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Islam and peace in a world in crises in the twenty-first century

Nov 10, 2011, 2:54 PM | Article By: Alhaji Ebou Momar Taal, Ndongo Daara Afdaay,Tel: 4223091/9928680 E-mail: gedehalwar@yahoo.com

Special Ramadan and U.N International Day of Peace Edition


As we have recently ended fasting in the Holy Month of Ramadan and the celebration of the United Nations International Day of Peace on the 21 September, it is opportune to recall that the world today is currently going through an endless cycle of crisis of dangerous proportions; this is despite the giant steps and unprecedented progress that have been made in the sciences, technology and other areas of human endeavour. What is happening today, so early in the  21st century, is in many ways ominously reminiscent of the critically unstable two decades separating the First World War (1914 – 1918) and the Second World War (1945 – 1939), a period characterized by regional conflicts, rising ideological extremism,  racism and chauvinism, and  global economic depression.  What has gone so wrong that similar symptoms seem to be repeating themselves today, as history so often does, threatening again global peace and stability?

Paradoxically this is also the time when universally people are, or at least they claim, to be more religious with mosques and churches sprouting in cities, towns and villages all over the world.  In the case of Islam the scope and momentum of such expansion are seen as a real threat to western civilisational universalism which, unprepared for such unforeseen change, has hurriedly invented Islamophobia a euphemism for with fear, real or perceived, of the islamization of the West with all its enigmatic social, cultural, political, economic and power politics implications. As a matter of fact it was soon after the Second World War and the end of colonialism in the 1960s that Islam started making significantly noticeable gains in Western Europe and America hitherto dominant mono-cultural enclaves. The end of the Cold War followed in quick succession by the collapse of Soviet-style communism, (thanks to Gorbatchev’s Prestroika and the fall of the infamous Berlin Wall) on the one hand and the death throes now threatening liberal capitalism, the post-war bipolar monopoly of world power by the USA and the Soviet Union on the other, is being rapidly replaced by a new world order.   These swift changes resulting in the immutable shift in the balance of world power away from the West to the emerging nations of the South (China, India, Brazil etc) significantly coincides with the new multi-dimensional phenomenon of globalization. This is the background against which Harvard Professor Samuel P Huntington published, in 1996, his book “The Clash of Civilizations and The Remaking of World Order”. In a nutshell, the eminent Professor tries to show that with the demise of the Cold War, conflicts are giving way to a new civilisational polarisation inevitably shifting fault lines between the West and North (including the US, Western Europe and Russia) and the East and South (developing countries in Asia, Africa and South America) regions whose religions and cultures are  fundamentally different from those of the West.

This essay is, therefore, primarily intended to refute and invalidate deep-rooted fallacies, prejudices and misconceptions associated with Islam by stating in simple and clear terms what Islam really is, and not what it is subjectively and erroneously believed to be by its misled detractors. It will be shown and asserted, with the support of empirical evidence, that Islam is exclusively about Knowledge, Love, Solidarity, Sharing and Caring, Generosity, Productivity, Justice, Peace and Progress and all ideas, practices and actions associated with these virtues.

Islam and Peace

Arabic and Islamic scholars explain that ISLAM is an Arabic word literally meaning unconditional obedience and submission to Allah (subhanahou wa ta’alaa) being the only way for mankind to attain real material and spiritual peace and tranquility of mind in the society.  Indeed the Quran and Hadith/Sunnah (Sayings and Deeds of the Holy Prophet Muhamad, (sallallahou alayhi wa sallam/Peace and blessings be unto him), are replete with revelations and injunctions about the primacy of peace as the solid rock on which Islam is built. Some of these fundamental tenets are discussed below.

Allah (s w t) is Salaam meaning Peace one of the best known Names of   God the Almighty from Whom man emanates as His Khalifa on earth and the material manifestation of divine peace derived from salaam, rahmane and raheem) a sacred gift for the enjoyment of all mankind. Human beings must, therefore, recognize that they are all created by Allah from a common parentage, Adama and Awa. See Surah 21, Ambiyahi, Verse 92 – Ina hazihee ummatukoum ammatan wahidatan : Verily this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood. Peace is so central and important in Islam that when Muslims meet the greetings they exchange is asalamou alaikoum (Peace be unto you) whether at home, place of work or even when greeting non-Muslims. (Al  Nour, the Light: Soura  24 verse 61).  At the end of the each of the five obligatory and sunna prayers the worshipper turns to the right and then to the left saying assallamou alaikoum (Peace be unto you) to those around him and the congregation.  The tachahoude (taya) ending a prayer is also very much about peace. Interestingly the Muslim way of greeting, salaamalekoum, has become the national greeting of all, salaamaekoum, including Christians, Catholics especially, in The Gambia and Senegambia, derived from the Muslim greeting Salaamaou aleykoum.

According to recognized Islamic scholars salaam is mentioned 33 times in the Holy Quran notably in Ya Sin s.36, (Salamoune khwawlane min Rabibine Raheem).

  Ramadan is a Holy Month when Muslims fast each day for a month; it is a month of prayers, forgiveness, tolerance, generosity, compassion and the  practice of all human virtues for the perfection of man in his quest for eternal  peace. The practice of baalalma akha (forgive me) becomes popular greetings among muslims for wrongs done intentionally or unintentionally or unbeknown to the parties involved all in the pursuit of peaceful relations.  If one of you is fasting, he should avoid obscenity and quarrelling, and if somebody should want to fight or quarrel with him, he should say I am fasting (Bukhari vol. III Book of Fasting chapter 128 quoting Abou Huraira).   Not only is generosity expected, but more than that zakat is prescribed to be given before the Eid (Koriteh) Prayers so that the poor and needy would also have their wherewithal to celebrate the feast as everyone else. Such widespread and almost total satisfaction in a community can only engender peace and harmony and reduce jealousy and hatred.  Lailatul Qadr, towards the end of Ramadan, is the Night of Power and Peace when the Quran was revealed – s.97 al Qadr v. 3-5 with infinite blessings - Lailatul Qhadri khairoun mina alfi shahri (the Night of Power is better than a thousand months) and salaamoun  hiya hataa matlaahi fajri – Peace,  until the rise of the dawn.

Peace is so central in Ramadan that killing is forbidden during the holy month even where it is sanctioned by law. That is why throughout the authentic and earlier jihad to protect and spread Islam, the Muslim armies did not attack their enemies during the month of Ramadan except in self defence. For this reason also extremists who perpetrate violence and terror against fellow muslims and non-muslims during Ramadan and other periods are neither jihadists nor true muslims. Significantly Peace was a transcendant theme of the recent traditional Koriteh meeting at State House between His Excellency the President and Banjul Muslim Elders and other Muslim leaders.   

From the above it is self-evident that Islam is not about endless conflicts all over the world; neither is it synonymous with terrorism or the perennial violence we are so used to seeing now on the television.  This is not the true face of Islam as revealed to mankind in the Quran through the Prophet Muhamad (saws) more than 14 centuries ago. In fact such atrocities, which all true muslims condemn unequivocally, emanate from the combination of a more complex set of endogenous problems like poverty, unemployment, moral decadence, oppressive political systems,   the absence of democracy and justice, and the destruction of social and cultural values accentuated by the prevalence of discriminatory diplomacy and the application of Public International Law. Accordingly the real threat to peace and stability in the world today is the internal implosion resulting from socio-political disequilibria that underlie the recent events in London and other European countries (and earlier crises in the West) as well as the so-called  Arab Spring and other in the developed world. These problems, socio-political in nature, do not concern one religion alone nor one region, country or community or people but the whole of humanity. It should, therefore, be understood that violence and conflicts area a global phenomenon that can emanate from the individual or a group and be directed towards others in an indiscriminate and irresponsible manner.

However, because of ignorance, historical distortions and chauvinism Islam the religion of Peace, is unfairly blamed for the spate of violence in the world.  But as well argued by Malian scholar, historian and Islamologue, the late Amadou Hampate Ba (Disciple of Thiernor Bocar Taal, Sage de Bandiagara and erudite grandson of Sehou Omar Foutiyou Taal): L’intolerance est une deviation, il ne faudra pas juger les religions, quelles soient, a travers  les hommes qui les appliquent ou qui parfois, les utilisent pour des fins tout autres que reellement religieuses. Les Inquisiteurs ne representent pas toute la Chretiente’, qui a continue’ d’evoluer sans eux; l’intolerance islamique aujourd’hui, a quelque horizon qu’elles appartiennent, ne represent pas tout l’Islam. (Le Soleil, Aug. 1981). 

Universality of Muhamad’s Message – Islam

Every prophet before Mohamad (saws) was sent to his own people for their guidance but the Message of Mohamad was for all mankind as revealed in  Sura 7 Al Araf  v. 158: Say O mankind I am sent to you all as the Apostle of Allah. The Prophet himself also says “Before me every prophet was given a miracle that they practised during their life time.  I have been given the permanent miracle of the Quran…till the Day of Resurrection (and it is a Glorious Book  (Bukhari).  The Quran is consequently the Word of God and the subject it deals with is MAN (Yusuf Ali) providing guidance for the whole of Mankind. Unlike any other book of its kind it is a complete code of life.   Al Maaida Sura 5 v.3: This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour unto you and have chosen for you as religion Islam.

Thus Mohamad, was both a Nabi (prophet), Seal of the Prophets, and a Rassoul (Messenger) sent by Allah (SWT) to humanity as a whole and till the end of time.  As the last of the revealed religions, Islam transcends nations, peoples, and cultures all united for the accomplishment of the will of Allah. And although the Message came down in the Arabic language, Islam is addressed to all nations and peoples. That is why one finds repeatedly in the Quran phrases like ya ayouhaa naas, O ye People; ya ayouhaa llazina ammanou, O you who believe; or ya bani adama, O children of Adam underscoring the universality of the divine Message of Allah.  There is no question of racial superiority, (white, black or coloured, Aryan, or Semitic, African, European, Polynesian or American), rich or poor, men or women.  To all human beings the principles of Islam apply equally; in other words status and superiority in Islam are measured only in terms of godliness. “The most notable among you in the sight of Allah is the one who is the most righteous”: (s.49 Hujurat v. 13).

Islam is a religion that is all-inclusive and non-discriminatory in that the religion accepts and recognizes all earlier monotheist religions revealed by Allah before   Muhamad more than 1400 years ago. Indeed Islam teaches that a muslim who rejects even one prophet who had received a divine Message like Jesus, Moses etc is deemed to be deficient in his Islamic faith.    That is also why Muslim men are allowed to marry Christians and Jews (Ahloul kitab – People of the Book) as revealed in the Quran:(s. 5 Al Maidah v.5. Lawful unto you in marriage are not only chaste women who are believers but chaste women among people of the Book revealed before your time. This stands in sharp contrast to the refusal by some European countries that make it very difficult for their Muslim citizens to practice their religion. Some even resort to legislative measures to disallow minarets even where the building of a mosque is reluctantly permitted, not to mention Friday or Eid prayers in open spaces. These are human rights violations.

Finally under this section, the universality of Islam is powerfully conveyed by Allah in His Message: wa ma arsalnaka illa rahmattan lil qhalalamina  i.e Verily  we have sent you (O Muhamad) only  as  mercy for all Humanity (and all Allah’s creations.) Anbiyaee s. 21 v. 107 complemented by s. Saba 34 v.28; And We have sent you (O Muhamad) as universal Messenger to men them glad tidings; and s. Al-A’raaf s. 7 v. 158: Say (O Muhamad) O mankind  Verily, I am sent to you all as the Messenger of Allah. Notwithstanding Muslims are unfairly accused of intolerance and prone to violence and terrorism. 

Islam and Integration through Peaceful Co-existence

Peace is not a mere word standing in isolated beauty and eloquence; it is chiefly about comportment as the Sage of Yamousokoro the late President Houphouet Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire used to say; the indispensable complement of peace is peaceful coexistence.   The Muslim does not have to compel non-Muslims to embrace Islam: this should only be achieved  through persuasion and conviction as there is no compulsion in Islam:  Let there be no compulsion in Religion (for) Truth stands out clear from error. Sura Kafiroun (s.109 v. 1-6) is even more categoric: Oh you who reject faith, I worship not that which you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your way, and to me mine.

It is Allah Who has ordained kindness to neighbours and reconciliation of peoples as revealed specifically in sura 4 Nissai v. 36: Worship Allah and join not any partners with Him in worship and be good to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, the poor, the neighbours who are near and the neighbours who are strangers, and the wayfarer. Therefore, reconciling people is a very good way of spreading love, harmony and the spirit of cooperation between people.  Allah says in the Quran There is no good on most of their secret talks save on him who orders charity or righteous deeds and conciliate between mankind, he does this seeking the good pleasure of Allah.  In other words Allah favours dialogue and the peaceful resolution of differences and conflicts. (That Islam’s message revolves around peace, co-existence, the dignity of human-beings, social justice and the moral community and love) is further exemplified in Surah-Al Maida, s.5 verse 32 where Allah (SWT) says “If anyone killed a person it would be as if he killed all mankind, and whosoever saves a life, would be as if he has saved the life of all the people.  This verse clearly asserts the sanctity of life in Islam.

Islam`s advocacy for peace and the promotion of peaceful co-existence can further be elucidated as follows:  Islam enjoins the Muslim to have love and sympathy for others and to fight all forms of violence and the forces of evil  in order that the world as a whole enjoys peace,  security and stability.  To this end, very early Islam fought racism as illustrated by the following Message: Oh Mankind we created you from a male and female And make you nations and tribes so that you would relate among you.   This Message is in fact one that encourages integration in that the differentiation in the descendants of Adama into diverse peoples, languages and colours is a divine design to enable different people to exchange resources through trade and knowledge for the common good.

Islam addressed very early all the forces of trouble and instability in the relations between peoples by calling for and promoting the spread of peace and justice on earth. Thus Allah says: When you judge between people, judge equitably as revealed in Surah 4 Al Nisa verse 135: “Oh you who believe, stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah, even against yourselves or your parents, or your kin and whether it is against rich or poor”; and in Maida s.5 v.8 God exhorts us again to be just as that is next to piety.  If you judge, judge in equity for Allah loves those who judge in Equity (s 5 Maida v.42).  Practice equity, this is the closest to piety. Sheikh Ahmad Tidjaan, Sheriff, founder of the Tijadnaniya Sect, had said The Muslim is   someone who respects the rights of others even over and above his own, complemented by Alhaji Malick  Mawdowho said Treat justly friend and enemy and honour a stranger and you will be honoured.

When Muhamad (saws) found Jews and Christians in Medina, on the historic occasion of the establishment of the first Islamic Government in the holy City State of Medina, he signed a Treaty with them protecting and guaranteeing their legitimate rights. This practice was replicated in similar situations among other Christian and non-muslim communities wherever Islam was implanted even where the event was preceded by a war.  And it was to avert bloodshed and promote peace that Muhamad abandoned Mecca, his birth place, and migrated to Medina.  Returning to Mecca for the first time after six years exile to perform the umrah, Mohamad even desisted from entering Mecca for the pilgrimage after protracted and difficult overgenerous concessions to his enemies of Mecca whose sole aim was to prevent him from entering the city to perform religious rites.  But his compromise was just to avoid bloodshed and ensure the prevalence of peace; by so doing he scored a major diplomatic victory which eventually enabled him to return triumphantly the following year to perform the Hajj and subsequently gain control of Mecca.

It is narrated that Omar Ibn Khatab, one of the four Magnificient Shahaba, Companions of the Prophet, visited a church in Jerusalem under Muslim sovereignty at the time. At prayer time the priests offered him a suitable corner inside the church to pray but he courteously declined the offer and decided to go outside and pray. It is explained that he made the decision because he feared that if he had prayed inside the church, Muslims would be tempted one day in the future to seize the church from the Christians and transform it into a mosque using his name as justification. So by this action Omar wanted to save the sanctity of a place of worship the church which, it is said, still stands on the same site in Jerusalem and that the place where Seydina Omar prayed outside the church became a mosque to this day. This is another illustration that peace and the respect for other religions are central in Islam.

Islam and Development                         

Allah exhorts us to work and engage in exchanges through peace meaning the establishment of good relations of all kinds, including trade and economic ties between individuals and among nations for their mutual benefit and development. The Prophet (saws) has also said that nothing in man is better than his sweat – meaning work. This work ethos is amply demonstrated by the fact that all prophets of Allah had two or more occupations. Prophet Dawda (David) is outstanding because he fed himself and his family from his creation and work. Muhamad was a shepherd, just as Musa was before him, prior to becoming a trader transporting goods over long distances on behalf of Khadija, while the Shabas (His Companions) used to alternate between work and prayers. Through work mankind can satisfy his needs as Allah (SWT) has created the world and endowed it with inexhaustible resources for the sole benefit of humanity among all His creations.  The Prophet himself said God loves the believer who has an occupation

In this context we know that famous Senegambian religious leaders like Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, (1852 -1927) drawing inspiration from the Quran and Hadith, said “Work as if you will never die and always pray as if you are going to die tomorrow” (s.28 v.77) thus inculcating in his disciples and talibes (followers) - Mourides - the virtues of work as a necessary complement to worship. Indeed on formally launching Mouridism around 1887 Seringe Bamba convinced his followers who were mainly peasant farmers, with the slogan “Ligey si toppa yalla la boka i.e Work is part of religion. Today the Mouride is identified with hard work whether as a farmer, businessman, entrepreneur or hawker any where from Dakar to New York, Banjul, Abidjan to Milan and Tokyo with the result that Touba, the capital of Mouidism, an obscure village when founded by Bamba in 1889, is today second only to Dakar (capital of Senegal) in size, (with a population (over 1.5 million), in economic activity and development. Indeed Mouridism is a good example of effective collective self-reliant development worth emulating. When Alhaji Malick Sy (Mawdo) (1855 – 1922) was confronted by the belligerent French colonial administrators he summarily neutralized them by saying: I only teach and cultivate the land and the only arms I have are my beads (kourouss).  Serigne Mass Kah (1827- 1936 {Bala Saho}) of Medina in Niumi, North Bank, one of The Gambia’s best known religious and saintly leaders, was also at the same time a great teacher and farmer.  Amadou Ampate’ Bah wrote “For my Master Thiernor Bocar Taal, the Sage of Banjagara, to allow the Rainy Season to pass without farming is a serious sin in the Eyes of ALLAH.”

Islam is, therefore, about bringing out the best in mankind to enable him to exploit the resources of the earth and worship his Lord. This means advocating and promoting development materially and spiritually.

For many contemporary economists, especially of the Adam Smith/Keynesian School and Marxism, development is a process which is supposed to free people from fear of want and exploitation through individual effort under capitalism and collectively for socialists/communists.  Notwithstanding, both Capitalism and Communist, in their pure and extreme forms, have failed as development models. At the same time the development programmes and strategies imposed on weak developing countries by the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and IMF), especially through their Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) of the 1980s and the earlier Economic Programmes (ERP), merely aggravated the living conditions of poorer populations of the South Africa in particular.  In the formulation and implementation of these development models in the 19th and 20th century no consideration    was given to Islamic values or even the cultural norms of beneficiary peoples.     Yet the Quran contains good social and economic principles and practices that could have been usefully adapted to global economic systems that would have contributed to real human development.

As development must address poverty and bring about social justice, Islam can contribute immensely to bring this about because instead of seeking development as an end per see, Islam sees and understands development both as a means and an end, in both material and spiritual terms. Has this not been amply demonstrated by the fact while the great banks and financial institutions in the West are collapsing together with their economies despite mammoth “bailouts” that are now causing demonstrations, protest marches by ordinary people in America and Europe against excessive capitalism, economic inequality and social injustice blamed on Wall Street and the Euro zone debt crisis. These crises have created   deep fault lines between the haves and have-nots in the hitherto prosperous capitalist world and is dangerously widening into a serious socio-political abyss with all its implications.  The haves and have-nots is no longer the clear politico-economic boundary demarcating the world into the two separate compartments of the so-called rich countries of the North and the poor countries of the South; it is now a universal phenomenon.    Paradoxically it is Communist China, the Muslim Gulf States and the emerging countries, qualified in the heyday of capitalism as under-developing or developing, now members the BRICS Group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) that are being solicited to bail out the West from its financial and economic quagmire. Interestingly Muslim countries and countries that have large Muslim populations  - Saudi Arabia,  Indonesia, Malaysia, China, India, Russia, to name some, and Islamic banking and financial institutions as well as many developing countries, have not generally been severely affected by the global economic and financial crisis.

The Senegambian Model and Experience

The Gambia and Senegal are unique in Africa and the world as a whole with regard to religious tolerance,   peaceful coexistence among people and ethnic groups of different of religions.  The main reason is the originality and Africanite’(Senghor) of the kind of Islam we practise. In Senegambia people live in perfect harmony in cities, towns and villages as brothers, neighbours and as one community irrespective of religious affiliation. This is exemplary considering that the Muslim population is over 90 per cent in both countries and that the small indigenous Christian minority’s contribution to this excellent relationship is laudable.

Christians and Muslims exchange gifts during each other’s holy festivities ; Muslims generously offer mutton to their Christian neighbours and friends during Tobaski (Eid el Kabir) just as Christians make gifts of naanmbourou, (a special porridge made of rice and baobab milk - bouy) that they prepare during Easter, to their Muslim friends and neighbours.    These fraternal religious traditions practised for centuries are as strong today as they were in the past having been firmly integrated into the local custom and culture of Gambians and Senegalese. Furthermore, despite the fact The Gambia is a predominantly Muslim country (being a secular state par excellence and NOT AN ISLAMIC STATE), Islam and Christianity are given their rightful place during official and state functions which, traditionally, are always opened with prayers offered by and Imam and a Christian priest successively. I have not seen this wonderful practice anywhere else in the world.

At the Official Opening of the King Fahad Mosque by President Jawara and the Imam Ratib of Banjul, Alhaji Abdoulai Jobe, on 17th February 1988, all the three min Gambian churches (Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist) were represented by their Heads (Bishops or its equivalent) who were prominently seated together with the Imams and Muslim elders. After the opening ceremony they and other Christian guests were treated to a conducted tour inside the Mosque. More recently Bishop Telewa Johnson, Head of the Anglican Church, has been attending the mammoth Tijanniya Gamo (Mawloud Nabi - celebration of Muhamad’s Birthday) at the 22 July Square.  Recently Imam Tafsir Gaye was among Special Guest Speakers on the launching of George Gomez’ book about Jesus Christ (From Jerusalem to Calvary) together with Bishops and Heads of the three Gambian Churches. Quite recently the Point Newspaper reported in their edition of 21st September 2011 that  a Catholic delegation, led by Father Edu Gomez, paid a courtesy call on the  Imam Ratib of Brikama to congratulate the Imam and Muslims on the occasion of Koriteh which marks the end of Ramadan. Coinciding with UN International Peace Day is this not a wonderful lesson to the whole world?

Gambian Muslims and Christians share their joys and sorrows – weddings, funerals and other occasions - as one community. This is exemplified by he fact that on the 20th Anniversary of the demise of our Master and sports mentor, A C Andrews (popularly known as ACA), I was honoured and privileged to be invited not only as one of his many former students, who were very close to him, at the prestigious Methodist Boys’ High School but also as one of the guest speakers; it was humbling experience and privilege.   In fact it was through the late ACA that I became familiar with the Bible and was introduced to that noble game of cricket together with Abou Dandeh Njie, Dawda Jagne/Tim, Egba Cole  to name a few, as well as Fisco and Tapha Kah and others, many club and Test (international) glories.  Similarly the funeral of Rev. Francis Forbes was attended by countless Muslim sportsmen, including Biri, to pay their last respects to Eku Ndayo who, with Biri, many believe have been the most talented and greatest Gambian footballers ever; above all Ekou Ndayo was a good man, a man of God. May Their Souls Rest in Perfect Peace.    

What will Christmas be like in Banjul without the Muslims? Throughout Christmas week up to New Year’s Day Muslim and Christian youths, boys and girls, men and women drum, dance and sing with their masquerades (Kankourang, makalo and now hunting/gesseh) in the festive atmosphere of a carnival along the main streets of Banjul, the capital city. At night processions of fanals (miniature ships and boats built by traditional craftsmen) and lantin (lanterns), inherited by the early settlers of Banjul from Ndar (St.Louis in Senegal) in the early19th century, parade round the city.  In addition, there used to be a Ndongo ritual to beat the effigy of Judas at Easter by dragging it along the streets of Banjul singing Judas do rery ngone i.e. Judas will not eat dinner this evening, before burying the effigy of sack and grass roughly on the murky and muddy shores of

Hopkinson Street
, Lasso Wharf and Malfa. That symbolic act was to recall the sacrilegious betrayal of Jesus by Judas leading to his capture and crucifixion.  That highly symbolic pantomime act was a ritual reenacted by Muslim youths (the legendary Ndongos) year in year out during our childhood days in Banjul and Afdaay in particular.

Hopkinson Street
, Lasso Wharf and Malfa. That symbolic act was to recall the sacrilegious betrayal of Jesus by Judas leading to his capture and crucifixion.  That highly symbolic pantomime act was a ritual reenacted by Muslim youths (the legendary Ndongos) year in year out during our childhood days in Banjul and Afdaay in particular.

Taking Senegal, it is well known that the late Thiernor Habib Taal, Khalif General of Sheikh Omar Foutiyou, (1794 -1864) used to attend regularly one of the biggest catholic events held annually in Poponguin; he  was a close friend of Cardinal Theodore Sarr,  Archbishop of Senegal.  Abbe Jacques Seck a popular Catholic priest participates quite often in Islamic discussions displaying a good knowledge of Quronic verses.  Not surprisingly it is only in Senegambia that you will see Muslims contributing to reconstruct a church in a state of disrepair when by contrast, in some parts of West Africa and the world, Christians and Muslims are not only killing one another but more unfortunately each group seems bent on outdoing the other in their nefarious and evil acts of burning down mosques and churches both revered as the House of God the Almighty, the Merciful.    

This is perhaps the right place to recall that religious affiliation has never  prominently influenced our national politics as demonstrated by the history of political development in Senegambia. For example in the 1950s and 1960s there was a strong rivalry between the Gambia Muslim Congress composed of the Banjul Muslim elite,  the United Party, led by Pierre Sarr Njie (a proselyte Muslim born Catholic) and the Democratic Party of Rev. J.C. Fye (an Anglican priest). Interestingly in Banjul, where the electoral franchise was first introduced, the Muslim elders and voters strongly supported the UP and Rev. Fye against the Congress Party in the capital city the vast majority of whose population were and are still Muslims. In any other country in a similar situation the Muslim Congress would have fared much better or even swept the polls whether at the municipal or legislative elections.  When the PPP openly entered the political arena in 1959 (Cham Joof and Kairaba) and took over political power of the country, its leader David Kairaba Jawara was a then Christian convert from a staunch Muslim family; but that did not seem to have disturbed the vast majority of religious leaders and customary leaders and religious and their customary leaders from the traditionally conservative and sometimes fanatically Muslim constituencies in rural Gambia. And going back earlier to the first General Elections in the Colony in 1947 (Banjul and Kombo St. Mary), the largely Muslim electorate voted into the Legislative Council veteran Pan Africanist Edward Small, a devout Christian. 

A similar scenario obtained in Senegal during the struggle for independence       

in the 1950s. The domination of Senegalese politics by the urban elite of St. Louis, Rufisque and Dakar/Goree from the early times of Blaise Jagne to Lamine Gaye was brought to an end by Leopold Senghor a Catholic of rural origin.  With the support of the majority Muslim population and leaders the Mourides, in particular, under their Khalif Serigne Falilou Mbake on the one hand, and of  Thierno Seydou Nourou Taal Khalif of the historic family of Sehou Omar Foutiyou on the other, Senghore swept the polls and ended the domination of Lamin Gueye (Gaye) a  Muslim political giant. Senghor governed Senegal, independent since 1960, for decades before voluntarily retiring at he end of 1980 and handing over to Abdou Douf whose wife, incidentally is Christian. President Diouf was replaced democratically by Aboulaye Wade whose spouse is not a Muslim either -  extraordinary for  a country which is one of the most islamized in  Africa and the home of the biggest and most powerful Tourouq (tariqha) – Tijanniya, Mouridism and Qadriya -  in West Africa.

These and other examples of peaceful coexistence and inter-communal solidarity cited earlier in this presentation are exemplary cases of the tolerance of Islam that we have inherited direct from our fathers and forefathers in Senegambia since Islam reached our sub-region around the 8th century A,D.  and which we continue to practise in that pure form and should hand down to our children and posterity. These excellent experiences in relations between Muslims and Christians in Senegambia, exceptional as they are, should not be surprising if measured against the good relations Muhamad (Saws) had with Christians in Medina, Ethiopia and elsewhere from which Muslims should draw inspiration and easily emulate.  This happy situation, that is unique in the world, can only be attributed to the respect and practice of the Islamic values of tolerance, love, peaceful coexistence with others, which has made our small corner on earth a haven of terranga (hospitality and genorosity), peace and stability where anyone from anywhere can live, work and worship freely  Happily our secular and spiritual leaders are promoting and practising, by example, the very high values of Islam and religion in general, model worthy of emulation  by humanity as a whole.


In our contemporary world order of globalization, we must recognize religion, especially Islam, as a powerful spiritual capital for social peace. To this end we must continue efforts to change the partisan perception of Islam which sees Muslims everywhere as a threat. Those who spread islamophobia, mainly through ignorance, should be enlightened to desist from the language of insecurity, imagined fear and threats, or prejudice and  permanent conspiracy. Muslims all over the world must, therefore, also contribute positively by always conducting themselves in the exemplary manner of the Holy Prophet (saws) and as we do so naturally in The Gambia. Only then can there be lasting peace and a real hope for the salvation of mankind as a whole. Without peace we will neither be able to work, produce or play, nor even have the time to worship.                  ______________________________


Selection of major publications and unpublished writings from the same author

-           Senegambian Ethnic Groups : Common Origins and Cultural Affinities – Factors and  Forces of National Unity, Peace and Stablity (January, 2010).

-           Democracy, Governance and Peoples’ and Human Rights in the Pre-colonial States of  the Greater Senegambian Basin – Institutional Framework, Traditions and Practices from the 13th to the 19th Century

(January, 2011).

-           Soundjata Keita, Founder of the Mali Empire, First World Leader to Abolish Slavery in the 13th Century (2007).

-           Challenges and Prospects of Regional Integration: The West African Perspective (Paper presented at Tenth Roots International Festival 2011 – Celebrating African Unity. (Not yet published).
Alhaji Ebou Momar Taal, Ndongo Daara Afdaay