In countries where there is religious intolerance, security forces have to stand on guard to protect members of one religious group or sect from the other. Surroundings of mosques and churches appear like battle fields.
In the Gambia, people are used to going to mosques, churches and traditional shrines in festive mood. On Tuesday, 29 July, the climate appears to have changed. Uniformed men were posted near praying grounds to disperse believers. This is difficult to understand. What is more difficult to understand is how this accords with Islamic teachings or state laws.
Which religious teaching could be relied on to allow people living in certain parts of the country to pray on Tuesday, while others living in other parts are forbidden to do so. This is simple transforming common sense into a religious edict or injunction. Nothing could justify double standards in religion or law. Section 33 Subsections (1) reads thus: “All persons shall be equal before the law.”
Subsection (4) explains the following: “In this section, the expression “discrimination” means affording different treatment to different persons attributable wholly or mainly to their respective descriptions by race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status whereby persons of one such description are subjected to disabilities or restrictions to which persons of another such description are not made subject, or are accorded privilege or advantages which are not accorded to persons of another such description.”
Hence to allow certain Muslims to pray while barring others is outright discrimination and the aggrieved could go to the high court for redress.
In the Gambia some claim to belong to different religions like Islam, Christianity or traditional ones. Which state authority could determine which brand of practice of Islam, Christianity or traditional religion is the appropriate one? Which law exists to make one brand lawful while forbidding the other?
Believers have their different sects based on their exposure to different forms of religious teaching. Respect shown to these different groups in Gambia and Senegal has promoted tolerance and peaceful co-existence of believers in different faiths. In fact, Jawara was elected in the Gambia when he was a Christian (Anglican) and Senghore was elected in Senegal when he was a Catholic.
The penetration of teachings in Islam and Christianity in the Gambia were done through different Christian and Islamic denominations. The state’s role is to promote peaceful co-existence among such groups by making the peaceful exercise of freedom of religious assembly, association and expression a right.
Section 25 subsection (1) (c) states: Every person shall have the right to freedom to practise any religion and to manifest such practice.”
Foroyaa would like the people to know that the President of the Republic has sworn to uphold and defend the Constitution. The only law making body of the country is the National Assembly. The National Assembly has not given any association statutory powers to set standards of religious practice in the country. There is no law limiting the number and nature of religious groups in the country or to whom they should receive instruction from in matters of faith. Any attempt to set such standards without basing it on law amounts to arbitrariness and impunity. Religious scholars need to engage in debate to convince each other. None should impose one’s will on the other by relying on the authority of the state.