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How true is our tolerance?

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By Alagie Saidy-Barrow

I still remember the first time I saw a US soldier in a turban. And I remember thinking the memo allowing females to wear dreadlocks was somewhat progressive. Now, even Muslim women in the US Army are allowed to wear a hijab if they put in a request at the brigade level.

Needless to say, allowing soldiers to wear turbans, hijabs or dreadlocks didn’t come easily. These were hard-won battles. Uniformity is essential to any professional security outfit and uniformity is not just for looks, it has life-and-death consequences. The US Army has a regulation on the wearing of all uniforms and that regulation spells out exactly what to wear, when to wear it, and how to wear it. There is very little ambiguity, if any, on what a properly worn uniform should look like. The policy adjustment allowing turbans and hijabs were not in that regulation 20 years ago. They adjusted the regulation in order to accommodate soldiers who are of different religions. That is tolerance.

It makes me sad that schools in The Gambia are choosing to insist that others cannot wear their religious outfits on school grounds! Even if these schools had a written uniform policy that a hijab violates, why can’t they adjust the policy to accommodate others who want to dress differently based on their faith? I mean don’t we claim to be tolerant people? Or am I missing something here?

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What does a student wearing a hijab take away from any school? Is the hijab that offensive? It’s not as if the hijab is a religious symbol of some fringe religion, those who wear it consider it to be a symbol of Islam. Can one claim to be tolerant if you cannot tolerate others dressing according to their religious faith on your school grounds?

Personally, I don’t get the whole idea of insisting on a hijab while in a short skirt and wearing a school badge with a Christian cross on it. If one deems the practice of their religion to be so critical to them, perhaps a school that promotes a different religion is not the answer. For me, a hijab wearing, a cross-bearing uniform and insisting on Islam in a Christian-oriented school only represents our confused status as a people still learning to adjust to foreign religions, cultures and traditions. But that’s beside the point. The point is our tolerance.

Surely if the US army can allow soldiers to wear hijabs, I don’t see why those of us trapped in this colonial space cannot tolerate students wearing them in school! And we claim to be tolerant? Don’t we claim to be brothers and sisters? Don’t we claim to be one people? Don’t we claim to serve the same God, albeit differently? What would our prophets do in such circumstances? Surely they were not this intolerant, were they? How true is our unity? How true is our peacefulness? Or do we only claim to be one people when it’s convenient?

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Let me also jump in here and talk about those of you on some “we will not accept this in our country” bandwagon! To hear some of you speak, you will think the country belongs to only certain Muslims. And you would think these certain Muslims have been to heaven and back and are charged with the responsibility of deciding who goes to heaven or hell. But let’s rewind time a bit. Yahya Jammeh was here arresting old Muslim men and women and calling them witches but your religious zeal was nowhere to be found. It’s cheap to claim to be defending Islam today because you have nothing to lose. It’s cheap to be crying for Muslims today but when those old men and women Muslims needed your voice, no one heard you say a word. Islam was violated by your government on several occasions but some of you beating your mighty chests today were supporting these violations or played dead and pretended it was all right to round up old men and women in some witchcraft operation. A witchcraft operation that is against Islam. Some of you had no qualms about swearing loyalty before Jammeh’s satanic shrine. But today you can act hero!

Your Gambia government survives on begging and borrowing but none of that offends your religious sensibilities because that is not an easy battle to fight. It is much easier to join the crowd and play the hero. Take a breath because some of us can see through your hypocrisy! Tolerance shouldn’t mean tolerating those who agree with you, look like you or believe like you. It means acknowledging that others are different and accepting that reality. Going around claiming you are the majority and so what you desire must be accepted is a dictatorship of the majority, which will only lead to trouble. You may think you have the keys to heaven because you have managed to delude yourself into thinking that you are perfect but come on, it’s not so dark that people cannot recognise you.

Lastly, this is what happens when wayward syncretism takes hold of a people. Syncretism means the fusion of different beliefs or schools of thought. In our case, we insist on combining any and all that we borrowed from various cultures, religions and traditions and demand that everything must fit together. It leads to confusion. People argue over issues they can never agree on because they see them from radically different prisms. While one is arguing from a woke perspective that they borrowed from some other people, another is arguing from a religious perspective they barely understand! But since there’s money to be made to propagate religion and activism, playing to the gallery becomes a form of survival for many. If their actions stoke tensions, so be it.

And we wonder why there’s so much acrimony in the colonial space. You see folks taking sides simply because they belong to one religion or another and somewhere in the middle, the tolerance we claim gets lost in the shadows.

Meanwhile, your Gambia government is increasing everything on you so a few people with cushy government jobs can continue to enjoy life at your expense. While you argue over religion, poverty is all around you, women dying at childbirth, youth unemployment is high, and degree inflation is at an all-time high. You don’t have good roads, you don’t have a good Internet connection, your electricity supply is terrible, your water supply is terrible, your public hospitals are not good enough, and your education system is just as terrible but apparently none of those are worth arguing over. There’s a reason The Gambia is where it is today. Let’s look in the mirror and the reason will be staring right at us.

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