The trend that the raging debate on secularism is taking seems to have plunged this country into quite an unnecessary heightened tension between the secularists and the religious extremists. While we can understand that the great majority of those making such disparaging remarks about secularism have not the slightest idea about the word ‘secular’, what is however disappointing is the involvement of a few well educated people in fanning the tension by deliberately misinterpreting the meaning of the concept of secularism. One would wonder what those few intellectuals hope to achieve by seeking to plunge this country into a religious conflict.
Obviously, everyone agrees that the Gambia has ever been a secular state with the law guaranteeing every Gambian and non-Gambian living in this country the right to practice whatever religion they choose to follow, and it had never been an issue, whether or not the word ‘secular’ is put in the Constitution. According to one dictionary definition, Secularism simply means; “the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions”.
However, one would be tempted to question why the Christians and the secularists are demanding that the word be specifically entrenched in the Constitution when it had never been the case in our past Constitutions. The answer should be quite obvious to any reasonable person. As the Wollofs say; “anyone whose grandparent was killed by a ‘ndobin’ (hornbill) would be scared of anything black”. Therefore, considering the unilateral declaration of the Gambia as an Islamic Republic in 2015 by ex-President Yahya Jammeh, it makes quite a lot of sense for the secularists and the Christians, in particular, to demand a much stronger guarantee that never again will another head of state do such a thing; and putting the word ‘secular’ in Section 1 of the Constitution would definitely be quite re-assuring to the Christian community in particular. If our neighbor, Senegal, which has much more powerful Islamic brotherhoods to which most of these extremists look up to for spiritual guidance, can have secularism specifically included in its Constitution, why not the Gambia?
It is indeed quite dishonest for these extremists to deliberately misinterpret secularism as anti-religion when it simply means state neutrality with regards to religion, creating a level playing field within which all faiths can co-exist peacefully and harmoniously. Therefore, it is not anti-religion but rather a key ingredient of religious tolerance within a multi-religious country like the Gambia.
We all know that this debate is part of the vestiges of the Jammeh dictatorship when people were conditioned to think and behave in a particular way with regards to religion. What is even more interesting is the fact that most of those behind the vitriolic campaign against the inclusion of the word ‘secular; in the Constitution are the very people with the worst record during that period. Most of them not only kept mute despite all the atrocities that were being committed against ordinary Gambians, but some of them also fully participated in the process by constantly praise singing and patronizing President Jammeh in almost everything that he was doing, apparently because of fear, as well as the crumbs they used to get from him. We have all heard from the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) the horrible things that the Jammeh regime were committing in this country but none of those making noises about secularism ever raised their voices against such atrocities. All that we have been hearing from them was to endorse virtually everything he did, even to the extent of conferring on him all sorts of grandiose Islamic titles like Nasirul Deen.
In addition to the unilateral declaration of the Gambia as an Islamic Republic, ex-President Jammeh also encouraged the building of mosques in public institutions in