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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Uniting against criminal behaviour: Protecting religious freedom in The Gambia

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By Sait Matty Jaw

The Gambia has a rich history of religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence. As Gambians, we grew up in a society where we celebrated all feasts together, regardless of our religious beliefs. We played together and organised community programs together. Many of us received our education from mission schools whether Muslim or Christian. Our families instilled in us the values of respect, love, and acceptance towards people of all religions. After all, the Gambian constitution guarantees every single Gambian to choose freely their religion.

However, these past days, we have witnessed criminal behaviour against houses of worship in our country. This is an attack on our very core values as Gambians. It is unacceptable that a group of individuals threaten to undermine the peaceful coexistence that we have always cherished. As Gambians, we must stand united against such criminal behaviour and protect the right to religious freedom that we hold dear.

Even though Yahya Jammeh master-minded the idea of marginalisation as part of his divide and rule tactic, we were able to overcome it. In a new Gambia that we promised ourselves, we must not allow the madness of the past to dictate how we relate to our fellow brothers and sisters. Let’s remember The Gambia before Yahya Jammeh, the one we grew up in and let’s build an even more peaceful one in the future.

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We are a predominantly Muslim country, with about 95 percent of the population practicing Islam. Yet, this number does not make The Gambia an Islamic State and this number does not allow a small group of individuals to bully and intimidate their fellow brothers and sisters of other faiths.

The recent attack on a church in Bakau and the confrontation in Tallinding are a clear reminder that we need to do more to protect our religious institutions and promote interfaith community dialogue. It is not just an attack on a particular religion but an assault on our Gambian identity, our culture, and our values. We cannot allow such criminal acts to go unpunished.

As Gambians, we must unite against this criminal behaviour and stand up for our values. We need to work together to create a society where everyone can worship freely and without fear. Our religious institutions are sacred, and they must be protected at all costs. Religious houses must be safe spaces and people of faith must not be hindered to exercise their worship.

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I call on the authorities to take a clear stance and swift action to bring the perpetrators of such heinous crimes to justice. I welcome the president and his government’s condemnation of these criminal activities and hope that government will ensure that all necessary resources are provided to the police to investigate and prevent further incidents.

In addition, we need to fast-track the establishment of a peace council to help in promoting peace and social cohesion. This council can bring together religious leaders and other stakeholders to discuss ways to prevent such criminal behavior from occurring in the future as well as working daily to help strengthen our unity. Inter-faith community dialogue is one potential format for this.

I also call on religious leaders to speak with one voice and condemn such attacks.  Let us remember that we are one family in this country, bound together by our shared values and beliefs. We must not allow a few individuals to tarnish the image of our beloved Gambia. We must remain vigilant and protect our religious freedom, for it is one of the pillars of our nation’s strength and unity.

Let us stand together and say ‘No!’ to criminal behaviour against religious institutions. Let us build a Gambia where everyone can practice their religion freely and in peace. Let’s say #YesToReligiousFreedom

Sait Matty Jaw is the co-founder and executive director of Center for Research and Policy Development based in Bijilo, the Gambia and an associate fellow at Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF).  

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