GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – Ilocana Marineth Agustin-Karim, a mother of four, never imagined that she would one day eagerly await the start of the holy month of Ramadan.
Yet here she was, living in Barangay Poblacion 6 along the Rio Grande de Mindanao in Cotabato City, and joining other Muslims in devoting themselves to prayer, sacrifice, and spiritual enrichment into the month-long observance.
For the 35-year-old Marineth, her conversion to Islam was a conscious choice, not a chance occurrence.
Her journey to becoming a Muslim began in 2005 when she left Laoag, Ilocos Norte, to study in Cotabato City, a place she once associated with war and violence.
Little did she know that love would find her there and lead her to embrace Islam, and eventually settle in Mindanao for good.
She has been married for 16 years now to her Muslim husband, Aladdin, who works hard to provide for their family. He travels almost 400 kilometers every other day between Cotabato City and General Santos City to buy fresh fish and other seafood to sell, unmindful of risks.
But for Aladdin, his commitment to his family is to “live a life in accordance with the wishes of the Almighty.”
As a Muslim convert, Marineth has learned the significance of the annual month-long period of sacrifice, prayer, and reflection which started on Thursday, March 23.
She recalled her younger days in Laoag where she and many others held negative stereotypes toward Muslims in Mindanao, labeling them as violent and dangerous people.
Now, as a proud member of a predominantly Muslim community in Cotabato, Marineth said she has come to realize the falsehoods behind those harmful misconceptions.
She is just one of the over 90% of the country’s Islamic faithful who call Mindanao their home, with more than half residing in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM).
Early this week, as Muslims waited for the crescent moon to signal the beginning of Ramadan, Marineth and her fellow Muslims in Cotabato City eagerly prepared for the month of spiritual reflection and renewal.
Marineth’s first Ramadan experience was initially daunting, as she was apprehensive about fasting and whether she would be able to complete it.
“The thought of not eating for hours scared me, but as it turned out, Ramadan was more than just skipping meals,” she said.
She said she soon learned about the three stages of Ramadan known as Ashra.
The first stage, Rehmah, which spans the first 10 days of Ramadan, opens the mind and heart for reflection and realization of Allah’s mercy, despite the mistakes that one has committed against oneself and others.
“Ditoy maamwan nga adu gayam ti dakes nga masapol lisyan (Here, you will realize the many sinful acts that have to be avoided to remain clean and pure),” she said in Ilocano.
The second stage, Maghfirah, is dedicated to seeking forgiveness and repentance for sins committed during the second 10 days of Ramadan. In prayer, Muslims ask for forgiveness from Allah and turn toward him.
The third Ashra, known as Nijat, comprises the last 10 days of Ramadan and is a time to turn to Allah to be safe from hell.
She said witnessing Lailatul Qadar or the night of power is a desire shared by many, but one must have the cleanest and purest intentions to be worthy of this honor.
Despite the challenges of fasting and sacrificing during Ramadan, Marinteh said she believes that it is also a month of harvest, full of blessings.
Her experience as a Muslim has taught her that the practice of Islam is not about violence, but rather about enriching one’s soul and strengthening one’s relationship with Allah.
As the world becomes increasingly diverse, it is important to embrace and celebrate differences, rather than allowing them to divide, she said.
Marineth said Ramadan is not just about fasting, but also about doing good deeds and helping those in need.
“It is a month of giving, of sharing, of charity, and of kindness,” she said. “It is a time to purify the soul, to strengthen the faith, and to draw closer to Allah.”
Marineth said Ramadan has taught her the value of self-discipline, patience, and perseverance, which she applies not only during the holy month but in her daily life as well.
“Ramadan has changed me in so many ways, and I am grateful for the opportunity to experience it every year,” she said. “It has made me a better person, a better wife, and a better mother.”
Marineth said her transformation from someone with a stereotypical mindset about Muslims to becoming one herself is a testament to the power of education and exposure to different cultures.
She said her journey to Islam serves as a reminder that true understanding and acceptance can be found through personal experience and a willingness to challenge preconceived notions. – Rappler.com
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