Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 November 2019:
The problem is that politics has power; religion has only love, peace and the experience of the divine. Politics can easily interfere with religion; and it has been interfering all along, to such an extent that it has destroyed many religious values which are absolutely necessary for the survival of humanity and life on this earth.
Anyone remotely familiar with Dr Juldeh Jalloh and Dr Samura Kamara will realise that a potentially explosive situation was probably averted at the Masjid Rahma (Basharia Mosque) because of the humble disposition of both gentlemen.
Muslims and Christians trading places in their respective places of worship is nothing new in Sierra Leone. Some politicians now class themselves as “Christmus” and are equally comfortable in the Church and Mosque-wherever there are potential voters!
More lately, however, the proliferation of politicians into Muslim and Christian Places of worship to deliver political messages, aided and abetted by political supporters of a particular faith has become the norm. Some religious leaders have most times cashed in on the “financial windfall” this could bring and the politicians, on the enhanced outreach to hard-to-reach constituents.
This has undoubtedly over the years eroded the respect politicians hitherto had for these religious leaders, many of whom in days of yore spoke truth to power.
A few decades ago, politicians, including the country’s leaders were kept on their toes by revered Church Leaders who spoke in “fire and brimstone” sermons from the pulpit about the ills of society, speaking starkly about their failings.
These days, it is more common to have our leaders seen at crusades by famous preachers who “pussyfoot” around the ills of society in their preaching but nevertheless pray fervently that God may give the leaders the “wisdom of Solomon”.
But what happened at Basharia mosque where Dr. Samura had been invited and the Vice President later turned up at the same Mosque? One obviously not unbiased newspaper put it this way: “After prayers, the Imam was caught in a difficult situation and had to announce VP Juldeh Jalloh to speak. The congregation erupted in annoyance and protestation. And started chanting Samura! Samura! Juldeh had to leave embarrassed. As he left, the people booed relentlessly. Moments later, Samura Kamara emerged and the congregation erupted in applause and in solidarity following him all the way to his home at Montague Street.”
We have had a history in the past in many countries in Africa of Church leaders speaking truth to power even at their peril Archbishop Luwum of the Church of Uganda from 1974 to 1977 was a leading voice in criticising the excesses of the Idi Amin regime. In 1977, he delivered a note of protest to dictator Idi Amin against the policies of arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances.
Shortly afterwards the archbishop and other leading churchmen were accused of treason and he was murdered on the orders of then-President Idi Amin. He is recognised as a martyr by the Church of England and his statue is among the Twentieth Century Martyrs on the front of Westminster Abbey in London.
Political interference into religious matters is not only for Sierra Leone. The Catholic Diocese of Murang’a in Kenya had to cancel all events where politicians were invited. This is after a service at a Catholic church in Murang’a was disrupted after two MPs clashed over protocol during a fundraiser.
The Bishop ordered the suspension of such activities. The chaos from the two MPS had caused chaotic scenes that prematurely stopped the service, one insisting that representatives of the other should not be allowed to speak at the service.
Sometimes, political interference can be for a good cause. In the USA, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee visited the Islamic Center of Detroit to discuss the concerns of Muslim Americans. The roundtable, attended by imams, activists, nonprofit leaders and other community members discussed Inslee’s promise to dismantle the Muslim ban, his climate change agenda, and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“We have a very dangerous person in the White House,” he said, calling Trump someone who tries “to inflame anger and fear and hatred in the United States against the Muslim community.” A number of 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have campaigned in Muslim communities around the country.
Not unexpectedly, the politically inclined have tended to support the person from their own party in in this event in very simplistic terms. For the APC, Samura was in the right as he was invited by the Mosque authorities. Juldeh, as important as he is was an interloper. For the SLPP Juldeh as a Muslim has the right to pray in any mosque of his choosing and should have been accorded the usual courtesies given to the second gentleman of state who was in fact acting as President, But it is informative to note the varied views of other people.
Someone remarked the mosque was a potential terrorist organization: “Please let us not forget that the same Mosque is a Madrassas ( potential terrorist tactic).”
Another alluded to Samura being a Christian: “Dr Samura is not a practising Muslim and therefore he should not be accorded a preference over a practising Muslim……….. He’s a Catholic Christian and a prominent member of the Lodge enclave. He has no business in a mosque because clearly, he doesn’t in anyway believe in the Muslim faith.”
Someone else rubbed it in: “What’s even more disheartening is the fact that these above named Christian politicians are not only loudly welcomed in mosques during the usual Friday Juma Prayers, but given the platform to address the cheering and often sycophantic worshipers.”
Two separate conspiracy theorists noted: “I think we may need to look at that particular Mosque in history; dating from the days of Late Abu Black in 1997; when he became the spiritual mouthpiece of the AFRC.”
“In this regard, VP Juldeh cleverly used the Sun Tzu approach of deception; that when you are strong pretend to be weak, when you are near, pretend to be far, etc. The VP with his constitutional status and the hard power following he had at that time, was better placed to have had his way. Yet, he presented to be weak and left.”
A Rastafarian prayed for cleansing: “In view of all of these, one can safely conclude that the mosques have become politically and morally defiled and therefore need cleansing from within.”
One interesting suggestion from the Rastafarian went thus: “Three things underpinned the entire scenario:
1. Samura Kamara had no genuine business at the mosque. 2. VP Juldeh deliberately went late for the all-important Juma prayer just so as to create an undue attraction. 3. The Imam acted foolishly by giving VP Juldeh Jalloh, despite his lateness, the podium to address the congregation “
But how did these two titans meet in this mosque under the present politically charged atmosphere. One thing is clear in all versions of the story-Dr Samura Kamara was an invited guest to the mosque and was billed to speak to the worshippers, whereas Dr Juldeh Jalloh, was not expected by the authorities.
Dr Jalloh has however stated that although protocol may demand that he informs mosque authorities of his intention to pray with them, his reason for unannounced visits to Mosques as in this case is to avoid the possibility of interrupting the proceedings of Jamaat prayers around him, adding that he wants to come as a normal worshipper and observe his prayers like any other devout Muslim.
Good for him! A logical question to ask is whether the visit to this particular mosque was just by happenstance of whether he knew Samura Kamara would be there. Answers in the affirmative to any of the two are troubling. If he just “happened to drop by”, we must be worried as citizens for the safety of our Vice President as it is expected that whether or not he wants to drop by informally to a public gathering, his security detail should check the place out. If he knew, then it is equally troubling as he would know that sparks would fly in the current political atmosphere.
The issue of politicization of religion seems to have come to the fore. Clearly this needs to be addressed probably not by the politicians themselves as they would be reluctant to do so but by the religious leaders.
They can take a leaf out of the action of the leadership of the Selangor Ruler, Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah, who noting that Muslims in the state are becoming increasingly divided because of differing political ideologies decreed that mosques in Selangor should be an area free from any party political activities. He stated thus:
“All politicians, especially elected representatives, whether state or Parliament, from government or opposition parties, are not allowed to hold ceramah and deliver speeches in mosques as well as surau. We want all mosques and surau to be free from any party political activities in order to prevent it being changed from being a platform to unite Muslims to that for disunity because of their different political ideologies,” Mosque committees decided not to invite speakers who were not accredited with the Selangor Islamic Religious Council (Mais) to speak in mosques or surau.
What we have seen instead of introspection and possibly self-regulation in future to keep divisive politics out of their places of worship is religious leaders falling over each other to offer profuse apologies to the VP. The United Council of Imams has met with the VP, apologized to him and commended him for “demonstrating unique statesmanship”.
The Police, who will see no fight they cannot join whisked some members of the mosque’s leadership to CID headquarters but inexplicably released them. One leader I listened to almost “thanked God for small mercies” and asked if the same Police vehicle could take him back! But where is Dr Samura Kamara in all of this? I will start looking out for him!
Kudos though to both gentlemen for nor inflaming the situation, whatever the misunderstandings. Dr Samura Kamara has been silent. Someone wrote this about Dr Juldeh Jalloh’s humility in not inflaming passions:
“It’s not only humility, it’s profound wisdom and fidelity to faith and purpose. He obviously knows what not to do with political power as a true patriot. My standing ovation to him. A large part of our problem with politics in this country is its domination by self-seeking phonies. They will crash any government they are a part of and it falls on the normally overworked brain of every president to find his own and give them a quick dispatch”
The call of the minaret (a minaret is a feature of Islamic architecture and is the place from where the call to prayer is sent out) does not mean division. The significance of the muezzin’s haunting cry, considering prophethood, prayer, politics and community is to present a more complete understanding of Islam. It becomes clear that the Islamic call to prayer transcends the boundaries. Muslim leaders as well as Christians should heed that call and work together to keep politicians out of their business.
The call of the minaret should not be poisoned by politicians. Ponder my thoughts..