Chebo Cham : Imam, Islamic Scholar

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With Alhagie Manneh

So why would some say wherever you find a bad leader, fight him until he is defeated? 

No. No imam will preach that. To leave the leader there doesn’t mean you like him; it means that you want the elderly, and the children to have a better life and future. Example, the Three Years Jotna, their conflict, how was it? It was tough. How would you think if that lasted a month? Up till now, some are on their sick beds as a result of that conflict. Others are searching for assistance and still cannot find it.

Those protesters were reminding the leader of those promises he made during the campaign period. Surely, they have a duty to do that.

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If what the deen had told them, to be patient and to surrender, if they had done that, that conflict would not have happened. They went out, but what happened? Their intention was never realised. When we say these things, it doesn’t mean we are supporting the leader; we are supporting the citizens of the country. We want the citizens to be at peace. 

Some commentators said that unlike the Christian religious leaders, Gambian imams hardly speak truth to power.  Is that a fair observation?

That statement is unfounded. What I would tell to President Adama Barrow, for example, do they want me to come out in the media and say today, I had a conversation with the president and I told him the great truth? My deen didn’t advise me to do that. My deen said if you see a forbidden thing happening, take the leader’s hand, walk with him, engage him in a conversation, and remind him of some of the glad tidings of his lord that he may return to Him. If he accepts that, alhamdulilah.

But has that ever been done? Are you imams and religious leaders doing that?

You didn’t hear what I’m saying; even if it is happening, you wouldn’t expect me to come sit here and tell you. Our leaders at the Council, they have been seeing with the president, but those people will not go to the media, or to The Standard and say today, we had a discussion with the president and we told him X, Y and Z. That wouldn’t be appropriate now, would it?

What stops you from saying it at the Friday Khutba?

Because it cannot be said there. You engage the leader for the sake of Allah. Obviously, the leader is an elderly… who would accept among us when his father makes a mistake at home, discussed it with him and later go out to say that I have told my father the tough truth today? Who would accept that among us? Because you have undermined him. And this man, today, is the leader of us all. He is the father of The Gambia. To that end, he must be respected and honoured, just like our deen advised.  

Ba-Kawsu Fofana publicly stated that Islam allows a man to marry more than four wives. This issue is of great importance in a Muslim society. What is the most definitive Islamic ruling on this matter?

What I will tell the Gambian people is that Ba Kawsu is educated, and he knows the truth and he knows what the truth detests, yet he placed aside the truth, and went on to carry the falsehood. I want to ask the people of The Gambia to stop listening or following Ba Kawsu. I’m pleading on behalf of Allah because Ba Kawsu attended the same university we attended. In fact, there was no building between our classes, and the same teachers taught us all. So, what your teachers didn’t say, you came to say that. That is quite mysterious. Where did the Qur’an say it? Among the companions of the prophet, not a single one of them went beyond this restriction. They understood from the prophet that marrying more than four wives is haram. Ba Kawsu has said it here that if a woman’s husband is in Europe, or outside of The Gambia, and the woman gets tired of not having to have sex, she can [have sex with others]. That is why people should be mindful. It’s not that we hate Ba Kawsu or despise him, Allah knows best. Ba Kawsu is misleading Gambians. He knows the truth. Remember, the same Ba Kawsu stood and said here that he dreamt of the prophet Muhammad and that he saw that the prophet left his trouser at the ankle. Yet today, he is criticising those who wear their trousers that same way. Let Gambians be careful and not accept anything in regard to the deen from Ba Kawsu.

Former president Jammeh wanted to introduce an Islamic State in this country and even declared The Gambia an Islamic Republic at the prompting of the Indian scholar Zakir Naik. It became an aborted project after Jammeh was voted out of power but still there are murmurings for the establishment of an Islamic State in The Gambia. Would you support and even work for that idea?

Hundred percent. That is what should happen in this country. It’s among the reasons why I love President Jammeh. Up till now, I love him, and I pray for him all the time for Allah to give him peace because of those intentions of his, and for all the other efforts he has done for the deen. You know, as a person, you have nothing more important than religion. Even if we have a president who has littered all our roads with gold, and they are shining, if he doesn’t care for our deen and look after it, all of that will be zero. If it is sand that we eat, but have a leader who respects and propagates our deen, by Allah he is more peaceful and progressive than the other. Sharia- it’s Allah who owns this land. He owns this sky under which we live, and He said take this book as your guide in this world. Allah wants an Islamic state. Look at this cadi court, with how vast the deen is, they selected only three issues to be looked at in these courts. The rest, they said, leave it to us. Now, what happens if a person is killed? That’s why we are still unable to solve all these problems, but if we had left it with Islam, the killings would have long been stopped in this country.

Perhaps these are the reasons you support an Islamic State, aren’t they?

Very much so. My reason is that it is what Allah wants.

What about the Christian community in The Gambia, including atheism, which is on the rise in The Gambia? What happens to those Gambians? 

That is a very good question. You see, the Islamic deen is a very honest deen. It’s not that when the Islamic State comes into effect, these people will lose their rights or dues, or that they will be persecuted. For example, if The Gambia is an Islamic State today, they will be protected just like the Muslims, including their rights. Nothing will happen to them.

What if they don’t want an Islamic State?

If they don’t want that? But that is what Allah wants, Allah who made all of them, and to whom belongs all the dominions. If he or she doesn’t want that, let them leave Allah’s land. It’s irrelevant if they want it or not. A lot of judgments have been passed by the government, but it doesn’t favour everybody. It’s always for the greater good. So, they will live here in peace, and be accorded all the rights and privileges accorded to Muslims. If they are at fault, they will be judged just like Muslims are judged. That’s it. There will be peace, and business transactions between us and them. All these will happen.

We are approaching Ramadan, yet the issue of the sighting of the moon for the commencement of fasting has still not been resolved. What is the definitive Islamic ruling on this?

It’s mishap that small as The Gambia is, we disagree regarding the commencement of fasting in Ramadan. We should be counting our blessings because we have a Muslim-led government. And then we have the Supreme Islamic Council full of scholars. Anywhere they go to around the world in regard to Islam, The Gambia will never be ashamed. So, what should we do? The government must recognise the Supreme Islamic Council as the only competent Islamic body in the country. All Gambians must listen to them. Let’s accept that. They have a committee responsible for the sighting of the moon. If they say today is the sighting of the moon, spot it, and then make an announcement, Gambians everywhere must accept. If they say that tomorrow is the day of prayer, let us all prepare and go out tomorrow for the prayers. If that is wrong, it’s not on us; it’s on they who instructed us even though I honestly don’t think there is any sin in that. If they say well, we haven’t seen it here but in Saudi, they have and since they are the cradle of the deen, let us do it together with them. That is not a problem. A scholar has said that if a Muslim from anywhere hears that another Muslim nation has sighted the moon, he should fast. Mecca has incredibly looked after the deen, more than any other nation state today. So, we trust them, and if they said they have sighted it, we follow suit. What stops the Rawda and their Council to join the Supreme Islamic Council in telling the people that tomorrow is Ramadan? It’s confusing when others are telling people to fast, and others are saying no, do not fast. It’s like two governments operating in a single country, one saying X, and another saying Y. We would end up having a conflict. When Jammeh was here, these people did not come out. They were afraid. Why didn’t they come out? We thank Yahya Jammeh for that because a leader must have a voice, and whenever he speaks, others listen or follow. 

They said Jammeh’s interference in the deen only brought division in Islam in The Gambia.

Look, if the leader doesn’t intervene in the affairs of the deen, who will? He was the president.

And what if he lacks the knowledge of the deen?

If he doesn’t have the knowledge, let him employ the services of scholars, or those who know better. In regard to that matter, I think it was them who troubled Jammeh. An announcement was made that we are praying tomorrow, and you said no. Who are you? If he jailed you, it’s your fault. The president said he will pray tomorrow, and the scholars agreed, then who are you to say no? So, I thank Jammeh for those actions that he had taken. They were good deeds. Why should anyone disunite Gambians? All those who were taken to court by Jammeh’s government on the account that they refused to pray, I will not be afraid to say that it’s not Jammeh’s fault, but theirs.

One of the things imams and oustasses are not talking about is the issue of riba [interest]. The government lives on debts, both local and foreign. And all the 12 commercial banks in the country except for one, are involved in the practice. What does Islam say about that?

First of all, I don’t know of any bank in the country that doesn’t engage in riba. They are all engaged in it, even the Islamic Bank, they just using the cover of Islam to hide themselves. We know something about it. There are some departments there engaged in riba. Of course, they have other sections that are not engaged in it. During the Covid, we have some issues at our school in regard to the payment of our oustasses. We have an account there. We wanted to take a loan to pay our oustasses and perhaps after Covid, pay back the loan. But it was made clear to us that if they give us cash, we would have to pay with interest. Yes. So, what they are calling an Islamic Bank, here is riba. And if they can do that, what about those other banks that couldn’t care less about Islam? I witnessed it myself.

And exactly what is riba?

Riba is bad, and it has many categories greater than each other. The prophet said among the least sinful ribas, an example of it is like when a man has canal knowledge of his mother. That is the smallest riba. From this, we know that riba is incredibly bad. All these problems in the world, nothing but the disobedience of Allah and riba is responsible. Riba has been propagated such that its dust has almost touched all and sundry everywhere. That is why we are all faced with one problem after another. That’s why many nations are falling because they live on riba. So, if this government also continues to be engaged in riba, it will fail. It’s bad. Riba is when you take credit for example D300, but you are told that when paying back it must be more than the D300. That is riba. Others have tried to rationnalise it today by saying that well the pens and the papers we used and the processes cost a lot. They want to portray it nicely and normalise it, but that is riba.

The end.