Liberia: Pro-Islamic Group Petitions Legislature to Declare Ramadan, Abraham Day National Holidays in Liberia

Capitol Hill — The Movement for Islamic Holidays in Liberia has called for the legislation of laws making two of the holiest days in Islam- Eid al-Fitr known as Ramadan and Eid al-Adha or Abraham Day national holidays in Liberia.

Eid al-Fitr also called the "Festival of Breaking the Fast", is a religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan, while Eid al-Adha is an Islamic festival that commemorates the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son on the command of God. Ibrahim was eventually given a lamb to sacrifice instead.

On Tuesday, August 4, dozens of Muslims holding a large banner and placards, gathered at the Capitol to petition the 54th Legislature.

In the petition read by the spokesperson, Ayouba Swaray, the group stated that while there are several nationally celebrated Christian holidays in Liberia, there is not a single holiday dedicated to Muslims.

The practice of denying Muslims national holidays, the group says violates their constitutional rights and a disregard to Muslim faith, nationality, and commitment to the overall development of Liberia.

Excerpt of the petition: "Most interestingly, but highly frustrating, our government (past and current) have perpetually ignored the rights of the Liberian Muslims over the years. The over one million Muslim students and workforce in Liberia have been forced to attend classes or go to work on both Ramadan Day, and Abraham Day, or the students are punished either by failing in their exams, quizzes, presentations or other academic works; while those from the workforce faced suspension, or a cut in salary for observing their Eid with family members."

The group's petition has the propensity to reawaken a debate about whether Liberia is a secular or Christian state.

According to the 2008 National Census, 85.5% of Liberia's population practices Christianity. Muslims comprise 12.2 percent of the population, largely coming from the Mandingo and Vai ethnic groups.

Although the majority of the population is Christian, and Liberia has a rich Christian heritage- its founding fathers were mostly Christians and the Declaration of Independence was signed in a Church (Providence Baptist Church), the Constitution declared Liberia a secular state.

Article 14 of the Constitution clearly states: "All persons shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment thereof except as may be required by law to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. All persons who, in the practice of their religion, conduct themselves peaceably, not obstructing others and conforming to the standards set out herein, shall be entitled to the protection of the law. No religious denomination or sect shall have any exclusive privilege or preference over any other, but all shall be treated alike; and no religious tests shall be required for any civil or military office or for the exercise of any civil right. Consistent with the principle of separation of religion and state, the Republic shall establish no state religion."

However, the group says despite the Constitution baring state religion and calling for the separation of religion and state, there are several pro Christian's festivals including Christmas that are being observed as national holidays under the Patriotic and Cultural Observances law -Title 25 of the Liberian Code of Law Revised.

The group in the petition wrote: "Honorable lawmakers, with a comparative analysis to the laws of this country, and international human right protocols, and in respect to practices in other West African nations, we Muslims see your refusal over the past time to grant us legislation for the observance, order, health, morals, or the rights of others with equal protection/treatment under the law".

Legislature's Response

Meanwhile, receiving the petition, the Chairman of the House Committee on Claims and Petition, Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (District #4, Montserrado County) thanked the group for the peaceful assembly and promised to present their request to plenary for possible action.

She also stated that because Liberia is a secular state and there have been no religious holidays passed into law, the Legislature will have to consider the request diligently before making any decision.

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