Religion and Government, Gambian Context
As it is the concern of many atheist and free-thought organizations in other parts of the world, Gambia Secular Assembly concerns itself with the separation of religion from government.
In The Gambia, religion is so juxtaposed with government that one finds it hard to distinguish one form the other. This is manifested in the serious promotion and propagation of particularly of Islam, the dominant religion.
The Gambian State, largely supposed and believed by the population to be secular, has condoned the involvement of the State with religion. This is an unchecked involvement that extends to the State’s investment in the construction of a mosque on the grounds of a State residence – State House has an Imam (Islamic religious leader) paid from the government coffers to head prayers and conduct other religious services, such as the annual celebration of the birth of the 'prophet' of Islam, Muhammad named Maw lud al nabi in Arabic.
Many Gambians wonder whether a Christian Head of State (there are a significant number of Christians in the country) would recommend the construction of a church alongside the mosque.
With the State House seen as a good example, the idea has been emulated at almost every government office through the recommendations of the heads of the departments. There is a mosque on the grounds of the country's High and Supreme Courts, at the country's four referral hospitals, and the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital has a mosque and a church.
The recital of Muslim and Christian prayers before the start of an official event has become normal and a firmly rooted, traditional practice. On the occasion of every government event, an Imam and a priest are invited and ask to lead the gathering in prayers before the start of activities.
Twice a year there is a session of the African Commission on Human and People's Rights. At one NGO forum of the Commission held in Banjul, Leo Igwe (the former IHEU West Africa representative and former Executive Director of the Nigerian Humanist Movement) objected to the Gambian tradition of prayers before the start of an event. Mrs. Hanna Forster, the Executive Director of the African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (the host organization of the Forum), who is a Gambian national and the person who introduced the country's practice of prayers before the start of events, called Leo aside at the end of the official opening session and asked him if he had not said his prayers before the meeting that particular morning! She, as many Gambians would be, was dumb-founded that a normal person would object to prayers at the start of a meeting,
Further, the government has arranged with the government of the Islamic State of Saudi Arabia, to sponsor people who make the annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Madina for the 'hajj'. This has been done even though there is the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council, a non–government religious organization, that could more appropriately arrange such sponsorship.
The Gambia Secular Assembly continues to fight against the integration of Gambian government with Islam, and for a secular, fair society for all Gambians.