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The Gambia

Executive Summary

The constitution provides for the freedom of religious choice, as long as doing so does not impinge on the rights of others or the national interest.  It prohibits religious discrimination, establishment of a state religion, and formation of political parties based on religious affiliation.  President Adama Barrow’s announcement in July of the nonprofit Barrow Youth Movement for Development’s plan to build 60 mosques was criticized by many observers for blurring the lines of separation between state and religion and showing preference of one religion over the others.  On December 6, the Office of the President announced the transfer of the religious affairs portfolio to the Ministry of Lands and Regional Affairs from the Office of the President.  On several occasions, President Barrow stressed the need for continued religious freedom and tolerance.  In a meeting with the Roman Catholic Bishop of Banjul, President Barrow called on religious leaders to continue to “preach peace, good citizenship, and unity.”

Interfaith marriage remained common and accepted, according to religious leaders.  There continued to be tensions between the majority Sunni Muslim community and the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community.  The Supreme Islamic Council (SIC), a religious council tasked with providing Islamic religious guidance, continued to state the Ahmadiyya community did not belong to Islam, and it did not include members of the community in its events and activities.  The government largely did not become involved in the disagreement between the two communities.  The Ahmadiyya International Association of Architects and Engineers met with President Barrow in August to discuss the group’s plans to expand its humanitarian work in the country.

The embassy expanded outreach and decentralized its annual iftar dinner, holding iftars throughout the country in an effort to meet directly with religious leaders from around the country and highlight the message of continued peace and religious harmony.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states, “Every person shall have the freedom to practice any religion and to manifest such practice” subject to laws that may impose such “reasonable restrictions” as necessary for national security, public order, decency, or morality.  The constitution also states that such freedom “not impinge on the rights and freedoms of others or on the national interest, especially unity.”  The constitution prohibits religious discrimination, the establishment of a state religion, and religiously based political parties.  It provides for the establishment of qadi courts, with judges trained in the Islamic legal tradition.  The courts are located in each of the country’s seven regions, and their jurisdiction applies only to marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance where the involved parties are Muslims.

There are no formal guidelines for registration of religious groups, but faith-based groups that provide social services as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) must meet the same eligibility criteria as other NGOs.  By law, all NGOs are required to register with the NGO Affairs Agency and register as charities at the attorney general’s chambers under the Companies Act.  They are required to have governing boards of directors of at least seven members responsible for policy and major administrative decisions, including internal control.  The NGO decree requires that all NGOs submit to the NGO Affairs Agency a detailed annual work program and budget, a detailed annual report highlighting progress on activities undertaken during the year, work plans for the following year, and financial statements audited by NGO Affairs Agency-approved auditors.  The government has stated the submissions help the NGO Affairs Agency monitor NGO activities.

The law does not require public or private schools throughout the country to include religious instruction in their curricula; however, the majority of schools do so and most students attend these classes.  The government provides religious education teachers to schools that cannot recruit such teachers.

The constitution bans political parties organized on a religious basis.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

International Religious Freedom Reports
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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future