Courage of Peace: Religions and Cultures in Dialogue on the future of Mindanao
Peace Through Religion (Interreligious and Intercultural Meeting)
Thanks to the organizers for this gathering on “Courage of Peace”.
We are here because we still dream afuture peace in Mindanao. Many of us, including myself that since 1977 I have been in Mindanao, are working hard to help our people to be united, but the road is still long and full of surprises. Indeed, religions and cultures have strong influence in this process and we are called to rediscover how religions and cultures can contribute for peace. Unfortunately, the sad experiences of the conflict of religions and cultures in many parts of the world do not help us here inMindanao. This is aggravated by an increasing presence of radical groups who spread fear and make our future peace more difficult.
The great challenge for the future peace in Mindanao is for us to “harmonize” the differences of religions and cultures without loosing the identity of our differences. In this short presentation I am called to introduce few points on “Peace through Religion”.
We are called,ones again,to find reasons to put together the common aspiration as creatures of the same God, in spite of the many alarming signs of hostility and violence in the name of religions in many parts of the world and also in Mindanao. Presenting peace through religions we are called to reaffirm the spirit of love, reconciliation and mercy over the temptation to act like Cain against the brother Abelof this modern time.
The real challenge today is not to put in the law what we believe is our rights only, but to examine ourselves and reflect why we are so passionate to defend our rights and history and ignore the rights and the history of others. The harmonization of differences must be our goal. There is a lot of rhetoric, vested interest created by leaders and groups, often covered by cultural and religious color to defend their ambitions and cultural differences. All this delaythe realization of our dream for peacein the world and also here in Mindanao. We are called to work together for a Just Peace.
Focus my reflection on religion, I believe that people in Mindanao, in general,are religious, means they have their forms of religiosity, but there is still a lot of mistrust alimented by prejudices, ignorance, fear and the temptation to use a religion to justify the accumulated powerof some powerful families, groups or clans. And more dangerous, we have powerful leaders who use religion offering money and positions to religious leaders to cover up their ambitionsand justify what a religion can not justify. This has been in the past more visible among Christians groups, but now among those Muslimswho use the religion for their ambitions. It is alarming what is happening around the world in the name of Islamand it is sad to observe that good Muslimleaders of Mindanao do not have enough courage to race their voices to say what is right and wrong especially in the use and abuse of our religions.It is time to help each other to go against those who are using and abusing the “power” of religions. Many of us, especially Christians, Muslims and indigenous people, in Mindanao are victim of this “alarming strategies”.
Our challenge is to practice our own religion with simplicity of heart and respect each other as brothers and sisters, acknowledging that we are different in religions, but part of the same humanity. In the same time it is dangerous to know that many groups and organizations today are more conformable to over emphasize the “human” and “humanitarian effort of peace and solidarity”forgetting to say that we are not completely human if we do not experience and acknowledge our divine origin and the presence of God in us that makes our human nature “persons”, with the same dignity.
We are created with the same aspiration to be happy, to love and to explore and respect nature and creation around us. In the midst of increasing “fundamentalism with violence”,“radicalism” and “terrorism” in one side and “materialism” and secularism that advocate discrimination and oppression on the other side, we are called to reaffirm a “God-centrism” or “ God-centeredness”. Personally I am not conformable with the expression “Moderate Islam or moderate Christianity”. If we are guided by God we are “children of God” as the Christians used to say, or “servants of God/Allah” as the Muslim used to say. Thus, we are not moderate , but “passionate” in the way of God who is a loving and compassionate God. We are sometimes forces to call ourselves “ moderate” because the passion for goodness is not there, ratter we see “passionate” people among those who do violence. Thus, we ratter prefer to have moderate people.
I never forget my experience as a negotiator for MNLF in the year 1978 up to 1981 in Siocon , Zamboanga del Norte. After my first immersion in a Muslim community, living with the Muslims and creating a very good spirit of friendship I was invited to be the negotiator with MNLF groups of Zamboanga del Norte. The negotiation was hard, going in the forest, living with the MNLF people who respected and protected me in many occasions. Living with the MNLF in the forest I have had the time to hear a lot of stories of passionate young MNLF members who where so passionate in their ideology , ready to attack , to kill and to be killed. I do not advocate violence and many times I said to them my opinion about this revolution that can be fight in different way, but I took the aspect of the passion as an example even in my continuous mission of dialogue and peace. I say in many occasions to the youth and others: “ If there are people passionate do kill and to be killed why we can not be passionate to love and to serve?”.
Allow me to say to those who believe that Islam can give them authority to kill, they are wrong. How God can contradiction himself. God can not order in the same time to kill and to love. To God alone all the power and in is His mysterious way He knows what is best for us, even to make us to suffer to be purified. In Christianity we pass from the same bad experience with the inquisition and other practices, but that time passed. It is very dangerous to use religion for vested interest. God will punish them, no matter what is the religion that they profess. Saying this I admire those Muslims leaders who continue to say that Islam is a religion of peace and it is not Islamic to do bad thinks and those Christians who continue to say that Christianity is a religion of love. Among the Muslims there are still now those who preach the “Jihad” to justify violence, but fortunately many today give more attention to the “great Jihad”, the Jihad of the heart, the great struggle to purify ourselves, and I salute those who have the courage to continue to promote this kind of Islam.
In this line of thinking I find a support in a new and challenging initiative of the United Nations ( UN) called “World Interfaith Harmony Week”. I believe that the UN realized that something is lucking in the peace effort in the world and in the year 2010 they have come up with the new idea to build peace based on the love of God, the love of neighbor and love of the common good. Thus, a peace sustained by God and love.
Thus, on October 20, 2010 the General Assembly adopted a resolution mentioning the many effort of peace of the UN as introduction and after they affirmed and promote an new inspiring initiative saying:
– “Recognizing the imperative need for dialogue among faiths and religions to enhance mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation among people
-… recognizing that the moral imperatives of all religions, convictions and beliefs call for peace, tolerance and mutual understanding.
– … Proclaims the first week of every year the World Interfaith Harmony Week between all religions, faiths and beliefs ;
– Encourages all States to support, on voluntary base, the spread of the message of interfaith harmony and goodwill in the world’s churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship during the week, based on love of God and love of one’s neighbor or on love of good and love of one’s neighbor, each according to their own religions traditions or convictions;…”
There are those who plan to destroy religions with their ideology. Among the most visible ideologies we can quote the one of Carl Max which declaredthat: “ religions are the opium of the people” . this was used an part of the communist ideology and in more recent time people even try to ignore religions considering secularism and materialism enough for their life. To oppose to this waves of ideologies we experience also opposite ideologies equally dangerous like fundamentalism where religion is reaffirmed in a more “narrow way” and justify many anomalies in society, including radicalism and terrorism today. All these alarming situations are today well presented in social media and unfortunately become cannels of terrorism and destroy the foundation of society and the basic ethic that is build in the heart of each person by God.
Allow me to say that in my opinion today some religions are “hostage” of power, In a special way Islam is used in the middle East in the midst of so much suffering and horror aggravated by the presence of ISIS and Hindu religion is creating so much problems in India. In the light of this alarming situations China is trying to remove all “external” religions like Christianity and Islam. All these alarming news aggravate the attitude of those who believe that it is better not to have any religion.
In the midst of this reality there is a tendency for a group to convert people of otherreligious groups or limitthe freedom of religion, ignoring the human rights of freedom of religions. This dynamic is often painful and in some occasion is accompanied by threat and violence. All these prove that there is a narrow understanding of our duty to live and share what we believe. Fortunately it is emerging also the understanding of the importance of love and compassion in society. Today in the midst of all the contradictions there is a great attention to what we call ”spirituality” that is the heart of each religion. Christianity and Islam in the centauries have proved that what is more important is to be guided by the spirituality which can notbe separated from a religion, but go beyond the structures and even the believes of it religions.
The word “spirituality” comes from the Latin root word “spirare”, to “breath”. “Ginaua” we say in common Filipino languages. In the language of the Muslim, especially of the Sufis, a similar word is “Tasawwf”. When we enter in the area of understanding and experience we are invited to see in it the spirit of God that is painted in each human being and it is the same in all of us.
The Bible remind us: “ I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love as been for you, so much your love has been for you, so must your love be for each other”. ( Jn. 13: 34-35)
The Qur’an reminds us: “ O mankind, indeed we have created you from male and female and made you people and tribes that you may be acquainted with one another. Indeed, the most noble of you is the sight of God is the most righteous of you”. ( Qur’an 49,13)
The great challenge for us today is how we can respect the differences of religions and in the same time to converge together to the pure inner voice that is all of us and have an experience of “spirituality” as Christian, as Muslim, as Buddhist and people of other religions? And how this spirituality can be translated in our expression of love, compassion, mercy, solidarity and all the values that help us to dream peace together?
Indeed “spirituality” is the missing point that is emerging today and help us to go beyond the differences of our religions. We have also some similar points that we appreciate like the need to pray, the importance of fasting, the obligation to help those in need, the respect for the virgin Mary , etc. Yes, we can not compromise our religion, but we can still call each other brothers and sisters and respect and help each other.
Unfortunately sometimes , some people ,use their “passion” in a wrong way. There is today a lot of violence in the name of religions of the world, in Middle east more in the name of Islam, In India in the name of Hinduism, etc.
For me “Spirituality” is today the missing point to reaffirm and experience to with passion toward a sustainable peace. Our religion has articles of faith, rituals, moral guidance, but we have to translate all these in a style of life where our spirituality can grow. This is what I call “ Culture of Dialogue” , a culture that helps us to relate each other on the common ground of love. Thus, dialoguebecomes an expression of love action toward harmony, solidarity and peace.
Allow me to explain this concept with the experience of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement that I live and promote. We are guide by the principle or spirit that “ Dialogue starts from God and brings people back to God “ , each one according our religion.
I remember in the eights, before the EDSA revolution when we started Silsilah in Zamboanga in 1984 some were curious to know more about this new movement. One day I received a visit of a lady from Davao who told me that she represented of NGO and asked me: “Father what is the secret of Silsilah?” . At the time Silsilah was almost the only existing, active group in Mindanao of dialogue and peace in Mindanao.” Well – I said – we are guided by the spirituality of life-in-dialogue with God, with the self, with others and with creation…” in the course of my sharing the lady came up with this statement: “ Father we do not need spirituality , we need solidarity and action”. I can say that was not the only time when I have to assert what Silsilahproposes and wishes to be. In other occasions I have been approached by some Christians telling me maybe the Muslims can not understand this movement starting from a spirituality. But I proved to themthat the Muslims understand well the language of spirituality. All religions grow in the habitat of spirituality thatgo beyond our articles of faith. Today the word “spirituality” is becoming for many the central point of peace. The activism without a deeper motivation of God presence will soon end, what remains is want is essential and come from God inspiration in the pure heart of a person that can be pure and sincere in variety of religions. This personal experience allow me to reaffirm that indeed religious people guided by a spirituality can find common ground for dialogue and peace. The problem comes when some believe that the common ground must be on the same religion.
At this point allow me to share an other experience. A young man of well know Muslim family attending to one of the course of Silsilah in Zamboanga came up during the sharing with this reflection: : Father I am grateful to Silsilah because I understand now the real meaning of dialogue and peace. I was educated by some of our leaders that “in the worldcan not be peace until there is only one religion, and this religion is Islam”.
Well, I leave to you the implication of this statement…. What will happen to our youth if we have in our midst this kind of leaders who indoctrinate our youth? But you and I know that this is a alarming reality, especially now. It is alarming because of a wrong perception, it is alarming because of the violence behind this spirit and in the case of ISIS is also alarming because it is destroying the good image of Islam.
Unfortunately, In history we have seen similar mentality in some Christian groupsand in more resent time it is more visible not only among some followers of Islam, but also among some groups of Indus and Buddhism.
Yes, the courage of peace today has to face many aspects and we need to be together and not allow some leaders or groups to divide us. We need to be together to reaffirm the importance of religions who remind us the mission of love, through harmony, solidarity and peace.
For this reason I see the wisdom of the UN to promote the World Interfaith harmony Week and am happy to say that we in Silsilah and in Zamboanga united with the many partners we have done our best to spread this initiative of national level and have contributed to ask president Aquino to recognize it and he signed the Republic Act 10525:“ Act declaring the first week of February of every year as World Interfaith Harmony Week in the interfere country and mandating its observance by the different government agencies”
Yes, today more people and groups around the world realized the importance of harmonizing our differences maintaining our identity, but in the spirit of love and compassion.
It is a still adream to achieve peace though religion. Today religions are still in the fear or fighting mode, although many people of different religions have reached to this understanding that now I am sharing to you and I dream. But how long we have to wait to have a sustainable peace through religion?
I hope it will come soon. We hope that we , especially the Christians and the Muslims, enter in a deeper understanding of our mission to be free to propagate our faith, called dawa in Islam and evangelization/mission in Christianity, but in the spirit of freedom, love and compassion.
I end my sharing with a quotation of the open letter of 138 Muslims scholars of the world addresses in 2007 to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders of the world entitled : “ A Common Word between Us and You”:
“ The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of neighbor. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The unity of God and the necessity of love of Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbor is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity.”
This is for me the spirituality that I dream as a condition for asustainable Culture of Dialogue Path to Peace.
We hope and pray that this will happen also in Mindanao
Thanks a lot and wassalam