By Yankuba Jallow
Muhammed Lamin Touray, the President of the Supreme Islamic Council has on Wednesday, 20th February 2020 testified before the TRRC.
Born on the 20th September 1955 in Gunjur, Touray has been the President of the Council since 2008 which has been mentioned by several witnesses for orchestrating their problems with the ousted 22 – year AFPRC and APRC regimes.
In his testimony, Touray said the Council was established at a time when many Islamic groups and organisations were emerging and many graduates were coming back to the Gambia from studies abroad. He said the Council was established to be the umbrella body to cover all other Islamic associations in the country. Touray said the graduates who returned to the Gambia wanted to implement their different ideologies they learnt from their different countries of studies and thus, the formation of the Council was necessitated to unite them in principle.
“The intention was to bring all ideologies under one umbrella so that we won’t be divided,” he said.
He said another reason for the establishment of the Council was to bring and maintain unity among the Muslims.
He said the Council usually solves disputes between people and reconciles them.
Touray told the TRRC that the Supreme Islamic Council is a non-governmental organisation.
“The Supreme Islamic Council when established does it have any governmental power or enforcement powers?” Counsel Faal asked.
“No, that was not part of our laws,” he said, adding that “the Council does not have the power to enforce anything. We do not have the powers to censor any person.”
“Do you have any power as the Supreme Islamic Council to declare any person as a non-Muslim?” the learned Counsel asked.
“It was not power, but it was our personal views,” he said.
“Was it part of its functions to declare any person or organisation non-Muslim?” Faal asked.
“We can,” Touray said.
“Will I be wrong to say one of the principal aims and objective of the Supreme Islamic Council was to foster peace and harmony among people?” Faal poised.
“Very well, that was why it was established,” the witness replied.
“Do you have powers to force people to fast or pray on a particular date?” Faal asked.
“The Supreme Council does not have the power to force people to pray or fast on a particular day. We have the power just to state the day, but we do not have the power to say people must pray or fast on the day we announced. The law is power and we don’t have the power to enforce anything,” Touray said.
Relationship with ex-President Jammeh
The witness said the Supreme Islamic Council act on instructions of the head of state irrespective of who the President is. He told the Commission that whatever instruction comes from the President is always implemented so far as it is not against Islam.
“Will you also say the act (instruction) should be lawful?” Faal asked.
“Yes, laws that are straightforward,” the witness replied.
He said the Council does not have the power to force people to pray on a particular day.
“As an Imam and also, the President of the Supreme Islamic Council, will you say it is lawful in Islam, to force a person to pray on a particular day?” Counsel Faal asked.
“There is no force in Islam because worship has to be done with proper intention. Worshipping comes from the heart and this is what God looks at,” Touray said.
“That power is not with the Government. The government cannot force people to fast or pray on a particular day. The government cannot give us the power that it does not have. We do not have any power to force people to pray or fast on a day we want,” the witness said.
A video of ex-President Yahya Jammeh was played wherein he was giving instruction to the Ministry of Local Government and Lands to arrest people who prayed on a day different from the day he prayed.
The witness in reaction to the video said he advised the ex-President on several accounts not to force people to pray or fast against their will.
“If Yahya Jammeh has listened to me, he wouldn’t have stated what he said in the video. It is not in line with Sharia because Sharia does not force anyone. Sharia does force people to do things,” he said.
Touray said no one has the authority to arrest people for not praying or fasting on a particular day.
“To lockup anyone who does not pray is a power that the Sharia does not give anyone,” the witness reiterated.
Touray said Sharia does not empower anyone to force anyone to pray.
Arrest of Sheikh Muhideen Hydara
4th August 2014 – Foroyaa Newspaper Exhibit
He was arrested together with the village Alkalo for observing prayers on a day different from the date Yahya Jammeh dictated. The witness said the arrest of Sheikh Muhideen might not only be as a result of him praying against the dictate of ex-President Yahya Jammeh.
“Maybe there were other reasons. If he was arrested for praying on that day, then many people would have been arrested. Therefore, Muhideen was not arrested for refusing to pray on a different date,” the witness said.
Counsel Faal said the Government stated that the Sheikh was arrested and charged for disobeying the lawful orders of the President.
“Was it lawful to arrest the Imam for refusing to pray on the day Yahya Jammeh dictated?” he said.
“It is clear to me 100% that he was not arrested for refusing to pray,” the witness said.
“You know that Ya Imam. But that is not the position of the Government. The Government said he was arrested and charged for refusing to obey the lawful orders of the President,” Faal said.
“I know he was not arrested for refusing to pray,” the witness said.
He said Muhideen’s arrest was orchestrated by the Council just to save him from the harassment of security forces. He said the involvement of Council in the arrest of Hydara was to protect him.
“Imam Fatty told Muhideen that he was arrested by the Council. He (Fatty) wanted to protect him, but what God decreed happened. Fatty intended to do whatever possible for Muhideen to go home that day and spend the night with his family,” the witness said, adding that “what the Government stated was not genuine because he was not arrested for not praying.”
Touray said: “ Sharia does not give powers to any person or authority to force or arrest any person to pray.”
He said the Council did nothing in the arrest of Sheikh Muhideen and it was Imam Fatty who told Hydara that they were responsible for his arrest.
“We used that to get Hydara from the police for him to go home,” Touray said.
Relationship with the Ahmadiyya
In response to the question whether any person has the power in Sharia to make a pronouncement for a group of people to be brought and killed at the McCarthy Square or convert to Islam, Touray rescinded from answering the question.
“In Islam, is it lawful to force people to convert to the religion?” Faal asked.
“That is not correct. People should be allowed to convert wilfully. No one can forcefully convert a person to Islam because the person being converted must do so wilfully,” he said.
“Is it not prohibited to force anybody to Islam?” Faal asked.
“There is no force in religion. No one should be forced. Nobody can force anybody to convert to Islam. It is prohibited in Islam to force a person to convert,” the witness said.
“We don’t have the mandate to monitor the sermons of the Imams. It was not part of our work. We don’t have problems with Imams. We only address sermons that have the likelihood to create problems,” he said.
Touray said aside of this, they don’t have anything to do with the sermons in the country, adding that the allegation that they were monitoring the sermons of the Imams was not true.
“We do not have any power to ban or call for the banning of any sect,” the witness said.
He said he is not aware of the Council calling for the banning of the Ahmadiyya sect and the stopping of their humanitarian activities including schools and hospitals. He said the Ahmadis do not recognise the Supreme Islamic Council.
“The Ahmadis do not have the power to do anything in the name of Islam. We cannot do anything about them, but we are not happy about them,” the Imam said.
He said the Ahmadis are not Muslims and they should not do anything in the name of Islam.
“They shouldn’t be using the name of Muslims when they are not Muslims. Let them limit their activities to their humanitarian activities,” he said.
He said: “the problem we have with them is the use of the word Muslim.”
He said the Council has no authority to tell Imams what they should say in their sermons. He added that what Imam Fatty used to say in his sermons at the State House is the same like other Imams countrywide.
“Imam Fatty was making his sermons. He was not speaking for the Council. He made the sermons as he wished. It was an individual statement,” the witness said.
He said the former President gave the Council the power to ban Shias in the country, adding that this sect was likely to create problems in the country because they usually insult the companions of the Prophet and Messenger of Islam.
On their relationship with Ba Kawsu Fofana, Imam Touray said the ban on him was very important for the maintenance of peace in the country.
“We banned Ba Kawsu for his security and the peace of the country. He was insulting groups of people. I do not see any reason why those people would not have beaten him up. This was the reason behind his ban,” Touray said.
He said whatever thing they said or did in the Ba Kawsu issue was suggestion and there was a body responsible for the enforcement of the suggestion.
“To ban Ba Kawsu was for peace while allowing him to continue preaching was destroying,” he said.
He said the Council does not have power to make any enforcement.
“We only made suggestion and it was the responsibility of the authorities to implement our suggestion,” Touray said.
“Who gave you the authority to be licensing preachers in this country?” the Lead Counsel asked.
“It was just a formality. It came from the President. I took the permit before I continued with my programme at GRTS,” the President said.
He said on the citing of the moon, ex-President Yahya Jammeh did not have a stake in it because it was a matter of the Council.
“When acting on instructions of the President, we only consider whether it is not against the Sharia and we not examine the legality of the instruction,” he said.
He said Ba Kawsu needed to be banned for peace and tranquillity to prevail in the country.
About the witness
Touray holds a BA in Islamic Law, Higher Diploma in teaching Arabic. He said he came back to the Gambia in 1989 from Saudi Arabia where he studied.
He is the President of Islamic Solidarity Organisation since 1989 to date, adding that the Organisation is operating in The Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau. He told the Commission that he is the current deputy Imam of Gunjur. He said he was once appointed as the Imam of the State House and he is no more an Imam there.