I took time to go through the write-ups on the current veil issue and earnestly tried to desist from writing about the matter for various reasons, one of which is that of being disappointed that both the clergy and government having allowed such a simple matter to escalate to the level it is now. It is an issue that should not have come to this stage for a small country that has been religiously tolerant and cohesive.
However, the comments below on some write-ups, in a way, betray my earlier withheld opinion about the whole saga. Some opinions have tried to compare human rights with legal ones and seem to suggest that they both have a moral or ethical foundation and as well as rights that are exercisable under each of them. Thus, a school could be a legal entity that has legal rights to formulate policy for its governance system. Some even try to demarcate the beginning of one right from the end of another. This may not be entirely so.
Human rights have a deep moral foundation that is considered to be universal both in its existence and applicability. On the other hand, legal rights can certainly have a moral or an ethical connotation too but in most cases they are derived politically and/or socially and may even go against the grains of morality.
The laws of an apartheid system are indeed enforceable under that system of governance but they are generally considered to be devoid of a moral consideration. In other words, there is a common basis or commonality between the two types of rights but there is also a fundamental difference in their origin and source – whether moral or socio-political. This difference is fundamental in considering which one is to be upheld in a system of governance.
Thus, a Constitution generally lays great emphasis on and preserves morality by categorically prescribing human rights issues – the rights of humans as beings. It is the other legal instruments that prescribe matters of a political and social nature which may or may not have a moral consideration or foundation. Because the former is considered sacrosanct, it overrides any mundane legal consideration that could be flawed under the microscope of morality.
Coming back to the case of the veil in the Christian schools… It would have been a very simple matter if the schools can honestly answer a very simple question. Are the schools upholding their faith or are they upholding a secular view of a practice by another religion? In other words, is a veil abhorred by Christianity or are the schools exercising a policy for banning the veil in reciprocity to Muslim schools banning all symbols of faith as a matter of religious belief? One wonders what the reaction would have been for turbaned Sikh students.
That brings to mind a matter of comparing the two religions. The comparison must not be a simplistic analysis of what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. The two religions of Islam and Christianity have more similarities than differences. However, the differences between the two are so fundamental that the abrogation of any single one completely repudiates and revokes the belief system of the other. For example, the Cross is the bedrock of the Christian belief without which there is no Christianity. The Cross is completely rejected by Islam. This one example is irreconcilable between the two religions. But there is a plethora of similarities between the two religions ranging from the issues about Mary, Jesus, Moses and other prophets to the stories behind them.
One disturbing and emerging tendency in the country needs to be a cause of concern. It derives from what one may call the “new” wave or denominations of Christianity that seem to arrive from other parts of Africa which nowadays tend to uphold an unjustifiable comparison of the two religions on the basis of the goose and the gander proverb. This “new” wave of Christianity had instances of deliberately practicing the blaring of loudspeakers during the prayer times of Muslims because the latter faith does the Call to Prayer. Anyway….there we go but how far? Such and similar comparisons are unjustified and too simplistic.
Historically in The Gambia, the traditional denominations and churches of Christianity are basically three that have had a cohesive and amicable relationship amongst all the religions, as far as The Gambia is (was) concerned. Of course, Islam is suffering from a similar emergence of interpretations in its traditions and practices that are evidently more present in other parts of the sub-region and to some extent locally too – even if in milder forms.
However, just like in the case of the existence of different cultures and traditions of the world over, tolerance is the basis of existence for mankind. It is its lifeblood of its sustainability. Tolerance, in this instance, is an expression and acceptance of variety and differences that allows for the nurturing of a mutual co-existence without an undue simplistic comparison of what are indeed irreconcilable differences. In a state of conflict or controversy, one side could suffer the consequence of the outcome of a decision in so many unpredictable ways – particularly in a case of a highly emotionally charged social institution such as religion.
In that regard, the veil saga, for the case of The Gambia, should have been resolved by policy. Both the Government and the clergy could have enforced a decision by policy. Section 221 of the Constitution may be relevant for the legal mind.
Sometimes in African societies, religious and socio-political biases, (and even fears), tend to cloud judgment and blur viewpoints. In deriving policy, practicality and an objective should be a good basis for formulation.
For example, in matters of religion, the fact that Muslims form almost 95 percent of the population had not deterred the colonial government of requiring Muslims to work on Fridays with a break before prayer time but allowing Sunday as a full day of worship for Christians. It has been mutually accepted and peacefully practiced ever since. That must be seen as a practical formulation of policy and not a matter of bias or discrimination. The policy seems to have regard for differences in religious traditions and practices of the two religions.
The two religions are different in their belief system, modes and traditions of worship. The Muslim needs nor more than an hour in the afternoon for a Friday worship to go the mosque and back. The Christian needs a whole morning and an evening to be in church. That seems to be a practical way of looking at that issue – (policy-wise). Of course, in an Islamic state, the reverse exists, but only because the majority has decided it to be so.
In passing, it is amazing in observing the rigor of the Christian faith in The Gambia, and in the Gambia alone, with which it strongly advocated for a secular state in the Constitution. One can understand a fear being derived from a previous attempt by a dictator to induce a religious state. In that regard, it appears that the judgment and viewpoint of the Christian clergy have been blurred by such fear and experience of the past, despite the fact that such a viewpoint certainly goes against the grain of Christian beliefs. There is ample evidence of a total rejection of secularism by that Christian faith from all over the Christian world. Even a Papal condemnation of secularism is on record.
If the argument that the Constitution protects human rights and the wearing of the veil is considered to be one of them and that the Constitution is above all other legal consideration that falls outside it, the ban could be lifted. The important assumption is whether wearing the veil is a human right issue or whether an institution has a greater right over the rights of the human being is a matter of interpretation by the courts.
Whatever the outcome, the seeds of discord would have been sown and the previously indistinguishable fine line of differences or divide between the two religions, as far as The Gambia is concerned, widens and becomes more visible. That may not be a good omen for co-existence for both religions. The sleeping dog should be left to slumber.
Just Thinking Aloud.
Yours in Faith
Lamino Lang Comma