By Alagie Manneh
Contrary to widespread belief, former President Yahya Jammeh had never ordered the Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) on religious affairs in the country, its president Muhammad Lamin Touray insisted yesterday.
He made the revelation at an Islamic gathering at SIC headquarters in Kanifing designed to foster a common ground unifying Muslims on proclamations like eid and other religious matters.
Responding to a question on whether The Gambia’s insistence on looking up to Saudi Arabia on religious affairs particularly on moon sighting and feast days was not in fact influenced by Jammeh, President Touray said the Council takes its own decisions.
“No one dictates scholars of the religion. It’s only council members who meet and take decisions as to when we should pray or fast. We have never discussed that with Jammeh, maybe we extend that courtesy after our meetings, since he is the president. But Jammeh never dictated to us on our affairs,” he said in a packed hall of the council.
He said the ruling by his council that The Gambia should pray on the same day as Mecca, was not decreed by Jammeh, rather, it was based on reasoning from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad.
“It wasn’t by mere thinking or by dictatorship that we reached that decision, contrary to what has been speculated. We never took any decision from Jammeh. The deen belongs to Allah. That we were dictated by him, that’s not true.”
On the contentious issues of fasting and feast dates, Imam Touray said the problematic issue has been here even before the establishment of the SIC.
He said: “That issue has created discord among communities and families since others will sight the moon but others would say ‘no we haven’t seen it, so why must we pray’. We are hoping this gathering will help change that. If a moon is sighted anywhere in the world, the Muslim ummah must pray as one and break fast as one. Mecca might be far, but the time difference between us is only three hours, so why must we not be in line with them?”
Quoting the Qur’anic injunction that “there is no compulsion in religion,” President Touray said issues of doctrinal exegeses on fasting and feasts must never escalate to violence.
“Allah said to Muhammad [pbuh] in the Qur’an ‘So remind, [O Muhammad]; you are only a reminder.’ That is your only responsibility, Allah said to him. You might say ‘no I am not praying, these people are wrong’ but don’t say to others not to pray. Then you have committed a grave sin.”
Senior government figures including Vice President Ousainu Darboe took part in the daylong dialogue, and he told waiting journalists after:
“This is an issue that is virtually dividing the ummah; that is the sighting of the moon. These are important events in the life of any Muslim; fasting when to start, and when to end it. To get people to discuss these issues and unite on it, I think is one of the most important discussions. I hope their deliberations will be guided with courtesy to each other. God will give them guidance as they are on a great crusade to unify Gambian Muslims on celebrations of these important feasts.”
The former president of the SIC, Banding Drammeh said all opinions would be listened to as they seek to unify Gambian believers.
On whether or not Gambians would ever come to agree on festive dates in Islam, he replied: “That is not our concern. Our concern or mandate is to tell them what the religion dictates. Simple”.
Hundreds of Muslim leaders, including former State House imam Alhaji Abdoulie Fatty, took part in the event. Details of the meeting’s outcome will be published in subsequent editions of the paper.