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Insights from President Barrow’s Eid speech, understanding the relationship between religion, law, and migration: lessons from Islamic history

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By Musa Kijera

His Excellency Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of The Gambia, stated, “Even though the majority of Gambians are Muslims, that doesn’t make Gambia an Islamic or Sharia State.” He said, “Gambia is a Secular State with a Constitution that governs all, and no matter how one may disagree with the Constitution, it must be respected because it is the law of the country.”

There is no doubt that the president addressing such a serious matter during a meeting with the religious leaders at the state house on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr festival was, in fact, the best timing and place for such a timely address. In this note, I want to thank Mr. President for making this important clarification by addressing the country, especially the Imams and the scholars.

Moreover, speaking in light of the true teachings of the Holy Quran and the practical examples of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw), Muslims are obliged to respect the existing laws of the land they inhabit.

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However, if in the event that they disagree with the laws/Constitution of the land, they are at liberty to challenge such unfavourable laws through legally acceptable systems, whether it be having a consultative discussion with their representatives or even at the Supreme Court.

Notwithstanding, if nothing turns out for them in their efforts; Islam has guaranteed them the freedom to migrate to another country in which they can enjoy their denied rights; for example, the right to freedom of religion or any other inalienable right.

But they should not try to disobey the laws, terrorize, or instigate disobedience in the country in the name of religion. When we dive into Islamic history, we find that even Muhammad (saw) was not authorized to instigate or rise up against the established authority of the land.

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At the time the Holy Prophet (saw) announced his mission and started propagating Islam by way of preaching, the government of the day (Meccans) objected because according to them he was going against the laws of the country by preaching (Tawheed). He was severely persecuted together with his companions for thirteen years. Despite this, he was not allowed by Allah the Almighty to protest or resist by way of disobedience to the law of the land.

Allah the Almighty commanded him and his followers to migrate to another land where the law of the land permits him to propagate his new religion Islam, and that is when the first badge of Muslims under the command of the Holy Prophet (saw) migrated to Abyssinia because the king of the state, An Najash, granted religious freedom to all its citizenry.

With all the unfolding of the unfavourable events against the Muslims in Mecca, Allah Almighty did not instruct the Prophet (saw) to resist and challenge the laws of Mecca and impose Sharia by force.

Instead, He instructed the prophet to respect the established laws of Mecca by migrating to another country. This is the teachings of Islam that every Muslim must know, follow, and respect.

If one disagrees with the established laws of the land, one must do as the Prophet (saw) did and migrate to another land. Allah Ta’ala said in the Holy Quran, “Obey Allah and His Messenger and those in authority over you…”

Regrettably, I also deem it essential to address one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented terminologies in Islam, which is Jihad. Many people have misunderstood this term, thus allegedly spreading misinformation and disinformation that Islam was spread through the tip of the sword.

However, nothing can be further from the truth; this is a wrong perception. Islam is a peaceful religion which was spread and accepted by the world due to its charming and splendid teachings.

Nevertheless, where the permission to engage in Jihad was granted to the Holy Prophet (saw) to resist was only by way of self-defence when the Meccans passed all limits in their opposition and left no stone unturned in opposing the Muslims for more than thirteen years.

The permission to engage in self-defence was granted to the Muslims only after migrating to Medina and establishing a new constitution/sharia which was based on the teachings of the Holy Quran.

The Meccans followed the Holy Prophet (saw) to Medina and attacked the Muslims and their newly established laws of the land which were based on the teachings of Islam. It should be noted that when the Prophet (saw) migrated to Medina, he was unanimously chosen as the chief of the land, given absolute authority over everything; hence, he introduced new laws (sharia) to govern Medina.

The Meccans should have known better that Medina was not under their authority. They were also obliged to respect and obey the laws of Medina just like how the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) respected the Meccan laws.

To break this down, it is against the true teachings of Islam to rebel or instigate disobedience against established laws of any country you live in. If that country violates your right to freedom of religion while that violation is against the constitution of the land, you have all rights and permission according to Islam to challenge the infringement of your right to freedom of choice of religion in the courts.

But, if for instance the laws of the land do not permit you to practice your choice of religion, Islam also teaches that you migrate to another land and not to create (fitnah) in the name of Islam.

As Muslims, we can live our lives individually or collectively in groups or as a society according to the dictates of sharia without making noise about or picking fights with the government.

Musa Kijera is a retired banker and a seasoned writer on Islam and society

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