Weekly ceremony at Presentation school, Brikama
Around 9 in the morning I see children and teachers facing one of the imams at catholic Presentation school in Brikama. Like every Friday the Muslim children and teachers of the school gather outside to pray together and listen to the imam. Some of the girls share a kala (sjawl) to cover their heads. “What does it mean when a person greets you with salaam? It means peace. So Islam represents peace.”
On the other side of the playground, just a few steps away, I see another group of children, teachers and a sister. This is the Christian population of the school. They surround the priest, who starts the weekly school mass with a prayer.
God must be happy
If I close my eyes I can hear both of them: talking about morals, about prophet Mohammed or Jesus as role models for a good life, singing English Christians songs, reciting Quran text in Arabic, praying to Allah / God for the wellbeing of the Gambia and other parts of the World. Once in a while I hear the word Allah, but most of the time the priest and the imam use the word God. “The peace of Jesus be with us always. Let us offer each other the sign of peace. Let us shake hands.” Haven’t I heard preaching peace before this morning?
Father Gomez smiles to me and ends the mass. “We are lucky at this school. Muslims praying to God on that side of the playground and Christians praying over here to him. God must be happy with us!”
Chat with the teachers
Chatting with some of the teachers I hear what I’ve heard many times before over the past three weeks in the Gambia.
“In the Gambia we are all related. Christians, Muslims, Bahai. Wolof, Madinka, Fulla. We talk to each other. That brings us closer.” “I’m from Nigeria, but I do not want to go back yet. I like it a lot here in the Gambia. People treat Muslims and Christians the same here. For me as a Christian it is not always that easy in Nigeria. Over here they take care of each other. They share their food, welcome you, no matter what religion you have.”
“It’s very good we have these prayers every Friday. That’s why our children have very good achievements. Even the other day they became first in a school tournament.” He’s not the first to tell me there is a direct correlation between prayer and school achievements.
Chat with the children
Teachers, principals, lecturers, taxi drivers, random by passers - many tell me it is common for Muslims and Christians to live together in the Gambia. Let’s have a chat with some of the children. In groups of four, two Muslims and two Christians, they enter the office where I seated myself.
“What did you like most this morning?” “Prayer.” “What do you like about prayer?” “You learn from prayer. It’s good for the Gambia. Then there is peace. Peace is different in the Gambia. In strange countries there is not always peace. We all talk together. We sit together. We need peace in our country.”
“If we know more rules and regulations from each other we will not insult each other. This does happen sometimes. When we are angry they insult you. They say your father is not a good Muslim or your mother is not a good Christian.”
“In the Gambia Christians and Muslims are all one. They are all friends. I am Muslim. He (points to one of the other children) is my best friend and is Christian. When I have Tobaski (offerfeest) celebration I call him. And we come together to eat. When he has Christmas. He calls me to come. Just like we are from the same family.”
The same family… I don’t hear this that often in the Netherlands if it comes to religious and cultural diversity in our society. What do you think? How do you see this diversity? And how come we don’t see all Dutch people as one family?