Activist Imam Leigh Receives Award in US
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
GAMCOTRAP wishes to take this opportunity to thank the Rhodes Island Gambian American Community, Dairatul Abraar for recognizing the contributions of Imam Baba Leigh, in promoting women’s rights in Islam.
Imam Leigh was presented with the Rhodes Island Gambian Community Recognition Award, May 26th, 2012.
Identity and social affiliation was a strong part of human existence. It matters how people identify you, but most importantly how you identify yourself. Identity can be fluid, depending where one was.
In this global crises of global identity, whether for political or religious gains, Gambians in the Diaspora, the US in particular, continue to identify with their religion, in this case, Islam.
The wellknown Imam, Alhagie Baba Leigh, was one of the religious leaders who embarked on an annual visit to the United States of America to enlighten Gambians and non-Gambians alike on Islam and social issues confronting them. Since the early 1980s, Imam Baba Leigh has been responding to the calls of Gambians in America as a guest speaker at conferences and seminars, addressing social issues from the perspective of Islam.
Between July and August 2012, Imam Leigh held conferences in Rhodes Island, New York, Atlanta, and Seattle and at Columbia University.
The role of women in Islam, the ideal family in particular, was the choice of discussion for the Gambian association based in Rhodes Island called Dairatul Abraar.
The Imam noted that the topic was sensitive because the issues raised included women’s rights to employment, pervasiveness in marriage influenced by the different cultural contexts in the states and The Gambia, and the people’s limited understanding of Islam, as well as the role of women.
United Gambia Association of New York was concerned about discussions on the role of citizens in national development. Imam Leigh advised that there was no place like home and that all Gambians abroad should be ambassadors of their country. This philosophy was rooted in the prophesy.
“Muslims are ambassadors of their religion,” Imam Leigh stated.
He further advised Gambians to unite as the Wollof saying goes, “bena loho du tachu”- literary meaning a single hand cannot clap. Therefore in unity lies strength.
In Atlanta, Imam Baba Leigh was asked to give a lecture on preparations for the holy month of Ramadan. He noted that the best way to prepare was spiritually.
As the economic crises was squeezing every corner of the globe, Imam reminded the Gambians abroad to still continue to provide support to families in The Gambia, as some have left their wives behind. Similar topics were addressed amongst the growing Gambian population in Seattle where the Gambian Imam preached on unity and peaceful co-existence.
The recognition of Imam Leigh’s positive and progressive look of Islam and his pursuit of unity amongst Africans caught the attention of Senegalese-Americans and some Gambians in New York.
The Tijaniya Federation in New York and the Columbia University gained from Imam’s knowledge on Sufism- the Tijani Sect and the story of Sheikh Ahmed Tijan and the story of Sheikh Omar Futhiou, respectively. Along with other scholars and religious leaders, they celebrated the lives of such religious scholars.
Aware of the sectarian fight amongst Muslims as it is growing throughout the globe, but sadly it was raising its head amongst Gambians in the United States. Imam Baba Leigh noted that Gambians abroad should avoid such sectarianism to divide them, but focus on being Gambians and Muslims. He emphasized humanity first before sectarianism in Islam, to avoid the dangerous trend among Gambians.
The rights-activist cum Imam noted that gender discusssions have taken different routes, while most hide behind the guise of Islam to entrench injustices amongst women. Others were wrapped up in our ‘culture’ as the safe haven where injustices against women are further nurtured. Imam Baba Leigh observed the lives of Gambians living in the US in comparison to living in The Gambia. He argued that it was impossible for him to discuss Islam and the role of women without being associated with the Women’s rights activism with GAMCOTRAP.
Imam Leigh noted that he was recognized as religious adviser to GAMCOTRAP and in New York and Rhodes Island, the issues they asked shows they recognized GAMCOTRAP’s role in fighting the rights of women and many visit its website to follow up on the work of the organisation.
On the specific issue of FGM, Imam Leigh observed that some of those in the Diaspora have the perception that FGM was African culture and they were not aware of its health-hazards and hold the view that it should be maintained. Responding to such views, Imam argued that FGM cannot be tagged as “African Culture” because some Africans don’t practise it. There are non-Africans who also practise it. “Why should Africans claim ownership of FGM?” Activist Imam questioned. “We must be brave to look into our culture and address the inequalities and negative traditions if they affect the dignity and integrity of the person,” he asserted.
On marital relationship, he observed that there were role model families who were doing their best and educating their children. However, he noted there were also single-divorced women amongst the Gambians taking up single parenthood role. This emerging trend was the reality of life. Imam holds the view that marriage was influenced by various factors, sometimes resulting in instability and divorce. The increasing engagement of Gambian women in the Diaspora and their increasing economic empowerment was creating tension for some men, and sometimes affect the marital relationship. This situation, he posited, was making the gender-relation problematic. He further noted that there were conceptual differences in understanding marriage in the different societies that was America and The Gambia. Imam pointed out that women were increasingly contributing to the household food security because men were no-longer able to take charge of everything. The politics and economy of our states require that both men and women take responsibility to advance development. Therefore, the traditional gender stereotypes were giving way to other forms of social relationships in the household and other public spaces where women’s agencies were evident.
From this, one could conclude that the expected roles were gendered and both women and men could contribute to household chores. The economic realities of couple were increasingly giving voice to women in decisions taking at household-level, whether in Diaspora or at home.
Imam Baba Leigh was a co-founder of GAMCOTRAP, a Women’s Rights organization working on the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and children. He devoted his time to engage in advocacy and social mobilization to fight for the elimination of harmful traditional practices. Prominent among the negative practices was Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and early marriage. The debate to eliminate FGM in The Gambia evoked sensitivities and resistance from some religious conservatives who were promoting FGM as a religious injunction. In the midst of this gender politics, Imam Baba Leigh took an unequivocal stand to support the women in the fight against FGM. He cleared the air about FGM from a religious point of view. He joined the campaign trails of GAMCOTRAP in both rural and urban areas to spread the news and empower communities to protect their children from FGM and other harmful traditional practices. He has never relented in his commitment and conviction to promote women and children’s rights in The Gambia and beyond.
His engagement with GAMCOTRAP opened up opportunities to engage in the Diaspora spreading the message that “FGM is not a religious obligation” and that “there is no authentic Hadith that promotes FGM. Indeed, Imam Baba Leigh would remain in the annals of the Gambian women’s rights movement for supporting the cause of women and children to protect and promote their bodily integrity and dignity.
Imam Baba Leigh, the Imam of the Kanifing Estate Mosque, whose discourse on Khutuba, responds to the existing social issues, endears him to large followership in The Gambia.
GAMCOTRAP salutes you for a deserving recognition of your efforts to promote humanity. We wish to thank The Gambia community in the U.S.A for inviting the erudite Imam to engage with them. Congratulations for taking the campaign for women’s rights across the Atlantic amongst Gambians.
This bridge building was a legacy that no person is an island and you have worked positively within the realms of our religion for Islam and respect the dignity of the person, women in particular.
We send thanks and appreciation to Almighty Allah for guiding you to always stand for the truth on the cause of advancing the lives of Women.
Author: Prepared by GAMCOTRAP Friday 16th August, 2012.