Strive for peace

The angels said, Mary, God gives thee good tidings of a Word from Him whose name is  Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary; high honoured shall he be in this world and the next,  near stationed to God (nearest to God)                                                                                                                                                                                        – (Surah/Chapter 3:45, Qur’an)

…You will find the nearest to the believers who say “we are Christians” because amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant.                                                                                                                                                                                                             – (Surah/Chapter 5:82, Qur’an)

Christians worldwide celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus – the Christ or Messiah, and though it was not commanded by Jesus as something to be remembered nor celebrated by early Christians in the Bible, this tradition prevails in the Christendom today.

The way I see it, Jesus was a ‘Middle-Eastern revolutionary reformist and it was his jihad to bring peace to mankind. But just like other religions of men, some believers interpret his teachings to justify their actions and suit their agenda. Just like some Muslims that invoke the concept of ‘dying in the name of God’ as martyrdom, in the same way that fundamentalist adherents to the Christian faith also invoke the same concept as in the case of David Koresh of the Waco incident.

source: Time Magazine

As the song Winchester Cathedral says, many people died already ‘in the name of Christ’ or at least their values reflect interpretations of their belief in Christ or Christianity. Consider these events in history that left a rippling effect and still lingers on the consciousness of the Middle-Eastern Muslims:

In the late 1000 to 13000 AD, European Christian liberators of Jerusalem with crosses emblazoned on their breastplates of armor riding in horses of conquest embarked on a “Christian Jihad” or Christian Crusade- a holy war to recapture the ‘holy land’, the birth place of Jesus against the Palestinian Muslims even though the Muslims have lived there for 400 years. These crusading criminals were sanctioned by the Roman Pope Urban II and were promised of forgiveness and free passage to heaven even though they’ve indiscriminately slaughtered, raped women and children, pillaged and burned houses.

Centuries later, Zionist proponents believed that the Jews should reclaim and resettle their Biblical homeland in Mt. Zion (Jerusalem) and Bible-believing Christians couldn’t agree more, so in 1948 the United Nations voted for a new nation of Israel to be carved out of this holy land for the thousands of displaced Jewish holocaust survivors that all the more angered Palestinian Muslims. If you come to think of it, the Palestinians have nothing to do with Hitler’s genocidal nightmare, so why should they be penalized by this Nazi utopian dream of a world without Jews? Let a new homeland be carved instead out of their Fatherland — Germany! Muslims throughout the world know that the Palestinian cause will always be an issue, and the continuous violation of their historical rights to their land will usher more hatred, anger and war.

On the other side of the world, a parallel scenario happened to the Philippines. Spain looked at their conquest of this land as a continuation of their crusade or “holy war” against Muslims that ruled them for seven centuries in their own homeland. The historian Zaide aptly described it as, a ‘miniature crusade’, a fight between the Cross and the Crescent for supremacy.

In the Battle of Bud Dajo in Jolo, Mindanao in 1906, about 600-1000 Tausug Muslim men, women and children were massacred by Americans, which prompted anti-colonialist American writer Mark Twain to write a satirical comment about it as, incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States… our army of Christian butchers …”

Source: Boston Globe

Recently, at the height of the Qur’an-burning issue by an American minister, I commented on a Facebook thread that, ‘just as there are Qur’an-illiterate Muslims, there are also Bible-illiterate Christians and peace-loving Qur’an-literate Christians who are trying to understand Islam and Muslims; but undeniably, as history have shown there are also ignorant and arrogant Christians that misrepresent Christ and Christianity.’

In one sense, man is a time-travelling machine able to experience the past through his mind, knowledge and a lifetime of making history, but the present responses and attitudes should not be mimicking or perpetuating historical mistakes but instead, must be that of respect, tolerance and understanding. The way I see it, if we don’t humanize our convictions of faith and our views toward each other, we go back in time as savages pretending to be civilized and ‘killing our prophets’ over and over again for our own profits.

May all our prayers for peace be answered.

Look back and learn

“The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr”                                                                                                                                 – Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W)

Today is Amon Jaded or the Islamic New Year and it marked the beginning of a brotherhood of men that transcended time, race and ethnicity, countries and governments when the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) migrated from Mecca and established the first Islamic community in Medina known as the Hijra, thus the starting date for the Hijra Islamic calendar.

The Hijra Islamic calendar is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar and that is why for the uninitiated and non-Muslims, it gets confusing as to why the dates for Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr keep on changing and may fall between the last quarter to the first quarter of their calendar orientation.

Being born a moro with this kind of Islamic religious-cultural orientation in a non-Muslim country, it has been a long personal battle to express, explain and understand who we are, and why others should make the effort to understand us – because the weight of historical misunderstanding, ignorance and prejudice ever present in our daily undertakings forces us to be either diplomats or revolutionaries.

When we were young, my brother and I once got into a fight when we were taunted as “moros”  by our Chavacano playmates over a game of shiatong – a traditional game of sticks.  Today, his Chavacana wife calls their son, “anak ng moro”(son of a moro) whenever he ‘commits a mistake.’ This prejudice aimed towards the ‘moros’ is best encapsulated in the attitude-forming saying “Only a dead moro is a good moro”, an attitude bourne out of the century-old conflict between the colonized people of the Philippines and the unconquered Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao.

“Moro” and “Muklu” are just some of the derogatory words used by prejudiced and intolerant Filipinos against the Islamized people of Mindanao of which they inherited this negative view and attitude from the Spaniards that ruled the Philippines for 300 years; of which they also have an ‘imported hatred’ against the Muslim Moors or Moros of the Iberian Peninsula that ruled Spain under the Islamic Caliphate for almost 800 years. The Spaniards looked at this as a continuation of the crusade or ‘holy war’ they had fought against the Muslims in their homeland for over seven centuries. They organized Filipino “indio” warriors who are practitioners of the indigenous warrior arts and pitted them against the Muslims, oblivious to the fact that warrior arts and blade culture are endemic to the people of the land. And so the stage was set for Spanish-Muslim wars in the Philippines but Spain’s effort to subdue the Muslims in Sulu and Mindanao were unsuccessful for the entire three and a half centuries. Despite of the failure, the Spaniards successfully deceived the Christianized Filipinos by creating a play called ‘moro-moro’ supposedly to show the victory of the Christians against the Muslims of which until now, Filipinos were made to believe that is what really transpired in history.

Compared to the colonizing ways of the Spaniards and the conversion of inhabitants ‘by the sword’, Islam arrived peacefully in the southernmost islands of Mindanao in 1380 AD – two centuries earlier than Spain.  It was a gradual and peaceful invasion of a Middle-Eastern faith which eventually replaced an earlier Asian Hindu-Buddhist religious-cultural system that was brought by the Sri-Vijaya and Madjapahit Empires. Arab teachers, merchants and missionaries intermarried with the local chieftain’s daughters and rulers that led to the formation of an Islamic government institution which is the Sultanate, first established in Sulu island and another one later in the larger Mindanao island.

An old map of Asia drawn in the 16th century by European Cartographer Abraham Ortellius shows that the whole archipelago was already known as Mindano and there was no mention of the Philippines because there was no single political institution or collective people known as Filipinos yet. Later on, the Spaniards divided the archipelago into three geographical subdivisions called Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao for administration purposes of their colonial rule.

While the term ‘moro’ was considered a negative word originally coined by the Spaniards, today it is being used to assert the collective identity of Muslims in the Philippines who wish to establish an independent Muslim nation/state in Mindanao — the Bangsamoro homeland (Bangsa-nation, moro-Muslim). Interestingly, I find it ironic that once a detestable word used by colonialists to identify us, that we’ve opted to retain and embrace it just as we have adopted and accepted our country’s name in honor of King Phillip II of Spain – and in a way, we are still royal subjects of a dead foreign king. I guess it’s the same principle of being born into this world with a set of parents that you can’t choose, having a name that documents your parents’ mentalities at the time of our conception. If names and identities can be legally changed nowadays, I wonder what it would take for organized people groups or even a nation to be liberated from neo-colonialists and rename itself that is not of foreign origin?

As a Mindanao-born Malay Muslim, I take pride in the historical fact that before the assertion of Filipinos for independence from colonial powers in the Philippine revolution of 1896, Mindanao Muslim warriors led by their warrior-kings, were already fighting and defending their way of life to the last drop of their blood against the foreign aggressors that tried to subdue and drive them out from their homeland. It is just sad that other revolutionary heroes and historical events in other places are recognized and commemorated in the present times. Perhaps it’s about time that Mindanao moro historians should rewrite history and assert about their noble past – because our history is written so much in blood more than in ink.

Find yourself

Knowledge of the self is the mother of all knowledge. So it is incumbent on me to know myself, to know it completely, to know its minutiae, its characteristics, its subtleties and its very atoms. – Khalil Gibran

To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.                     –Bruce Lee

There’s a certain truth to the saying that “you can take the Filipino out of the Philippines but you can’t take the Philippines out of the Filipino”. I’ve seen this happen time and time again when Pacquiao wins and whenever there are gatherings of kababayans, where, as long as there’s food and booze, Pinoys sure know how to turn an ordinary party into a fiesta of all sorts! Nationalism and patriotism is rekindled and heightened, and suddenly, everyone wears their ‘Proud to be Pinoy’ and Philippine map-designed shirts.

This got me into thinking that loving our country should go beyond just ‘wearing our hearts on our sleeves. I had to ask myself “Why am I Filipino?”

We are all products of our historical progression and conditioning, so, perhaps a little historical knowledge can bring awareness of who we were as a people because it can redefine who we are now and who we want to be. It seems that we know so much about other peoples’ stories more than our very own history, and we are much more interested in becoming somebody else other than being ourselves. It never ceases to amaze and amuse me that Pinoys can be like chameleons, able to identify and adapt to any color, country and religion. Maybe it’s because of our resilience as a people in a country hardened by tougher times, or perhaps an identity crisis brought about by a severe case of colonial mentality.

Filipinos are world-class warriors of the highest kind as exemplified now by Manny Pacquiao and historically by Lapu-Lapu who killed the Portuguese circumnavigator of the world and attributed as the ’discoverer of the Philippines’, Ferdinand Magellan. As a Mindanao-born Malay Muslim, we take pride also in another heroic warrior-king – Sultan Qudarat – for defending the Moro homeland against the Spaniards.

The way I see it, majority of Filipinos believe and were taught that our history as a people started only from the arrival of colonizers and Christianity, up to the formation of a new nation under a colonial administration. This is partly due to the history books that were written by prejudiced historians that tend to glorify the people, heroes and events in a particular area while the unconquered people and places like the Islamized inhabitants and other un-Christianized/un-Islamized tribal people of Mindanao did not merit such attention and documentation.

Here lies the difference in worldview or mind-setting – wherein the Islamic people of Mindanao, the Bangsamoro, or Muslims in general regardless of any country, will always identify themselves with the Islamic history and civilization of the Middle East or from the advent to the arrival of Islam to our shores, while most Filipinos tend to identify more with the culture and civilization of the Americas and Europe.

Three questions arise in my mind now: As a people of a nation with different historical identities, to whose history should we identify more with? What is the basis of a collective identity – is it religion and/or ethnicity? If we take pride in being identified as Bangsamoro and yet divide ourselves into our ethno-linguistic identities, are we not then still tribalistic or ethnocentric?

For now, I have a passport that identifies me as a citizen of the Philippines, and although I don’t have three stars and a sun tattoo on my brown skin, I take pride in our cultural heritage and indigenous warrior art which was recognized by Bruce Lee, Hollywood and only recently by the Philippine government making it the official national sports – the world renowned Filipino Martial Arts – Kali/Arnis/Eskrima!

Live and fight peacefully!

He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious. –Sun Tzu

Virtually a year has passed since I and my atheist friend confronted an ignorant Islamophobic Filipino about his comments on the Maguindanao massacre “as another Muslim violence and terrorist act tarnishing Philippines’ image to the world.” “It would be better,” he further commented, “that Muslims kill each other so as to lessen the Muslim population in this Christian-dominated country”; obviously ignoring the fact that almost 90% of the violence published in the daily national papers are done by Filipino Christians and add to the fact that the majority of media people killed in the massacre come from a Christian- background. It is worth noticing that Muslims complain when the media labels any actions and terroristic movements as “Islamic” when any actions of the same kind are not labeled as “Christian”.

I am convinced however, that most present day terrorists identify themselves as Muslims – but not all Muslims are terrorists, and one act of violence done by a Muslim does not represent the entire Islamic faith.

The Maguindanao massacre is not just an isolated case in the history of human rights violation in Mindanao. As far as my historical knowledge serves me right, not only massacres were done to Muslims but also some form of ethnic cleansing or genocide were inflicted to them in Mindanao, but since there was no media then and the atrocities were done to non-prominent families and lowly people; it didn’t merit the modern treatment and current clamor for justice. I can understand that seeking justice legally is the civilized way of resolving conflicts or grievances and historical injustices are or should be done in the same way lest a revolutionary road awaits for those unresolved aggrieved people.

The way I see it, this is again an ongoing collision of culture, a collision documented in massacres, land-grabbing, racism, kidnapping and hostage taking, threats of Book-burning, diplomatic breakdown and protracted wars. This collision is bound to happen in places where Islamic and non-Islamic worlds meet especially when decolonization is part of the central issues of their existence like in Mindanao, Kashmir, Kosovo, Chechnya, Sudan and many others. Some may find this an annoying digression but as I see it, the way forward is also to look back to our historical past and have a healthy understanding of how non-Muslims and Muslims looked out upon the world- history and worldview.

As I see it also, our history as with other countries’ history was written in blood, shedding of more blood cannot assure us that future tyrannies will not happen again. Wars should be fought first in the battlefields of the mind and not in Mindanao.

Transform your mind

When the remedy you have offered only increases the disease,
then leave him who will not be cured,
and tell your story to someone who seeks the truth.
-Rumi

Growing up as a Muslim in a predominant Christian and westernized country, it is but natural to experience that the majority of people misunderstand you; and as in other countries, discriminates or oppress those belonging to minority. These dynamics is an ongoing clash of culture; a collision of worldviews or as Samuel Huntington points out, a “clash of civilizations between the West and Islam.”

I believe that a dialogue between cultures on a daily basis and a deeper understanding of each others’ position can be a good starting point before prescribing any solutions to any perceived problem. Common sense dictates that to cure a sick person, one needs to know the sickness first and this applies the same to knowing your enemies in any warfare before shooting aimlessly and indiscriminately.

To help me better understand Christians and non-Muslims, I’ve applied the same basic principle – to the extent that I studied some of their theology and philosophy, culture and traditions. I just hope that they would or are doing the same because ignorance breeds misunderstandings and hatred that could lead to Islamophobia – the hatred and fear of Islam, Muslims and their culture.

How can we better reach out to one another meaningfully and co-exist peacefully if we don’t know anything about each other? We would end up imposing and shoving to each other’s throats what we adamantly believe to be the cure to all human sickness and especially when both are in fact a missionary faith.

I can still freshly recall when the 911 World Trade Center tragedy happened; I was involved then in a youth cultural exchange training program with an international organization which mostly catered to European Christian young people who were doing their outreach program or community service in our ‘impoverished’ homeland. They started to blame Islam as an evil religion thus making my brothers and ancestors as evil people as well. One staff even tried to collar me when I tried to offer further studies for greater awareness before rushing to judgments and conclusions but to no avail, they proceeded to pray and curse Islam and the devil!

The only consolation I got after that experience was meeting and being encouraged by my Christian-background Filipino Martial Arts instructor who holds a degree in Islamic Studies – to channel my anger and frustrations through martial arts. So I resigned from said organization, and found myself transformed together with my brother (who was at the time, really bent on bombing a house with an improvised explosive device (IED) after not getting paid for an honest job clearing a piece of property supposedly for a house to be built out of people’s money or international funding and donations!

As my FMA instructor can validate my experiences and confirm that the breadth of Islamic influence on the history and civilizations of the world is vast and encompassing – from architecture, literature, poetry, art, medicine, music, mathematics and science. To name a few, Omar Khayyam was one of the greatest mathematicians of all time and also a poet whose influence can be found in the works of Dante, Milton, Goethe, Nietzsche, Tennyson, Fitzgerald, Thomas Moore, C.S. Lewis and many others. Then there is Ibn Sina or Avicenna to the west whose Canon is the world’s largest encyclopedia of knowledge on medicine, language, metaphysics, logic and cosmology. Muslims invented the first astronomical observatory, the compass, the almanac, the windmill and the waterwheel, the astrolabe, first calculating machine, the decimal fraction, the algorithm, the foundations of algebra and trigonometry and many other inventions.

Islam was the first religion to enter, consolidate and unite the pre-Hispanic tribalistic Philippines into an organized people group by introducing the first institutionalized government called the Sultanate long before the concept of nationhood of the Republic of the Philippines.

There is so much to know about Islam’s contribution and perhaps we can contribute to lessen the deepening ignorance and intolerance by opening up our minds because as one great sage said, “all that we are is the result of what we have thought”.

Peace! Salam! Kapayapaan!

Relish the ride!

I am neither a believer going to the mosque
Nor given to non believing ways
Neither clean, nor unclean
Neither Moses not Pharaoh
I know not who I am

I am neither among sinners nor among saints
Neither happy, nor unhappy
I belong neither to water not to earth
I am neither fire, not air
I know not who I am.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Bulleh Shah

A confused man cannot see the way even if he is walking on it already. He is so fixated when and where the road ends, not realising that the journey is as good as the destination.

In my quest to become different, I have become another statistic in a voyage to oblivion. In my search for meanings, I’ve become a lost sailor in a turbulent sea of confusion. I’ve soon realised that just one adjustment, one tiny deviation to the compass of my life, I’m steered to an entirely different course with swelling waves of responsibilities. Anchoring my ship in this harbour with its scorching eastern sun and towering minarets piercing its skies, I shall know myself better.

As I see it, it is in times when we are unsettled with our identities, security and directions that we are more eager to seek new challenges, new passions and unchartered territories so we can grow and make sense of our reality. Because life is change and we change by either growing or becoming the person we ought to be, we are in a constant move to find our place in the sun, hoping to find more meaning to our existence. Places affect us, alter us and shape us into something we are not or what we can become but only if we allow it. Crossing the great divide of seas and land may help us do a pilgrimage to ourselves but it will just take three pounds of mass in our thick skull to realise that the boundaries of life are merely creations of one’s self. In my mind’s eye, it’s getting clearer to me that I wasn’t born into this world with a built-in belief of who I am or I shall be. I’m an open-ended being presented by the world with religious cultural traditions, scientific paradigms and diverse worldviews. These are concepts and systems I have acquired and continue to condition while I exist. I was not born with them, I was born into them, certainly I can die without them but I can choose to live and evolve with them. What is free will then if you cannot choose?

The essence of existence as it’s supposed to be, is when one can freely determine his transformational disciplines without being boxed only to a certain degree, when one can live and breathe out his passions, when instead of fanatically passionate about religion, one can choose his passions as his religion. It is in this defining moments that the process becomes the pathway to self-realisation of a meaningful and principle-driven life. I shall strive for this and relish the ride of my existence here and now.

Beyond Borders

The sons of Adam are the members of a whole
Each is created from a greater single soul
Whenever fate to one of them brings pain
No other can without distress remain
You who for others torment do not care
Cannot the name of ‘human’ rightly bear.
-Sa’di

Salam

I write this as a personal attempt to bridge the gap of cultural misunderstanding and clashing worldviews. This is also a journey into self-discovery and understanding of the world I knew then and the one I am in now…

I’ve been trying to change my realities ever since I became aware that there is life outside the one I was brought up in. I’ve lived and moved from one place to another, from remote islands to cities of blinding lights, always crossing cultural boundaries – border to border, with every move fraught with struggle and culture shocks.

I have learned the hard way in shifting and changing the way I look at the world but it made me realized now that our cultural legacies matters a lot to our current situation. While it is true that the traditions we inherited from our parents matters, we are also the summation of advantages and disadvantages of the environment and community we grew up in, what our parents did for a living, how they raised us up and of course, the place where we were born.

I was born in an island which I have no memory of, except for the knowledge that such a place exists and can only be found if you searched the southernmost part of the Philippines map with the aid of a magnifying lens. My father was in the military, which meant that wherever his latest post took him, we moved with him there too. It was only after his death that I became fully aware that ‘the choice of where we live, affects how we live.’ It was only then, I resolved to defy the idea that was widely propagated and generally accepted when I was growing up: that where one was born, there he shall die also. But I can honestly say that death and settling to another place are the most unsettling experience in life. However, constant moving out entails us to move on also and moving does not or should not only change our locations but transforms us to become better persons.

Since birth – while it may be unknown to me at the time, I later on observed that I have been subjected to ‘an all-encompassing program of cultural conditioning’. This so-called program became my ‘spectacles’ or lens on how I should view the world – it became my worldview. I realized that we tend to view the world in much the same way our parents did. If they were influenced by their multi-generation of ancestors who were themselves subjected to certain ideologies on how one should conduct themselves and live their lives; there is a likelihood that the generation to which we belong to will also subscribe to those ideas. To this I can say that truly, ideas have consequences. If we extremely follow and succumb to those ideas, we may become self-righteous, intolerant, exclusivist and worse – impositional on others, just like the early colonizers. These ideas can infiltrate our lives in much the same way the colonizers did – it will work its way into our culture, our history and identity as a person and as a nation. Notice our names: we are named after the language of the colonizers in our history and we are even proud of it! This country is even named after a dead foreign king thus making the citizenry its perpetual subjects. Our ancestors were either Arabized or Islamized, others were Hispanized or Christianized, others still were Americanized, “Evangelicalized” or westernized.

With all these influences, how should we live our lives then? I will speak only for myself – I have decided that I must re-structure my life and ‘decolonize’ my brain as there is so much residue of colonialism left in it! I will let go of my comfort zones and adapt to new emerging realities because sometimes, it is only by loosening your grip to what you once held as ‘truth’ that you will begin to see life’s bigger picture.

Natural law dictates that every living creature was created with a capacity to adapt, to change, to reproduce and regenerate itself in the midst of changing conditions. In any ecosystem, only those species that are able to adapt to its changing environment are the only ones that can thrive and survive.

I am what I want to become because I have an inherent right to self-determination as a free man. If there are kindred spirits on the same path as me, I welcome you brother/sister to the perpetual tension of clashing worldviews. I may have a pragmatic outlook now, I find it logical that even before we became members of the universal Islamic community or Ummah, and long before we became members of the Body of Christ, we are all, first and foremost – brothers in humanity.

Peace!

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