African News

Profile: The Democratic Cleric

By  | 1 October 2013 at 01:24 | 2258 views

Throughout the length and breadth of the West African State of Sierra Leone he is popularly known for putting Islamic doctrines pari parsu with democratic

Sheikh Ahmad Tejan Sillah, pictured, is the Chief Imam of the Freetown Central Mosque, a
place of worship that serves as center of worship for residents in the capital

A close study of him over the years has revealed that he is a
Muslim cleric who perceives the concept of democracy as a trait of Islamic
ideals. To him, democracy was epitomized by the emergence of Islam and Muhammad
after a foundation had been laid during the Hellenic period and later by the
Romans. He sees no difference between Islamic doctrines and democratic ideals
even though he accepts the notion that there are variations in values which
might be attributed to the inherent socio-cultural characterizations of the
Western world that are perceived today as democratic states, and the Middle East
perceived as an Islamic region, and which has apparently created an “iron
curtain” between the Middle East and the West, akin to that of the Cold War in
the past. “There is nothing
that Democracy talks about that is not in the Holy Quran”, says the 73-year-old

Sheikh Tejan Sillah is the first imam to provide a forum and opportunity for
institutions and organisations in the country to go to his mosque and offer
thanks- giving prayers marking anniversaries or events, something which Muslims
in the past yearn for but were never encouraged to do in mosques and therefore
had to follow their colleagues to the churches to mark such events. His
preaching usually revolves around human rights, justice, child rights, political
rights and good governance. He is a strong advocate of women’s rights and his
preaching usually revolve around issues like; women’s rights ranging from
rights to inheritance , divorce , right to engage in economic and political
activities, right to education and he also puts premium on child rights.
Sheikh Tejan Sillah was born in Freetown where he acquired his primary and
secondary school education. In 1974 he pursued higher education in Islamic
Studies at the Dar Al Tabligh Islamic University at Qum in the Islamic Republic
of Iran and obtained a Masters Degree. He lectured there for two years before
returning to his home country.

From 1983 to 1985, he served as Assistant Cultural Attaché in the Embassy of
the Islamic of Iran in Sierra Leone. From 1982 to 1985, he was the Chief Imam of
the Masjid Fatima Zahra at New England in Freetown. In 1985, he became the Chief
Imam of the Freetown Central Mosque, a position he holds to date. From 1985 to
date, he has been the Director of the Muslim Cultural Society in Sierra Leone
and also Director of the Ahl Ul Bayt World Assembly Sierra Leone Chapter, a
humanitarian Organisation helping indigent people. From 1986 to date, he has
been a founding member and Spiritual Leader of the United Council of Imams in
Sierra Leone.

He has also been in the educational field. From 1991 to 1993 he was the
principal of the International Institute of Islamic Studies in Freetown.
Sheikh Ahmad Tejan Sillah has also made immense contribution to the media and
granted interviews to local and international journalists on many issues
relating to religion, human rights, socio- economic development of the country
and politics and was a also a columnist in several local newspapers. He was the
proprietor of Afro Times, a Pan African newspaper which closed down in 1999. He
is currently the Chairman of the Board of Directors of FREE RADIO FM 95.7 in

Sierra Leone experienced an almost eleven year’s war that spanned from 1991 to
2001 which created bitter memories for the people of the country. Sheikh Tejan
Sillah was one of the leading advocates for peace during the war at a time when
the belligerent factions were unwilling to lay down their smoking guns. He
played a vital role in the formation of the Inter-Religious Council of which he
was a member. He and some members of the Council took the risk, at the peak of
the war, to travel to the war front and plead with the rebels to see reason and
accept the option of negotiation for a return to a peaceful Sierra Leone. This
was at a time when many people were abducted, tortured or killed by the West
Side Boys and the Revolutionary United Front rebels. He also traveled to other
countries in pursuit of the option for negotiations for peace. By then the
rebels were recalcitrant owing to the fact that they had succeeded in
destabilizing three-fourths of
the country and had an elusive hope of gaining victory and incidentally
grasping power.

Sheikh Tejan Sillah is a man who has a dream of an ideal state. To him, the
ideal state needs an ideal man, and the ideal man is the man who is not only
patriotic, but is religiously, politically, culturally and in all aspect
tolerant and has respect for those who differ from him. Sheikh Tejan Sillah is
one Muslim cleric who frowns on the acrimony that exists between the different
Islamic sects in the contemporary world, a phenomenon he attributes to simple
minds and Muslims allowing themselves to be subjected to manipulation by
“outside forces”. Through his preaching and prayers, he has been urging Sierra
Leoneans to respect democratic tenets, be patriotic, tolerant, law abiding, be
unfanatic in religious issues and live in peace.
In 2000 he was appointed by the United Nations Population Fund Agency (UNFPA)
as a Good Will Ambassador. He has been using the Holy Quran to teach Muslims on
issues relating to sexual and reproductive health that ranges from family
planning, abstinence as an instrument to drive away the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and
to issues relating to women’s empowerment.

Right across the country, organizations scramble to offer him eminent
positions. Sheikh Ahmad Tejan Sillah is a honorary Chairman of the Imam Ali
Development Foundation and its affiliate women’s organisation Fatima Zara
Women’s’ Organization , a community- based organization in Koya Rural District,
24 miles from the capital, Freetown. He was declared an indigene of Koya on
January 6, 2012.
He has also held several prominent and eminent positions in the country that
includes; membership in the Sierra Leone Muslim Congress, the Sierra Leone Hajj
Committee, Sierra Leone Muslim Brotherhood and executive member of the Supreme
Islamic Council.

He has written several articles on Islamic thoughts in local
news papers. He is the author of “Haya Kharil Amal” (Hasten for the Best Deed)
and also contributed to the publication of an Islamic work titled "From the
Mosques”. He speaks English, Persian, Arabic and a bit of French. He has
sponsored several students at primary, secondary and tertiary level and made
donations to several organizations striving to promote peace in post- war Sierra
Leone. Today, he can be rightfully called the “democratic Sheikh”, because he is
a Sheikh with a difference.