President Yahya Jammeh has declared the
Gambia "an Islamic state", but stressed that the
rights of the Christian minority in the small west
African country would be respected and that
women would not be held to a dress code.
The announcement came as the president addressed
supporters in the coastal town of Brufut on Thursday,
and the comments were later broadcast on state
television and repeated on his website.
"Gambia's destiny is in the hands of the Almighty
Allah. As from today, Gambia is an Islamic state. We
will be an Islamic state that will respect the rights of
the citizens", he was quoted as saying on the
In television footage of the address on GRTV, seen by
AFP on Saturday, the president did not go into detail
about what the change would mean for the country,
but he reassured Christians and followers of other
faiths they would be able to worship freely.
"Christians will be given their due respect. The way of
celebrating Christmas will continue," he said, adding
that no one had the right to interfere with others'
"way of life".
He also warned against trying to impose a dress code
"I have not appointed anyone as an Islamic
policeman. The way women dress is not your
business," he said.
An impoverished former British colony nestled within
Senegal, famed for its white-sand beaches, the
Gambia has a population of nearly two million, 90
percent of whom are Muslim.
Of the remainder, eight percent are Christian and two
percent are defined as having indigenous beliefs.
Jammeh, 50, a military officer and former wrestler
from a rural background, has ruled the country with
an iron fist since he seized power in a coup in 1994.
He cultivates the image of a practising Muslim, and is
often seen holding a Koran or prayer beads, and of
promoting an aura of mysticism.
Earlier this year, Human Rights Watch branded his
regime one of the most repressive in the world,
blaming paramilitaries and secret police for torture,
disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
In 2013, Jammeh withdrew his country from the
Commonwealth, saying it represented "an extension