Religious leaders and others expressed concerns that what they termed as aggressive proselytization and polemical statements during the past few years, often by foreign-inspired Christian and Muslim fundamentalist groups, constituted a possible threat to the country’s religious harmony. Their activities included Muslim groups broadcasting messages denying the divinity of Christ and calling on Muslims not to wish people a “Merry Christmas,” transmitting prayer calls at high volume from mosques located near churches, as well as churches playing Christian revivalist music near mosques at high volumes during Ramadan. Muslim groups also threatened to burn churches built on the sites of former mosques, and mutually derogatory statements were made on Sunni, Shia, and Ahmadiyya radio stations. The IRC, SLP, and ONS identified certain fundamentalist Christian groups, some from Nigeria, and the Tabligh movement as major players in fomenting religious discord by seeking to alienate adherents of Christianity and Islam from each other. On September 26, police detained a Nigerian evangelical pastor accused of hate speech “for his own safety” after a video of his sermon went viral on social media. In it he claimed Islam’s symbol was the sword and therefore the religion was innately violent; he also said there were no Muslims in Sierra Leone, only Christians and animists. Against the backdrop of public outrage, police extended protection to his churches due to rumors that some Muslims were threatening to burn down his six churches across the country. In a letter addressed to the pastor, the MSWGCA suspended all church activities pending completion of an investigation into alleged hate speech by the pastor. Subsequently the pastor made a public apology, charges were not filed, and his churches were allowed to reopen.
Most churches and mosques were registered with the Council of Churches, Evangelical Fellowship, or United Council of Imams. The IRC coordinated with Christian and Muslim religious groups throughout the year, including through visits to each administrative district in the country, to discuss and promote religious harmony. The IRC’s membership included only groups deemed to be Christian or Muslim. Rastafarians and animists were excluded. The Sunni-dominated Muslim leadership on the IRC reportedly sought to exclude Ahmadi Muslims, given Sunni views that the Ahmadiyya are heretical. According to the IRC, Pentecostal churches continued to refuse to join the IRC because they rejected collaboration with Muslims.
With government backing, the IRC drafted a code of conduct for guiding interreligious relations and proposed it as an addendum to the IRC’s constitution. It includes provisions that all new mosques and churches are to be located at specific distances from each other to avoid Muslim community complaints that certain churches played loud music during Ramadan services in mosques. The code of conduct also seeks to expand IRC membership to include denominations such as Pentecostal groups. Parliament did not review this addendum prior to closing its session on December 7.
Intermarriage between Christians and Muslims remained common, and many families had both Christian and Muslim members living in the same household. Many individuals celebrated religious holidays of other religious groups, regardless of denomination, both at home and in houses of worship.