Taking into consideration that The Gambia belongs to all Gambians, it is deemed wise, right and relevant to address this letter to you on the recent intervention of the state in connection with the controversy surrounding the commemoration of Eid El Fitr on different days. This has even led to some arrests, detention and release on bail.
Where the legitimate exercise of executive authority begins and ends should be known to all those who wield executive power. To exceed the bounds of the guards and fences established by law for the legitimate exercise of executive authority is to plunge into the abyss of impunity and miscarriage of justice.
It is incontrovertible that the exercise of executive power and the issuing of executive directives are limited by law. Section 63 of the constitution establishes the Constitutional limits for the exercise of executive power by making it mandatory that “….a person elected president shall before assuming office take the prescribed oath” to uphold and defend the constitution.
Mr President the constitution has said, with all the authority at its command, that “the fundamental rights and freedoms enshrined in this chapter shall be respected and upheld by the organs of the Executive and its agencies, the legislature and, where applicable to them, by all natural and legal persons in The Gambia and shall be enforceable by the courts…”
It is categorically stated in Section 25 Subsection 1(b) and (c) that “Every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief and “freedom to practice any religion and manifest such practice.”
The executive and its agents should respect and protect such rights. This is in line with long established religious teachings that there is no compulsion in religion.
The question now arises: Why should any person be arrested for manifesting religious belief in practice? This is why sects exist in religion. They are based on different interpretation of religious injunctions.
Furthermore, it is incomprehensible why contradictory directives were given to Muslims living in different parts of the country to pray or not to pray on Tuesday 29 July 2014 based on executive directive.
Section 33 Subsection (1) states that “all persons should be equal before the law.”
Subsection 2 adds that, “Subject to the provisions of subsection (5), no law shall make any provision which is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect.”
Subsection 4 explains what discrimination means as follows: “In this section, the expression “discrimination” means affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject, or are accorded privilege or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description.”
Mr President, to allow some Muslims in one part of the country to pray while others in another part are hindered from praying by executive order is outright discrimination.
It is evident that the country does not belong to you. Section 1 Subsection (2) of the Constitution explains who owns the country. It states with certainty that, “the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people of the Gambia from whom all organs of government derive their authority and in whose name and to whose welfare and prosperity the powers of government are to be exercised in accordance with the constitution.”
The state has a duty not to subject the people to degrading punishment for just manifesting their beliefs in practice. Sectarian conflicts exist in places where public space is accorded to some and denied to others to manifest their beliefs in practice.
The Supreme Islamic Council is a nongovernmental organisation. It should seek legal advice to know the boundaries set for the exercise of its mandate. Findings reveal that it is not established by statute to make subsidiary legislation. It has to shape religious practice through persuasive influence and not through executive directives.
It should promote scholarly debates and convince believers through the profundity of the arguments of the scholars.
The role of the state is to promote inter-faith and intra-faith dialogue to prevent and solve disputes in an amicable manner. It is not to dictate which practice is right or wrong. That is playing the role of god on earth.
This storm in the tea cup should be laid to rest. Praying on different days has been a practice since time immemorial. It has never developed into a source of conflict which threatens national security, on the contrary, it has become a source of jokes as to whose prayers would receive god’s blessing. Religious tolerance should prevail. This is what Gambia and Senegal are known for. Both states and people should maintain the legacy. This is the verdict of justice and commonsense and it is irrevocable.