Christian Leaders in Gambia Want their Country Declared a Secular State

Members of the Gambia Christian Council with President Adama Barrow.
Credit: Public Domain

Leaders of Christian denominations in The Gambia have, through their representative body, Gambia Christian Council, submitted a proposal to the Constitutional Review Commission to have the word “secular state” included in the preamble of the new Constitution that is being drafted.

“On 18 December 2018, the Gambia Christian Council submitted to the Constitutional Review Commission its proposal which advocates for the inclusion of the word “secular” and other provisions it wanted to be incorporated into the new constitution,” said the Bishop of Banjul Diocese, Gabriel Mendy in a recent press conference in Banjul.

Since the small West African country was declared an Islamic state by former President Yahya Jammeh, it “has been a testing period for Gambian Christians,” the 52-year-old Gambian Bishop said.

According to the Prelate, Christians in the nation have faced multiple challenges including “encroaching on their land demarcated as cemetery for burials, wearing of veils in Christian run schools, declaring the Gambia as an Islamic State, disparaging remarks about Christianity from the former head of state, the threats to close down the Christian cemetery in Banjul, the invitation of the Islamic Scholar Dr. Zakir Naik who publicly made critical remarks about Christianity.” 

At the conference, the Spiritan Bishop clarified that the concept “secular” is not “irreligious” and does not necessarily exclude religious considerations in everything pertaining to the state such as not having public religious prayers and symbols and emphasized, “this is certainly not what the council is advocating for.”

In 2015, former President Yahya Jammeh, while on a political rally, declared the Gambia an Islamic state saying that the west African nation needs to distance itself from its colonial past.  

The declaration was supported by the Supreme Islamic Council and the Banjul Muslim Elders and shortly after it was made, non-Muslim females working in the civil service were required to dress in veils as per the requirements of Sharia laws.

However, with President Adama Barrow’s government that took over in 2016 and is actualizing the promise of a new constitution, the Constitutional Review Commission is receiving views from the people on what to include in it.

According to the Chairman of the Council, Bishop James Allen Odico, Christianity in the Gambia is overshadowed by ‘Shariah’, which appeared thirty-eight times in the draft constitution.

Further decrying “incidents of bullying and provocation of Christians”, Pastor Seal Jammeh, a member of the council narrated incidents where Christians were oppressed in the nation.

“In Serekunda, two mosques were built to sandwich a Church with their speakers located in the direction of the Church windows, making sure they interrupt the Christian worshippers during fellowship,” Jammeh was quoted saying.

In the Gambia, Muslims are the majority with approximately 95.7 percent of the population. The majority of the estimated 4.2 percent Christian population are Catholics.

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