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Thursday, 27 December 2012 17:05(Opinion) – Gambians claim to be God fearing. Yet it is exactly the opposite that holds true in this small state where the majority of people claim to be good Muslims.
A faith which we practice externally and show all the outwardly accoutrements of being Muslims but inwardly we are anything but Muslims. Fear of God is an essential attribute of a believer and Muslims are enjoined:
"Not to take two gods. He is only One God. So dread Me alone." (Sura an-Nahl: 51)
Yet since the coming into power of President Yahya Jammeh it has become overtly evident that Gambians do not fear God but fear the man - Jammeh. The statements, actions, denials, subterfuge from persons in leadership including religious leaders are a clear manifestation that Gambian leaders and the general public fear Jammeh more than they fear their Lord and Maker.
Examples abound of instances when fear of the man more than of Allah was manifested by Muslim leaders but the most recent is the arrest and detention of Imam Baba Leigh in unexplained and shady circumstances.
The silence of the Islamic Leaders under the leadership of the Supreme Islamic Council is deafening. Not a word of denunciation or a public meeting with the President to plea (Not that I agree with this trend) the case of the Imam.
After all the trend in The Gambia is to plea for mercy even when it is obvious that apologizing and asking for forgiveness are not warranted. In actual fact, it should be the other way round-Jammeh asking for forgiveness for wrongful arrest, detention, abduction, dismissal, seizure of property, imprisonment or even murder.
Yet struggling against this evil and standing up to it instead of acquiescing with it requires spiritual strength. This strength derives from fear of the one, true and ever living God. A God fearing person is not enslaved by his/her selfishness. The awe that s/he has for God repels him/her away from all things unworthy, untrue and false.
Instead of living up to the teachings of the Holy Quran and the Hadiths, our religious leaders preferred to bow and kowtow to the rantings of an individual – an individual whom they are infinitely more learned than; a man whose knowledge of the Quran is questionable, whose fear of God is questionable.
However, as he showers them with money and other material goods they try to justify the unjustifiable and by so doing mislead their followers into believing that which is not right.
Imam Baba Leigh, whose faith in God and fear of the Almighty was much stronger than the fear of mere human being refused to succumb to such tactics. This was his only crime as he had the courage to stand up and to speak out against the wrongs that were going on in Gambian society. He refused to be manipulated and to be coerced into dancing to the tune of Jammeh’s rantings and ravings. He based his teachings on the Holy Quran and drew inspiration from his fear of God which enabled him to act responsibly towards his congregation, the Gambian public and above all his God.
Most of his fellow Imams deviated from this path and consequently chose to demonize Imam Baba Leigh ultimately allowing the wolves to devour him without standing up for their own. To them he got his just dues as this is the usual cloak that they tend to hide behind.
That whoever is harassed, intimidated, imprisoned or killed got what they deserved as if one who does not do anything then no harm will befall him or her. This misleading stance has seen so many innocent people victimized with not a word put in their favour.
Failure to fear God results in some other mundane fears such as fearing a fellow human being. Faced with a potential danger such as dismissal from employment resulting in loss of income, reprisals, arrest, torture, imprisonment or killing has made the majority of Gambians to be seized with hopelessness and despair; abdicate their responsibility and not only that but to try to coerce the non-conformist into silence.
Those who refuse to be influenced are stigmatized and branded as enemies of the state, those who tarnish the image of the country and who are unpatriotic Gambians. Those who have the moral conscience to speak up are now labeled and made to be outcasts by the very society that they are trying to educate, stand up for and empower.
Imam Baba Leigh was one such person. Not only was he a religious leader but he was a human rights advocate emphasizing that these rights were guaranteed in the Holy Quran even before the Human Rights Instruments were developed.
He was a member of the GAMCOTRAP Board of Governors, an alumni of the International Visitors Leadership Programme of the US Government and many other programmes that promoted rights based approaches to development. Religion he believed was not exclusive of politics and development work and he played his role when and how he could to the extent of participating in election observations.
He stood up for what he believed in and not in Jammeh. He believed in and feared his God. He urged his congregation to fear God with the fear that is due to Him and to no one else. The more a believer fears God the more truthful, upright and righteous s/he becomes. This of course did not go well with Jammeh who has deified himself and has mis-led his people to believe that he is a demi-god.
This myth has been consolidated by his cronies, by the so called religious leaders, by community leaders and political leaders who give the impression that Jammeh can do no wrong that he is divine and that people should submit to his will. They do so without any aversion or revulsion.
Baba Leigh is not the only religious leader let down by the Supreme Islamic Council. Prior to him and in the most recent past Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana was arrested, detained, tortured and now has joined the long list of self-exiled Gambians. Another big loss for The Gambia is that the young people have no role models in our religious leaders, in particular the Muslim ones.
Our Supreme Islamic Council are rather more comfortable to worship a man who portrays himself to be a believer and friend of Islam, knowing fully well that he is worse than a non-believer; knowing fully well that what he practices and what he preaches are as different as day and night. In my view, the role of the SIC, beyond their spiritual guidance one is to speak truth to power, defend the weak and speak up for the voiceless.
The world is watching The Gambia, the country where fear of a human being surpasses fear of God. When it will end God alone knows. People deserve the leaders they get and Gambians have got the leader we deserve. Imam Baba Leigh does not deserve prison. Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana does not deserve to be exiled. They deserve the freedom to propagate their religion, express their views and to fight for the rights and the dignity of their fellow human beings.
Written by Ndey Tapha Sosseh
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