Islam leaders support Pope, PH unity
MANILA, Philippines — “The papal visit is symbolic in terms of strengthening Muslim-Christian relations in the country,” said Julkipli Wadi, Dean of the UP Institute of Islamic Studies.
“Also at a time the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is now in its last phase, with the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) handed out and possibly passed within this year,” he added.
Wadi is one of the two Islam leaders invited to a dialogue with Pope Francis, alongside 8 other religious leaders on January 18 at the University of Santo Tomas.
He will be joined by Imam Ebra Moxsir, president of the Imam Council of the Philippines and a chaplain of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The PNP Chaplain service is tasked to provide “spiritual upliftment” among PNP personnel.
“What is unique with this pope visit is that for the first time, an interfaith meeting will be held involving many religious leaders,” Wadi added.
The dialogue will bring together leaders across the country representing Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Islam, the Philippine Independent Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Evangelical Church.
Interfaith dialogues should happen regularly, according to Wadi and Moxsir. “The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines can take the lead in creating an interfaith alliance,” Moxsir suggested. This can help resolve misunderstandings among different religious groups.
“In fact, Cardinal [Luis Antonio] Tagle has been holding interreligious meetings at his office; we’re also planning on forming a Council of Religious Leaders,” said Wadi. “In last month’s meeting, I gave a lecture on the perspective of Islam.”
In the Philippines, around 80% of the population are Roman Catholics, while the Muslim population, according to the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, comprises around 11%.
Peace in Mindanao
Moxsir cited parallels between the goals of Islam and Pope Francis.
He explained that both Islam and the Pope are aiming toward universal peace. “The papal visit’s theme is mercy and compassion; in Islam, we also begin with mercy and compassion.”
The two leaders praised how the Vatican has opened the Church to the world, in its attempts to unite different communities and faith traditions.
“This signals a kind of convergence,” Wadi said. “A country like the Philippines, where majority is Catholic, is willing to go that far to engage with the Muslim community in the forging of peace in Southern Philippines.”
In March 2014, the government and the MILF signed a historic peace agreement which will give rise to a new political entity to be known as the Bangsamoro.
“The peace that will come after the BBL [Bangsamoro Law] will not come easy, there will still be many things that should be done,” said Wadi. “This includes continuing engagement among key leaders in the Mulism community with the Philippine government, including the Church.”
In addition, Moxsir hoped that the BBL can signal stronger cooperation not only among Muslims, but also among indigenous peoples, Christians, and all Filipinos.
Moro Islamic Liberation Front welcomes Pope
A month before Pope Francis' scheduled visit to the Philippines, the leader of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) – the largest organized armed group in the Philippines – invited him to visit Cotabato.
MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim sent a letter of invite through Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, who delivered it to the Papal Nuncio, the representative of the Vatican in the Philippines.
It was a gesture that showed that the former Muslim rebel group, which is poised to lead the transition body for the new autonomous region, is taking a step toward openness and reconciliation.
The MILF broke away from the Moro National Liberation Front at the height of tensions between rebels and government forces in the 1970s due to leadership differences. When the late Hashim Salamat formed his own organization, it became more religious in orientiation.
The MNLF signed a peace deal with the Ramos government in 1996 while the MILF signed a peace accord with the Aquino government in March 2014.
In their letter, the MILF expressed hope that Pope Francis would send a word of encouragement for the peace process in Mindanao – the same as what he did when he visited Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and Israel in May 2014.
However, the Vatican team in charge of the visit told Quevedo there was not enough time for the Pope to fly to Cotabato. The Pope's priority for his Philippine trip is to visit Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors in Tacloban City.
Despite this, the MILF joined Catholics in the Philippines in welcoming the Pope.
In a press conference at the MILF's Camp Darapanan in Maguindanao on Saturday, January 10, Murad said the MILF recongizes that the Pope's visit is important and meaningful for the Catholic faithful.
The head of the Darul Ifta or Muslim House of Opinion will represent the MILF during the Pope's visit. The Darul Ifta chair is considered as the highest religious leader for Muslims in Mindanao.
Aside from the BBL, the leaders also plan on discussing climate change with the Pope.
"I think the papal visit is symbolic in a sense that after Yolanda, I think the Church finds it as an opportunity to bring the Pope here to the country,” said Wadi. “Although I think, possibly without Yolanda, the Philippines must have been one of the countries that Pope would like to visit at some future time.”
In November 2013, Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) devastated the Visayas region, tearing several families apart. Just a few days after Yolanda, local and international governments, non-governmental organizations, and individuals came together to help survivors.
Moxsir reminded his fellow religious leaders that they also have a big role to play in climate change. “Isipin natin ano pagkakamali natin, paano nangyari sa atin, example ang Yolanda,” he said. (Let’s think about the mistakes we made. How did something like Yolanda happen to us?)
The values taught in every religion can inspire its followers to become better advocates for the environment.
“A true believer in Islam believes in peace,” said Moxsir, stressing that they do not tolerate the violence done by groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
“We’re against terrorism and narrow-minded fundamentalists,” he added. “These Muslims kill anyone who don’t believe them, including fellow Muslims. In Islam, if you kill a human, it’s as if you killed the world.”
The two leaders asked the public to avoid generalizing news about Muslim, stressing that the likes of ISIS do not represent the entire Muslim population or the teachings of Islam.
Wadi and Moxsir, in behalf of the Muslim community, expressed their “gratitude” for the Pope. “We have no way where we can reciprocate such an important visit, except that we welcome him,” said Wadi. “Like many other Filipinos, we also revel him by treating him the same way as any other religious leader.”
Wadi quipped that after meeting the Pope, the first thing he would do is shake the hands of his friends, “So that it’s as if they’ve also shaken the Pope's hands.” – with a report from Angela Casauay/Rappler.com