Section I. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.
The Government does not require religious groups to register. Religiously based nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) are subject to the same registration and licensing requirements as other NGO's.
Muslims constitute over 90 percent of the population. The main Muslim branches are Tijaniyah, Qadiriyah, Muridiyah, and Ahmadiyah. Except for the Ahmadiyah, all branches pray together at common mosques. An estimated 9 percent of the population practice Christianity and 1 percent practice animism, or traditional indigenous religions. The Christian community is predominantly Roman Catholic, but there also are several Protestant denominations, including Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, and various small Protestant evangelical denominations.
The expatriate leadership and expatriate staff members of the Ahmadiyah Islamic branch, who left the country in 1997 claiming a fear of persecution after being criticized by the imam of the Statehouse Mosque, so far have not returned. However, the Gambian head of the Ahmadiyah branch returned from exile in November 1998. The imam of the Statehouse Mosque made no further criticism of the Ahmadiyah branch. The institutions of the Ahmadiyah that were closed as a result of the discord with the Statehouse Mosque were reopened in November 1998.
In May 1998, the imam of the largest mosque in Brikama was arrested in a dispute over minor construction work at a mosque that reportedly was financed by supporters of the ruling party. The imam, a largely apolitical figure who nevertheless is believed by many to oppose the ruling party, ordered a halt to the construction. Subsequently, he was arrested, together with a leading opposition party politician and eight others. After protracted legal proceedings, the imam was acquitted of charges of destruction of property and discharged in February 1999. The Government has refused to allow the imam to lead prayers at the mosque both as a result of this incident and due to pressure from his opponents in the community. The matter was being considered in the High Court at the end of June 1998.
The Government permits and does not limit religious instruction in schools. Bible and Koranic studies are provided in both public and private schools throughout the country without government restriction or interference. Religious instruction in public schools is provided at government expense, but is not mandatory.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
There were no reports of the forced religious conversion of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section II. Societal Attitudes
There is religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence between differing religious groups, and there are amicable relations between the various religious communities. Intermarriage between members of different religious groups is legal and socially acceptable.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom with the Government in the overall context of the promotion of human rights.
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