Ahmad Cherno Banding Drammeh,

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orator and scholar par excellence

By Basiru O. Ceesay

Ahmad Cherno Banding Drammeh commonly known as Imam Banding Drammeh is a native of Brikama town. He was born in Brikama in 1937. His father’s name is Mustapha Drammeh and his mother is Aja Nano Sillah.

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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 later moved to their hometown, Basse Dampha Kunda with his father

Imam Banding lived in Basse for more than a decade, seeking knowledge and blessings from his parents. From a humble beginning, he realized that making it in life wasn’t going to be easy and he had to endure many challenges along the way.

In the late 1960s he left Brikama for Egypt to pursue further education, unfortunately, he had stopped and settled in Sedro, Ghana, for three years. During his stay in Ghana 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 re-started his journey to Egypt.

Upon his arrival in Egypt in 1964, he then headed to one of the best universities in the world Al-Ahzar university where he did his Bachelor’s in Arabic language.

He went to Egypt with his colleagues from the Gambia, including Oustass Kebba Jabbi, Oustass Mass Jah, and Oustass Sarja Fatty. After completing his degree program in Arabic language in 1973, he returned home. Before returning home, he met the famous boxer, Muhammad Ali in Egypt in the early 70s. Ali tried to convince the erudite scholar Imam Banding Drammeh to join him in America to preach the religion of peace to the American people, but he still insisted to return home because that is where he was needed most.

After his return from Egypt in 1974, he was offered scholarship from the Libyan authorities to study his higher diploma in ‘Dawatul Islamia’. Upon completion of his higher diploma he was later appointed by the Islamic Call Society to teach and preach Islam in Tanzania but he still declined, and decided to come back to Gambia.

The late Imam Banding’s quest for knowledge and teaching was unmatched. He started his career as Arabic teacher at Muhammadan primary school in Banjul, then he moved to Muslim High School from 1975 towards 1978. While teaching at Muslim, he also had his own Quranic school (Madrassa) at Perseverance Street in Banjul, at the same time.

In 1976, he started a two-class madrassa in Brikama. From 1976 towards 1978 he taught in Brikama in the morning and continued the afternoon classes in Muslim high school. In 1978 the project of his Arabic school commenced; and in the early 1990s he extended the school to Jamisa, as the institution expanded. He became the first Islamic scholar to have built an Arabic school with English section, in the Gambia.

With support from donors, he later increased the size of the school from two storey building with eight classrooms to a bigger one with high school. Imam Banding was the first Islamic scholar to have his own Magazine (Voice of Islam) in the 1970s. It was published once every month in English and Arabic. The magazine was 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 from 1976 to early 2020.

Imam Banding became the vice president of the Supreme Islamic Council under the stewardship of Alh. Soriba Jabbi; then he rose to the presidency of that institution. He served as a supreme Islamic council president for two terms, from 1998 to 2008.

During his tenure, he transformed the Supreme Islamic Council to 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.

The late Imam Banding Drammeh may be gone into the next world but he has left behind a bright and inspiring legacy. Imam Banding has taught thousands of Gambians who became distinguished scholars and experts in all walks of life; lawyers, teachers, Imams, bankers and engineers. Some of his students are Alh. Dr Manta Drammeh, Dr Basidia Drammeh, Dr Abdul Kadir Sillah and even the former president of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, Muhammad Lamin Touray was his student.

His close associates described him as a pace-setter, 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 late 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.