Gambia: Imam Fatty Says Yahya Jammeh Gave Them Powers to Ban Preachers

Imam Abdoulie Fatty, renowned as Imam Fatty said ex-President Yahya Jammeh gave them the power to ban people from organizing and hosting Islamic programmes.

Imam Abdoulie Fatty appeared before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on grounds that he was adversely mentioned by several witnesses who alleged his utterances triggered their arrest, unlawful detention and torture as well.

Fatty was the Imam of the State House from 1995 to 2014 and he was also a member of the Supreme Islamic Council of the Gambia.

Before he began his testimony, he told the Commission that he will take oath without holding Koran, but both Lead Counsel Essa M. Faal and the Chairperson of TRRC Dr. Lamin J. Sise said he has to take oath with the Koran because it is the practice of the Commission. Dr. Sise told Imam Fatty that he is the 204th witness and all the previous witnesses took oath using either the Koran or Bible. Sise stressed that he cannot come before them and change their procedure. At this point, the Imam complied and took his oath with the Koran and began giving his evidence.

He said he was born on the 15th August 1960 in Borayaa Village and he is a Master's Degree holder in Islamic Studies.

He said in August 1995, he was appointed as Imam of State House adding that being an Imam at State House does not make him superior to any other Imam because they are all equal in status. Mr. Fatty testified that former Interior Minister Kaba Bajo asked him how much he was going to be paid but he told them hence it was the cause of Islam, he won't demand payment. He adduced that he was allocated a vehicle and an accommodation at the State House, but he turned both offers down.

Fatty said former President Jammeh told him that his responsibility was going to be to lead prayers at the State House Mosque every Friday Prayers because soldiers that lead people during the five daily prayers can't lead in Juma Prayers. He told the Commission that Jammeh asked him to teach them the Islamic religion because they were soldiers that had dangerous weapons. He added that Jammeh told him that when he went to Liberia for a peacekeeping mission and saw what soldiers were doing to pregnant women, he knew it was because they lacked knowledge about their religion.

He said his relationship with Yahya Jammeh was like a relationship between a boss and his worker and not as an Imam and his follower. He denied the allegation that he was the one who influenced former President Jammeh on the things he was doing with regards to religion. He said his Friday sermons were not meant for Yahya Jammeh. He explained that he used to deliver sermons which were never aired on the national radio and television because it wasn't pleasant to the President. He said the sermons that were sensitive were not broadcast.

At this juncture, Counsel Faal reminded him that he earlier told the Commission that he was not an Adviser to former President Jammeh but in his response, Imam Fatty said President Adama Barrow has religious advisers while ex-President Jammeh did not have religious advisers.

He said the Supreme Islamic Council was founded by one Alh. Sorriba Gassama after he toured the whole country. He said the SIC was formed because it was alleged that all the money that used to come to the Gambia for Islamic Education for the promotion of Islamic Education was going to the 'Majlis' and the SIC was founded to work with the government to enable them to support Islamic Education.

Continuing with his testimony, Faal told the witness that the Council is a private club because it has no legislative standing and had no authority over any individual but Fatty said the Council doesn't do anything other than advising the State.

Counsel Faal further intimated to him that SIC was not a State Institution, but Fatty told him that SIC was the body responsible for the affairs between the State and the people with respect to Islam. After several follow up questions by Counsel Faal, Imam Fatty finally conceded to the fact that the Council is not a State Institution; adding that they only cooperate with the government. He added that they have authority over people by monitoring Islam in the country.

Justifying why it was important to monitor the activities of people with regards to Islam, the Imam said individuals in Islam must know what to say and what to do. He said some of the scholars were misleading people and this was why they were banned as he relied on aHadith.

Faal told him that SIC doesn't have the power to use force on people to accept their dictates, but fatty said the government was not intervening on the side of religion and SIC was given that power by former President Jammeh. He said instructions from the President so long as they don't contravene Islam should be followed. Faal put it to him that the instructions they executed was wrong, but he dodged from answering the question saying Yahya Jammeh is the better person to answer the question.

Imam Fatty said the Council was given instruction by Jammeh to monitor preachers and what they deliver in their addresses. He added that ex-President Jammeh also gave them the power to issue permit to people to preach as well as revoke their permit by banning them. He told the Commission that was the time the Council wrote to all radio stations informing them about the development, indicating that all Islamic preachers were required to obtain permit from the Council before they start their programmes.

Counsel Faal told the witness that Gambia is not an Islamic State and it is not governed by Sharia law, but in his answer, Imam Fatty told the Commission that majority of Gambians live by the Koran and practise it in their lives including marriage. Fatty said any law that is against religious teachings of Islam and Christianity must be vetted before it becomes a law.

Fatty told the Commission one of their fundamental tasks as a Council was to unite all Muslims, but he denied the allegation that Yahya Jammeh was meddling in the activities and operation of the Council. Fatty testified that fasting and praying with Yahya Jammeh on the same day did not emanate from Jammeh, saying the Council was only mandated by Jammeh to monitor and ban preachers who prayed on a different date from the day they and Jammeh prayed.

"Yahya Jammeh never interfered with our work," he said.

According to Fatty, the Shia sect has a difference with the views and beliefs of the Islamic Council (who are all Sunnis) because they said they have another Koran different from the one the Sunnis have. He told the Commission the Sunnis and the Shias have different religious doctrines. Fatty categorically denied attacking the Shias in his sermons which contributed to the banning of the Shia sect in the Gambia in 2008.

Lead Counsel Faal, told Fatty that the government, as well as the Council, lacks the authority to stop the Shias from practising their faith. On the issue of Ahmadis, Fatty initially denied calling them 'Kafirs' (disbelievers) but after several questions, he admitted before the Commission that he was one of those who used to call them disbelievers. He refuted the allegation that he mentioned in his sermons that theAhmadis should be taken to the McCarthy Square to be killed. He said all he mentioned in his sermons was for them to have a debate with the Ahmadis at the McCarthy Square and not otherwise. He admitted that he was propagating for the former regime to ban the Ahmadis in the Gambia from practising and manifesting their religion.

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