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Gambia, The


International Religious Freedom Report 2002
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
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The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 3,861 square miles, and its population is 1,367,124. Muslims constitute more than 90 percent of the population. The main Muslim schools are Tijaniyah, Qadiriyah, Muridiyah, and Ahmadiyah. Except for the Ahmadiyah, all branches pray together at common mosques. An estimated 9 percent of the population practice Christianity and 1 percent practice traditional indigenous religions. The Christian community predominantly is Roman Catholic; there also are several Protestant denominations, including Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and various small Protestant evangelical denominations. There is no information available regarding the number of atheists in the country.

Foreign missionary groups operate in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors. There is no state religion.

In December 2000 and January 2001, after President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh reportedly mentioned the issue of Shari'a (Islamic law) during a meeting with religious leaders, political figures and the public engaged in a series of discussions and radio and newspaper editorials regarding the merits of Shari'a law. In response to these deliberations, the Government announced that it had no intention of imposing Shari'a law. However, Shari'a law usually is applied in divorce and inheritance matters for Muslims.

The Government does not require religious groups to register. Religiously based nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) are subject to the same registration and licensing requirements as other NGO's.

The Government permits and does not limit religious instruction in schools. Bible and Koranic studies are provided in both public and private schools throughout the country without government restriction or interference. Religious instruction in public schools is provided at government expense, but is not mandatory.

The Government considers the following religious holidays national holidays: Tobaski, Muwlud-Al-Nabi, Eid El-Fitr, Good Friday, Assumption Day, and Christmas Day. Religious holidays do not impact any religious group negatively.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion.

In July 2001, the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) arrested Imam Baba Leigh of the Kanifing mosque for allegedly criticizing the Government; Leigh preached against corruption and waste of public funds in unnecessary ceremonies during prayers. Leigh was released after several hours without charges on bail of $6,000 (100,000 dalasi), and was asked to report to the NIA the next day. No subsequent action was taken. Leigh continued to lead prayers at the mosque, and said he was not threatened by the arrest, and planned to continue giving sermons and interpreting the Islamic perspective in society.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Intermarriage between members of different religious groups is legal and socially acceptable.

In June 2002, the media reported that religiously-motivated kidnapers abducted a 13 year-old-girl in Tanji village and forcefully circumcised her. Practitioners of female genital mutilation (FGM) and other types of circumcision in the country firmly believe that Islam mandates it and its surrounding rites; however, Imam Baba Lee of the Kanifing Mosque declared that Islam forbids such harmful customs. Police filed criminal charges against the kidnapers, and no further action was taken during the period covered by this report.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.



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