Muslims and Christians: Misrepresentation of the ‘other’ and ourselves

Gerard Lim
Do we understand our Muslim brothers and sisters?

While most of our attention was focused on a case regarding a certain actor getting beaten up in a condo, the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were on the final stretch of their negotiations regarding the Bangsamoro Framework Agreement

Just last March 27, the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro was finally signed. After decades of armed conflict, perhaps, this time, there will finally be peace in Mindanao. 

It’s about time. I can remember as far back as my grade school days that there had always been armed conflict in Mindanao. I grew up learning to fear the Muslims as a violent people. The events of 9-11, which has been so ingrained in the world’s consciousness did not help either. The Muslim people are to be feared for their prophet Muhammad has commanded them in Allah’s name to spread Islam by the sword. They will do anything as part of their jihad.

But just what is the jihad? Do we really understand the jihad for what it is meant to be? Or a better question to ask is, do we understand our Muslim brothers and sisters? 

The cross and the crescent 

Many Filipinos like to believe that the Philippines is a “predominantly Catholic nation” with the “Muslims” being the second largest group. But mere demographic data on religions speaks very little of how members of the population live out these religions.

This is what saddens me whenever I hear people say certain areas are dangerous because there are many Muslims. While it is true that there are many incidents of violence that are committed by Muslims (and even Christians), to say that all of them are religiously motivated would be an injustice to the entire Muslim community.

We might think that these are the modern times and that Filipinos are not people who readily discriminate based on color or religion (though probably not gender). The way violent incidents involving the Muslim people are framed seems to indicate an implicit tension over religion. 

One might argue that we have reason to fear them. The national psyche has been scarred by the violence committed groups such as the MILF, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), and the Abu Sayyaf. The knee-jerk reaction to religious extremism is to think ‘Islamic radical’ or to use the term I have been skirting around, ‘Muslim terrorist’. It’s practically a joke now that airport security would begin panicking if they spotted a man with a beard and wearing a turban.

Thankfully, most people are moderate in their views. Hardly anyone believes all Muslims are terrorists.

Muslims have their own culture that we must respect, no matter how much we disagree with them. As opposed to our views on polygamy, female oppression, and childhood indoctrination, we must respect them (though if we were to be honest, perhaps, they’re not too far off from how many Catholics live).

Graphics by Mara Mercado/ Rappler

I see two problems in this.

First, that these views once again misrepresent the entire Muslim community into a stereotype. Not all Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab or the burqa. Many Muslim women wear these dresses of their own volition, perhaps, even out of a genuine appreciation of their culture and heritage. Some women actually express themselves by choosing to dress in such a way as a means of expressing modesty.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think female oppression born out of religious hierarchies is still quite problematic. The topic is a beast on its own. But these are concepts and theories that they don’t always apply in the real world. Just because I see a woman wearing a hijab doesn’t mean I will shout “End patriarchy! End oppression!” so readily.  

Second, while we think by leaving them be, we respect Muslims, we are in truth, being indifferent to them. We are in effect distancing from them if we think “they” can live however they want so long as they do not bother “us.”

‘Us’ and ‘them’

I have been using words such as “we,””us,””they,” and “them” for most of this article now and it’s discomforting to use them. There is a clear distinction of a presupposed “us” and “them.” What constitutes “us” and “them” in the first place? As I have tried to point out “they” are not as identical to each other as one might think. In a similar way, how might we look at “us?” 

To presuppose an “us” provides the comforting idea: “There are others like me and we stand together in contrast to what is other.” One is part of a community that one understands and is a part of. In the face of alterity or the state of being different, however, one’s understandings often fail. Here, one has a choice, to run away from this difference and confine the other a convenient misrepresentation, or to confront this difference and allow the other to be, giving the other space to reveal and express how the other truly is.  

It is difficult to confront alterity but in doing so, we realize our plurality as a Filipino people and how in spite of it, we strive to unite, if not as a nation, at least as a people in peace. Perhaps, someday we will find ourselves not so different from each other after all. Remember that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word for “God.” When we move past the shallow and superficial differences, true understanding can begin. –

Gerard Lim or “Rucha” is a 5th year Communication major at the Ateneo de Manila University with minors in Philosophy and Literature in English. He is a Buddhist who is deeply interested in seeing into the nuances and philosophical roots of all things while finding wonder and humor along the way. 

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