Barely one week after the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh issued an Executive Order for all women employees of the government to wear a veil (Hijab) during working hours, the President after a Cabinet meeting January 13th issued a new Directive rescinding the order. A new memo read on the Gambia National Television (GRTS) this evening said “The General public are hereby informed that the directive for women to wear hijab in all public places has been lifted, the Directive has nothing to do with religion; women are his excellency’s best friends, they are his sisters and he is there for their well-being as has been at all times; that being the case the decision that makes them unhappy has been lifted” concluded the news reader.
The Executive Directive ordering all women to wear head ties (Hijab) came amid President Jammeh’s controversial declaration that the West African nation of the Gambia is now an Islamic State. This highly controversial executive decision contradicts the provisions of the Gambian constitution which guarantees that the Gambia is a secular state that guarantees the freedom of religion and worship. However, due to allege financial constraints or in efforts to appease some Middle Eastern allies for possible economic gains President Jammeh abruptly declared the Gambia an Islamic State. The declaration received wide spread condemnation from opponents of the president especially from Gambian dissidents who continue to challenge Jammeh’s gross human rights violations and bad governance.
Many citizens including some religious leaders in the minority Christian community both in the Diaspora and in Gambia began to increasingly join the criticism of declaring Gambia an Islamic State. A well respected Catholic preacher during his Sunday sermons on Gambia Television openly condemned the attempt to institute religious bigotry in Gambia. Father Edu Gomez who hails from Brikama took the country by surprise when he called for unity and condemned any attempts to divide Gambia from its historic national peaceful coexistence. Father Edu’s powerful sermons soon made it into social media and was widely distributed. Many citizens welcome the intervention of religious leaders like father Edu on his moral stand in condemning what many see as the beginning of religious bigotry in Gambia.
On the other hand, the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council which has largely ignored the injustices and human Rights violations of the Gambian regime on its citizens, rushed to endorse the President’s declaration of the Gambia as an Islamic State. They also welcome the Presidential directive to force women to cover their heads and stop using skin bleaching. It was reported that women in the security services were being rounded up for using skin bleaching.
President Jammeh’s rescission on the Hijab ban did not come as a surprise to many people. Many Gambians were quick to point out that the President’s own wife Zeinab Jammeh does not wear Hijab and question the moral audacity for the President to impose on Gambian women what he dare not impose on his wife. One civilian young woman working in Banjul who refused to wear a hijab told gainako “let him order his wife to wear hijab first before asking us to wear it”. She added that many young women were defying the ban and refused to cover their heads. However, some security personnel were seen wearing the hijab allegedly to save their jobs.
It was ironical that the President of Gambia who open practices idol worshiping; organizes women dance contest (Ms Gambia pageant 2015), live music competition and open parties for young men and women would abruptly declare the small West African Nation an Islamic State. Many argued that Yahya Jammeh with his double standards would be the first victim if he were to impose strict Islamic law which is the cornerstone of an Islamic State. As a result of the internal revolve and external pressure from Gambian Diaspora and domestic opposition, the President changed his mind and reserved this earlier decision. It remains to be seen what next for Jammeh’s declaration of Gambia as Islamic State. Whatever the reasons are behind the President’s decision which is historically backed by little or no common sense, he appears to be stepping on an explosive dynamite which could lead into national chaos.