Gambian leader Adama Barrow has said that Islam provides a package for a complete lifestyle and it propagates tolerance and compassion, and teaches how to relate to oneself, family, neighbours, fellow citizens, the opposite sex, and people who share or defer with our thinking, opinions, and beliefs.
He made the remarks at the conference of African Ulama and religious affairs ministers held at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara conference hall on Tuesday, where he said this event has brought together people from different regions and countries, as well as different social and professional backgrounds to network and deliberate around the theme “Promotion of Peace, Understanding, and Unity among Communities and Nations.”
“As human beings, we should accept and accommodate the reality of our similarities and differences. Such characteristics should remind us to acknowledge each other’s strengths and weaknesses and, most significantly, the Oneness of Allah.
Our beliefs and differences should not translate into undue hostility or be used against innocent people to denounce or shame them. Hate speech and the abuse of one’s influence, the media, and the platforms at our disposal should be condemned and unanimously discouraged,” he said.
He added: “Our strong commitment to our beliefs should indicate the level of our steadfastness but must not be used to condemn divergent beliefs and faiths. Most religious conflicts result from intolerance and, sometimes, the pursuit of worldly interests.”
“Our survival as a species and our development efforts, progress, and spiritual journeys as communities and nations depends on peace and stability. Both of these are influenced by understanding and unity.
For humankind to succeed together, we must communicate, cooperate, share positively, trade among ourselves, and allow everyone to live comfortable lives,” he said.
President Barrow urged that as a community, Muslims have to confront challenges to stability in our various countries, security of lives and property, intellectual pursuits, and enjoyment of freedoms, rights, and privileges.
He also said on the global stage, crisis management calls for legitimate collective action, saying that “in fostering this, we need to harness the necessary channels to address matters of common concern. Formal and non-formal institutions, structures, and organisations are examples of the channels to utilise in this respect.”
President Barrow pointed out that to promote peace, understanding, and unity, it is a precondition to promote love and respect, fight hate, quell conflicts, and recognize the dignity and honour of every human being.
“Likewise, we can effectively foster understanding through genuine dialogue, communication, and productive and peaceful engagement,” he noted.
The Gambian leader stated that the Ulama have a huge role to play in all of these, noting that upon them is entrusted the task of interpreting the teachings of Islam, handling emerging issues, enhancing inter-faith dialogue, and settling hostilities.
He further said, although it is tactically prudent to avoid subjecting others to outright condemnation, the Ulama have to be firm on the fundamentals of the religion.
“In the Muslim world, the Ulama are the feelers, mouthpiece, and, trustees of the Umma, hence they bear the biggest responsibility on religious matters. Indeed, people look up to them as role models of exemplary character.
“This is an enormous responsibility, but it is the most honorable task any servant of Allah can shoulder. I am certain that all of you are aware that carrying out these noble tasks implies providing guidance that harmonises spiritual and worldly matters, as Islam is a complete way of life.
“To preserve the positive image of Islam, it is wise to leverage the tools and opportunities available, share knowledge, hold regular consultations, monitor media content, and review the relevant printed matter and curriculum material on Islam,” President Barrow said.
He tasked Ministers responsible for religious affairs in our respective countries to have a role in facilitating these processes.
He urged that they should work towards creating an enabling environment, through their various governments, to accommodate religious tolerance adding that their Ministries should avail themselves and their good offices and services to all religions for responsible and inclusive religious governance.
“All citizens, Muslims, and non-Muslims alike, should feel accommodated and cared for by their governments which, in turn, would generate confidence and trust in our governments.
“We have a common ground in that we are all human beings, and no creature ranks higher than being a servant of Allah; thus, this should unify us.
Islam invites all of us to the path of peace, grounded in self-submission. It upholds the principle of non-compulsion and spreading the Word of the Almighty Allah through wisdom and knowledge, based on a sound understanding of the deen,” President Barrow said.
He added: “In The Gambia, we are fortunate that, although over ninety percent (90%) of the population are Muslims, we co-exist peacefully despite our religious differences. We thank Allah for this blessing and commend the people for their religious tolerance. Our institutions, laws, policies, and programmes are blind to religion and all citizens enjoy equal rights, equal privileges, equal status, and equal services.”
He also said that Gambians have mutual respect for one another and do not interfere in the religious acts of the people, provided that they do not contravene the law adding that these factors engender peace, understanding, and unity.
“We appreciate and commend the religious leaders and all Gambian citizens for their contribution to preaching and spreading peace and tranquillity in the country. I urge all of us, especially the Ulama, to exploit the good and best practices learned and linkages created here as a means of fostering religious tolerance in Africa and the world at large.
Eminent scholars, we appreciate your efforts, respect your views, honour your status in society, and encourage you to remain steadfast and focused. The fact that there are Ministerial portfolios for religion on the continent indicates that you have the support of your respective governments.
May the relationship between the two bodies remain healthy, strong, and productive for the greater good,” he said.