By Dr Alhagi Manta Drammeh (FHEA, FRSA) Associate Professor, Al-Maktoum College of higher Education, UK
Islam is a religion that has inspired millions of people around the world. However, this beautiful religion has been presented badly by some of its adherents due to sycophancy, ignorance or both. I write this article as a Gambian in the diaspora, but keenly interested in what is unfolding in the Gambia after earning liberation from one of the most brutal dictators of our time. This liberation was earned by the grace of God and the collective effort of the Gambians on the ground and in the diaspora as the saying goes. I am deliberate to differentiate between Muslim thought and Islam. This is intended to say clearly that Islam as an ideal is different from Islam as lived. Therefore, there is a need to understand Islam from both its theological and anthropological perspectives. The ideal of Islam cannot be claimed by anyone. Thus, the lived Islam is complex and varied. It is unfortunate that Islam is presented/misrepresented in a way that does not match its grandeur. According to the later Taha Jabir al-Alwani, Islam is channelled to us through “a thick tangle of transmitted fiqh…) instead of considering the “complex realities of our time… and …respond to the complex needs of modern societies”. Intellectual uniformity is not necessarily positive, while intellectual plurality should not be frowned upon. Cultural intellectuals are supposedly the drivers of change and reform in their respective societies. They should not be agents of stagnation, oppression or hegemony. They should be contributing to the building of the state institutions and structures for good governance by developing the rights of the ordinary people and raising the ambitions of the citizenry. The new political dispensation in the Gambia should not shy away from plurality of ideas and ideologies. Intellectual diversity can develop a civilisation that is built on the rule of law, respect for human dignity and rights, as well as the protection of the minorities, the unprivileged and the powerless. The essence of intellectual diversity is antithetical to extremism and violent ideologies. The insistence of Europe on monoculture held her back for many centuries in what is referred to as the dark Ages until its hard soul-searching and the emergence of the Enlightenment movement and Renaissance. The European Enlightenment freed the clerical establishment form bigotry and led to critical engagement with societal issues. Islamic universality goes beyond narrow national and ethnic parochialism and insularity. Rather, it has come to embrace all regardless of their socio-cultural, economic, political and ethno-linguistic backgrounds. Islamic universalism that is anchored on the uncompromising monotheism (tawhid) has come indeed to liberate individuals and communities. The Islamic universality is one which is comprehensive, compassionate and equitable. It is a universality of mercy and fairness at a global level. Coming closer to home the Gambia, we therefore remind you and ourselves of the Qur’anic ethics of moderation (wasatiyyah) that is inclusive and encompassing. All forms of extremism should not be encouraged as extremism may lead to violence and militancy that may threaten the stability and peace of our dear country. Extremism whether secular or religious should be combatted. Shari’ah is based on wisdom and achieving people’s welfare in this world and hereafter. It is about justice, mercy and good for the society. Any ruling that replaces justice with injustice and mercy with its opposite…does not belong to the shari’ah.. (Ibn al-Qayyim). The whole purpose of Maqasid al-Shari’ah (the Jurisprudence of the Supreme Objectives of Islam) will create new energies for further developing the spirit of Ijtihad and reform through profound reading of the Qur’an discovering its supreme objectives of mercy and compassion, as opposed to imposing harm and inflexibility on the servants. Thus, it is incumbent on one to read the revelation as a text and manifestation on the universe to be able to encapsulate its universal message.