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Shiasm in The Gambia

Jun 25, 2008, 7:35 AM | Article By: By Amadou Dibba, Serrekunda

Dissection of Comments

Having closely considered the recent revelation on the presence and activities of people of the Shia Islamic sect in The Gambia and the recommendations put forth by the Islamic conference responsible for such insightful comments, I feel duty-bound as a concerned Muslim to pen a word or two, especially as the comments made by one of the panelists at the Talinding conference, Imam Abdoulie Fatty, have attracted thinly-veneered vitriol from Baba Leigh, the Imam of Kanifing East.

From the outset, it is pertinent to recapitulate what Imam Fatty is reported to have said at the conference. According to the news item on the conference, Imam Fatty and other learned Islamic scholars have alerted people about the recent intensification of activities by followers of the Shia sect, which is allegedly seeking to "convert" other Muslims outside its fold. Of perhaps greater significance, Imam Fatty's remarks also touched on the foundation and doctrine of the Shia sect, a conspicuous feature of which is the apparent disregard and lack of recognition for the exalted position of the other three Khaliphs, eminent leaders of the Islamic Ummah in the first century after the demise of the Holy Prophet of Islam, Muhammad [peace and blessing of Allah (SAW) be upon him]- hence Imam Fatty's call for Muslims to be wary of the designs of Shia missionaries and their henchmen who he said should not be welcomed.

On the other hand, Imam Baba Leigh has used arguments of tolerance and the need for the unity of the Islamic Ummah in spite of, in his words, "so called religious differences". He made reference to the age-old presence of people of Lebanese origin and the immense contribution they have been making to the socio-economic advancement of The Gambia. Aside from the emphasis Imam Leigh placed on then material benefits forthcoming from our brothers and sisters of Lebanese origin (all of whom, I dare say, are not Shias), he has for reasons best known to himself avoided making reference to the root cause of the rift between Sunni and Shia sects of Islam-the dishonour of the three great Khaliphs before Khaliph Ali (peace be upon them). What people of my ilk would have expected Mr Leigh to clarify is whether or not it is not against Islamic proprieties to disrespect any one Khaliph in favour of another; whether or not the uncanny audacity to do so is not more likely to antagonise a greater part of the Muslim brotherhood and therefore sow the seeds of discord. But not some feeble defence he has attempted to put up in saying that he is not being bankrolled by any and taking on the mantle of a pious peacemaker! It is important for all to understand that whatever one might say of oneself is not half as important as what society may perceive of him as a result of his conduct or pronouncements. In that light, I believe, it is the substance of Mr.Leigh's pronouncements in his piece that will, in the final analysis, dictate people's conception of his motive and not his claim of not being bankrolled by anybody.

Incidentally, if tolerance in religion consists in allowing people to practise their religion without persecution or violence of any kind on account of their faith, I believe that Imam Leigh's attempt to invoke constitutional provisions on tolerance is misplaced as Imam Fatty's suggestion to Gambians not to welcome Shias is not a call to arms for what it is worth. I could even remember Sheikh Gibril Kujabi saying at the conference that so far as they do not attempt to interfere with the religious ignorance of a good few of Gambian Muslims by trying to convert them, the Shia followers might carry out any development project beneficial to The Gambians as spreading a belief and bringing about development can be mutually exclusive.

Having stated the foregoing, let me conclude by noting that in matters of religion chicanery or glib comments may glitter for some time but they do not crystallise at the end of the day for they soon dissipate and scatter into oblivion because they proceed from dubious motives.