It is the first time in more than two decades that Gambians have celebrated the Eid-ul-Fitr without a barrage of threats and swearing.
It is always during former President Yahya Jammeh’s Eid-ul-Fitr address to the nation that he will make a unilateral declaration to have inmates killed, or threaten arrest.
In 2012, nine inmates were killed after Ramadan. In a meeting with Muslim elders in his cabinet room and during his address to the nation, Jammeh made known his plan.
“Billai walai talai,” he said.
“If I do not kill them, if these sentences are not carried out, I will drink alcohol and eat pork.”
Jammeh’s threat to have all death row inmates, at least fifty of them were brushed off as a bluff.
A week after the announcement, Jammeh’s special forces had gone into the state’s central prison in the outskirts of the island capital, Banjul, dragged nine inmates, including two females and had them executed.
Five years into their death, no one has seen the remains of the inmates and the truth about how they were killed remains unanswered.
Jammeh had deepened Islamic sectarian divide in this nation of about two million people. Those that disobeyed his orders to observe Eid on his sanctioned date were subject to arrest.
“There is only one true form of Islam. Any other is just to cause disunity and it will not be accepted in this country,” he would say.
“If you pray on any other day, Interior Minister, make sure you arrest them unless you want to spend the night at my free hotel.”
The “free hotel,” is the Mile 2 prisons. The UN has called for its closure. Conditions there are deplorable and it is regarded one of the world’s most inhumane detention centers.
In 2014, the police arrested Sheikh Muhideen Hydara, Khaliph General of Darsilami Sangajor in Foni Kansala district, and Buyeh Touray, the Alkalo of the same village, for observing the Eid prayers on July 29.
They were charged with “conspiracy and disobedience to lawful order,” which they denied. The judge that freed them, Magistrate Ebrima Jaiteh was arrested and later fled.
A group of Islamic clerics, the Supreme Islamic Council had always backed Jammeh’s actions and support the executions and arrest of other religion leaders, who opposed them.
Jammeh gave them millions and spoke to them rudely. It was, however, different on Sunday when the same group of elders met with the new President Adama Barrow.
They did not get the big sum of money but were addressed with respect and had their dignity intact.
When the end of the Ramadan approaches, Gambians are filled with mixed emotions.
They are excited about the festivities but fearful of what Jammeh may be announcing. It was not like that this year. There were joy and no fear.
Jammeh was defeated in the elections last year and sent packing by West African forces after refusing to cede power. He fled to Equatorial Guinea.