By MENCH TILENDO
This year marks the seventh year for me to have spent the Holy month of Ramadan away from my family. Since I entered college in 2012, one of the many adjustments I had to take was celebrating this time of the year without them. Undeniably, it was a struggle for a Muslim student like me to be exposed into a whole new environment wherein more often than not, people are inculcated with common misconceptions on Islam; some even caught with the remnants of discrimination and Islamophobia. Despite these struggles, I wasn’t surprised and was still well-aware of these tough scenarios – after all, dominant media and popular culture both have taken their toll on these notions against the Moro people.
Years of living in the metro accustomed me into accepting the fact that spending Ramadan away from my family has now become the least of my concerns. My active involvement in political, mass organizations such as STAND UP and League of Filipino Students made me learn and unlearn things about my bare religion. The first of the many things I came to realize was that my faith and beliefs are futile if they prohibit me from empathizing with my fellowmen.
Born and raised in Mindanao, I am witness to how my brothers and sisters in faith strived to live in an up-close armed conflict. Every time we visited our close relatives and grandparents in Lanao del Sur, they would talk about the recent bombing in the nearby community, or who among their neighbors were shot dead by the military – as if these circumstances happen on a regular basis. As I look back and course through these seemingly “normal” situations that I had to live through when I was younger, I feel more resolute to fight for our right to life and self-determination. These “norms” for majority of my brothers and sisters in Mindanao are not merely borne out of discrimination and religious puns; these are consequences of decades-long imposition of all-out war, militarization, land-grabbing, and vulgarization of our culture.
Even here in Metro Manila, the Moro people are asserting for more than respect for their religion. They are asserting for their political and economic identity. This is what I have realized every time I see Moro women in their hijabs, selling pirated DVDs along the side roads of Quiapo; or Moro women begging for alms along the alleys of Taft avenue. This is the kind of discrimination from the government that majority of the Moro people face every single day – deprived of decent livelihood, education, and land.
The season of Ramadan is a season of sacrifice. This is said to be the essence of refraining ourselves from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset. But the societal ills we face today situate majority of the Moro people to carry “hunger” not as a struggle of self-restraint, but as a reality. Regardless of religion, race, and social class, if faith impairs our vision of the turmoil that humanity has continued to suffer – then that faith is blind. Through these realizations, I was reaffirmed that the beauty of Islam lies at its very core. May this end of Ramadan be a reminder for my fellow Muslims that Islam aims for the fulfillment of the spiritual, physical, psychological and social needs of people. Most importantly, Islam demands justice, and Allah is a God for all of mankind.
* The author is a graduating student of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication. She is a member of the League of Filipino Students.