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‘Harassment of Christians emanates from Zakir Naik visit’

Feb 4, 2020, 12:42 PM | Article By: Pa Modou Cham

Philip Saine, a resident of Banjul and member of the Catholic Development Office told the TRRC on Monday 3 Feb. that The Gambia’s religions have been living in harmony from the first republic until the visit of a renowned Islamic scholar, Dr. Zakir Naik.

He claimed that the Christians were never viewed as minority in the country.

Saine indicated that the harassment of the Christian community started when Zakir Naik came to The Gambia. “He claimed that he knew something from the Bible, which he only misinterprets.”

He said Dr. Zakir should have not been invited to speak about religion because he came and blew away religious tolerance.

“And that was the reason why President Yahya Jammeh was proud to declare the country as an Islamic State on 10 December 2015. Jammeh even said he would change the Constitution of The Gambia to an Islamic Sariah Law.”

Speaking on police banning music during Ramadan in Jammeh’s regime, he said, that was a suppression and harassment to the Christian community.

“We never used to identify people by religion and you will not know who is who as both religions in the country celebrate each others’ ceremonies.”

The witness added that social interactions were diminishing when certain words were thrown to Christians; such as calling them non-believers.

He recalled the 5 February 1997 incident at Pipeline, explaining that the Christians were worshiping and the Muslims also came for their usual prayers in their mosque, which was close to the church.

He added that the Christians that were coming from church service made some high noise and there was music, which caused commotion. From that he added that the police arrested many Christians who were not even part of it.

Recalling another incident, Mr. Saine testified that in July 2003, group of students violated the St. Therese’s school policy by wearing uniforms without badges.

“The principal asked them to go and wear their normal uniforms, which later brought confrontation. The school was closed, resolved and eventually reopened by the government.”

He also recalled a Christian procession around Kairaba Avenue in April 2016, saying a speeding vehicle forced its way into the procession and wounded a young girl. According to him, the driver abandoned the vehicle and ran, but he was taught a lesson.

He said Jammeh banned Christians from burying their corpse in their own cemetery in Banjul. He added that when the Christian Council stood their ground, he later withdrew the decision.

“A rally in Brikama that was so embarrassing to the Christian community was Jammeh insulting us that he knew the Bible more than the Christians. He was like Zakir Naik who said he knew the Bible more than the Pope.”

He alleged that the re-registration and request for establishment of churches indicated by the government has totally influenced restricting religious freedom.

On the harassment of Muslim who converted to Christianity, he explained that one converted man explained to him that he was kicked out from his family and lost all he had from the family.

On the demolition of church around Senegambia, Saine testified that GT Board gave them the notice and executed their plans within days.

In his conclusion remarks, he said the best Muslims are Gambians and not Saudis and thus called for the strengthening of interfaith dialogue in the country.