“I really empathise with the Ahmadis,” Imam Baba Leigh told this reporter. “I’m a regular Muslim. I am neither an Ahmadi, neither a Wahhabist or an extremist.”
Imam who returned from exile is among prominent Gambians who express concerns about the fate of the country’s Ahmadiyya Islamic sect members. Ahmadis too were subjected to the ousted former President Yahya Jammeh’s harassment and discrimination. A
recent brawl over denial of burial rights to a deceased Ahmad at Tallinding has forced the sect to break their silence, reminding Gambians that religious intolerance has no place in the country’s new democratic dispensation.
Several-hour long standoff occurred on Sunday May 7, 2017 at Talinding (some 7 km away from Banjul) after members of the Ahmadiyya community were barred from entering into the area’s cemetery to bury a deceased person. A group of youths believed to be in collusion with Gambia Supreme Islamic Council were behind the move that prompted the police to intervene and avoid unnecessary clash. In his Eid-ul-Fitr Message, President Adama Barrow reiterated his commitment to fostering unity in the tiny West African nation.
Imam Leigh is a renowned Muslim cleric, who was illegally detained for six months by the Jammeh regime for condemning the execution of death row inmates in September 2022, said Muslims should follow into the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad ((PBUH). “The Holy Prophet had lived peacefully with pagans, Jews and non-Muslims. He advised all his followers to do so to maintain the spirit of good neighborliness,” he said, questioning the genuineness of country’s highest Islamic body’s behaviour towards Ahmadis. “If the Supreme Islamic Council can live with other Muslim brotherhoods, why can’t they accept the Ahmadis?”
The outspoken imam said the Ahmadis are not on the terror watch list. “Instead, they are contributing their quota to national development through their schools and health facilities.”
He said it is ‘un-Islamic’ to deny dead Ahmadis the right to buried at the Tallinding cemetery.
Gambian cartoonist blamed the former State House Imam and prominent member of SIC for inciting violence against the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jaamat. “Imam Abdoulie Fatty is on record for promoting violence against religious minorities. His attacks on the Ahmadis and Shias are still vivid for many Gambians,” Aba T. Hydara recalled.
In his latest work, Hydara’s satire “exposes those who use their position and influence to spread tentacles of extremism in the country.”
During his 22-year misrule rule, Dictator Jammeh had succeeded in transforming the SIC into an instrument of oppression, disunity and hatred. Instead of allowing the umbrella Muslim organisation to build bridges with different sect, Jammeh hid behind the Council to validate his attacks on minority groups, particularly the Ahmadis.
Some people accused the Council of trying to promote their Saudi imported Wahabi ideology in the country. One man holds this accusation is the grandson of the late Sheikh Sidat Hydara, best known as Sidat Jambur. He was surprised about the ‘resounding silence’ over the Talinding incident. “None of the Gambia Islamic Council members publicly condemned the act,” he voiced out, advising that “President Barrow should be very careful about Abdoulie Fatty and the entire council.”
To many observers, the Council’s silence or failure to condemn the action of some Talinding youths for refusing burial rights to a dead Ahmadi had exposed their true colour.
The third deputy Amir of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat in The Gambia Alhagi Ebrahima Mbowe, who spoke to this reporter, said their tussle with the
council is a long-standing problem.
“It started in 1997 when Jammeh and his cohort visited Saudi Arabia.They were promised a lot by the Saudis, and the only thing they can do to please them is to wipe the Ahmadis out of The Gambia,” he revealed. “That was the agenda.”
He went further to say that a turning point was reached when former Gambian leader returned back to Banjul. “The first Friday following their visit to Saudi Arabia was used by Imam Fatty to launch his most aggressive anti-Ahmadi diatribe. President Jammeh was sitting not far from him,” he recalled.
The Ahmadiyyat leader said the State House imam used his Friday sermon as a platform to threaten civil peace and incite violence against the Ahmadis. “Imam Fatty said the Ahmadis are not Muslims and they should take them to July 22 Square to kill them,” Mbowe stated.
“The council has been used as an Islamic institution to castigate the Ahmadis. From 1997 to date, there are more than 10 incidents directed against our community,” he said.
Mbowe said they are still pushing the Salafist agenda, and that is what prompted Yahya Jammeh to engage the services of Pakistani preacher Zakir Naik to come to Gambia and mount unprecedented attacks against the Ahmadis.
He called on the new authorities to make sure that Gambia remain a secular State.