INTERFAITH DIALOGUE. Sira’j Muslim Religious Organization (MRO) creates "ToREAL: Reducing Extremism to Achieve Lasting Peace" campaign to promote interfaith dialogue and build peace. Supplied photo.

Extremism is no stranger to Islam. Extremism has been one of Islam’s biggest enemy and it has been creating gaps and hatred between Muslims and non-Muslims in recent years. Ever since the 9/11 attack, Muslims around the world have been bullied, accused, and labeled as "terrorists."

In Mindanao, extreme militant groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyyah, the recent ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) Maute group, and others arose in different parts of the island. Such extremists, along with their sympathizers, have been distorting the true image of Islam with their extreme ideologies and violent acts. A true Muslim knows very well that the means in achieving peace should never be violence.

Cagayan de Oro City is one of the cities in the Philippines that is dedicated to promoting peace and valuing interfaith-dialogue activities. Muslims and non-Muslims engage in talks to understand the faith of one another in order to achieve a lasting peace in the troubled Mindanao. It is only through an open-minded dialogue can understanding and tolerance be achieved. As what Atticus Finch said in the novel To Kill a Mocking Bird, “You never really understand a person unless you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around it.”

INTERFAITH DIALOGUE. Sira’j Muslim Religious Organization (MRO) creates "ToREAL: Reducing Extremism to Achieve Lasting Peace" campaign to promote interfaith dialogue and build peace. Supplied photo.

At Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan, part of the Atenean’s journey is to join spiritual retreats and dialogues with people whose faith are different from theirs. Xavier Ateneo is well-known for its social engagements. Sira’j Muslim Religious Organization (MRO), the only Muslim organization in the University, has always been taking part in talks with Non-Muslims, usually Christians. Such interaction aims to gather Muslims and Christians together to converse in order to reach a common ground of understanding and live harmoniously together as one community. In 2016, I Am Mindanao, a campaign that aims in countering violent extremism through social media, went on camping with Sira’j to build friendship and collaborate in later activities in order to achieve a common goal: counter violent extremism. 

After the Marawi siege broke out on May 23, 2017, horrors cast in the hearts of many Filipinos. It jeopardized the works initiated by peace-advocating groups in Mindanao. It was violent extremism that caused the terrifying event to happen and damaged the lives of many Muslim Maranaos. I Am Mindanao was the first social media campaign to condemn the violent act of extremists on Facebook. The statement of condemnation was made that very day of the siege and was shared by over 18,250 netizens.

Even Torils and Madrasahs are being suspected as breeding grounds for extremism and promoting radicalism. Torils and Madrasahs are Islamic schools and institutions where young Muslims study Islam, basic Arabic and memorize the Quran. According to Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) assemblyman and crisis committee spokesperson Zia Alonto via ABS-CBN, he requested the government to support these Islamic institutions, “There are so many Madrasahs that are still not licensed and not regulated at hindi nabibigyan ng suporta ng national government. It's about time, it's our opportunity to correct lapses. We should include them in the mainstream educational system."

Department of Education ARMM Undersecretary for Madrasah Education Ustadz Alzad Satar said in a workshop against violent extremism emphasized that Madrasahs are not breeding ground for extremism.

Sira’j MRO initiated by coming up with "ToReal: Reducing Extremism to Achieve Lasting Peace," an offshoot campaign of I Am Mindanao, which seeks to raise awareness for common understanding and promote tolerance between people of different faith through interfaith dialogue and interactions.

INTERFAITH DIALOGUE. Sira’j Muslim Religious Organization (MRO) creates "ToREAL: Reducing Extremism to Achieve Lasting Peace" campaign to promote interfaith dialogue and build peace. Supplied photo.

Sira’j conducted a two-day camp inviting Toril and XU students as participants to learn more about the faith, practices, and daily life of toril students. The camp achieved its goal, and the campers have reached a common ground of understanding, built friendship and embraced one another. The Muslim and Christian participants managed to maintain the camaraderie even after the camp. The Christian campers visited their Muslim friends in their mosque in Balulang, Villa Angela, Sharif Alawi. The Christian sisters visited their Muslim sisters in their toril. The Christian participants observed the Muslim prayers and sat to have lunch together. The activities of the camp were presented online on I Am Mindanao Facebook page to show netizens that Muslims and Christians can get along no matter how different their religious beliefs are.

It is heartwarming to see Muslims and Christians getting along with each other and having peace talks. I believe that the first step towards peace and harmony is to approach everything open-mindedly to be ready to understand and to accept the differences of others while keeping personal beliefs. It is only when we learn to accept and respect the differences of other people that we can achieve long-lasting peace in Mindanao. As we all know and always hear that Islam is a religion of peace; that is not a heresy, that is true. But we should always bear in mind that a Muslim, just like any Christian or whatsoever, is fallible and a vulnerable imperfect human being. Religion is perfect, but humans will remain imperfect.∎

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