COTABATO, Philippines – A former radical combatant has found a new way to express his beliefs and contribute to his community and region through music.
The 35-year-old Ahmed, as he prefers to be called, used to be a member of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), an organization that allied with the international terror group Islamic State and sought an independent state in Mindanao.
Ahmed’s father was a top commander in the group, which was led by the late Ustadz Ameril Umbra Kato, the former head of the 105th Base Command of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
In 2010, Ahmed’s father joined Umbra Kato in leaving the MILF and forming the BIFF.
Ahmed, who was a teenager at the time, said he decided to join his father in order to defend the cause of the organization and to aid his father.
However, Ahmed has since changed his mind about the group’s mission and has decided to put down his guns and embrace peace.
Ahmed, now Cotabato-based, comes from a family of musicians from the old Maguindanao province and loves playing traditional musical instruments such as kulintang, agong, gandingan, babendil, and dabakan, among others.
However, during his time as a combatant, he was unable to play music as the sound of gunfire and explosions became the new soundtrack of his life.
Ahmed said he and his group would move from one community to another to evade government troops, which was “extremely difficult” for him and his family.
“We went from one place to another, and we didn’t know if we would still wake up because bombs might fall on us anytime while we were asleep. It was difficult to sleep, especially during times when the military was on the offensive. At times, we were also forced to drink dirty water,” he recalled.
What ultimately changed Ahmed’s mind was his family.
He married young and had five children. He and his wife had to constantly move around as they were being chased by government troops, which made it hard for his wife to give birth to their children in one place.
Ahmed said he realized that his family’s safety and well-being were more important to him than anything else.
As time passed, Ahmed said he and his father realized that they had no clear direction and that their former comrades in the MILF were now running the Bangsamoro government.
At first, they were hesitant, but they later realized that the government was sincere in its efforts to improve people’s welfare and bring peace to the region.
Ahmed said he and his father were touched when Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao officials and former MILF comrades reached out to them, saying that they were welcome to be part of inclusive governance.
Ahmed now plays music with his band and uses it as a way to express peace and to contribute to the community.
He said he sees music as a way to heal and to bring people together. Through music, Ahmed said he hopes to help build a better and more peaceful future for his community. – Rappler.com