By Mafugi Ceesay

TRRC Lead Counsel Essa Faal has come under heavy criticism for calling renowned Muslim cleric Dr Zakir Naik an extremist who promotes religious intolerance around the world.
Faal made this claim to former State House Imam Abdoulie Fatty, who appeared on Monday to respond to several adverse mentions of him at the Commission.
Faal said Dr Naik is a fundamentalist who came here and polluted the minds of Gambians, saying the scholar causes discord.

However Imam Fatty defended Naik and asked if the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at, who he said causes problems in the country are not banned, then why should an important cleric of Islam like Naik be banned from coming to The Gambia.
Imam Fatty said Dr. Zakir Naik is still welcome in the country at any time.
According to him, the Ahmadis divided Baddibu Salikenni, and as a result, families turned against each other.

“They should be ones to be banned, before thinking of Dr. Zakir,” Imam Fatty said.
The tense exchanges between Imam Fatty and Faal generated a lot of debate, especially from Gambians online, many of whom described Faal’s handling of the Imam “disrespectful”.

One Ousman Sowe, who was among dozens of people frowning at Faal’s engagement with the Imam, said: “Mr. Faal’s labeling of the esteemed Islamic Scholar Dr. Zakir Naik as a divisive extremist and fundamentalist is disappointing and very worrying of Mr. Faal’s attitude. I am an admirer of Mr. Faal and I bet that majority of Gambians still admire him but the love we have for our Islamic scholars far supersedes the love we have for him or anyone at the commission. We will not entertain insults against our respected scholars whose only crime is to convey the word of Allah and his beloved Prophet (S.A.W) as it is.

Dr. Naik is indeed banned by some countries because he speaks the truth and nothing but the truth without fear in a language that is crystal clear. We respect the TRRC and we are in support of it in any way we can but we shall never allow anyone to use the TRRC as a platform to castigate or negatively profile our respected Islamic scholars. Counsel Faal’s statement against Dr. Naik is not only dangerous but capable of inciting violence thus tantamount to undermining the objectives of a commission.

Finally, I’m glad to inform Faal that no amount of hate or lies against our esteemed Islamic scholars engaged in the propagation of Islam peacefully will make us hate them or abandon them, in fact the more he hates them, the more we embrace and stand by them.”

Another Gambian Prince Ebrahim Sanyang commented on the matter on his Facebook page accompanying a picture he had taken with Dr Naik. He said: “My advice to Essa Faal is to be humble. His comments against Dr Zakir Naik are mischievous, misinformed, arrogant, unfounded and unsubstantiated. The Dr Zakir Naik that I know is neither a fundamentalist nor an extremist and it’s wrong to label him as such. He is a professor in comparative religion; vast and respected by leading scholars of all major religions. Dr Zakir Naik has been a beacon of peace, unity and religious tolerance among humanity, often manifested on his usual platform sharing with diverse religious (Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews etc) leaders.

Unfortunately, Essa’s slander is a clear manifestation of his arrogance and limitations. Neither worldly employed position, nor so-called intellect should warrant disrespect, insults and slander against an innocent man. Essa Faal, humble yourself. No one will divide Gambians, certainly not Essa.”

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