The Gambia has a population of about 1.2 million of which 90% is Muslim, 8% is Christian and 2% is composed of those who believe in traditional African religions.
Despite the fact that Muslims are in the majority, all religions enjoy a peaceful and harmonious co-existence. Although Islam is the predominant religion, the country is a secular state, which promotes respect for all cultural, religious and traditional values. The constitution guarantees freedom to all to practice the religion of their choice. In this light, it is a traditional practice in the Gambia for all official functions to be opened with prayers by a Christian priest and a Muslim Imam.
In 2000, the President was quoted as saying that he will introduce sharia in the Gambia. This incident prompted a lot of outrage both within and outside the Gambia. However, the context in which the President made the comment was grossly misinterpreted.
Few weeks prior to the President's statements, there was a group of young men who took it upon themselves to burn down bars and hotels in the name of Islam. These people were remanded in custody.
It was following this, during a meeting with religious leaders, that the President intimated that he would not tolerate any vandals to use religion to destabilize the Gambia. He reminded the Muslim religious leaders that the Gambia is secular state where people of different religious beliefs have coexisted peacefully for centuries. At which point, the President said that the young men arrested would be dealt with according to law. He further said that since the young men committed such heinous crimes in the name of Islam, they should therefore be tried under the Islamic law of Sharia.
At no point did the President state that he will introduce Sharia Law to cover every Gambian.
The President has always preached religious tolerance in the Gambia.
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