By Musa Bah
It is with surprise and indignation that I read a statement from the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) raising an objection addressed to Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) regarding television license application by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, The Gambia. The statement is advising PURA not to grant the Ahmadiyya Jama’at a license since it will be a powerful propaganda tool ‘to adulterate the minds of the Ummah…’
I thus deem it necessary to write and expose the fellacy of the argument put forward by the Council and perhaps advise PURA on the right thing to do.There are two sides to this issue. One is the religious angle and the other is political. The first thing to look at is the fact that the Supreme Islamic Council has a right to object but they have no constitutional or moral right to silence any dissenting opinion, ideology, movement, faith or creed. Democracy thrives on pluralism of ideas and opinions [this include religious ideas].
The statement of the Council clearly shows that this objection is informed by their insatiable desire to suppress and exterminate dissenting ideologies and beliefs. This is not inline with the ethos of the New Gambia. The New Gambia exudes or projects a Gambia where divergence thrives and out of it will emerge a more equitable society.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at members are Gambians and have every right – like any other Gambian – to have these rights not only safeguarded but protected as well. The members of this community are law abiding [in fact I can say without fear of contradiction, that no one is more so]. We participate in everything that happens in this country and contribute immensely to the development of the country.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at runs some of the best junior and senior secondary schools in the country. It has also built a number of hospitals across the country which are offering excellent services to the people of the nation. No one objects to these or any other services by the Community. It is hypothetical to welcome schools and hospitals and object to the application to have a television license.
If therefore PURA is to reject the application of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, it most certainly cannot – should not – be based on this flimsy statement. In a country like ours, every individual or group has the constitutional right to exercise freedom of movement, association, speech, and religion. Such a person or group also has the right to propagate whatever belief they subscribe to. The government is not only dutybound to safeguard these rights, they have the responsibility to protect them as well.
Thus, in the eyes of the Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia, this objection from the Supreme Islamic Council is irrelevant and cannot prevent government from issuing the license.. The Council have the inalienable right to propagate whatever beliefs they hold through any lawful means. Therefore, like the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, they may also apply for a license and counter whatever ‘adulteration’ the Jama’at may cause with their own views.
Looking at the track record of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at on broadcast, we will find that the radio programs that were conducted on various radio stations in the country were never done in a way that could cause problems. They were always ethical peaceful and moral. Furthermore, studying what goes on in other Democratic countries, we will see that different religions or religious sects own television stations each peacefully propagating their views. Senegal, Ghana, and Nigeria are just a few of the examples we can look at.
In comparison to the Supreme Islamic Council, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at is an organization that is always ready to contribute to the development of the Gambia. Indeed, having a television station is another milestone of development as many sons and daughters of the country will be employed to work there. Besides, the television will increase the level of awareness of Gambians on religion, politics, society and even economy. What is more beneficial than that?
PURA has to be very cautious 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.
The Supreme Islamic Council, it has to be remembered, has caused more division in the country than any other organization. The issue of compelling everyone to say the Eid on the same day as Saudi Arabia is a case in point. This, readers will recall, caused a lot of hardships for many people in the country. Imams were arrested and incarcerated for a long time. The truth is, apart from Ramadan, Eid and a progress recorded by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, the Supreme Islamic Council is almost nonexistent in terms of engagement with the public. The only time you will hear the SIC is when one of the above three happens.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at was here long before the SIC. On the 18th of February 1965, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Badomali, the then Amir of the Jama’at was among the people who led the Muslim prayers. The Council came into existence long after that. So, how can they now tell PURA not to grant license to the Jama’at?
On the religious point, if we are to follow the example of the Holy Prophet (SAW), he allowed people belonging to differ religions to live in the Muslim society. He never compelled anyone to become a Muslim. He only preached and uses his persuasive skills to convert the people to Islam. He respected the rights of the minorities living in Madinah and guaranteed their freedom of religion and protection. (See the Madinah Pact).
The Holy Qur’an teaches that there should be no compulo in matters of faith. Everyone should have the right to profess any religion and propagate it as well. The truth is that, all the battles fought in early Islam were fought to establish and protect freedom of conscience. That was the stance of the Pride of Humankind and the Best of the Prophets Seyyidina Muhammad (thousands of blessings be upon him.
I urge the government therefore, through PURA, to look at the big picture and realize that this is a test of our democracy; and that it is not only about Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, but about other minorities and indeed the welfare of the whole country. I hope that they reason properly before doing something that has the potential to plunge the country in religious chaos. Let us build build an inclusive and equitable society.
Nusrat Senior Secondary School