By Musa Bah
Since the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) published the first draft of the new Constitution, a heated debate has raged on in the country especially on the (non)inclusion of the word ‘secular’ in the draft. Many opinions have been expressed on both sides with some going over the board and making some ridiculous statements which are simply gobbledygook.
I have seen and heard some people make secular what it is not and some tilting the scales and making it appear as if it should be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ issue vis-à-vis our Christian brothers and sisters. This is very dangerous and worrisome. It is a sinister ploy on their part to pitch these two religions and their adherents against each other with a view to gaining sympathy for their stance.
But the most disingenuous one I saw is the ones who made it appear (rather, they say it plainly) that the issue of secular is between believers and disbelievers. I have seen some say that the issue is not between Christianity and Islam; rather, it is between believers and disbelievers or religion and anti religion.
This is the most misleading stance one can take. The truth is that those who make such farcical statements are not the least more religious than those of us who support the inclusion of secular. They bring in meanings which have no basis in our context and spring it on the masses because they think that they (the masses) cannot untangle the untruths that are buried and implied therein.
In order to throw away the masses also, they tell the people that there are “powerful forces” behind the campaign to include secularity in our constitution. This reminds one of those unpatriotic political leaders who use Pan Africanism to rally their masses behind them only to run to the West for every need of theirs. What hypocrisy is that!
Secularity does not in any way, mean that it will attack religion or that it is anti religion. The truth is that secularity helps to reinforce religious freedom and enables everyone to perform his/her religious rites in the way they see fit. It simply means that ‘the State will not have the right to interfere in the religious affairs of the people’. It is not against religion in anyway. Of course, every word has different meanings; but, there is what is referred to as contextual meaning as well. And in this case, it is the legal definition of the word secular that should be considered.
It is equally the right of those of us who are in favour of secularism to say that there are “powerful and sinister forces” behind those who do not want secular to be in our constitution. Who is there to say that these people are not planning on declaring the Gambia an Islamic State as was attempted by former President Jammeh?
What is the example that can be quoted for or against secular, Shariah and the other concepts? To begin with, for the inclusion of secular we don’t have to go far. Our very next door neighbors, Senegal, have the word secular clearly spelt out in the first article of their constitution. Who in this country will say that Senegalese do not have religion? In fact, many, if not majority, of Gambians have their spiritual guidance from Senegal. This is evidenced by the fact that when the time for Gamo comes, thousands of Gambians load buses to go to Senegal. Yet, they have secular in their constitution. Saying that secular will deprive us of our religious beliefs is therefore an untruth.
Again, there are those who are proud of quoting the UK, the US and say that the word secular is not in their constitution. My response to this is always this: is America our exemplar? Do we have to do all that they do? We are a nation of our own and can therefore choose the best way to run our country and not base everything on America does it this way or that. Of course, there is nothing wrong with copying good practices but we don’t have to do everything the way they do.
The other false narrative is where some want us to just accept that in a democracy, the majority rules or always have the final say. This is a false narrative because it ignores one fundamental principle of democracy which talks of equality of the sovereignty of citizens. It doesn’t matter whether one belongs to the majority or the minority, there is equal sovereignty citizenship. Just because Muslims are a majority does not in any way mean that the people who belong to other religions should be treated as second class citizens.
The Muslims, Christians, Bahais, Traditional Religion followers and all others share in the sovereignty of the country and therefore all should be treated with fairness and justice. Inserting the word secular in the constitution will ensure that everyone has the right to follow your religion without let or hindrance and the state will not interfere with your worship.
Those who are shouting for secular not to be included are being led into the trap of letting the clergy hijack the state machinery and rule the country as a de facto Shariah state. There is ample evidence from the world to show us that that is the way extremism permeates the masses in a county. Study the case of the Nigerian states which declared themselves Shariah States and see what happened there.
Some of the people shouting secular this secular that today are the same flip floppers who simply join the bandwagon depending on where is groovier or rather where it is safer. Some of these people even supported Yahya Jammeh’s declaration of the Gambia as an Islamic State. Who is to say that they will not join Christopher Hitchens if he were to come here and have a groovy and safe movement?
To those who say that secularism is between believers and disbelievers, I say you have no right to declare us disbelievers. The religion you are so proud of teaches that you should not declare someone a disbeliever even if he does as much as say AssalaamuAlaykum. (Surah Nisa)