By Tahir Ahmad Touray
Leeds, United Kingdom
I have once again read an interesting statement by the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council. This time it is an objection addressed to Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) regarding television license application by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at The Gambia. The statement is very interesting, amazing, disappointing and shocking.
I am not writing this to condemn their objection; they have the right to object but they have no constitutional or moral right to silence any dissenting opinion, ideology, movement, faith or creed. Unfortunately, their statement clearly shows that their objection is founded on their insatiable desire to suppress and exterminate dissenting ideologies and beliefs. That is the focus of my essay.
If PURA must reject the application of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, it most certainly cannot be based on this flimsy and morally deprived statement. Every person or group in the Gambia has the constitutional right to freedom of movement and association and religion and also the right to propagate whatever belief they hold. The objection that if Ahmadis have a television station in the Gambia, it will adulterate Islam as understood by the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council is a useless objection in the sight of the Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia. They, the Council, also have the inalienable right to propagate whatever beliefs they hold through any lawful means. The best they can do is, like the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, apply for a TV license and operate their own television channel so that they would counter the so-called adulteration of their understanding of Islam. I must note here that PURA has to be very careful and ensure that they make their decisions within the laws of the Republic of The Gambia. The premise of the objection raised by the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council is definitely not valid in light of the Constitution.
If this objection of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council is upheld, it will mark the escalation of religious intolerance in the country. It will be Ahmadis today, then will follow other Muslim groups who have some differing views with the Council and non-Muslims will also be targeted. This is a test for PURA and history shall judge them based on the decision they make. A few years ago, the Council with the support of the Government stopped all programmes by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at on private radio stations and also on the national radio and television. It is this same Council that propounded the idea that Eid in The Gambia must be observed on the same day that it was observed in Saudi Arabia. This led to the arrest of a non-Ahmadi Muslim Imam who decided to not observe the Eid on the same day. This same Council played a role in the demolition of an Ahmadiyya mosque in Sare Ngai in the Central River Region and the imprisonment of some Ahmadi youth for their belief. They succeeded relatively in suppressing other views during the past regime. They are now testing the waters. The future of religious tolerance and respect for the constitutional provision that guarantees freedom of religion and practice and propagation of religion now lies before PURA. The ball is in their court!
A part of the statement of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council reads, “Television could be used as a powerful propaganda tool to adulterate the minds of the Ummah by a movement which has been classified by the organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to be outside the pale of Islam. The grant of such a propaganda tool to this organization is as much considered to pose an existential threat to the Muslim Ummah in the Gambia as well as the neighboring countries.”
One thing that must be noted is that whether or not Ahmadis are Muslims is immaterial as far as their application for a TV license is concerned. One does not have to be a Muslim in The Gambia in order to operate a television channel. Where does the statement that Ahmadis should not have the license because they are “outside the pale of Islam” leave the Christians and other non-Muslims in the country? The fact of the matter is that every individual or organization, including the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, has the right to operate a television channel, within the laws of the land. No individual or organization has more rights than another individual or organization in the Gambia. No religion has more right than another religion in the Gambia. All are equal before the law. The Gambia is ruled by her laws not by anyone’s religion or faith or belief. Based on the Constitution, even people whose ‘religion’ is the negation of organized religion have the right to practice and propagate their ideologies in The Gambia as long as long as they do not break the law. And they can do that through the use of any media (including television). This is something the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council must know. They are no better than any individual or organization or group in The Gambia. They also have no constitutional or moral right to decide who belongs to what religion or who should/should not do what.
When the President of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, Imam Muhammad Lamin Touray, was writing and signing this statement, he probably either lost sight of the history of Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them) and religion or did not know this basic history. We learn from religious history that Prophets and the religious ideologies they preached were seen as “existential threat” to the false and weak and adulterated ideologies of their contemporaries. Despite the strength and opposition of the adversaries of the religious ideologies of the Prophets, the Prophets’ ideologies prevailed because they were unadulterated and strong and their link extended to Arsh (the Throne of the Creator of the heavens and the earth).
If Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at is “outside the pale of Islam”, then from an Islamic philosophical perspective, it has a weak ideology like the ideologies of the opponents of the Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them). Prophets (peace and blessings be upon them) and their righteous followers have never entertained the belief that false ideologies “outside the pale of Islam” could threaten the existence of the truth they followed. In light of this, and based on the unequivocal statement of the Holy Qur’an that “Innal Baatila Kaana Zahuuqa”—Falsehood is surely bound to perish, why should the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (GSIC) believe that the television will “pose an existential threat to the Muslim Ummah in the Gambia as well as the neighboring countries”? A possible answer could be that they have nothing to offer to satisfy the religious needs of the Muslim Ummah of The Gambia and the neighboring countries. If they are certain that they are the Muslims and Ahmadis are “outside the pale of Islam”, then they should not feel an existential threat. This clearly tells us where the GSIC belongs.
Another basic point I must bring to the attention of the GSIC is that groups with superior religious ideologies (in this case I mean righteous followers of the teachings of religion) never attempted to suppress the beliefs of their opponents. They also put across their beliefs against the beliefs of their opponents and people made the choice to follow whatever belief appealed to their hearts; and whoever was on the side of truth eventually got the upper hand because truth is always very appealing to the heart. That is why Allah says in the Holy Qur’an:
“There shall be no compulsion in religion. Surely, right has become distinct from wrong; so whosoever refuses to be led by those who transgress, and believes in Allah, has surely grasped a strong handle which knows no breaking. And Allah is All-Hearing, All-Knowing. Allah is the Friend of those who believe: He brings them out of every kind of darkness into light. And those who disbelieve, their friends are the transgressors who bring them out of light into every kind of darkness.
These are the inmates of the Fire; therein shall they abide” (Surah Al-Baqarah: Verses 257-258)
If indeed they are sure of their position of being the Muslims and Ahmadis being “outside the pale of Islam”, why not have trust in these verses?
The Holy Qur’an is such a wonderful and beautiful Book. After these above quoted verses, it gives us the narrative of a discussion between a powerful disbeliever and Prophet Ibrahim (as). The disbeliever was confounded and had nothing to say because of the powerful argument of Prophet Ibrahim (as) which was absolutely based on truth. If Ahmadis are “outside the pale of Islam”, why not GSIC also bring those powerful arguments based on truth to silence the Ahmadis instead of making efforts to suppress the propagation of their views.
The other point I wish to make is the insistence of the GSIC on always referring to a declaration by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) that declares the Ahmadis outside the pale of Islam. When will they understand this simple truth that no individual or organization has the duty to define who belongs or not to Islam. If anyone had that right, it was the Holy Prophet Muhammad Khatamun Nabiyyeen (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He clearly stated that anyone who calls himself a Muslim must be counted among the Muslims. It is indeed a great shame that the GSIC prefer the words of a group of worldly people to the words of the best of creation Muhammad Rasoolullaah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him).
Please, let them be truthful and whenever they make reference to this declaration, they should tell the readers the people behind the declaration. A prominent one among them was Idi Amin, former President of Uganda. Do they realise that they are implying that the verdict on Islamic affairs of people like Idi Amin is superior to the verdict of Muhammad Rasoolullaah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)? Let them tell the readers that in the OIC meeting in Pakistan in 1974, it was Idi Amin who in fact bloated the idea that Ahmadis should be declared outside the pale of Islam. So Idi Amin and people like him are their role models and mentors in Islam! They definitely need psychiatric review!! What an insult to Islam!! The words of these people are better than the words of our master Muhammad Rasoolullaah (saw)? It is indeed disheartening that such a view comes from a bunch of people who consider themselves the vanguards of Islam!
May Allah protect the Gambia from religious extremism. Aameen