The two recent attacks in Mindanao – one a bombing in a Catholic cathedral in Jolo, Sulu, the other a grenade attack on a Muslim mosque in Zamboanga City three days later – should not be seen as indicating or fueling religious animosity in the region, Muslim religious leader Aleem Mahmod Mala Adilao said Wednesday.
Two bombs exploded while Mass was being celebrated last Sunday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Jolo. Twenty-one persons attending Mass, including several soldiers, were killed while 112 others were wounded.
Three days later, a grenade was lobbed through the window of the Kamardikaan mosque in barangay Talon-Talon in Zamboanga City, killing two Islamic preachers and wounding four others in the Muslim house of worship. The victims were part of a group of 11 preachers who had been staying in the mosque the last two days.
The attack on the Jolo cathedral was highly unexpected. In all the years of turmoil in Mindanao, the various religious groups — Muslims, Christians, as well as Lumads – had maintained a great deal of respect for one another’s faiths. Religion was not a major factor in their conflicts.
The Jolo Cathedral attack was deplored and condemned worldwide – by Pope Francis, the leaders of the United States, China. Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the World Bank, the European Union.
“This is not a conflict between two religions,” said Regional Chairman Adilao of the Ulama League of the Philippines. “These are the handiwork of some people who want to destroy the harmonious relationship of Christians and Muslims in Mindanao.” He called for continued inter-religious dialogues in grassroots communities in Mindanao.
The Ulama League has been working closely with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, with which it has formed the Bishops-Ulama Conference which is promoting inter-religious dialogue as part of the peace building effort in Mindanao.
Fr. Roberto Layson, head of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate’s inter-religious program, who was the parish priest of Jolo in 1997 before he was reassigned to North Cotabato, commented in kind: “We have to strengthen our inter-religious program as part of our advocacy on peace here in Mindanao” which, he said, is needed to ease the anger, biases , and prejudices of some people because of experiences in the past.
Religious bigotry on the part of some people must not be allowed to worsen the present troubles in Mindanao. The attacks on a cathedral in Jolo and on a mosque in Zamboanga City by some extremist groups must not be allowed to hold back the progress achieved by the recent Bangsamoro Organic Law which will soon give the Moro people a truly autonomous region.