Muslim Moro in a modernizing Philippine society

But Islam, like other religions, has also known periods when it inspired in some of its followers a mood of hatred and violence. It is our misfortune that we have to confront part of the Muslim world while it is going through such a period, and when most—though by no means all—of that hatred is directed against us.

Why? We should not exaggerate the dimensions of the problem. The Muslim world is far from unanimous in its rejection of the West, nor have the Muslim regions of the Third World been alone in their hostility. There are still significant numbers, in some quarters perhaps a majority, of Muslims with whom we share certain basic cultural and moral, social and political beliefs and aspirations; there is still a significant Western presence—cultural, economic, diplomatic—in Muslim lands, some of which are Western allies.

Is Islam, whether fundamentalist or other, a threat…? To this simple question, various simple answers have been given, and as is the way of simple answers, they are mostly misleading.

(There are those for which) there is no way but war to the death, in fulfillment of what they see as the commandments of their faith. There are others who, while remaining committed Muslims and well aware of the flaws of modern Western society, nevertheless also see its merits—its inquiring spirit, which produced modern science and technology; its concern for freedom, which created modern democratic government. These, while retaining their own beliefs and their own culture, seek to join us in reaching toward a freer and better world. There are some again who, while seeing the West as their ultimate enemy and as the source of all evil, are nevertheless aware of its power, and seek some temporary accommodation in order better to prepare for the final struggle. We would be wise not to confuse the second and the third.

– Bernard Lewis, The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror

These, too, were my discovery in the time I’ve spent in southern Mindanao. The realization that the Moro Muslim society, contrary to the image formed by media, is not homogenous, and that it is also wrestling with the winds of change threatening it’s culture and faith, dawned on me while I was listening in on a seminar session.

We were waiting for the session’s resource speaker as he was an interviewee in the study my friend who I’d been visiting in the City was undertaking for an organization. With the way the speaker’s assistant assured us, we thought it’d only take, maybe, half an hour to wait. We ended up waiting for three hours, more or less. When we took our seats at the back and had adequate time to survey our surroundings, the sea of mostly black traditional Muslim clothing among the women and white among the men many of whom, I recognized, are ulema, hit us. My friend and I were the only non-Muslim in there. My friend suggested we wait outside. But I reassured her we’d be fine right where we were, besides the session seemed interesting. My friend whipped out her smartphone and focused on it the entire time. I listened.

They were speaking in the Maranao dialect. Previously, for some weeks already, I’d been exposed to the Iranun dialect (it’s said the root of all Moro dialects is the Iranun) and became acquainted with the meaning of their words, thus I wasn’t exactly a fish out of the water among the seminar participants. Otherwise, you can say I can sense the meaning of foreign words and phrases (in contrast to having learned them) which is similar to people who could, say, smell their way around. The Iranuns laughed when I told them “I just know” after I “guessed” a conversation correctly.

The session entailed participants to present skits of Moro life in Marawi City prior to and during the armed crisis, and afterward, the audience provided their feedback, and the ulema elevated further in terms of implications on their faith.  The portrayals were honest, laugh out loud humorous, and to me, enlightening. They were stories of dirty politics, arms, drugs, and families dealing with parental imposition of careers onto their children (promising them kilometer-long tarpaulins to publicly extol their graduation and board or bar passing), homosexuality, displacement, etcetera. As I said, the presentations were done to humor but for fear that I’d be seen as a non-Muslim laughing at Muslims I tried to trap my laughter inside my chest. The three-hour wait was worth it and serendipitous for me.

Moro Muslims face the same issues that hound modern societies such as those by mainstream Filipinos, but that their religion and cultures  (13 tribes comprise the Moro people, meaning they don’t always see eye to eye) render these issues in different light which in effect means their interpretations of them hence how they deal with them is different. Just as Christians see the world and life from the perspective of Christian teachings so do Muslims, in varying degrees, from the perspective of Islam. Just as the Bisaya or Ilocano or Mangyan approach the world and life from their cultural heritage, so do the different Moro tribes. Being a Moro doesn’t necessarily mean one is a Muslim (as there are the Lumads who also belong to the Moro group). But, otherwise, at the core, we all want the same thing:  a society that’s corruption-free, equal regard for all, equal opportunity for all, and such like. We just need to talk to each other more often.

This is what the media, being the first source of information of many Filipinos, need to correct in it’s language describing natives in the south. ‘Moro’ and ‘Muslim’ need to be unpacked to reveal their varied facets.

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Religion and ethnicity are incidental, in plenty of cases

The other passengers and I were waiting for one more individual before we could finally go on our way. Everybody was growing restless. Outside our vehicle, the scorching noon-time sun was painful to the eyes. Still, I watched the stream of people outside which I suppose is what people seated in the front do. So I was doing that and then– the two young men, barkers, standing near the headlights and who were just talking the last I saw them suddenly broke into a fight. My heart jumped up my throat. I was travelling alone and in a city that’s a melting pot of armed groups. I feared that any second they’d bring out guns from somewhere the way they were grabbing at each other’s necks. Should I stay put or get out at the driver’s side? Things happened quickly. In a minute, the area swarmed with more men who tried to break up the two young men. But they were bent to get at the other. Finally the men were able to get them to the back of the parking area which was when my breathing returned to normal. When we left, they were still in a heated discussion.

Thinking about the incident during the trip, I realized that nutrition, the lack of, may have played a significant part. Think diabetics experiencing erratic sugar levels. The men are Moro and Muslims and since it was Ramadan, on a fast. I have been amazed and curious from observation of Muslims during Ramadan here– they continue to do normal amount of work. But wouldn’t common sense tell you that with less food going in, energy usage need to be conserved. In short, less food and drinks means one has to cut back on physical work, physical movement, and the like. Otherwise, the body is put under extraordinary strain.

I then typed up a message to someone I knew: minsan, sa kakulangan lang talaga ng sugar sa katawan dahil sa pag-fasting nila ang dahilan kung bakit madaling uminit 🙂

‘Moro’ and ‘Muslim’ are over-rated, often cited as the reason native people in this region are violent or hot-blooded. But as it turns out there are other factors why people would become violent, in this case, perhaps, nutrition. What this points to is that the Moro as well as the Muslims, setting aside religion and ethnicity, are, simply, human beings, and just like the rest of the specie, we show our fangs when our stomachs and brains are drained of food and nutrition. And the reality for this specie is, only a few do get to become saints out of fasting. The majority grow temporary horns (I’m in this category which is why I don’t fast so much from food during Lent. I fast in other ways though like staying still and becoming quiet which is very hard to do).

I guess the solution there is that when we have to fast from food and drinks our entire waking hours, we take care to avoid situations in which our biological vulnerabilities could take over our rational thinking (the ability to think rationally requires adequate and right nutrition hence food, just observe nutritionally-deprived school children).

Which brings me to ask, what is the poverty incidence level in the poorest areas of this region (eg. ARMM)? In other words, imagine going on a decades-long fast.