Good morning to you all, ladies and gentlemen of the press. We begin with thanks and praises to the Almighty Allah and pray for peace and blessings on the Noble Prophet Muhammad, his household and companions and all other prophets, messengers sent to mankind, and all people who follow the path of righteousness till the day of resurrection.
We thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the press, for responding to our invitation to this press conference. The purpose is to present to the various political parties contesting this year’s general elections pertinent issue affecting the wellbeing of large sections of Ghanaian populace, especially Muslims. We the Coalition of Muslim Organisations Ghana (COMOG) deem this exercise necessary because the political parties have been largely silent on these matters, in spite of their pertinence to the maintenance of peace, stability, national cohesion, and to the overall development of our dear nation Ghana. The neglect of these pertinent issues is reflected in the fact that, no political party has directly addressed them in their manifesto. Our goal is to challenge the political parties to pay attention to these pertinent issues and to indicate to the people of Ghana how they will address them when given the mandate to rule the country.
But before we go ahead, we would first and foremost like to begin with words of commendation to the two leading political parties in Ghana, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP).
COMOG would like to commend His Excellency President John Dramani Mahama for the commitment shown during the moment of the impasse between state institutions and committed Muslim women on the use of Islamic dress and freedom of worship. His Excellency the President’s directive to educational and health institutions to respect the religious freedom of Muslim students and health professionals was a mark of commitment to upholding respect for religious diversity and the fundamental human rights of all Ghanaians. COMOG believes that the president deserves commendation from all Ghanaians.
COMOG would also like to commend the flag bearer of the New Patriotic Party Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo and the NPP party for constantly yielding to our call on political parties to ensure a religious balance in the selection of flag bearers and running mates. We believe that one of the essential ingredients needed for getting our democratic culture entrenched is to ensure that leadership at all levels reflects the diversity of our dear nation even in terms that are not explicitly demanded by the laws of Ghana. It is in that spirit that at national events, prayers are offered by representatives from all three major religions in Ghana: Islam, Christianity and Traditional Religion. It is for this reason that Nana Akuffo Addo and the NPP deserve commendation by all Ghanaians for having maintained their practice since the party was created, of ensuring that a Muslim becomes a running mate.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, we now come to the pertinent issues that have brought us to this place.
Freedom of worship and dress code of Muslim students and health sector workers
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, we are all justifiably proud of Ghana as a peace-loving nation. Ghana is often touted as a nation in which different religious and ethnic groups live in peace, harmony, mutual respect and mutual understanding. We share this glowing tribute. But At the same time, it is our responsibility to point out that the respect and understanding has not always been mutual. The harmony has, over the decades been achieved at an unbearable cost to the freedom and desire of Muslims to practice their faith and to manifest such practice wherever they find themselves, as guaranteed in our constitution. While we are grateful to the Almighty Allah for the peace we enjoy, the lesson we must learn from some parts of the world is that, peaceful and harmonious co-existence is difficult to sustain in an environment where discrimination in any form or shape, is entrenched and systemic.
In Ghana, many young Muslims and parents, over the decades, have been forced to choose between quality education and their Islamic faith and identity. Others who have toiled to educate themselves and gained valuable knowledge have been forced to choose between their Islamic faith and identity and service to the nation they love. The saddest aspect of this is that, state institutions such as public second cycle institutions, hospitals and other health facilities as well as financial institutions are the worse culprits in denying Muslims their fundamental right to worship and the expression of their Islamic identity.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, it is important to understand that this blatant disregard for the freedom of worship and expression of religious beliefs as enshrined in our constitution complicates efforts at convincing some Muslim parents to encourage the education of their wards, especially females, to the highest level. Many Muslim parents, when faced with the choice of secular education and the risk of loss of identity and faith through compulsory church services in second cycle institutions would be more inclined to protecting the faith of their children even at the cost of educating them. It also unfairly limits the opportunities available to dedicated Muslims, as they may stay away from professions that they would otherwise have like to work in, for fear of being forced to abandon their religious beliefs and practices.
This is why we commend the private citizen who has taken up this matter at the Supreme Court seeking the interpretation of relevant constitutional provisions with respect to religious discrimination Muslims face. While we commend such initiative, we think that the issues still deserves further attention by all political parties contesting this year’s elections. Our position is informed by a number of reasons.
- First, the directives from the president through the ministries of Education and Health to educational and public health institutions for students and health workers to be given the freedom to worship and manifest their religious beliefs has gone largely unheeded. Many health institutions still bar female workers from using the veil at work while some public second cycle institutions still enforce compulsory church service on Muslim students or deny them the chance to observe Islamic worship.
- Second, the directive was not comprehensive enough, as it only covered public institutions. Thus even if it were heeded, it would not guarantee and protect the rights of Muslims in the private sector, especially those in financial institutions.
- Third, the outcome of the pending case at the Supreme Court of the Republic will not necessarily bring an end to the discrimination Muslims face. While COMOG expects a favourable verdict, our experience with recent Supreme Court judgments on crucial matters shows that court verdicts do not automatically immediately result in changes to the reality on the ground.
We believe that the real change will come with constant inter-religious dialogue, education and a concerted effort on the part of the government of the day to enforce relevant provisions of the constitution of Ghana on the rights and freedoms of people of all religious persuasions. This is why COMOG insists that all political parties contesting this year’s election publicly state what measures they will put in place to achieve this, when given the mandate to rule the country.
Hajj management and statutory locus of government control on Hajj
Of the five pillars of Islam, the only one that requires mandatory external travel and engagement with foreign authorities is the Hajj. Due to this uniqueness, a lot of preparations and expertise are always needed for its proper execution. Sadly, much of the challenges Ghanaian Muslims have faced over the decades have stemmed from mismanagement and half-hearted commitment on the part of many stakeholders. Compared with pilgrims from other parts of the world, Ghanaian pilgrims get much less than what they pay for, especially with regards to the facilities and logistic on accommodation and transportation available to them in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and shipping of their goods back to Ghana. Also lack of accountability and transparency of the operation of hajj over the years now has been issue of concern to the muslim community.
In government’s attempt to address some of the challenges faced by Ghanaian pilgrims, a proposal was made recently to set up a National Pilgrims Board to oversee the organisation of pilgrimage by people of all religious persuasions. Given the prominence of Hajj and its sanctity and practices, and consider the peculiar sensibilities of the Muslim Community in legalising a situation in which control and influence of Hajj – a sacred Islamic institution and the 5th Pillar of Islam – will be exercised directly or remotely by non-Muslims, this we think will be tantamount to secularisation of Hajj, which would only compound the problems Muslims face. For this reason, COMOG and all major Islamic and Christian organisations opposed the government’s move. While COMOG is delighted at the presumed discontinuation by government to set up the board, though without communicating to the Muslim community, we would like the governing NDC to clarify their intention to Ghanaians on the decisions it will take if their mandate is given to them, with regards to their attempt at setting up the board.
Islamic Banking and Finance
Ladies and gentlemen, one of the growing financial systems in the world today is Islamic Financing and Islamic Banking. Its flagship feature of interest-free banking and primary objective of incorporating ethical principles has made it a safe banking and financial system in many parts of the world. As already widely attested, financial institutions operating on Islamic Banking and Islamic Finance largely survived the worst effects of the recession that greeted the world in 2008. For this and many other reasons, Islamic Banking and Islamic Finance has gradually become a complementary financial system in many parts of the world. Beyond the Middle East and Asia, it is now part of the financial systems of countries in Europe and North America, including the United Kingdom and has become the choice of people of different faiths in many parts of the world. Unfortunately, while the benefits of Islamic Finance and Islamic Banking is widely acknowledged, Ghana is yet to adopt it and to avail itself to the tremendous benefits that it comes with.
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, our decision to include this as an issue for the impending elections is because it is pertinent to the growth of our financial system and the economy at large. The incorporation of Islamic Banking and Islamic Finance to complement the existing banking and finance system in Ghana will contribute to reducing the size of the unbanked population in the country. Many dedicated Muslims in the private sector who, in their desire to observe the proscription of interest in Islam, would adopt alternative and often unsafe means of saving their money rather than resort to the banks. Many more in the formal sector do not invest their money or benefit from credit facilities to grow their businesses and explore their entrepreneurial competencies because of the lack of religiously compliant options. Even many non-Muslim Ghanaians are unable to explore their entrepreneurial competencies because of the prohibitive effect of high interest rates that come with credit facilities. The introduction of interest-free Islamic Banking and Islamic Finance will provide a massive boost to the investment and entrepreneurial drive of thousands of Ghanaian Muslims and non-Muslims propel the growth of the Ghanaian economy and provide jobs for the people of Ghana.
The existence of Islamic Finance will also encourage foreign investment as well as open Ghanaian financial institutions to collaboration and cooperation with Shariah-compliant institutions in all parts of the world. In short, the benefits of adopting this system are enormous. Ghana is losing a great deal of opportunity to grow our economy by the restrictive nature of our financial system.
While the opening up of our Banking and financial system is long overdue, we are heartened by the fact that a bill on Islamic Banking is under consideration by the Bank of Ghana. COMOG would like to seek commitments from all political parties contesting this year’s election on what measures they will take to ensure the passage of the right legislation to allow Islamic Banking and finance as a complementary option within the shortest possible time.
We thank you for coming.
Hajj Abdel-Manan Abdel-Rahman,General Secretary, COMOG. 0244470505,0277430055