Talking to the press in his office yesterday, Minister Sheriff Bojang remarked: “All they have been doing is engaging in scaremongering and treating this matter as if it is a hand grenade with the pin out.
“Everybody is entitled to his own opinion but not to his own fact. When the President made the Brufut declaration, he was very clear. He stated that The Gambia as an Islamic state will respect the rights of all citizens and residents and that Christians and others can practise their religion and he emphasised the maintenance of tolerance and mutual respect.
“The President said the new changes will not lead to a shift in his or the country’s relationship with anybody or any other country. He said The Gambia will be a model for the rest of the world and will project a good image of Islam. This is his vision. And nothing has changed from that since.”
The head-tie issue
Asked whether the 31st December 2015 directive issued by the Office of the President requiring female civil servants to cover their hair during official working hours is not at odds with the president’s statement, Minister Bojang replied: “Absolutely not. In fact, that directive has more to do with His Excellency’s social re-engineering crusade, than religion.
“The President believes it is imperative for the African woman - the mothers and moulders of our children, the future of our continent – to be proud, conscious and reassert their dignity. That is why earlier on, he banned skin bleaching in the civil service. The covering of hair by female staff is an attempt to discourage the use of false hair commonly known as mèche.He believes the use of such things is an affront to the dignity of the African woman and constitutes gross waste of resources. Some of these false hair packets cost in excess of D50,000 and they are mostly unhygienic and messy.”
Minister Bojang added: “But instead of finding out the truth, some of these reporters and editors jump to conclusions making noise everywhere that ‘Christians are being defamed, persecuted and crucified’ as one Senegalese paper put it.
“Since when has a call for modest covering of hair during official government working hours tantamount to religious persecution and crucifixion?
“Christians and people of other faiths are freest in The Gambia and do not have any reason to fear intimidation of any sort. His Excellency, the President has Christians in his family, went to a Christian school and even lived in a Christian home. He is well-versed in the Bible and its history and believes both true Christians and Muslims worship the same God and except for some doctrinal differences like the nature of Christ and the concept of the Trinity, are the same.
“But even if you look at it on the flip side, 96% of Gambians numbering 1,782,859 are Muslims with 3.7% amounting to 69,638 as Christians. Together they represent about 99.7% and both the Muslim Qur’an and the Christian Bible call for women to dress modestly and specifically to cover their hair. Go read 1 Corinthians.
“All I can tell you is that His Excellency, the President, believes in the Qur’anic injunction that ‘There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion’.”
Minister Bojang said that one newspaper in Guinea even went to the extent of reporting that the caliph of the so-called Islamic State in the Levant, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, will visit The Gambia on January 28 “to ratify agreements that would provide oil supply to The Gambia for a price of US$10 a barrel [and that he] had sent a delegation of ministers of Defence and Oil to thank the Gambian president for having chosen the best religion for his people and his country”.
Minister Bojang said “this most ridiculous” of stories was picked up by other media outlets in Senegal and elsewhere and spread as if there is an iota of truth in it.
“In actuality, His Excellency the President has been the most vocal in his condemnation of the so-called Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL) and all they stand for. In fact he dubs ISIL the ‘International Sons of Infamy and Lying’ for their attempts in distorting and denigrating the true Islam which preaches moderation, peace and mutual respect for all peace-loving members of humankind.”
The Information Minister said even the widely respected magazine The Economist fell into the trap of playing the stereotype by reporting that President Jammeh declared an Islamic State simply to curry favours from oil-rich Arab countries.
“Anyone who knows His Excellency, the President, would tell you that his decision is informed by one thing and only one thing and that is his redoubtable and unalloyed belief in the supremacy and omnipotence of God and nothing else,” Minister Bojang said.
“But you know, even if President Jammeh dances in the middle of the river, there are people who will accuse him of raising dust. Some of these critics served in his administration, were removed, lobbied to come back and when rejected, dedicated their lives to a continuous drivel of idle chatter hinged on a single narrative that whatever President Jammeh does is bad! Gambians reject such dollop of hypocrisy.”