8 January 2013

Gambia: Halifa Writes to Supreme Islamic Council



I wish to take this opportunity to convey to you my concern regarding the arrest and detention of an Imam or should I say abduction and disappearance without trace, since the agents of the state have not publicly confirmed to the press that he is under the custody of the state.

The Supreme Islamic Council is established to perform the following aims and objectives:

4.1 To strive for the complete unity and brotherhood of the Muslim community as well as the immunization of the Muslims from the social vices, such as tribalism, sectarianism and regionalism.

4.2 To develop and strengthen the natural relations among the diverse groups of the people for the attainment of national unity based upon tolerance, co-operation and solidarity in the shade of peace and tranquility.

4.3 To work for harmonisation through co-ordinating the efforts of the Islamic societies, associations and organizations within the country so as to complete the role of each in the Islamic field.

4.4 To work in teaching the society about the Islamic religion, rectifying the misconceptions and fulfilling the obligation of enjoining what is good and forbidding what is bad.

4.5 To encourage the Islamic Educational Institutions and develop their curriculum which will enable them to play an effective educational role in the community.

4.6 To preserve the religious and scientific Islamic heritage of the country and to work towards its teaching and development.

4.7 To render advice and consultation with the state, associations and individuals in accordance with the teaching of the HADITH of the Prophet (S.A.W) in which he is reported to have said: "Religion is sincerity i.e. good advice".

4.8 To encourage the teaching of the Arabic language and up-lift its standard in the country as a basic means of understanding Islam.

4.9 To help develop the spirit of social security and solidarity within the community through sympathy and given help to the needy.

4.10 To organize and protect the Muslim woman as well as encouraging her to be able to play a leading role in society.

4.11 To mobilize and gear the energy of youths towards serving the objects and interests of the community.

It is the golden rule of your Council that religion is sincerity i.e. good advice. Furthermore you have made it your aim to render advice and consultation with the state. It is also your objective to promote the spirit of Social Security and Solidarity in the Community.

It is in this spirit that it was deemed necessary to prevail on the Council to conduct an inquiry into the disappearance of Imam Baba Leigh, especially when the Committee of the Mosque he leads has publicly expressed concern that their Imam has not been with them since 3 December 2012.

We have been told by eye witnesses that the Imam was approached by two young men whom he the Imam identified as personnel of the National Intelligence Agency before he submitted to their arrest and was whisked away to his place of detention driving his own car. We have been told where the car is parked. It is rather strange that even though he should be taken to court within 72 hours or be released unconditionally or on bail, if he is under official detention, nothing of the sort has taken place.

It is this failure to officially confirm his arrest and detention which is fanning the type of information that is spreading like wild fire that he is tortured and could not be released in his present state or that he is killed.

The only way to stop such information from spreading is for the truth to be known. This is why it is absolutely essential for the Council to visit the Minister for Religious Affairs to inquire whether Imam Baba Leigh is under state custody.

If he is under state custody then you should visit the Minister of Interior to facilitate his release unconditionally or on bail depending on whether they have a case against him or not or approach the President if he is under the custody of the NIA.

If he is not under state custody then the Council should call a Press Conference to inform the concerned Muslims, in particular, and concerned human beings, in general, how matters stand. Your institution should be the conduit dealing with all matters connected to the protection of mosques, Imams and congregations.

Allow me to reiterate again that under the Republican Constitution the Gambia is a secular state which provides for the protection of the fundamental right to hold one's belief and practice one's faith without any restriction or interference from the state or any natural person. This is clearly stipulated under section 25 Subsection 1(b) and (c) of the Constitution. It reads

"b) Every person shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief ......"

c) Every person shall have the right to freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice"

Every government that comes to office should respect such fundamental rights and freedoms and should build a respectable relation with all self regulatory religious communities such as the Supreme Islamic Council to safeguard their security, integrity and welfare, in particular, and that of other natural persons, at large.

In fact, in any government that we become a part of in the future, we will provide immunities in the law for all representatives of wards and constituencies, all heads of major Mosques and Churches, Independent Electoral Commission, the Office of Ombudsman and other Human Rights Commissions so that they could be arrested only if sufficient evidence is given to a magistrate that would warrant him or her to order the person's arrest.

As the whole world focus on the void that has been left by the absence of information on Imam Baba Leigh, the qualities you have highlighted in your Constitution as the criteria for election and appointment to the Executive Committee of the Council has convinced us to address this letter to you. The qualities are as follows:

20.1 The nominee should be knowledgeable in Islam, especially in the areas of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah.

20.2 The nominee should have a considerable character and good conduct.

20.3 The nominee should be sincere and trustworthy.

20.4 The nominee should possess administrative skills and abilities.

The members of your Council are therefore expected to display sincerity and trustworthiness in protecting the mosques and Imams under your charge.

The Muslim community in particular and the Nation at large look up to your leadership in such a matter and would be profoundly inspired if you discharge your duty without fear or favour affection or ill will in the interest of truth, justice and the pursuit of the right path.

While anticipating your favourable and speedy response, please accept the assurance of my utmost respect and highest consideration in this time of national concern for a member of your venerable community of religious leaders.

Yours in the Service of the People,

Halifa Sallah

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