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Gambian Muslims & Islamic Practices
 
 
Introduction:
Muslims make up 90% of the Gambian population. Most are Sunni though there are some people who belong to the Shiite, Ahmadiyya & Bahai faiths in Banjul & the Kombo region.

Islam & Everyday Gambian Society:
The religion has a very visible effect on Gambian life but it has not completely eradicated traditional beliefs in the majority of its believers. Most Gambians still either engage in wearing the Juju (Terre), praying at sacred crocodile pools, ancestor worship, animism, etc. This also includes some Christians as well. Central to almost every village is the mosque (Juma) or its smaller version the Jaka.

It is from these places of worship that the call to prayer is made  with Friday being the Muslim Sabbath. The Islamic Courts dispense justice in relation to the areas allowed it by the Government and apply Malikite tenets.

Gambian Religious Practices:
You will often see people praying (called Juli) either in places of worship (Juma) or out in the open after their ablutions. This is just one of the five pillars of Islam that Gambians observe. The other four are a  belief in Allah as the one god & recognition of the prophet Mohammed (pbuh) as his messenger. The third is to make a pilgrimage or Hajj to Mecca at least once in your lifetime, the fourth is giving to charity (Sarahh) and the fifth is to fast (Werr i Korr) during the holy month of Ramadan. Islam means surrender or submission to the will of God.

Polygamy is also practiced as it is not uncommon, particularly up-country, to find a man with up to 4 wives (Jabarr, wife). This is seen by many locals as a mark of prestige and status in the local community that they live in. This practice of keeping 4 wives however, is becoming less common among the middle classes in the Kombos (west coast) and it may be more common to see a man with 2 wives instead. The other aspects of a Gambian's religious life you should be aware of is that they must not drink alcohol (Sangarra) as it was originally forbidden because it interfered with prayer or eat pork as it is considered unclean.

Leaders of the religious society and interpreters and teachers of religious law acquired a role analogous to European Medieval clerics. The cleric was primarily a lettered man, a scribe. But the French term given to Moslem clerics, Marabout, has a special meaning through its identification with the cult of saints, a cult which is a particularly important feature of Sufi (or mystical) Islam. In this case it means a saintly man who has certain charismatic qualities (such as Amadou Bamba) which enable him to attract large numbers of followers to his teachings. As we use the term Marabout today, he is a person who stands apart from the laity because of the fact that he has received sufficient training in the Koran and other Islamic matters to be recognized as a religious leader. Note that the same term Marabout, which translates as Serigne in Wolof and Thierno (or Ceerno) in Pulaar, also refers to traditional healers and herbalists.

Devout persons acquire this training most often by assuming the role of a disciple ("Taloube") of another recognized Marabout from whom he receives years of training and guidance, rather than by formal study at a school of theology. The Marabout performs specific religious functions, leads prayers, teaches the young, and presides over ceremonies and feasts.

Each mosque, whether in a small neighbourhood or for a whole city, has an official who leads the prayers and is known as an "Imam". Each smaller mosque has its Imam appointed by the community and he usually holds that position for life. The "tablet school" is where the lesser marabouts or clerics called "Ustaas" teach children to recite the Koran, verses of which are written on wooden planks. This is the first religious instruction of the child, at about 4 or 5 years of age.

Gambian Religious Holidays & Festivals:

Ramadan
The Holy Month of Ramadan is observed each year by Muslim people. more...

Koriteh (or Eid-il-Fitr)
The prayer day of Koriteh immediately follows the end of Ramadan fasting in Gambia. more...

Tobaski
The Tobaski feast is marked with the slaughtering of sheep throughout the country. more...

Visiting a Mosque
If you want to visit one do go along with a Gambian friend and only do so during non-prayer times. Before entering you must take your shoes off. Women should cover all parts of their bodies, especially their heads, except the feet, hands and face.

Female Circumcision (FGM)
Over 75 per cent of Gambian women have been circumcised. more...

History of Islam in Senegambia
In the 11th century Futa Toro, in Senegal, converted to the Islam. more...

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