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Sunday, November 29, 2020

Where is God? About Barrow’s 60 mosques and what Gambia really needs

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With Rohey Samba

A man took his child along on a visit to an eminent Islamic scholar in a remote part of the country. During the course of their conversation, the man was asked by the scholar, “Where does God dwell?’
The man caught off guard by the scholar faltered before answering, “I guess He is everywhere.”
“Yes. I believe He is everywhere; He is not residing in one particular place, at any particular moment in time for He is everywhere,” he beamed at his clever reply.

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The scholar smiled and turned to the child and asked the same question, for which the child took a moment to reflect and then said innocuously, “I know where God lives. He dwells up in heaven,” he replied confidently. Again, the scholar smiled and this time, nodded his head in approval.
To feed our appetite for knowledge about the Creator, and digest His Powers of Creation, we can talk about the Omnipresence of God for hours on end; debate about heaven till the day dawns, but the logic of the simple-minded child is all there is to understand.

Imagine God in Heaven above watching over His creation. He will definitely see everything, everywhere, every time. Thus, His most commendable characteristic, which is, His Omnipresence.
If you ever lived beneath a storey house, you will understand this analogy. That annoying neighbour who resides in the storey building beside your own lowly compound, who is always peeping through or watching openly all your daily activities from above will certainly make you understand the concept of God watching over His creation from the height of His Glorious Seat in heaven.

This is the neighbour who watches you when you enter into your outdoor kitchen to prepare your meals, pass through to your outdoor toilet to ease yourself, and knows who enters or leaves your house on a daily basis, among other things. So annoying is he or she that you sometimes wish to raise your head up and give him or her the sharp side of your tongue.

The limitations of this neighbour however, lies in the fact that he or she can only see what meets the knothole of his or her eyes’ vantage point. God on the other hand, sees within and without man’s view, for He sees everything, everywhere, at all times. He is All-Seeing, All-Knowing.

To really understand the concept of God, we begin to give Him the physical limitations of the human being, because religious books have it that He created us in His own image. The Hand of God, the Eyes of God and so forth, are descriptions we can identify with and come to a common understanding on. But should we limit His attributes to that of a mortal being solely to encapsulate His overall aspects of Omnipotence, Omniscience and Omnipresence among other things, we will fail woefully to understand who God really is.

To a grown man, the concept of God is mind-boggling, much more to an innocent child. The most difficult narrative I had to give my child is an explanation of God. To an enquiring child, it is a simple statement of fact. ‘God is God. He is everywhere even though you cannot see Him. He knows everything, even though you cannot perceive His presence, He is all things you want Him to be and more. But if you want to think about Him too much, you may lose your mind in the details of His Almightiness.’

Of course the prodding child will take time to sink in the details of this very elaborate information. But it is best to address it as such unless the child is as confused as any adult giving the information himself. For a more detailed description to a bigger child, to whom the fine points impart nothing, a memorable discussion I had with a friend studying philosophy at the University of Dakar, might do…
We were trying to figure out how to simplify very difficult explanations in general, when he threw the ball at me on this one. After going through the banal reasoning I had explained earlier, he looked like he was more confused than accepting. I explicated further that God is like the air we breathe. At which he laughed out loud to my consternation.

I solicited for a minute to explain myself, which he did; but not without sneering at me, for being too simplistic at first. Now, this is one explanation I give with gracious humility to satisfy the idle curiosity of some of my atheist friends who purport to believe in nature. Needless to say, I fail sometimes in a spectacular way, because like I like to say over and over again, nothing can change a preconceived mind – not even a generous dose of peripheral knowledge.’

So without any qualms about my illustrious philosopher of a friend shelling out for an unsophisticated logic, I drew on the air we breathe to give inference to God’s Omniscience. The One Who is Omniscient literally knows everything, because He is everywhere (that is Omnipresent). The air we breathe as human beings enclose us; without which we would be gone in a jiffy, for indeed it is a scientific truth that man cannot exist in a vacuum.

Air surrounds the earth and is the life support of all living things. Whereas we don’t see or even acknowledge that it exists, we can sometimes feel it in the presence of the wind when it blows lifting sand and shaking the branches of trees. Thus is God. The Almighty, the Eternal, the Absolute. Without whom, life is empty. In fact, we will all flounder in a vacuum of nothingness if He weren’t, for He is in everything that exists; what we know, what we deign to know and what we will never know at all. Ever.

Like the air we breathe, God manifests Himself in many different forms. We see Him each day but we fail to recognise His Presence. We see Him when we wake up sane, healthy, energised and at peace with ourselves. We see Him in the eyes of babies, in the rains as they shower down the earth, in the corpse as it lays still, unmoving, unresponsive and buried in the earth by his own family. We recognise Him when we cry from joy, desperation, fear, pain, ill health and so forth. We recognise Him because then we know only He has or can help us overcome…

Nowhere is God described best than in the holy verses of Ayatul Kursi, herein reproduced:
“Allah! There is no god but He – the Living, The Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him Nor Sleep. His are all things In the heavens and on earth. Who is there can intercede In His presence except As he permitteth? He knoweth What (appeareth to His creatures As) Before or After or Behind them. Nor shall they compass Aught of his knowledge Except as He willeth. His throne doth extend Over the heavens And on earth, and He feeleth No fatigue in guarding And preserving them, For He is the Most High. The Supreme (in glory).”

So where is God? Well it belies questioning that God is everywhere, anywhere, at every time. God is watching over us and He is with us when we are aware of it and when we are unaware of it. He resides in us, with us, and without us.
Whilst we often find ways, differently sometimes, to shoehorn anecdotes about God into our daily conversations about everything else. And particularly because, religion has been used variously as justification for sloth, especially in our parts of the world, I do not endorse President Barrow’s statement to build 60 mosques around the country as a means to enhance youth participation in national development.
Certainly with much wrestling with myself, I am inclined to see the merit of his decision and his right to make it, but as fittingly outlined by MC Cham, opposition GDC’s national youth mobiliser, mosques are not the priority of Gambians. Thus I am obliged to object to it.

By the way, I think we have too many mosques in The Gambia, some are very dilapidated of course and in dire need of renovation, which face-lifting can be provided by his youth initiative… but we have a few schools to absorb the growing population of our young ones, in addition to even fewer number of clinics and health centres to heal and cure our sick.

President Barrow will find better favour in the eyes of mothers by assisting in the instruction of their children, particularly through formal education in the school system. Free education for all, rather than the privileged few, is what I am alluding to here. After all, education is the key to success, development, empowerment and so on and so forth…

Of course securing funding for any purposes nowadays is regarded with scepticism due to issues of corruption, but from his half-itinerant presidency, carrying a whole budget of funding for the construction of 60 mosques, even if it is from the OIC, sends a message with an odd mixture of shrewdness and simple credulity. It will be a matter of no little vanity, or a tool to score political points, if he, President Barrow that is, seeks to improve the health care system by boosting the number of clinics and health centres, across the country.

Moreover, we have less skill centres to train the youth to be self-sufficient in this country; as indeed government cannot provide jobs to the thousands of graduates that graduate from high institutions of learning in The Gambia each year. Building mosques are ingratiating but will not increase steadfastness in religion in so far as the youth of this country are concerned or preclude the lack of skills of our youth. In simple parlance, skills training will put food on the table, whereas mosques will not.

Certainly President Barrow’s initiative, if only to keep within the letter of his youth movement in line with the particular character of The Gambia’s needs, resolve to help improve the lives and livelihoods of our diverse peoples, Muslims, Christians, and atheists alike; that all may be benefited equally, he will render himself and his youth movement both useful and agreeable by using the funds he secures to address the collective needs of our peoples. Some of which have been underscored ditto.
Great weekend readers!

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