printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Gambia, The


International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Share

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 as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 4,361 square miles, and its population is 1,364,507. Sunni Muslims constitute 90 percent of the population. The vast majority are Malikite Sufis, of which the main orders represented are Tijaniyah, Qadiriyah, Muridiyah, and Ahmadiyah. Except for Ahmadiyah Sufis, all orders pray together at common mosques. A small percentage of Muslims, predominately immigrants from South Asia, do not ascribe to any traditional Islamic school of thought.

An estimated 9 percent of the population practices Christianity and 1 percent practices indigenous animist religions. The Christian community, situated mostly in the west and south of the country, is predominantly Roman Catholic; there are also several Protestant denominations including Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and various small Protestant evangelical denominations.

There is a small group of followers of the Baha'i faith, and no significant Jewish population.

Intermarriage between Muslims and Christians is common. In some areas, Islam and Christianity have been syncretized with animism. There are few 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.

The Constitution establishes Cadi Courts in such places as the Chief Justice determines. The two Cadi Courts in the country sit in Banjul and Kanifing. Their jurisdiction applies only to matters of marriage, divorce and inheritance that involve Muslims. The Cadi Courts apply classical Maliki fiqh.

The Government considers the following religious holidays national holidays: Tobaski (Eid-al-Adha), Yaomul Ashora, Mawlud al-Nabi, Koriteh (Eid al-Fitr), Good Friday, Assumption Day, and Christmas Day. Religious holidays do not affect negatively any religious group.

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

The Government permits and does not limit religious instruction in schools. Biblical 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.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

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

In several interviews, Catholic and Anglican bishops have praised the Government and people of the country for the friendly protection and accommodation of the Christian minority. The Gambian Christian Council, an organization consisting of clerical leaders of the Catholic, Anglican and Baptist churches, discusses matters of importance to Christians in the country.

In April 2003, approximately 70 Muslim students at St. Theresa's Upper Basic School, a Catholic Mission school that offers both Koranic and Biblical Studies in addition to the national academic curriculum, wore veils to school to protest the school uniform policy that forbade any headwear. In May 2003, after closing the school due to the subsequent controversy, the Department of State for Education issued a letter of instruction to all schools stating "veil wearing should be allowed" and "no child or student should be sent away from school for wearing a veil." In July 2003, President Jammeh reversed the Department's decision to allow students to wear veils to school and pronounced that each school administration should determine its own policy. During the period covered by this report, like before the controversy, Muslim school uniforms included headscarves while Christian school uniforms did not.

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.

Abuses by Terrorist Organizations

There were no reported abuses targeted at specific religions by terrorist organizations during the period covered by this report.

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.

Practitioners of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the country firmly believe that Islam mandates the practice and its surrounding rites. Although government programs to promote girls' education and development quietly work to reduce the prevalence of FGM by changing societal attitudes, the Government's official stance is that female circumcision is a cultural issue that the Government cannot forbid. However, well-respected local Muslim leaders continue to speak out against it.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. In particular, the U.S. Embassy was able to promote interfaith dialogue by sending religious leaders on International Visitor Programs. One participant, a prominent Muslim Imam, joined other Muslim clerics at a U.S. Government‑sponsored symposium to discuss his experiences and to describe what he learned about religious freedom during his visit.



Back to Top
Sign-in

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.