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Monday, April 12, 2021

‘Christians’ complaints over draft should be taken seriously’

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By Omar Bah

Former Minister of Interior has said the views of the Christian Council should be taken seriously with regard to the draft constitution.

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The Gambia Christian Council has expressed disappointment over certain clauses of the draft. “Some of their concerns relate to Shariah provisions and secularism. Yet it should be appreciated the draft cannot provide for the subjective needs of every individual or group. That is not the purport of constitution making,” Mai Ahmad Fatty told The Standard.

The leader of the Gambia Moral Congress however argued further: “The draft was not an innovation to provide for Shariah courts. What the draft sought to achieve was to expand the jurisdiction of existing Sharia courts to resolve challenges that emerged in the limited jurisdiction and application of Sharia in Qadi courts. At best, it is a type of law revision, not a new invention. It did not take away anything from the common law courts. It did not confer additional constitutional protection on Muslims over non-Muslims or deprive non-Muslims of any vested or acquired rights.”

“The Shariah provisions did not create a new judicial system but rather reinforced the existing Sharia judicial system contained in the 1997 Constitution in two ways: (a) by expanding its jurisdiction and (b) by streamlining its appellate processes. There is no provision in the draft Constitution that legally compels, mandates or subjects non-Muslims to sharia courts’ jurisdiction. Any imputation to the contrary is fanciful, and not grounded on any provision in the Draft,” he said.

He continued: “In many countries of common law Europe where freedom of religion is said to be upheld, Muslims are not permitted to use the public address system during their call to prayer, while church bells with the highest decibel occupy the public space at Christian prayer times. In some countries, they even legislate against the hijab and Islamic schools are strenuously regulated. Yet millions of Muslims in those advanced democracies continue to exercise their Faith under some of the most draconian imperatives.”

“Since the 1970 Republican Constitution, secularism has never been an issue in our country. The declaration of an “Islamic” state by the previous government was not derived from any law in The Gambia. It was a unilateral political decision by a dictatorship whose many actions were an aberration mostly against the majority Muslims. Even entrenched provisions were flouted by that same regime with the perceived protections against abnormal abuse. To use the case of Jammeh who had no respect for laws in general, which we all admit was an aberration, is not a strong point. Jammeh was generally averse to the rule of law, and the entire country, not only a religious sect, were victims,” he said.

“There is no Constitution in the world that is capable of satisfying every one. The greatest guarantee against the abuse of laws are strong institutions. We should all condition our government to expedite its reforms agenda, ensuring that we build institutions that are capable of resisting the excesses of power. The dictatorship has proven that laws alone were not enough,” he said.

“I want to assure our Christian brethren that the inter-faith harmony that exists for over a century between Christians and Muslims is stronger than any written instrument. It is inherent in our nature as Gambians and has over time constituted part of our tradition and culture. It is now a settled way of life. Most of us will join them to fight any practical effort to marginalize them on the part of any individual or authority.”

“It is also ingrained in Islamic philosophy not to do the contrary. Majority of Gambian Muslims appreciate the Devine instruction in the Qur’an to practice their Faith and allow others to also practice their Faith. There are deviants in both religions. It would be unfair to characterize an entire faith, Islam or Christianity for the criminal acts of minority adherents,” he said.

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