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Ahmad Cherno Banding Drammeh, Islamic preacher and educator

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By Basiru O Ceesay

Ahmad Cherno Banding Drammeh commonly known as Banding Drammeh is a native of Brikama. He was born in Brikama in 1937. His father’s name is Mustapha Drammeh and his mother is Aja Nano Sillah.
He started learning from local Islamic schools called (karanta or majlis) with his uncle Alhaji Malamin Drammeh in Brikama, where he learned how to read and write in Arabic. After the death of his grandfather Sheikh Basidia Drammeh, he moved to Basse Dampha Kunda with his father.
Young Banding lived in Basse for more than a decade, seeking knowledge and blessings from his parents. From a humble beginning, he realised that making it in life wasn’t going to be easy and he had to endure many challenges.
In the late 1960s he left Brikama for Egypt to pursue further education. Along the way, he spent three years in Ghana. During this period, he built a school called Ridwan Islamic School where students are taught how to read the Qur’an and Islamic principles.
He returned to The Gambia and set afresh to journey to Egypt with his colleagues Kebba Jabbie, Mass Jah, and Sarja Fatty. Upon his arrival in Egypt in 1964, he enrolled in one of the best universities in the world Al-Ahzar where he studied for a bachelor’s degree in Arabic language.
He graduated and in 1973 returned to The Gambia. Before returning home, he met the famous boxer, Muhammad Ali in Egypt in the early 70s. Ali tried to convince him to join him in America to preach the religion of peace to the American people, but Banding insisted upon returning home because he felt that was where his work would be most impactful.
Shortly after his return, in 1974 he was offered scholarship from the Libyan authorities to study for a higher diploma in ‘Dawatul Islamia’ or Islamic propagation. Upon completion of this course of study he was appointed by the Islamic Call Society to teach and preach Islam in Tanzania but Banding declined, and returned to The Gambia.
His quest for knowledge and desire to impart to others what he knows was unrivalled. He started his career as an Arabic teacher at Muhammadan Primary School in Banjul, then moved to Muslim High School from 1975 until 1978. While teaching at Muslim High School, he ran a Qur’anic school (madrassa) at Perseverance Street in Banjul.
In 1976, he started a two-class madrassa in Brikama. From 1976 till 1978 he taught in Brikama in the morning and afternoon classes in Muslim High School. In 1978, the Brikama Islamic Institute project commenced. He became the first Islamic scholar to build an Arabic school with English section, in The Gambia.
With support from donors, he later increased the size of the school from two a storey building with eight classrooms to a bigger one with high school. In the early 1990s he extended the school to Jamisa.
Banding Drammeh was the first Islamic scholar to have his own dedicated Islamic print magazine called Voice of Islam in the 1970s. It was published monthly in English and Arabic. The magazine focused primarily on Islam related issues, and religious consciousness. He co-founded many Islamic associations across the country. He is among the founding fathers, or an executive member, of almost all the Islamic associations, including The Gambia Islamic Council and Amana. Alongside all these responsibilities, he also started a weekly radio talk show on numerous Islamic topics at Radio Gambia in 1976 which aired until early 2020.
Alhaji Banding became the vice president of the Supreme Islamic Council under the stewardship of Alhaji Soriba Jabbi and later took over from him as president. He served as a president of the Supreme Islamic Council for two terms, from 1998 to 2008.
During his tenure, he transformed the Supreme Islamic Council into a formidable and well-structured council. He requested for the council to have its own place which was subsequently given to them by the Jammeh administration, on the MDI Road in Kanifing. He sought donations from Qatar, Kuwait, Libya, and Malaysia, for the erection of those structures at the headquarters of the council. He instituted different offices in the Islamic council, among them is the Institute for the Training of Imams. His contribution towards the spread of Islamic studies is immense and valuable.
Imam Banding Drammeh may be gone but he has left behind a bright and inspiring legacy. He taught thousands of Gambians who became distinguished scholars and experts in all walks of life. Some of his students are Alhaji Dr Manta Drammeh, Dr Basidia Drammeh, Dr Abdul Kadir Sillah and even the former president of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council.
His close associates described him as a pacesetter, a mentor and a role model. His influence remains as a guiding light for thousands of scholars and religious leaders in The Gambia and beyond. The Imam Banding Drammeh was a trailblazer in Islamic scholarship and the promotion of Arabic education in The Gambia. His demise has left a void in the country and beyond; but his legacy will forever brighten our lives. He died in July 2020 at his home in Brikama aged 90. May Allah grant him repose in Jannatul Firdaus.

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