A majority of Gambians no doubt welcome the comments made by the Minister of Lands and Regional Governments Sheriff Abba Sanyang while reacting to the unnecessary provocations against the members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at by imams Abdoulie Fatty and Chebu Cham and their radicalized supporters.
However, most people also see the response as being quite soft and condescending and that it has not gone far enough to deter such unprovoked attacks on law-abiding Gambians who have done nothing wrong to deserve such provocation.
There is absolutely no justification for such attacks. There is no doubt that if ordinary Gambians were given the choice to choose between those that contribute meaningfully to their educational advancement and health and other social needs and those that only make noise but hardly contribute anything positive to the advancement of the society, they would choose the former.
The Gambia is a secular state and the law guarantees everyone the right to practice (or even not belong to) any religion. Therefore, no one has the right to castigate anyone else for his/her chosen religious faith and everyone expects the government to take quite an uncompromising stance on such provocative comments being peddled by these religious bigots and their followers. We have all seen what had been happening in other countries in the sub-region where such extremism had taken root, and therefore, unless the government nibs this unprovoked menace in the bud, this country risks being plunged into socio-religious conflict of unpredictable proportions. It is quite clear that our society is quite homogeneous, with virtually everyone related to everyone else, regardless of our ethno-social divisions. Therefore, if such religious extremism is allowed to take root in our homogeneous society, it could have quite far reaching consequences for our very survival as a nation.
Therefore, neither the government nor we ordinary Gambians should allow such a small group of extremist bigots to plunge this country into chaos which can have catastrophic repercussions for this peaceful country of ours. People of different religions and sects had always co-existed in peace and tranquility in this country and it would be quite a shame if we should allow these extremists to bring chaos to this country in the name of religion.
I have always spoken against religious extremism in this country. To quote from my book; FOCUS: Challenges of The Gambia’s Transition To Democracy, (page 122) “The Gambia has always had an impressive record of religious tolerance, with the different religious sects and denominations existing side by side in peace and harmony since time immemorial. It is not unusual even to find members of the same family adhering to different religious denominations and yet living amicably as one family. We have been therefore quite fortunate in this country that religious denominations and sects cut across the tribal and regional divide, and there are hardly any distinguishing features between the adherents of the different denominations and sects, either by language or other social factors. One can hardly tell the religious persuasion of another Gambian just by their physical appearances or mode of dress.
“While there is no doubt that the spiritual development of the people is important in any society, obviously, however, it should always be complemented by the provisions of basic social amenities that would help uplift the daily welfare of the people. For that reason therefore, any religious denomination that incorporates all those aspects, like the Ahmadiyya Mission, deserves commendation rather than castigation.
“We have all either seen or heard quite a lot about what it means to be engulfed in a religious or tribal clash, and it only takes a small spark to ignite a whole nation, but it takes billions of dalasis and a lot of human suffering to extinguish such inferno. We certainly cannot afford that in this country. Our society is just too small and homogeneous to accommodate such belligerency.”
According to the Holy Quran, Al-Baqara Verse 256, “There is no compulsion in religion, the right direction is clearly distinguished from the wrong.” Therefore, as faith is a purely personal matter, the law guarantees that each person should be allowed to practice it the way they deem fit. In fact, who gave these extremists the authority to determine who is a Muslim and who is not?