Re: Gambia and Secularism

BB Sanneh

Great piece and very well presented however, I am not convinced that the idea of secularism in the political context, as adopted today by countries like The Gambia, reflects the philosophical meaning of the ideology as conceived by the developers of the idea or its intended purpose(s), as presented by Mr Sanneh.

Notwithstanding the fact that the idea, like any other, is open to abuse, I think the concept of secularism in the political context is meant to address the challenges that the modern democratic state of equal citizens faces in its Constitutional duties to guarantee equality to, and equal treatment of, ALL its citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs, convictions and/or practices.

Thus, by this understanding, the secular state, rather than actively seeking to diminish the importance of religion in the lives of its citizens, abstains from adopting any religion for the state (as a state religion), or interfering in the religious observance of the people, but instead, provides the environment for its citizens and residents to believe in any region of their choice and to be able to FREELY and openly engage in its observation and rituals, and even propagating it, as long as these do not contravene the laws of the land.

There is absolutely no doubt, that there are individuals, groups, organisations or even “development partners” who may wish to use the opportunity that the adoption of the secular state presents, to pursue agendas that may seek to remove religious belief from our lives, but societies where religion is so ingrained into the subconscious of the people (if you like) would always resist such attempts, overt or covert.

I cannot imagine a time in The Gambia where the government will attempt to ban religious practice or education in our country or attempt to legalise practices that are totally at odds with our moralities, without serious repercussions: even the non practising Muslims and Christians will not stand for such a move, never mind the practising majority.

Societies that have put materialism above everything else certainly suffer from many social vices and evil, but so too do societies where religion is very, very important. You only have to look around the world. I don’t think the adoption of man made laws is to blame.

I don’t also think, perhaps due to my ignorance, that man made laws should be abandoned for Devine Laws because the complexity and diversity of human societies, means adopting one set of Devine Laws, as the law of the land, will be restrictive to those who don’t subscribe to the beliefs of the favoured religion and thus, very unfair.

Moreover, religious laws, unlike man made ones, are not meant to be enforced by an outside authority because when they do, the sincerity of the individual in their belief should be seriously questioned. Observance of religious laws and practices comes from an internal consciousness of the creator that is often described as “Fear of Allah” in the Qur’an, for Muslims. That inner consciousness is the “Policeman” needed for the individual believer’s self enforcement of religious law.

For example:

There are no laws in The Gambia that bars people from drinking alcohol, but majority of Muslims don’t drink;

There are no laws that ban pork, but majority of Muslims don’t eat pork;

There are no laws which make it compulsory for Musims to pray five times a day, but majority of Muslims do just that.

We don’t need religious Police to enforce these Devine Orders. As already pointed out, religious laws are meant to be “enforced” by an inner policeman/woman for the majority of daily living. The creation of “smaller courts” (ie Cadi Courts in the case of Muslims) is sufficient to deal with issues of religious nature between different parties, if they decide to go that way.

Finally, I think if the term “SECULAR” carries the connotations and vices of what Mr Sanneh has alluded to, then perhaps, we should try and coin a term that fittingly reflects what we are trying to do, through the adoption of the concept of SECULAR STATE. I am confident that the vast majority of Gambians have no time for promoting the social vices that are attributed to secularism. The promotion of these vices is not the reason for our adoption of the concept of a Secular state and woe to any government that wishes to push any such agenda on the people.




  1. BB Sanneh

    Thanks for this beautiful rejoinder Bax! I agree that the application of the concept in modern times have varying dynamics – from extreme application as seen in France to mild. That being the case, I wonder what is wrong with our current status quo without the use and application of this foreign secular term in our constitution. Muslims, Christians and others have lived in Gambia for centuries without any major problems and in so far as I know, no particular group including the minorities have been disadvantaged or marginalized. So the question is, why the sudden strong advocacy for this foreign and dangerous concept?

    About your point on the concept being used to address the challenges that the modern democracies face in guaranteeing equability….it might interest you to know that religion especially Islam has its fundamental cornerstone to ensure justice and equality for all. However, unless we understand the concept and purpose of creation, we may not fully appreciate this fact. I am happy to engage with you on this further.

  2. Mr. Sanneh, sometimes your create laws to deter things from happening. When Jammeh declared the Gambia an Islamic state, that did marginalized a group. Post Jammeh, we saw people denying others the right to bury their deceased. We even saw a group been castigated for not been muslims by another group calling themselves muslim going to an extent of trying to influence authorities to deny them TV licence. There is a mosque at state house built from tax payers money including christians no church? So, the law must be progressive and must think about the future. Just to contribute to the debate. I find it really timely and we must discuss.

  3. BB Sanneh

    Sait Matty thanks for joining the debate. Jammeh’s declaration of The Gambia as an Islamic state was hypocritical and politically driven. However, that declaration in itself didn’t marginalized any group because it didn’t come with any application.

    My argument is that secularism that we are endeavoring so much to implement is a religion of its own and would lead to marginalization of other existing religions and practices. Isn’t that injustice and against the very equality that you all perhaps think our current system lacks?

    As for the issue of Ahmadiyas that you quoted above, I bet to defer that was a clear case of impersonation that the main stream Islamic proponents were fighting for and nothing to do with inequality. These are folks who would not pray on our dead and consider the main stream muslims/non ahmadis as non muslims so why should they be allowed to bury their dead in our grave yards? Please refer to the articles I wrote about this topic on the Kairo News archives for details.

    There is no law enshrined in our constitution that sanctions the building of mosque or church in statehouse. However, what we see in state house is a sheer model of worship convenience by the sitting presidents who happened to be muslims and nothing to do with state sanctioned religious preference. In any case, we also have to be cognizant of the fact that Muslims are majority in this country and as in any modern democracy, such inherent realities are just unsurmountable. The United States motto is “In God we trust” – is this not Christian influence? For the record there is no perfect secularism anywhere no a democratic utopia, so it is my strong conviction that our status quo is consonant with the realities of our dynamics and diversity as a people. Attempting to mess it up will only take us back and precipitate a lot of back lash and negative consequences.

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