It is attractive and plausible for desperate Gambians to support statement against clerics in our current plight. The mere fact that, some clerics occasionally support Yahya Jammeh is sufficient grounds for all out assault on the personalities of our religious scholars.
The fact remains; Yahya Jammeh is a product of secular Gambia. He emanate from an institution whose members bluff more than any other of their extreme secular nature. The security apparatus of the Gambia is seen by many as the least place for committed Muslims. The culture of boozing, womanising and regular engagement in voodoo fetish spiritualism is common currency among the men of the security services. The army, police and customs lay no red carpet for puritans.
Yahya Jammeh came upon us through the army, a place where anyone educated only through the Islamic tradition is disqualified from admittance. The army is just one sector where religious educated or Arabic educated graduates have little or no opportunity whatsoever.
Yet today, few occasional comments by one or two Imams irritate secular Gambia so much, every single religious scholar is quantify as insincere, an hypocrite, and have you. Yet who stands to gain in a Gambia where a dictator like Yahya reigns over?
It is we secular educated Gambians who are enjoying with our dictator of Kanilia. It us who do all the jobs for him which he use to blindfold others in the name of development. It’s us who do all his PR propaganda for him; it’s us who act as his diplomats, validating him across the globe. It is us who form opposition parties against him and contest elections with him, making him legitimate in the eye of the international community. Yet we feel that, religious scholars who gain crumps in all of our mess should be blame because they are men of God and should stay away from politics.
The real reason some religious scholars make statements favourable to Yahya is simply in defence of the one thing that they can rely on to salvage comfort and satisfaction. Their religious principles and the environment in which they can promote what is also important. Yahya Jammeh plays Christians against Muslims, by privately and publicly making favourable comments toward the minority Christian community and attacking the Muslims scholarly base.
The strategy of divide and manipulate is deliberate and a ploy to force the Islamic scholars to favour him, if not he will make the environment in which Islam operates pollutant and difficult for the advocate of Islamic values. I know some people find the whole religious discourse a waste of time and unnecessary, but to others it is more important than any other activity. Therefore the Islamic scholars thread the actions of Yahya with utmost care. They use the scriptures to highlight the effects of dictatorship in a general context. They cannot name Yahya as the President and attack his actions. They have little to gain by confronting Yahya head on.
To make matters much clearer, how many educated Gambians live in the diaspora? How of the educated Gambians are then willing to criticise Yahya’s administrative styles and question his crimes against Gambians in the open witha real name and identity? Now we have to bear in mind that, some conservative estimates put the amount of Gambians in America to be 25,000, in U.K 15,000, In France and Spain much more. Yet this Gambians live over 6,000miles away from the claws of Yahya and his security agents. Only a negligible amount confronts the injustices of the APRC governments and its bully boys.
Comparing the inaction of secular educated Gambians who can go home, take good jobs with pensions and all sorts of benefits with or without Yahya’s government. Gambians who can’t compete with us in the civil service, private sector or for international jobs, we want those people to act in open defiance of a dictator who can kill or lock them on no grounds for what?
Yes, the argument may also be, if you will not condemn a dictator then don’t openly support some of his actions. A valid point, but as I alluded to earlier, if massaging the ego of a dictator means, he will leave people alone to practise their faith and go about preaching religion freely, then the scholars (few) of them for that matter, make comments favourable to Yahya. Whilst any open attack on his government will be taken as a case of hostility and open defiance. Which in turn means, jail or be ready for martyrdom.
Dictatorship is the worst form of government anywhere in the world. But do Gambians want religious personalities to fight secular political battles for them? In our current position, many will say, anything that can unseat Yahya is welcome, but post Yahya, how do we reconcile seeing clerics talking politics?
It is vital that we divorce the spiritual from the normal every day activity. Our Islamic scholars are well meaning and dedicated people. This men and women are educated to highest level. They know the implications of causing harm to people. They also understand the current political situation in the country. The means of involving them in resolving the political dilemma in our country should well be thought out. They have families, responsibilities and with little means from the state or private sector.
Most of the scholars gain their livelihood from NGO’s from other Muslims states. They teach, operate charities and so on, and get paid from charitable sources. Although many of the Arabic educated Gambians specialise in different field of studies, ranging from language, geography, engineering, electrical mechanics, education, theology, history etc, they don’t have the facilities once in the Gambia to learn Basic English language in converting their skills.
Finally, the Islamic scholar that went through proper training and attain high level education will never report one of their own, by doing so many know the implication of that. The Likes of Dr Mbye Kah, Sheik Muhammed Lamin Touray, Sheik Gibreal Kujabi, Imam Abdoule Fatty, Sheik Sidiya Ceesay etc, don’t need any financial reward from the state to sell a fellow scholar. They are all well remunerated through other sources. They are involved in well funded charities and recognised for their sacrifice and academic qualities. Dr Mbye Kah’s PhD thesis was a sort after book in the prestigious Medina University. These men are not recognised by many simply because the Gambia lacks a culture of religious patronage like Senegal. These men will not even entertain anyone venerating them. Islam doesn’t have any window for Priesthood. All this scholars earn their living by engaging in work, the Imam roles are only one part of what they do.
I hope we accord our scholars the respect they deserve and channel our frustration where it will make an impact.