Interfaith Harmony in Action
For 35 Christian couples of Lima, Barangay Baluno, Zamboanga City, a rural community twenty one kilometers out of the city proper, October 23, 2014 became a day to remember for the rest of their lives. Through the initiative and professional concern of Hja. Sarah Handang, principal of Lima Elementary School, a mass wedding was solemnized and celebrated at the Baluno chapel to legitimize their children who are current students of Lima Elementary School but unable to get their
birth certificates because their parents are not legally married.
Although a practicing Muslim, Hja. Sarah is an active member of the Interfaith Council of Leaders (IFCL), a group part of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, with the objective of fostering harmonious relationships between Muslims and Christians and other cultures and religions. Consequently, Hja. Sarah is an ardent believer and practitioner of interfaith harmony.
In an increasingly angry world where dissensions in culture, religion and personal differences are now more commonly expressed through violence, Hja. Sarah stands out as a special and unique exemplar of calm understanding, harmony and peace.
Hja. Sarah has been on her job for the last four years and has enjoyed every moment of it. In this dominantly Christian campus, because all the students and two of the six teachers are Christians, Hja. Sarah does not feel uncomfortable nor discriminated against that she is a Muslim in a Christian community. She wears a sulban to school everyday and does not consider religion an obstacle to peaceful and harmonious relations with her students and the Christian community of the barangay. Conversely, her covered head and those of her faculty, in obedience to Islam, is respected by her students, parents, and other residents of the community.
Her faculty have accepted Hja. Sarah’s administrative style and have learned to move in solidarity with her. Through her initiative, every Tuesday, each classroom has a Christian catechist who teaches religion for an hour. And a holy mass is held every last Thursday of the month attended by all the students. Parents and members of the community are welcome to attend. In preparation for this mass, a temporary altar is set up on the school stage where even the Muslim faculty very willingly set up the candles and the crucifix on the altar in harmony with the Christian teachers.
The mass wedding of the 35 couples which was happily solemnized by Italian parish priest Fr. Viganó Nevio, PIME, of Sinunuc parish was an event and a spectacle like no other. Even relatives and friends of the wedding couples felt overwhelmed by the sanctity and joy of the occasion. And the Muslim woman who had made the ceremony possible stood quietly by, feeling satisfied and fulfilled that the children would finally be able to get their birth certificates processed.
And to her fellow Muslim detractors who have expressed their discord concerning her interfaith project, Hja. Sarah confidently argues: The Qur’an tells us to love our fellowmen. What I am doing is one way of showing love for my fellowmen.