An upcoming referendum to make Liberia a Christian state is meeting fierce opposition from the country’s Muslims and some Christians.
At a three day retreat held by the National Imam Council of Liberia, a resolution was drafted that included a threat to boycott the referendum if the issue of the Christian state is not removed.
“The National Imam Council of Liberia is amazed beyond words that some of our compatriots are calling for the declaration of Liberia as a Christian nation,” an official of the Imam Council said.
Prior to 1986, Liberia’s constitution had stipulated Christianity’s special status in the founding of the country by thanking God for granting “the blessings of the Christian religion.” The current document states that all Liberians “irrespective of history, tradition, creed, or ethnic background — are of one common body politic.”
At a conference charged with reviewing the country’s 1986 constitution, 15 proposed amendments to the document were passed and forwarded to the National Legislature. Among them were a reduction in elected representatives’ terms, land reform and inheritance rights for women, a recommendation that citizenship should continue to be restricted to people of black African descent and that Liberia should become a Christian state.
The recommendation and amendments were forwarded to President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson who said she was not in favor of the provision “baptizing Liberia.” She also rejected what she called “continuous race-based discrimination” in the constitution.
In an interview with the Anadolu news agency, protestor Hajah Swaray said: “Liberia is not for Christians, Liberia is not for Muslims, Liberia is for everybody. We don’t want Liberia to be for only one group of people…We have 16 tribes in Liberia. Some people are Muslims, while others are Bahai or embrace traditional religions. Let’s just live as we are.”
Some Christian leaders, however, maintain they have the backing of the majority and that a change in Liberia’s state religion would reflect the people’s will for a Christian state. “The issue here isn’t about Christians and Muslims,” Liberian clergyman and conference participant David Success Jallah told Anadolu. “The [committee] was given a mandate to tour the country and get Liberians’ views on what they wanted to see in the constitution. And those views showed that 99.4 percent of the people want Liberia to return to a Christian state.”
Christians make up about 85 percent of Liberia’s population of 4 million, with Muslims constituting 12 percent and adherents of other religions and those with indigenous beliefs constituting the remainder, according to the country’s 2008 census.
London-based Liberian academic, activist and author Dr Robtel Neajai Pailey, told the publication Christian Today: “I fear for this outcome because it will undoubtedly sow the seeds of division in a country that is already very fractured.