March 31, 2015 By Amjata Bayoh
As a Sierra Leonean I am proud of the religious tolerance that exists in our country and it is something we should all be proud of. In many parts of the world people use religion to create differences and war, but in Sierra Leone Muslims and Christians have been living together happily. During the devastating Ebola outbreak, I believe the ability of both religions to unite has been an invaluable part of the response.
In Sierra Leone, it is not uncommon for Christians to send their children to Muslim schools and vice versa or for people of the opposite faith to visit each other at their respective mosques and churches. This is unique and unheard of in most other countries.
Religious tolerance in Sierra Leone is evident even in the leadership structure in the country where the President and Vice President always practice a different faith (Islam and Christianity).
FOCUS 100 is one of the implementing partners of the Social Mobilisation Action Consortium (SMAC) and has been engaging religious leaders in Sierra Leone to lead the Ebola response through the Christian Action Group (Christag) and Islamic Action Group (Islag). These two groups have been engaging people all over Sierra Leone through a network of over 4000 religious leaders working under the CHRISTAG and ISLAG network.
Religious leaders have have been working together to combat Ebola. Earlier this month, the Imam to the British armed forces Asim Hafis visited Sierra Leone and FOCUS 1000 facilitated a meeting with Christian and Muslim religious leaders. The fact that the event was held at a christian venue – the Council of Churches Sierra Leone Hall in Freetown – speaks volumes about the level of acceptance that exists in the county around religion.
In his statement to the Sierra Leone Religious Leaders he commended the Sierra Leonean people for being strong during this difficult time. “The faith community are absolutely crucial in the Ebola fight, they are not only there to challenge the disease, but they are there to bring peace and unity around the world, unfortunately some people use faith as a means to divide communities but I see faith as a means of bringing people together. Faith is like a candle light you can use it to light the way for people but if you use that same candle light in the negative way the flames can cause damage”, he said.
The Imam was genuinely impressed by the level of commitment and courage demonstrated by Sierra Leone and its religious leaders, and offered strong words of encouragement.
“People can listen to you and you need to continue the fight until we get to the end. I don’t know how people would cope with this situation in my country, I don’t know how I would behave if I were in this situation with my family and you have shown that you are able to do that you have shown the strength of unity you have shown the strength that faith has given you”, said Imam Asim Hafiz.
I personally come from an Islamic background and both of my parents are Muslim. I attended an Islamic primary school but when I reached secondary school I wanted to go to St Edwards Secondary, an institution that has produced several role models in this country. I had to convince my parents to allow me to attend as they wanted me to go to a Muslim school.
They were eventually persuaded and I attended the St Edwards Secondary School for six years, a period in which I attended participated in Christian gatherings including church during our annual Thanks Giving Ceremony. However I kept my primary focus on Islam which I am very proud of.
I graduated from St Edward’s School in 2011 and now at University I am part of the Islamic Group. Recently a Christian friend from the US was very touched by how different people from different religions interact in Sierra Leone and during the past Ramadan we would fast together, visit the mosque together and break our fast together.
I am proud to be a Muslim and pray that Allah guides everyone through the right path. I respect the belief of others and pray that God helps us maintain our acceptance of each other.