By Yankuba Jallow
Renowned Imam Ba Kawsu Fofana said the Supreme Islamic Council under the Presidency of Momodou Lamin Touray misled ex-President Yahya Jammeh and made him hate Islamic scholars.
He said the Council members particularly Imam Abdoulie Fatty commonly called Imam Fatty was prominent in this because he used to do sermons castigating people and religious sects at the State House.
He said in 2008, the Supreme Islamic Council’s mandate ended and in the month of July the State House Imam Abdoulie Fatty, delivered a sermon about the Shia sect in the Gambia. According to him, Fatty said members of the Shia sect were killers and they usually make life difficult for governments.
Ba Kawsu said when ex-President Yahya Jammeh enquired about them and what the Supreme Islamic Council (SIC) was doing about them, he was told that the Vice President of the SIC Ousman Jah was the one who was receiving them in the country.
“Yahya Jammeh made the pronouncement that their mandate has ended and the country should select people they trust to be the new executive of the Council,” the witness said.
The witness said most of what the Imam preached in that sermon was not true. He added that the SIC elections took place on the 16th and 17th August 2008.
“I was approached by many Imams to participate in the elections and I toured the whole country seeking the mandate of the people,” Fofana said.
He said Yahya Jammeh banned ex-President of SIC Banding Drammeh because of Imam Fatty delivered a Friday sermon caricaturing Drammeh and his executive.
He said days before the elections, the voters’ register was changed and new people were added. He told the Commission it was at this time the current President Momodou Lamin Touray announced himself as a candidate.
“The constitution was amended and I was disqualified from participating in the elections. They knew that I have toured the whole country and I have the support of the people so they amended the constitution so that I will be disallowed from participating,” the witness said.
He said the new constitution was shown to them on the Congress day.
“There was no election on the day of the Congress. Banding Drammeh was the one who held the hand of Momodou Lamin Touray and shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ and all the people were shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’. This was how Touray became the President of the Supreme Islamic Council. This was how the ten other executive members were elected,” the witness said.
The witness said Touray and his executive came into being through fraud.
“Despite I was disqualified by them after he was chosen, I visited Momodou Lamin Touray and I pledged my support to him and his executive,” the witness said.
He told the Commission that the Council lacks the power to ban any person from preaching. He said before the Executive of Momodou Lamin Touray came into office, there were no problems with regards to the state and the Islamic scholars. He told the Commission that the problem with regards to the citation of the moon was brought by the current Islamic Council headed by Momodou Lamin Touray. He said the Gambia used to pray in three different days and there were no troubles, but when Touray’s Council took over office, they brought troubles and harassments to Muslims.
He said in 2008, Touray and his Executive paid ex-President Jammeh a courtesy call and they were given some vehicles and some money to pay their debts. The witness said ex-President Jammeh asked the Council whether The Gambia can pray on the same day with Mecca. He said the Council told him, ‘yes,’ and the former President asked them to engage the people about the issue so that there would be consensus.
“The Council embarked on a countrywide tour and began engaging the people. They (the Council) misled the people. Those who attended their meetings were given transport fares and were asked to sign on a book. The papers bearing the signatures of the Imams were handed to ex-President Jammeh and the Supreme Islamic Council told him (Jammeh) that all the people who signed the paper agreed that The Gambia should pray with Mecca on the same day,” Ba Kawsu said.
He told the Commission that “The Supreme Islamic Council misled Yahya Jammeh.”
He said in the year 2009, the moon was sighted on the same day in The Gambia and Mecca.
“We fasted on the same day with Mecca but the problem came on the prayer day because we did not cite the moon on the same day with Mecca,” he said.
He said during the SIC courtesy call to ex-President Jammeh at State House on ‘Koriteh’ day, they told the President that he should stop people who do not want to follow Mecca and pray on the same day. The witness said the President undertook to stop people from praying a day after Mecca prays.
“The agreement between Yahya Jammeh and the Supreme Islamic Council was that anyone who defies praying on the same day with Mecca will be handed to him (Yahya),” the witness said.
He explained that during the ‘Tobaski’ prayers, Mecca prayed on a Friday and the Gambia was supposed to pray on the following day, because the moon was cited on that Friday.
“It was at this meeting that the Islamic Council told the President that I was the one who used to influence people not to pray on the same day with Mecca,” the witness said.
He said: “I did not tour the country. I only delivered a sermon saying we cannot pray on the same day with Mecca.”
He said the following day the police called him for questioning at the Yundum Police Station. He said the government was planning to mediate between him and the SIC to speak one voice.
“The police told me that the Islamic Council said I am the one who was inciting people to defy them,” he said.
He said he was handed a letter from ex-Inspector General of Police Ensa Badjie inviting him to a meeting.
“From the police, I called the President of Islamic Council Momodou Lamin Touray and informed him about the police. He (Touray) told me he was the one who wrote to the police and different institutions (of the State),” he said.
The witness said he was also called at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and they questioned him on the same thing the police asked him.
The witness said his radio programme called ‘Islamic Forum’ at GRTS was banned by the Supreme Islamic Council.
“I was the first to be banned by the Supreme Islamic Council. This was the time they introduced the license (approval) for preachers. Preachers were required to get clearance from the SIC before preaching at any radio,” the witness said.
He said in 2010, Momodou Lamin Touray told ex-President Jammeh that one Dr. Dumbuya and himself were their ‘troubles’. He said Imam Fatty delivered a Friday sermon insulting Dr. Dumbuya and this was the time Dr. Dumbuya was banned from preaching.
“Yahya Jammeh gave verbal orders that Dr. Dumbuya should not preach over the radio. The Supreme Islamic Council implemented Yahya Jammeh’s orders,” the witness said.
He said ex-President Jammeh told the SIC that for five years they were not able to unite the Muslims and he gave them a week to solve the trouble. He said Jammeh threatened to takeover if they fail to resolve the problem among muslims.
He said he was called by the SIC in a meeting wherein they asked him to accept four conditions. He said the SIC asked him to accept that he was not learned; that he was a liar; that his teachings were wrong; and he was instigating violence.
“We started at 9 am and we were there till 5 pm and I still did not accept their conditions. This was the time they imposed the ban on me,” the witness said.
The witness said Imam Fatty was a member of the SIC and he was responsible for preaching in the country.
He denied the allegation that he used to insult ethnic groups. He also denied the allegation that he used to insult ex-President Yahya Jammeh.
He said after he was banned by the SIC, he wrote to ex-President Jammeh explaining the problem he was facing and a meeting was summoned at the State House.
He said in that meeting he spoke about his belief with regards to the citation. He said Imam Fatty told the President that the meeting was not about Islam and the citation of the moon, but it was about his insults to the President and his tribe – the Jolas.
“Imam Fatty stated that to anger the President about me. In fact, the man who does preaching and incites people to violence is Imam Abdoulie Fatty. He was relying on Yahya Jammeh to do what he was doing,” the witness said.
He said Imam Fatty was in fact, the one who preached against the Wollof and insulted them for their refusal to do female genital mutilation.
He said at the end of the meeting, the ban on him was lifted and the SIC wrote to him to that effect.
The witness said there was a day Imam Fatty delivered a sermon about him and on the 18thMay 2012, he was arrested by the NIA. He said the arresting officers were headed by ex-director general of NIA Yankuba Badjie.
“At the NIA, I was detained and tortured. Former Minister of Interior Ousman Sonko told me Yahya Jammeh participated in my torture and my finger was broken by Yahya Jammeh himself,” the witness said.
He said they used to beat him while he was lying on floor; that some of the tormentors used to stand on his hands and legs so that he won’t be able to move.
“The first day they used sticks and the second day they used pipes. They used plastic bags to cover my head repeatedly,” the witness said.
He said after the torture, the torturers used to question him about his preaching and they used to tell him to stop talking about Yahya Jammeh.
“They used to come and pick me from my place of detention at around 3 am and take me where they used to torture me,” he said.
He said he was released on June 8th 2012 after 9 days on bail and that he was tortured twice – on a Thursday and Friday.
He said on the 15th August 2012, Yankuba Badjie led another group and went to arrest him. He said they met him praying and some of those who went to arrest him prayed behind him. He said he disappeared and this was how he escaped arrest.
He said he spent two days in the Gambia and went to Senegal in the Cassamance Region. He said he was received by Sheikh Seedia Jabbie, one of the renowned marabouts in Senegal. He said he came to the Gambia in 2015 when Yahya Jammeh said he has granted amnesty to all those he has issues with and they went to exile.
“The problems I had with Yahya Jammeh were all incited by Imam Abdoulie Fatty. Fatty was the one instigating all members of the Islamic Council and the President against me because he was responsible of ‘Daawa’ (preaching in the country). The first one was Momdou Lamin Touray,” Ba Kawsu said.
He said he is not someone who is against the SIC.
“I will follow the Supreme Islamic Council but I won’t follow them when they do things that are against the teachings of Islam,” he said.
He called on people to be tolerant to one another’s faith.
“We can have differences, but let us not hate one another,” he said.
He preached Gambians to forgive one another for what had happened in the rule of Yahya Jammeh. He said Gambians are known for living cordially and this should be maintained and cherished.
“We should not be divided for whatever cause. Let us not allow our religious and or our political differences divide us,” the Imam said.
About the witness
Ba Kawsu said he was born on the 15th August 1969 in Jarra Sankuya. He said he began his Islamic education at his hometown, Jarra Sankuya. He said his father was his teacher. He said after this stint, he proceeded to the Tallinding Islamic School beginning in grade 6. He said while in Tallinding Islamic School, he memorised the Koran and in the year 1992, he represented the Gambia at a Quranic education competition in Saudi Arabia. He said after completing his schooling, he was awarded scholarship and he went to Saudi Arabia to further his education. He said he studied at the Korana Islamic Institute and it was there that he learnt the 30 ways of reciting the Quran. He said he returned to the Gambia in 2003 and continued with his teaching and preaching about Islam.