Christian Council And Draft Constitution
“A Christian child should be able to go to a Muslim school and grow up to be a good Christian; and a Muslim child should be able to go to a Christian school and grow up to be a good Muslim”
Chief Justice Hassan B Jallow (then of Rwanda Tribunal) to Observer Columnist Dida Halake, 2003.
In these words Justice Hassan B. Jallow (himself a product of a Christian School, St Augustine’s, and a good Muslim as befits the child of his revered father – blessings be upon him) expressed the good-neighbourliness and co-existence that prevails in The Gambia. Today Hassan B Jallow is Chief Justice of The Gambia, and another Justice Jallow, QC, has overseen the drafting of a new Constitution for The Gambia – the draft of which has aroused so much debate (as befits so important a document).
Christian Concern Over “Mandatory” Shariah Law for Muslims
This seems to be the main concern for the Christian Council (Fatunetwork, 22 May 2020). The first concern is that “Shariah is mandatory for the first time since The Gambia became an independent country”; secondly, the looseness of the words that Shariah applies “amongst people who are subject to Shari’ah in that regard ” may lead Shariah to be applied to Christians and other non-Muslims.
Christians Have a Good Case Here
Mandatory Shariah Law de-factoestablishes two distinct communities in The Gambia: those subjected to Shariah Law and those who are not. Looked at this way, the Christian Council have a point when they say “the Draft Constitution divides us rather than unite us”.
In my humble view, Shariah Law should not have been made “mandatory” even for Muslims. Clearly people who, let us say, marry under a Muslim Ceremony do subject themselves to Shariah Law in matters of inheritance, etc. But they too should have a right to “chose the jurisdiction” – i.e. the Court/Law – that should determine matters concerned with their marriage. If I signed a contract with GAMTEL in The Gambia, Gamtel and I can together chose whether Gambian Law or UK Law will apply to any dispute between us. So, if Gambians marry, why can they not be able to choose which law, Shariah or the ordinary law, should regulate their marriage?
What if a Muslim and a Christian marry? Does Shariah Law apply to their marriage? Why can they not be able to choose? Christians want the Draft Constitution to say clearly that “Shariah Law will NOT apply to Christians and other non-Muslims”, but it is clearly not as simple as that in a country where Muslims, Christians and others live so closely together and inter-mingle in every way, including through marriage.
If you are a Christian woman married to a Muslim, would you be happy to be divorced by the mere act of your husband saying: “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you”? If you are a Christian or Muslim woman married to a Muslim man,must you agree to be a co-wife should your husband choose to marry another wife according to Shariah? What about the laws that protect women’s rights? Do they not apply if they conflict with Shariah Law?
This is just a very brief rumination on the story I just read on Fatunetwork. I think it would have been better not to make Shariah Law mandatory. Please feel free to respond and I am sure Pa Nderry Mbai will just be too happy to publish your views: Fair and Balanced!