By Morrison O.G. Sayon
“When a giant tree falls in the forest, its falling impacts other trees of that forest,” were the direct words of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf when she eulogized the fallen Muslim Cleric, Sheikh KafumbaKonneh.
The great Muslim leader who was also Chairman of the National Muslim Council of Liberia and Secretary General of the Inter-Religious Council of Liberia died on Monday at age 71.
President Sirleaf who along with senior Government officials as well as political leaders in the country attended the homegoing celebration of Sheikh KafumbaKonneh yesterday at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium described the late Muslim Cleric as a great statesman whose passing symbolizes the falling of a giant tree in the forest.
The Liberian leader said Sheikh Konneh was a distinguished Liberian who will be remembered as a messenger of peace and inter-religious tolerance during his entire life. “He was a prominent voice in Islam. He was just not an Islamic Preacher, but a politician, scholar, lawyer, and also a judge,” President Sirleaf said in sorrowful tone.
Madam Sirleaf said Sheikh Konneh’s role as an activist started in 1985 when he disagreed with the power at the time openly supported the late Dr. Edward B. Kesselley, founder of the Unity Party (UP). The President said it was Sheikh Konneh who mobilized citizens of Nimba County to vote for the UP in 1985.
“Today, he is no more, but we will remember him; he will live on in our memories for his fearlessness, courage, religious conviction and his principle, when conflicts raged he stood as an outstanding patronage in the search for lasting peace. His passing is a great lost as we strive to consolidate peace in the country,” the Liberian Chief Executive said.
Former President of the Interim Government of National Unity (IGNU), Dr. Amos C. Sawyer described the late Sheikh Konneh as a true patriot, a man of God, religious scholar, and a courageous peace maker.
Dr. Sawyer said Sheikh KafumbaKonneh always preached peace during his life time saying Liberians owe him a debt of gratitude. Dr. Sawyer went on, “He was a bold champion for religious tolerance and taught the true meaning of tolerance.”
The Nimba County Legislative Caucus remembered him as an outstanding hero, a tough person who did not bend issues and who also dedicated his entire life to religion.
For the Inter-religious Council of Liberia which he once served as Chairman, Sheikh Konneh’s need for religious tolerance was paramount in life. According to Dr. Benjamin D. Lartey, Sheikh Konneh saw the need for Christians and Muslims to work together. “Liberians must continue to live in peace; don’t abandon his strives for peace and religious tolerance,” Dr. Lartey said.
The Liberia Council of Churches remembers Sheikh Konneh as a true Liberian who loved Liberia, a true friend who wanted peace to prevail. “He prayed for it with his colleagues from the Christian faith,” Catholic Archbishop Lewis Zeigler stated.
Other individuals and personalities including Justice Philip A.Z. Banks, House Speaker Alex Tyler, the Muslim Council of Liberia, the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) remembered the fallen Cleric as a peacemaker who was always instrumental in the attainment of lasting peace and religious tolerance.
Reading the official Gazette, Liberia’s Chief of Protocol, Rufus Neufville said Sheikh Konneh dedicated his life to public service and religious coexistence. “He was a self-educated public servant who started his professional career from 1972 to 1977 as an Associate Magistrate in Lamco, Yekepa in Nimba County. The following year, the late Sheikh KafumbaKonneh moved to Sanniquellie and served again as an Associate Magistrate and Secretary General of the Liberia Muslim Union concomitantly in Nimba County.”
Giving his valuable contributions to public service, particularly in the Judiciary, he became Commissioner of Ganta Township in 1979. He moved to Monrovia 1981 and became a member of the Muslim Congress of Liberia and eventually served as its Secretary General 1982.
While serving in those capacities, the late Sheikh worked tirelessly with his fellow compatriots from various religious denominations under the banner of the Inter-Faith Mediation Council which engaged the warring factions in the Liberian civil crisis for a peaceful resolution.
He was instrumental in negotiating numerous peace agreements, including the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement that finally brought peace to Liberia. In 2006, the late Sheikh Konneh was appointed as Commissioner of the TRC, which was mandated to investigate the root of the Liberian crisis from 1979 to 2003 and to reconcile victims and perpetrators. Sheikh Konneh worked as a full time Commissioner responsible for investigating the Liberian History and identifying errors, and was oversight Commissioner for Grand Cape Mount, Bomi and Gbarpolu Counties.