The issue of religious tolerance has long been a bedrock of every Liberian’s secular outlook on life. Since the founding of the republic in 1847 by freed men of color from the Americas, the eighty-five percent Liberians and 12 percent Muslims continue to coexist harmoniously, respecting one another’s religions and paying homage to one another, even on the observance of their respective holidays. But of late, there has been clamoring within the Muslim community regarding what they see as government’s allowance for the official observation of Christian holidays while their Muslim counterparts are not afforded similar opportunities under the law.
An Islamic pressure group, “the Movement for Muslims Holidays in Liberia” has added its voice to the debate when they recently petitioned the National Legislature to enact the two major festivals of the Muslims of Liberia, Eid al-Fitr known or Ramadan Day, and Eid al-Adha also known as Abraham Day, to be observed as national holidays.
According to the Movement, since the founding of Liberia there is not a single holiday dedicated to Muslims even though the constitution declares the nation as a secular state.
“With comparative analysis to other West African nations, we the Muslims see it as a clear violation of our fundamental right to be denied Islamic holidays; whereas consistent with the separation of religion, the Republic is a no state religion thereby making it secular, but Christmas as well as other religious holidays are purposely dedicated to our Christian counterparts in Liberia,” the group stated in a press release.
Quoting Article 14 of the Liberian Constitution, the Movement for Muslims Holidays in Liberia said the law provides for the separation of religion and state and stipulates that all persons are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, except as required by law to protect public safety, order, health, morals, or the rights of others. It also provides for equal protection and treatment under the law, the Movement noted.
But the group observed that even though the constitution of Liberia provides for the separation of religion and state and stipulates all persons are entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, Muslim women have faced humiliation and other obstacles to voter registration, as poll workers have refused to take ID photographs for people wearing hijab, and people with Muslim names have been intimidated, malign, harassed and abused during election periods, and at various check points in Liberia.
“Muslims in general face severe scrutiny in the process of acquiring national documents and ownership over land which is not the case with our non-Muslim counterparts,” the Movement added, adding, businesses are legally required to close on Sunday for Municipal areas cleaning, which Muslim citizens view as a pretext to force everyone to observe the Christian Sabbath/Worship Day.
The group also noted that the University of Liberia and other state owned institutions are forced to close during the Christian Festive periods Easter and Christmas. “Sadly, The National Legislature of Liberia usually elects a Christian Champlain and even stops the work of the Liberian people during Easter and Christmas periods, but don’t do the same for Muslims,” the Movement further observed.
“Other faith based institutions of learning are being subsidized by the state, through the taxes of everyone leaving out Muslims Institutions of learning. Most interestingly, but highly frustrating, our government (past and current), have perpetually ignored the rights of the Liberian Muslims over the years. The over one million Muslim students and workforce in Liberia have been forced to attend classes or go work on both Ramadan and Abraham Days or students are punished either by failing in their exams, quizzes, presentations or other academic works, while those from the workforce faced suspension, or a cut in salary for observing their Eid with family members. The Liberian Muslims view this as been highly intolerant, unconscious and very dishonest on the part of our lawmakers toward the “12.2%’’ Muslim population of Liberia,” the Movement pleaded.
The Movement said, Liberia, a secular state with 12.2% Muslims and 85.5% Christians; and Cape Verde, a secular state with 85.3% Christians, 1.8% Muslims, are the only two countries in West Africa that are not observing national holidays for Muslims.
On the other hand, Niger, also a secular state with 99% Muslims and just 1% Christians observes about three national holidays including Easter Monday for its 1% Christian population, representing tolerance and love.
Mali, also a secular state with 95% Muslims and just 2% Christians also does the same, while Senegal, a secular state too has 95% Muslims and only 4% Christians observes the holidays of their Christian brothers and sisters as national holidays. Neighboring Guinea, a secular state also with 85% Muslims and 8% Christians observes Easter Monday, All Saints Day, assumption of Mary Day and Christmas as national holidays, among others.
The Movement then wondered why should Liberia be different from every other country, and why should Liberian Muslims be treated in such a manner?
“It is sad that our dearest country Liberia, as a secular state with 12.2% Muslims, Islamic holidays are considered an abomination; which should not be at all! Fellow Liberians we should now join hands in stopping this uncalled-for act of extremism against Muslims” the Movement alarmed.