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Sierra Leone News : New Social Welfare Minister Strengthens Ties with Muslims
By Abdul Malik Bangura
Apr 11, 2016, 12:06
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Honourable Minister of Social Welfare, Gender & Childrens Affairs Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, whose ministerial portfolio puts her in charge of all religious affairs in Sierra Leone, is herself a devoted Christian. However, in order to continue to strengthen the excellent state of religious tolerance in Sierra Leone, the newly sworn in minister responsible for religious affairs in Sierra Leone, Hon. Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden has on Friday 8th April 2016 held a thanksgiving ceremony with Muslims at the Foulah Town Central Mosque.


Chief Imam, Alhaji Owolabi Tejan warmly welcomed Dr. Sylvia Blyden to the mosque. He recalled the great historic connections between the Blyden family and the Foulah Town community, saying that Honourable Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden is indeed a daughter of this soil.

After Prayers, Dr. Sylvia Blyden was called up to front of the Mosque to seat with the Chief Imam, the Town Chief and other respected Muslim Clerics

 

The Chief Imam expressed great joy to receive her in the mosque for a thanksgiving ceremony merely 24hrs after her swearing in to become a Minister.

 

The Chief Imam further reaffirmed his confidence in the new minister by saying we have seen and we have heard about your outstanding work for the country so we really believe that you will succeed in this ministry because you are a strong woman. He assured the minister of their prayers towards her successful tenure.

The minister with one of the leading Muslim women in Sierra Leone popularly known as Haja KK-1 of Abacha Street


Several other leading Muslims of Foulah Town also made welcome statements. They included Alhaji Fattah Gibril, who was recently elected as the Chief of Foulah Town following the demise of late chief, Dr. Fadlu Deen.

 

Alhaji Fattah Gibril explained of how he grew up as a young boy next door to the residence of the Blydens at Foulah Town. He said one of his best friends as a child was Babatunde Blyden, the father of the minister.

Haja Seray Kallay & Dr. Sylvia Blyden at Foulah Town mosque

 

The Foulah Town chief took his time to give a very long recounting of the ties between the Blydens and Foulah Town community starting from even before 1900.

 

Many of the Foulah Town elders who were leading the mosque also spoke lustily of why they are not surprised to see such a Woman of Strength emerge from within the Blyden Clan. According to them, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden was an embodiment of her great-grandmother Madam Isa Cleopatra Blyden who taught both Western education and Islamic Education to children from Foulah Town in the last Century. They also recalled that her great-great-grandfather Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden the First was the pioneer who built the very first mosque in Foulah Town and also pioneered several Muslim schools within the adjacent Fourah Bay and Foulah town communities. These included the famous Amaraia Primary School.

 

Dr. Blyden was appropriately dressed to pray with Muslims


This lady is our daughter. Her ancestral roots are from this soil. This minister is our own and we embrace her with all we have. Let the whole country now know that the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender & Childrens Affairs is one of ours here at Foulah Town, said Alhaji Fattah Gibril, the Chief of Foulah Town.


Whilst giving her address to the jampacked Muslim congregation, the new social welfare minister started by saying when she told her personal staff that she will be praying with Muslims on Friday, they immediately suggested one of the very large mosques as the venue. She however stated: ...but I told my staff a big NO! I told them my first prayers with Muslims as the Minister responsible for religious affairs, will be at Foulah Tong mosque because Foulah Tong is held dear by my family, the Blydens. It is the area where my famous Pan-Africanist great-great-grandfather Dr. Edward Wilmot Blyden first found succor and solace when he fled for his life from Liberia. My own father grew up right here. He cannot travel as he is not in best physical health but his wish is that this mosque is where I should take as mine so I am here with you today.


Leader of Foulah Town performing special prayers for Almighty to bless the minister in her new assignment.


Continuing, she expressed her thanks to the Almighty for giving the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma the wisdom to appoint her to undertake such a huge task. She explained that the reason why women were not previously appointed to that ministry was because despite it was the ministry in charge of gender and womens affairs, the other departments in the ministry portfolio were very demanding.


The President noted the request by women for a woman to head that ministry but he knew he needed a very firm, disciplined and strong woman to do the job; The Almighty gave him the wisdom to see me as that person most fitted to do it. I am grateful to him and to all who have come out to support me so strongly. I now need your prayers, Dr. Blyden said.


She then recounted of how President Koroma had taken religious tolerance in Sierra Leone to unprecedented positive levels and further stated that Muslims are a significant portion of the Sierra Leonean society who need to be treated with great respect.


Dr. Sylvia Blyden said, as the minister responsible for ensuring Sierra Leonean Muslims can safely accomplish one of the five pillars of Islam, the Hajj, she greatly relies on the Muslim community to guide her in executing such duties.


Minister Dr. Sylvia Blyden also commended Muslims for the confidence and trust they have put in the President over the years, and promised that she will work in perfect tandem with aspirations of her boss towards fulfilling the Agenda for Prosperity. She said she will walk diligently in his footsteps insofar as her relationships with Muslims went.


She further stated my success in this ministry depends greatly on the religious community of Sierra Leone, adding that she was however assured that through their prayers and their collaboration she will be able to complete her dreams for religious bodies, the children, the women, the disables and all other bodies under the supervision of her ministry.

 

One of the senior female members of the congregation, Haja Kadiatu Kalokoh (aka KK-1) who is a leader of Abacha Street Traders, expressed her delight and thanks to the President for choosing such a clever and upright woman to lead the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Childrens Affairs. She said women know the plight of other women. She also called on the President not to relent but to make even more women appointments, referencing that women comprise a larger number of Sierra Leoneans than men. She said the appointment of Dr. Blyden is indeed the right move in the right direction.


The mosque itself was jampacked to overflowing as many women; especially Abacha Street, PZ and Garrison Street traders all thronged to pray at the mosque on hearing the news that Blyden was praying at the mosque.


Also present were other regular worshippers at the mosque including distinguished personalities like the Administrator & Registrar General Haja Mariama Seray Kallay and a notable politician Rtd. Lt. Col. Dr. Akim Gibril who is also a one-time Minister of Social Welfare.


The sermon was done by Alhaji Shamsu Deen who called for a change of attitude by Sierra Leoneans. Alhaji Deen congratulated both Dr. Sylvia Blyden and another Foulah Town son, the Deputy Information Minister Cornelius Deveaux. The latter was however unavoidably absent as he was doing his taking over ceremony at Information Ministry.

 

The event itself with prayers and various statements all ended on a very high and jubilant note with scores of citizens rushing to shake Blydens hands and have their photos taken with her.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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