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Islamic Council: Gambia should never be secular state

Dec 18, 2019, 3:20 PM

The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) strongly reaffirms its position against the controversial word ‘secularism’ in the draft constitution. The council said Gambia has never and should never be a secular state.

“It should remain a non-secular state. This is what we inherited from the founding fathers of the nation and this is what is deeply rooted in our social norms and values,” Sheik Hama Jaiteh said yesterday during a press conference at the SIC headquarters along the MDI road.

The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) last month released the first draft constitution of the Republic of The Gambia. However, since the draft was released, it has sparked a huge controversy, especially on social media over secularism.

Meanwhile, the Christian community on the other hand, is calling for the inclusion of the word ‘secular’ in the preamble of the final draft of the country’s constitution.

Sheik Hama Jaiteh said: “Our non-secular status has provided us all the peaceful co-existence, freedom of conscience, liberty to embrace any conviction and the right to enjoy any religious, political, denominational affiliation without being subjected to any restraint or persecution.”

“We understand that there are many Gambians including the Gambia Christian Council (GCC) who are trying to cunningly link their demand for secularism with the unilateral declaration of The Gambia as an Islamic state in 2015 by the former president,” he acknowledged.

However, he said, that was very ‘unfortunate and quite misleading.’ “All these with their full knowledge that the first attempt to secularise and deconsecrate our lives, cultures and moral values started in 2001, fourteen years before that unilateral declaration.” Mr. Jaiteh added: “It cannot escape any reasonable mind that, the single word of secular in the constitution wouldn’t have precluded the former president to make such a declaration or prevent any other likeminded president to make such declaration in the future. We have no doubt that the secularists would find it difficult to find a reasonable justification for their demand.”

The council, he stated, is aware that some attempts were made to compare The Gambia with our neighbour, Senegal as an example of a secular country which demonstrates peaceful coexistence among different religious groups.

“We do not want to plunge into an endless debate about the difference between Senegalese legal system and political reality with the Gambian one. However, SIC believes that the most appropriate example should be a country that The Gambia shares the same common law and a similar legal system with such as Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Liberia, none of which has the word secular in their constitutions. We see no reason why the Constitution of The Gambia should bear the word?

The SIC member added that noise is being made in some quarters that the constitution should not accommodate Sharia law because they believe that The Gambia is a secular state.

“We assert that The Gambia is not the only country that recognises Sharia law in its constitution. There are many countries around the world including common law countries that adopt Sharia as part of their laws; like Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda and Nigeria, among others.”

Changing the Cadi Court to Sharia Court, he said, is just a correction of a very long standing legal abnormality that had existed more than hundred years (from Muslim Court to Muhammedan Court, Cadi Court and now to Sharia Court); in the same way that current High Court of The Gambia was changed with Supreme Court as the superior court some decades ago.