EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: Gambia Supreme Islamic Council (GSIC) Tuesday said it is strongly reaffirming its position that The Gambia had never been and should never be a Secular State, saying the country 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. 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,” Sheikh Hama Jaiteh, one of its members said at a press conference on Tuesday.
The Council called the press conference to announce its position on some three Sections of the country’s draft constitution, including the debate for the inclusion of a secular state in the draft constitution and the legal age for marriage.
Last Week, Gambian Christian organisations governing body –Gambia Christian Council- also released a 20-point position paper that it observed as omission of secular and related matters in the country’s draft constitution.
The country’s Christian denominations say in December last year, they submitted their contribution to the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) regarding the provisions they wanted to be incorporated into the new constitution and suggested amendments and additions to the provisions of the current 1997 constitution.
But the Islamic Council said it understands that there are many Gambians including the Christian Council, who are trying to cunningly attribute or link their demand for Secularism with the unilateral declaration of The Gambia as an Islamic state in 2015 by the former president, saying that is very unfortunate and quite misleading.
“All these with their full knowledge that the first attempt to secularize and deconsecrate our lives, cultures and moral values started in 2001, fourteen years before that unilateral declaration. And 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,” Saikeh Jaiteh said.
At the Constitutional Review Commission –CRC- West Field engagement on Monday, as part of its second phase public consultation on the draft constitution, Peoples’ Progressive Party –PPP- leader and former agriculture minister, Omar Amadou Jallow –OJ- suggested for the inclusion in the draft constitution that no Mosque or Church should be constructed at all the government-owned public places. He supported the inclusion of ‘Secular’ in the new constitution, saying Secular State mean equality where everyone can practice their personal religious belief.
Secularism became a hard-hitting debate in The Gambia following its non-inclusion in the draft constitution when it was first released in November. “Gambia is a sample in Africa where one cannot distinguish between a Muslim and a Christian. Let us be equal and respect each other’s’ religion,” Mr Jallow said.
Sheikh Jaiteh said Section 9 (e) of the draft Constitution states that Shari’ah, regards matters of marriage, divorce, burial, endowment (waqf) and inheritance among members of the communities to which it applies.
He said GSIC observes that when the draft law treats the original jurisdiction of the Sharia High Court in Section 186(1), it mentions adoption which is not captured in Section 9(e) as part of the laws of The Gambia.
“Section 186 (1)states that as provided in section 184, the Shari’ah High Court has original jurisdiction to hear and determine Shari’ah causes or matters relating to adoption, (kafala) marriage, divorce, burial, inheritance, or endowment (waqf) amongst people who are subject to Shari’ah in that. We recommend that the word adoption be added to Section (9) (e) to harmonize the two sections,” he said.
He said the Council also recommends that the word adoption be given an Islamic interpretation to mean ‘Kafala.’
He said when they submit their rejection of Secularism in 2018, they stated clearly that the status quo should remain (Non-secular state), saying they have good intention of protecting norms and values of all religions in The Gambia.
“The draft law provides sufficient provisions that protect all faiths. Section 8 caters for the enforcement of the Constitution and section 33 provides for the enforcement of Fundamental Human rights and Freedoms. We believe that section 47, which talks about freedom of conscience, section 67 which talks about protection from discrimination and section 151(2) which precludes the National Assembly from declaring any religion as the state religion in addition to the earlier mentioned sections are enough safeguards catering for all possible concerns.”
Sheikh Jaiteh further argued that the draft law should state clearly the qualification of a legal practitioner who can represent a party in Sharia High Court as captured in Section 186 (4) which states that “a party to proceedings in the Shari’ah High Court is entitled to be represented, at his or her own expense, by a person qualified in the Shari’ah or by a legal practitioner.”
Summary of demands
The GSIC demands that Secularism/Secularity/ Secular or words or phrases with similar meaning be never inserted in the constitution.
It demand that Shari’ah law and Shari’ah courts be maintained but with the creation of Shari’ah Divisions in both the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court occupied only by those qualified in Sharia to entertain appeals from the Shari’ah High Court.
It also demands that Marriage be clearly defined to reflect our religious and cultural values.
We demand that the word adoption captured in section 186(1) be added to section 9(e) and be given an Islamic interpretation and that the Legal Practitioners be qualified in Shari’ah before he/she can appear in sharia courts.