Open Letter to President Jammeh on Islamic State Bill

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I am writing to express my deep concern with your declared intention to transform the Gambia into an Islamic State Republic. In this connection, you indicated in your address to the National Assembly that you will cause a piece of legislation to be tabled soon before the National Assembly to begin the process of its implementation.

In light of the foregoing, as a citizen of this country and a Muslim, I feel it is my national duty to exercise my right to take part in deciding the fate of my society especially on such an important issue as this. My position is unequivocal and that is, I am totally opposed to the declaration of the Gambia as a religious state, any religion. I wish to therefore submit this letter to you in your capacity as the legal and political head of this country to hear a concern from a citizen like yourself and I wish you will give this concern the utmost attention and consideration it deserves. I would like to remind you that much as you are the president of this republic, yet the Gambia is the full and total collective property of each and every citizen and no one has a singular right, authority and power to determine the fate of this country more than anyone else. We are all equal and therefore any major decision especially that which deals with our sovereignty must be a privy of only one person or few people to decide. All must take part to decide, hence the reason for this letter.

Mr. President, The Gambian constitution guarantees to all persons not only freedom of conscience but the right to profess, practice, and propagate religion as stated in Section 25 (1) of 1997 constitution. Furthermore Section 100 subsection 2 states that,

The National Assembly shall not pass a Bill- (b) to establish any religion as a state religion;

These are entrenched clauses that require that if the contrary is to take place there must be a referendum. These above provisions even buttressed the first section of the constitution which states that the Gambia is a sovereign secular republic.

In addition to these national laws, the Gambia as a party to international treaties have committed itself to ensure freedom of religion among other fundamental rights. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (also known as the Banjul charter), states in Article 8 that: “the profession and free practice of religion shall be guaranteed. No one may, subject to law and order, be submitted to measures restricting the exercise of these freedoms.

Article 19 of the same law states that,

“All peoples shall be equal; they shall enjoy the same respect and shall have the same rights. Nothing shall justify the domination of a people by another.”

Mr. President, freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a multi-religious society as the Gambia to therefore proclaim one particular religion as the official faith is a clear discrimination of other religions and potentially endangers the practitioners of all other religions other than the state religion. What would be the justification for choosing Islam as the State religion of the Gambia? If it is because the majority of Gambians are Muslim, then are you implying that in also determining the official national language of this country we should identify Mandinka as the state language? These decisions are unfair and unscientific hence my opposition. What we expect of your leadership and government is to create an environment for all cultures and religions to be promoted and protected by the State so that believers, practitioners and adherents are free to openly practice what they believe.

Mr. President, each day, we are anxious and frightened as to how we will try to navigate through an Islamic state that may not recognize our existence as a people of single destiny with common inspirations and aspirations. Those who do not belong to Islamic religion will often feel oppressed and fearful.

There is no gainsaying that despite its percentage, Christian community in The Gambia, has contributed greatly in the development of this country since the colonial days. A glaring example is Edward Francis Small, the father of Gambia’s nationalism who fought against injustice and for the independence of our dear motherland. The contribution and impact of Christian citizens can be felt in every sector of the government and society and our lives.

What Gambians need is a secular state in tune with democratic principles and practices. It is obvious that religion in politics is an old tool that governments have used for centuries to create fear and to control the population. We do not want our country to be subjected to such a situation where people may even vote for representatives just because of their religion first and foremost. Keeping the Gambia secular keeps it neutral and allows different religions to coexist harmoniously as we have been doing for centuries. Our people do not want a situation where politicians use Islam as a platform to gain votes when they do not necessarily even truly believe in Allah or live their lives according to the tenets of Islam at all. Besides, a government organized in the name of Islam can be as equally or even more corrupt as a secular republic as is the case in many parts of the world, not least the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The Gambia needs true democracy that must ensure justice for all citizens. Gambia should be able to move forward at our own pace, without arrogance, without maximalist orthodoxy. We do not need terrorism, democratic totalitarianism and democratic avatars or democratic patching up. What we need is a law that will give us a sense of belonging and responsibility as people of the Gambia.

The APRC Government promised Gambians a dispensation that would bring real change in our lives. Gambians especially the youth, expect the government to fulfill those commitments, and it is our expectation that the government of the day will deliver on those promises. It is time for the government to ensure that it remains focused on the people it serves.

Mr. President, I believe there are many draconian laws which the government needs to amend instead of implementing an Islamic law or Shariah. For instance, disappearance of persons without trace, unlawful arrest and detention without trial, press censorship, monopoly of state property by the government, electoral reforms among so many issues faced by people. A responsible government should be ready to listen to the concerns of its people at all times. Why should Imam Sawaneh still be under custody after the court ordered his release Mr. President? Why is the journalist Alagie Ceesay still being dragged to court unnecessarily when there are no witnesses?

Mr. President, I would like to suggest you take the responsibility to make the Gambia Government open and become more tolerant with the people it serves. We expect your administration to be honest, and sincere in your efforts to serve the public interest. Gambians expect the government and its leadership to abide by the rule of law at all times and not to engage in actions that endanger national security and harmony.

In the service of our country,

I remain Yours sincerely,

Fatou Janneh.

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