(JollofNews) – Following President Yahya Jammeh’s recent declaration at the state opening of the National Assembly that legislation would be tabled before lawmakers to ‘commence the process of the implementation’ of Islamic law (Sharia), the debate about whether the Gambia needs to be an Islamic Republic or embrace Sharia law continues to rage.
Making the case for Sharia law in the country, the president: ““Let me hasten however to assure you that the declaration of an Islamic State does not mean that other religions will be suppressed as there is no compulsion in religion as enshrined in the Holy Quran. For us Muslims, however, we will be governed by the laws based on the divine dispensation of Allah SWT’s law which is the Holy Qur’an”.
However, the big questions are, does the Gambia need Sharia law? What is the implication on religious tolerance? How would it impact the country economically, socially and religiously?
A critical and logical analysis of all those questions would present evidence to suggest; the Gambia does not need to be an Islamic Republic and should not be governed by Sharia law.
Firstly, on the impact Sharia law will have on the religious tolerance which is a pride for all
Gambian citizens and residents, it is worth noting that for many years the Gambia stands out as one of the few countries in the world where Christians and Muslims live peacefully and tolerate each other with utmost respect.
This tolerance is demonstrated in the spirit of love and sharing during major religious feasts such as Christmas, Koriteh, Tobaski, and Good Friday (sharing of nan-mburu). During such festivals, it is hard to tell who is a Christian and who is a Muslim. However, it would be difficult to see this very peaceful and friendly religious co-existence continuing for long if Sharia law comes into force in the Gambia.
Secondly, on the economic implication of Sharia law in The Gambia; one thing comes into mind, the tourism industry. What would happen to our tourism industry? According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) , travel and tourism’s impact on the economic and social development of a country can be enormous; opening it up for business, trade and capital investment, creating jobs and entrepreneurialism for the workforce and protecting heritage and cultural values. To put this statement into perspective in the case of The Gambia, the following statistics by WTTC will project a clearer picture:
Gross Domestic Project (GDP): Total Contributions
The total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP was D5, 016.2 million (13.8 per cent of GDP) in 2014, and is forecast to rise by 15.8 per cent in 2015, and to rise by 7.2 per cent pa to D11, 605.7 million (17.6 per cent of GDP) in 2025.
Employment: Direct Contributions
In 2014 travel and tourism directly supported 29,000 jobs (4.2 per cent of total employment). This is expected to rise by 16.6 per cent in 2015 and rise by 4.5 per cent per annum to 52,000 jobs (5.3 per cent of total employment) in 2025.
Employment: Total Contributions
In 2014, the total contribution of travel and tourism to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 11.8 per cent of total employment (81,500 jobs). This is expected to rise by 12.6 per cent in 2015 to 92,000 jobs and rise by 5.0 per cent per annum to 150,000 jobs in 2025 (15.1 per cent of total).
Travel and tourism investment in 2014 was D912.0 millions, or 10.7 per cent of total investment. It should rise by 7.8 per cent in 2015, and rise by 8.7 per cent pa over the next ten years to D2, 273.7 million in 2025 (14.7 per cent of total).
But with the introduction of Sharia law, there is bound to be a reduction in tourists’ numbers and hence, business will be affected as profitability will decline and this will impact on employment as well.
Thirdly, on the religious impact of Sharia law in the Gambia; the big dilemma and concern for all Gambians, is what would happen to Christians. Would Christians continue to freely practice their faith without restrictions and hindrance? The president has stressed that but is that feasible for the long-term? One would think, this could happen to some extent only in the early stages. However, it is difficult to see this last the cause. In addition, it will erode the Gambian spirit of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians and tear us apart.
In light of the above arguments, it leaves one questioning what the motives for the president and his government are for planning to introduce Sharia law in the Gambia. Could it be a ploy by the president and his government to win the hearts of voters as the elections approach or could it be a strategy to win the affection of the Arab world?
Whatever the motives or justifications; Gambians have the right to have a say in the way the country is governed and in major decisions that affect them. Hence, the government should put this to a referendum and let the Gambian people choose if they want an Islamic Republic and Sharia law. It is high time for the president and his government to stop imposing declarations and decrees on Gambians.
Written by Andrew Mendy
London, United Kingdom