy, superstitions, and limitless child rearing do not need God’s intervention. To change our society, we must all do our homework and augment government’s efforts rather than read paradise in our books and sleep.

If at all we want to change for the better, we need to create a sense of absolute urgency to realise that our expectations are far from the reality and that the reality goes beyond the parameters of our mosques and churches and personal rationalisations. To be pragmatic, most of what have led us to this state have concreate religious origins, but will sound stupid to find answers therein, because man is fully responsible for his own decadence.

Majority of us know that progress is good and achieving it is difficult, yet, only a fraction among us have found the determination to go beyond socially constructed obstacles such as poverty, hunger and diseases that propel injustice. But even if we do know how to meet prosperity, many of us seek the other way and prefer ignorance or laziness. As a society, culture is the denominator of prosperity because it shapes our purposes of existence. It shapes institutions, beliefs and actions. By now, it is clear that even economic activities revolve around culture –a progressive culture, there cannot be a progressive people. While some of us are paused in the abstract world of –everything is destiny – some have made it to the real world where progress is what counts.

By Alagie Jinkang

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