The recent flare-up of tensions between the minority Ahmadi Muslim and majority Sunni Muslims in the community of Tallinding is a substantial source of concern that the new government should deal with as a matter of urgency.
Further aggravating matters, the former Imam of president Jammeh and influential member of Supreme Islamic Council, Abdoulie Fatty, pressed the government for the creation of a “separate” cemetery for Ahmadis because “they are not Muslims” which is most troubling .Imam Fatty’s animosity towards Ahmadi minority Muslims is not new. While working as a journalist in the Gambia, I had several interviews with him in which he sought to disparage them and to call for a ban on their religion. In my last interview with him, he called for the government to ban the sect whose members responded with a written rebuttal on The Standard newspaper and he was eventually sacked by Jammeh. But this has done nothing to stop his engagement in acts constituting religious bigotry.
The supreme law of The Gambia supports the existence of a secular state which renders null and void any declaration by the Supreme Islamic Council or any other religious leader to stop the Ahmadiyaa from using the communal burial grounds in Tallinding. It It is necessary and needful to put it to him that what he is advocating lacks basis in law because The Gambia is a secular state . The 1997 constitution of the Gambia states:
“This Constitution is the supreme law of The Gambia and any other law found to be inconsistent with any provision of this Constitution shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”
It is categorically clear that the Gambia currently has a Republican Constitution which unequivocally entrust sovereignty in the hands of the people who are all equal in sovereignty. Therefore, there is no religious or ethnic minority in the Gambia. The Constitution does not proscribe the holding of a belief or its practice which finds support in numerous regional and international instruments to which The Gambia is a signatory. Section 25 of the Gambian constitution guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and belief and freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice.
The Gambia has more pressing issues to deal with ranging from the economy, justice for victims of Jammeh’s two decades of tyranny, national cohesion and reconciliation than the dangerous distractions of religious bigotry and persecution.
Sainey Darboe is a US-based Gambian journalist who served as editor-in-chief of The Standard newspaper. He studied law at the university of Gambia and writes on politics and human rights issues.