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Monday, December 4, 2023

Lessons drawn from Imam Ba-Kawsu’s surprise sermon at State House Mosque

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By Momodou Lamin Yaffa

Imam Ba-Kawsu Fofana, who, barely a couple of months ago was subjected to police harassment and detention following a mammoth gathering of Imams and Islamic scholars to express solidarity with Imam Fofana after a lengthy series of audios he released to debunk spurious claims made by one Kawsu Sillah against him in an infamous book, was received at the State House by President Adama Barrow and entreated to deliver the Friday sermon and to lead the congregational Friday prayer.

The police interrogation and the seventy-two-hour detention came as an utter surprise to all goodwill Gambians. However, the uncalled-for saga came to an abrupt end after the Imam’s lawyer stepped up to tackle the matter from a purely legal standpoint.

The combative Imam availed himself of the following Friday’s sermon on his pulpit to show the injustice he was a victim to. He categorically called on the government to take the rightful steps to put an immediate end to insults and defamation directed at religious dignitaries by some misguided and wayward Muslim preachers. 

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Now to witness a dramatic volte-face by the government by ceasing to make the Imam appear as a villain and transform him into a hero has led to mouthwatering comments.

Regardless of the government’s motives, the gesture to have an audience with the Imam and to dignify him with a request to deliver the Friday sermon and to lead the ritual prayer deserves commendation.

The occasion should therefore serve as a golden opportunity for the minister in charge of religious affairs to steer a process of bringing together the various Muslim camps to discuss and iron out their differences and thus put an end to the sacrilegious rhetoric that has characterised religious discourse in The Gambia over the past decade.

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One thing is certain, the government might have realised the strong following Imam Ba-Kawsu commands despite the misinformation, insults and degrading treatment directed at him by extremist Muslim groups like Iskaat and some individuals who, for reasons known to them alone, cannot fathom themselves saying anything good about Imam Ba-Kawsu.

Imam Ba-Kawsu is an exceptional preacher in the Mandinka language. He captivates his audience with his command of extraordinary oratory skills coupled with an impeccably topical quotation of Quranic verses and Hadiths of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Furthermore, any fair-minded person undoubtedly notices the Imam’s sharp intelligence and awareness of current affairs.

My appeal to Gambian Muslims, who cherish the Asharite Creed, the Maliki Jurisprudence and the Sufism (spirituality) bequeathed to us by our current scholars and scholars of yore, is to throw their weight behind Imam Ba-Kawsu. In so doing, they would be protecting their own untainted Islam that they inherited from their fathers and forefathers. 

Imam Ba-Kawsu is the only Gambian preacher who stands up to the Wahhabis/Salafists, who, as we all know, are hell-bent on wiping out our traditional Islam, which is a rampart against extremism and indiscipline.

Vehement criticism of Ba-Kawsu comes from Wahhabi/Salafist groups such as Iskaatul Jarwin Naabih, an Arabic phrase which means “silencing a barking puppy”. The barking puppy, in their infantile view, is Imam Ba-Kawsu.  

The Quran, in Surat Hujurat, condemns such an attitude writ large as follows: “Oh the Faithful, neither men nor women should deride each other; for the derided may be better than the derider; do not backbite or name-call each other; for authors of such utterances are venial sinners”.

The Prophet (pbuh) says: “Truth denied and derision generalised are tantamount to arrogance”. 

If Allah the Almighty rebukes a Muslim for such behaviour, a good Muslim, especially those who claim to be the paragons of quintessential Islam, should never indulge in anything that could tarnish their Islamic credentials.

Furthermore, Iskaat is unwittingly flouting Imam Ba-Kawsu’s human right to be shielded from inhuman, humiliating and degrading treatment in accordance with international and regional human rights instruments.

In fact, such despicable demeanours by Iskaat and by an unruly and fickle person like Musa Boto Saidy should be stymied if the President’s laudable gesture is to be translated into concrete and meaningful action in the interest of religious harmony and cohesion. 

Even the unpalatable book published in Arabic by one Kawsu Sillah is nothing more than a continuum of acts and utterances of puerility that Iskaat and Musa Saidy are basking in.

However, the book’s criticisms, though explicitly directed at Imam Ba-Kawsu in person, is implicitly addressed to the bulk of Gambian Muslims, who adhere to the Maliki Islamic jurisprudence and Sufism in the latter’s embodiment of Tijaniyya, Qadiriyya and Muridiyya. Consequently, the book is a disguised attack on our cherished religious values of reverence for our saints, unfettered love for our Dear Prophet (pbuh) through hymns sung in his praise and collective recitation of the Holy Quran at occasions such as funerals, naming ceremonies, etc.

This is also the right time to indicate to our intelligence operatives that, given the mushrooming of pockets of violent Islamic extremism, which are obviously a huge threat to national security, they must have operatives imbued with solid Islamic education and culture to differentiate between peaceful and tolerant Islamic groups and extremist and intolerant Islamic groups.

Our government, like some governments in our West African sub-region and in Arab/Islamic North Africa, which are protecting their traditional Islamic values in the interest of social peace and harmony, should make genuine and studious efforts to safeguard the mainstream Islam that has helped to build and shape a tolerant and peaceful society in The Gambia throughout the ages despite our religious, cultural and linguistic differences.  

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