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:
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.
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
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
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:
The Holy Month of Ramadan is observed each year by Muslim
• Koriteh (or Eid-il-Fitr)
The prayer day of Koriteh
immediately follows the end of Ramadan fasting in Gambia.
The Tobaski feast is marked with the slaughtering of
sheep throughout the country.
If you want to visit one do go along with a Gambian
Muslim 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. Do ask for permission to enter from
whoever is properly in charge at the time.
History of Islam
In the 11th century Futa Toro, in Senegal, converted
to the Islam.
Alhaji & Aja
Ratou (Pilgrims to Mecca)