Few years back, as my travel to Mindanao became more frequent with the construction of the Mindanao Road Network Development, a 2,567-km road network in Northern Mindanao, Davao, SOCCSKSARGEN, and CARAGA Regions, I have developed a more nuanced view of Islam and oppose the image constructed in binary public discourse. To me — it did not reflect the multi-faceted reality of Muslims, the spectrum of personalities, and the diversity that exist within the religion.
One of my closest friends in law school — Farahnaz Ali Ghodsinia — is a Muslim. After one of our classes, while walking to the parking lot of Malcolm Hall, we saw a caterpillar by her windshield. My immediate reaction was to fold one of our cases into a roll and hand it over. Instead of using it to kill the caterpillar — she carefully assisted it to the grass. She told me that in a few weeks that caterpillar would soon turn into a butterfly. Admittedly, I was surprised and soon realized — this is a representation of Islam that needed to be told.
A 2015 survey conducted by Pew Research noted that most people in several countries with significant Muslim populations have an unfavorable view of ISIS. This includes Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Territory, Indonesia, Turkey, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Senegal. It also noted that 92% of Muslims in Indonesia and 91% of Muslims in Iraq believe that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam are rarely or never justified.
Study also showed that in many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations, like Nigeria and Lebanon are as concerned as other countries about the threat of Islamic extremism.
Violence, hatred is not a function of religion. It is unfair to criticize Muslims for the crime committed by a handful. As Farah would often tell me over dinner — the killing of an innocent person has no place in genuine Islam.
Few weeks back, we attended the US-ASEAN Women Leaders Academy in Indonesia — the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. There was no substantial difference, except that their drawers bear arrows known as Qibla pointers, which indicate the direction of Kaaba, Islam’s holiest place in Mecca. It was also my first time to visit Istiqlal (Independence) Mosque, the largest mosque in Southeast Asia built in a span of 17 years and designed by Frederich Silaban, a Christian architect from North Sumatra. Our tour guide told us that the mosque has come to be a bastion of religious tolerance as it stands right in front of the Jakarta cathedral – the oldest Roman Catholic Cathedral in Jakarta built in neo-gothic style. In fact, whenever there is a large Muslim or Christian celebration as in Christmas or Eid Al-Fitr, both institutions open up their parking space for the worshipers of the other.
United Nations have often defined culture as being created, contested, and recreated within social praxis. There is no point to segregation — to further an invisible line dividing Christians and Muslims. Just as men need to stand up for women in gender rights, Catholics must stand, toe the line with our Muslim brothers and sisters for sustainable peace. We must be the first to oppose whenever Muslims are branded and discriminated against. As the old Chinese proverb say — Just as a fence has to be built with pegs, an able person needs the help of three others.