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.
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.