A few years back, as my travel to Mindanao became more frequent with the construction of the Mindanao Road Network Development, a 2,567-kilometer road network in Northern Mindanao, Davao, SOCCSKSARGEN, and CARAGA Regions, I developed a more nuanced view of Islam which opposed 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 existed 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 back to the grass. She told me that in a few weeks, that caterpillar would turn into a butterfly. Admittedly, I was surprised and soon realized it was 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 had an unfavorable view of ISIS. This would include Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestinian Territory, Indonesia, Turkey, Nigeria, Malaysia, and Senegal. It also noted that 92 percent of Muslims in Indonesia and 91 percent of Muslims in Iraq believed that suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilians in the name of Islam were rarely or never justified.
The study also showed that, in many cases, people in countries with large Muslim populations like Nigeria and Lebanon were as concerned as other countries about the threat of Islamic extremism.
Violence or 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.
A 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 bore 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 had come to be a bastion of religious tolerance as it stood 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, each institution opens up its parking space for the worshipers of the other.
The United Nations has often defined culture as being created, contested, and recreated within the social praxis of diverse groups in economic, social, and political arenas. 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 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.