The Standard newspaper carried in its 2nd February 2021 edition a story about a press statement issued by one Kabiro Dampha described as the head of the “Islamic Enlightenment Society”. The story catalogued a litany of accusations against Rawdatul Majaalis albeit bereft of compelling evidence to back the allegations.
He claimed that Rawdatul is the only Muslim organisation that has refused to recognise the election of the new executive of The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council three weeks ago.
I would like to bring to Kabiro’s notice that the so-called Muslim organisations he is alluding to are organisations just in name. Nearly all of them represent only their owners and few individuals. They are registered as non-governmental organisations for the sole purpose of securing funds and resources from donors in Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
Rawdatul, on the contrary, represents all the majlis kundas and daaras of the country and the overwhelming majority of the imams of The Gambia as clearly demonstrated on 4th February 2021 at the general assembly of the legitimate Gambia Supreme Islamic Council under the stewardship of Sheriff Mohamed Sanussi Nano Hydara. The assembly was graced by over one thousand imams and heads of majlis kundas and daaras in The Gambia instead of the 124 imams who attended the general assembly of Kabiro’s Supreme Islamic Council. This is what legitimacy is all about.
Kabiro further unabashedly claims that a segment of Rawdatul Majaalis’ membership is composed of a gang of repatriated and disgruntled ‘semesters’ from Europe and America, who are in utter rebellion against the democratically and legally elected leadership of the GSIC since their inception and cause chaos throughout the country.
What an allegation! Kabiro, please come up with tangible proof. The onus is on you to substantiate your claim. One thing is crystal clear, I, the author of this article, I am a 65-year-old senior Gambian, who studied Arabic and Islamic Studies in Morocco for seven years then proceeded to Dakar University, where I earned a degree in French Literature and General Linguistics.
I came back to The Gambia and taught both French and Arabic at Muslim High School, then joined the civil Sservice, first at the Office of the President and then at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I was later recruited by the Islamic Development Bank as translator and interpreter and ended up heading the bank’s language division before I retired in 2017. I am currently the third vice president of Rawdatul Majaalis.
As for the president of Rawdatul Majaalis, Baba Abubakr Drammeh, he belongs to a distinct crop of Gambian Arabic and Islamic scholars. He earned his degree at Azhar University way back in 1972. He served as a teacher for few years before he was recruited as the first civil servant with an Arabic and Islamic background.
He opened The Gambia’s embassy in Saudi Arabia in the mid-seventies. During his career in the civil service he went for a master’s degree in Arabic and English translation at the Polytechnic of Central London. He also underwent a master’s programme in diplomacy in Nairobi. He eventually rose through the ranks to ultimately retire as ambassador to Saudi Arabia after having served as counsellor at The Gambia’s embassy in Washington and as the first consul general of The Gambia General Consulate in Bissau.
So Kabiro, we cannot accept to steer the affairs of an organisation that you irresponsibly claim to be composed of “frustrated and disgruntled individuals”. Members of Rawdat happen to simply be in sync with our elders and scholars in the majlis kundas and daaras, whose rights are being usurped by a bunch of Wahhabis and Salafists like you at the GSIC.
As for your allegation that Rawdat refused to register under the GSIC, I avail myself of this opportunity to inform you and all Gambians that Rawdat went out of its way to first meet the then president of the GSIC, Momodou Lamin Touray, at his residence to respectfully inform him of the intention to establish the organisation.
They formally wrote to the GSIC about their registration, however, the GSIC retorted by asking Rawdat, “Who are you?” Subsequently, several attempts were made either through the government or individuals of goodwill to bring the two sides together. Unfortunately, the GSIC leadership dishonourably refused to demonstrate goodwill. They systematically failed to honour any meeting arranged either by the government or by a mediator of goodwill.
Kabiro went further to state that Rawdat, which was established in 2017, refuses to register under the GSIC and claims to be bigger than the latter and that the GSIC is an illegal entity.
If we claim to be larger, it is simply because we justifiably represent the majority of imams and heads of majlis kundas and daaras in The Gambia unlike the GSIC, which claims legitimacy through one hundred plus imams only.
Our claim that it is an illegal entity was predicated on the fact that the tenure of its executive expired since 2018 but they continued to cling to their positions despite strident calls for them to stage a general assembly and choose members of the executive in a democratic and transparent fashion. They however opted to be stone deaf to our appeals for dialogue.
Kabiro also says that Rawdat claims to represent all the majlis kundas and daaras in The Gambia and to promote unity among Gambians even though none of them has been actively engaged in running or teaching in any of the majlis kundas and daaras they claim to be representing.
Yes, indeed most of us are neither running nor teaching at any of the majlis kundas and daaras; however this is a spurious argument in that we are advocates of their cause and are involved in preserving their heritage given the onslaught they endure at the hands of Wahhabis and Salafists like you.
Left to you alone, the majlis kundas and daaras will be either burned down to ashes or transformed into ossified madrassas, where no spiritual education is dispensed. The majlis kundas and daaras are not only schools that serve as the vectors of Islamic knowledge but are also spiritual schools, where the students at graduation become the paragons of virtue and good Islamic manners. So one does not have to be a majlis kunda or daara teacher or head to defend the noble and lofty mission of such institutions.
“To our greatest dismay and disappointment, this same Rawdatul Majaalis has been operating actively as a major tool for division in The Gambia by being a one-tribe cult consisting of only one ethnicity in their entire executive board,” spewed Kabiro.
This is the apex of immaturity. Only those bereft of ideas resort to tribal innuendoes. Why can’t Kabiro see Rawdat’s membership as composed of Gambians? Period! Instead, you are the one seeking to divide Gambians along tribal lines. I will not go further because I want to stay above the penchant of categorising Gambians as Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, and so forth.
There are over 1,870 towns and villages in The Gambia. The least the GSIC could have done is to invite the imams ratib of each locality to elect members of its executive if it wants to deserve legitimacy in the eyes of the Muslims of The Gambia.
It was this reality that the Rawdat under the wise leadership of Sheriff Mohamed Sanussi Nano Hydara displayed under the full glare of the media for all Gambians to see and confirm that Rawdat and its recognised Supreme Islamic Council are their legitimate representative.
For Kabiro’s information, Sheriff Nano was single-handedly nominated by the patriarch Alhaji Yusupha Darboe in consonance with tradition. The first president, Alhaji Soriba Gassama, of blessed memory, was appointed in similar fashion.
In fact, Sheriff Nano’s nomination was a temporary move pending a probable consensus, if any, with the then executive of the GSIC. Unfortunately, the GSIC remained unresponsive to our overtures until it went ahead with its bogus general assembly and selected Essa Darboe as its new president. Under the circumstances, Rawdat was left with no choice but to hold its general assembly and confirm Sheriff Nano as president.
Rawdat is clamouring to ensure legitimacy when it comes to representing Muslims of The Gambia. The GSIC under Essa Darboe cannot legitimately claim to be the sole institution that represents Gambian Muslims if it is disavowed by the majority of imams and Rawdat of the country.
Likewise it cannot be seen as legitimate if it does not join the vast majority of Gambians in their annual commemoration of the Mawlid and musokotoo saloo or tamkharit. It cannot be conferred legitimacy if it ignores the sighting of the crescent by Gambians in The Gambia and declares the sighting of the crescent during broad daylight simply because it has been sighted in Saudi Arabia.
Legitimacy cannot be the GSIC’s if a radio station called Falah, located on its premises, airs programmes during which Islamic rituals and symbols dear to the majority of Gambian Muslims are desecrated. The list goes on. The current leadership must reach out to the imams and majlis kundas and daaras it has so long disdained so as to foster dialogue, entente and harmony.
Instead of calling on the government to clamp down on Rawdatul Majaalis, an act the government cannot be seen to be doing because of its obligation to uphold the sacrosanct right of association under the constitution and international conventions, Kabiro should rather entreat the Barrow administration to bring the two sides together for mutual understanding and thus arrest the GSIC’s drift toward radicalisation and extremism.
Islam has been in the Senegambia region for nearly a millennium based on the Maliki school of jurisprudence and Sufism. It is the Islam that produced saints and erudite scholars of the ilk of Kang Khalifa Jabbi, Kang Sambou Lamin, Alhaji Bal Fodewo, Sheikh Ahmad Bamba, Alhaji Malick Sy, Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, and so forth.
We therefore are not in need of another brand of Islam that sows the seeds of discord among us; a brand that has no regard for our elders and lacks the modicum requirement of decorum, which should be the hallmark of any good Muslim.
Finally, Kabiro, you are advised to learn how to come up with solid arguments backed with compelling proof if you want your utterances to earn credibility. It serves no purpose to simply spew out inexactitudes out of thin air.
Momodou Lamin Yaffa, resident in Sukuta, is a former translator and interpreter at the Islamic Development Bank.