By Kebba Jeffang
President Adama Barrow, on Sunday June 25, assured the Banjul Muslim elders and Muslim religious leaders from across the country, that his government will leave all religious matters, with the religious leaders of all denominations, without interference or intimidation to practitioners.
The president was reacting to the concerns raised by Muslim religious authorities, during their annual interface meeting, held at the end of every month of Ramadan, at his office in Fajara.
“In this country now, if you don’t do anything, nothing will happen to you. You have your freedom as religious leaders and you will not be intimidated for doing your job. We will leave religious matters to religious leaders,’’ he asserted. He continued: “You, religious leaders, know that you are very important in the Gambia and in the world. We appeal for you to continue your prayers as you have done during the impasse that prevented the country from going to war.”
However, the president advised the Muslim elders to endeavour in order to practise what they preach. He urged them to be proactive on religious matters before the intervention of government. He said government will now be waiting on the religious bodies on matters such as a recognized authority.
“If you know that your mandate or intervention is challenged financially, you can approach government and we will empower you. This will give you strength to resolve issues peacefully. We empower you with this,” the President said.
He also assured that there will be a consultation with the Ministry of Finance in order to provide the Supreme Islamic Council with subvention for them to carry out their annual tasks.
He called for tolerance among different denominations in order to make Gambia more peaceful.
Muhammad Lamin Touray, President of the Supreme Islamic Council, said SIC was founded in 1992 by progressive religious elders across the country.
He said since then, the Council was able to solve religious feuds both inside and outside the Islamic faith. According to him, SIC has a cordial relation with the Christian Council, which allows them to solve several problems involving the two religions.
However, there are challenges, he said, that had been prevailing since the previous government, but were never addressed, despite several engagements with them.
“The extreme closeness of the Council to the then government made it difficult for us. Many a time, even when international potential donors visited, they were never happy about our closeness to the government. This made it hard for us to get funding to address some challenges of the Council.
No executive member of the Council has been receiving salary since inception. Any executive member with a vehicle would only fuel it by himself. This has been a big problem and we have tried to get subvention from government to no avail. We also want the government to recognize the role of the Council better as this has been a problem for us,” he said.
SIC President Touray concluded that the Council, has a functioning radio but the cost of electricity is another burden on them. He called on the new government to consider their plights.
Alieu Mboge, the Chairman of Banjul Muslim Elders who chaired the ceremony, said BME was formed since 1900. He recalled that it is a tradition since the first republic, that they pay courtesy calls on presidents.
Mr. Mboge said Banjul Muslim Elders, was part of a religious delegation that included the SIC and Christian Religious Council that visited the former President and asked him to handover peacefully and not to contest the decision of God and the people.
He also raised concern on the freedom to carry out their religious activities.
“Our Committee will work with government and we urge you to allow us to work without fear as we are peaceful people,” he said.
The Imam Ratib of Banjul, Alhagie Cherno Alieu Mass Kah, called for religious tolerance within the country. He said the Gambia is a great example of religious tolerance and this should be maintained.
Other speakers at the event included Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, the Minister of Women Affairs and overseer of the Office of the Vice President and Dembo Bojang, the government’s special adviser on religious affairs.
The delegation comprised members of the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (SIC), Banjul Muslim Elders and the Ahmaddiyaa Muslim Jamaat. Cabinet ministers and senior government officials were also in attendance.