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City of Banjul
Monday, May 16, 2022

Question/s on religion and fear

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Dear editor,

So I came across a few posts on social media exhorting others towards religion and doing the “right thing”. And that’s all fine and dandy. I am also aiming to be a preacher on the Badside. Our country may lack a lot but it certainly doesn’t lack preachers! But why must encouraging others towards religion be couched in fear of hell or punishment in the hereafter? I know fear can be a behavior regulator and I’m not naive to dismiss the role it plays in ensuring that some of us don’t become thieves. For what its worth, some psychologists insist that fear is our most powerful motivator (there goes an excuse for Jammeh enablers). But should regulating our behavior be centered around fear? Should our religion (whatever you call yourself) be centered around hell and punishment? Should faith be enveloped around going to hell or punishment in fire?

Shouldn’t religious practice and belief be based on faith, values, religious teachings and morals? Shouldn’t it be that I choose not to steal because it’s against my religious teachings of values or morals as opposed to I’m afraid to steal because of the punishment I face when I get caught? If the latter, doesn’t it therefore follow that if getting caught or punishment is my reason for not stealing then when I know I’ll not get caught or that nothing will happen to me when I get caught, I will steal?

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Should fear of punishment overshadow morals, religious teachings on values in regulating our behavior? Do you ever wonder why despite our seeming religiosity, thieves abound in this colonial space we call Gambia? Is that because what regulates our behavior is punishment and not values or morals or religious teachings for that matter! See if I was fighting corruption in The Gambia, I’ll find a way to determine our crime propensity and deterrence perception. Some idea on the two will help one understand our motivations and how to fight the cancer of corruption. But back to religion.

Should one worship and follow the teachings of their religion because they are afraid of that first night in the grave, or afraid of going to hell? Or should one worship because they believe in their religion wholeheartedly and what it teaches to be the right way? Reminds me of a prayer ascribed to the Sufi Saint Rabia of Basra:

“O Lord, if I worship You because of Fear of Hell, then burn me in Hell;

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If I worship You because I desire Paradise, then exclude me from Paradise;

But if I worship You for Yourself alone, then deny me not your Eternal Beauty”

As imporatnt as fear may be, when I become imam of the Badside, I will encourage them to be considerate, to love, to care, to be fair, to help and to be each other’s protector. And importantly, to contribute their money and make me rich. Or will I be wrong for not centering my preaching around hell and punishment?

Alagie Saidy-Barrow

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