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COMMENTARY

Ramadan and the war in Marawi

05:07 AM May 16, 2018

Have you ever wondered how the Maute group lasted months fighting a much superior government force? Ramadan had a lot to do with it.

The ghost of the gory siege is haunting residents of Marawi City as the Islamic world begins the annual observance of Ramadan starting today, May 16, “if the new moon is sighted,” as ordained by the Quran al Karim. Last year, Ramadan was observed beginning on May 26, or three days after the Marawi war broke out. (It is not celebrated on the same date each year because Islam follows the 30-day lunar calendar and not the Gregorian calendar of Christendom.)

As a practice, Muslims stock up on and preserve food, drink and other provisions that will last for at least a month. Weeks before Ramadan, Marawi residents go to the nearby cities of Iligan and Cagayan de Oro to queue in supermarkets for choice foods, kitchen supplies and grocery items to spare themselves the task of marketing (Islam discourages unnecessary travel during the religious holiday). As fate had it, when the terrorists occupied Marawi, subsistence was never a problem because they just hopped from one abandoned house to another, assured of an abundance of foods and survival items. They also found arsenals of state-of-the-art firearms and sacks of ammo in the houses (it’s said that a Moro cares more for his firearms than his wife).

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The promise of reward in the hereafter was doubtless a factor in the Maute fighters’ unflagging ferocity. They believed that dying fighting in Marawi, a jihad or holy war, would make them saheed (martyrs) and assure them of jannatul firdaus (paradise)—a moot doctrine used by the Islamic State to lure young and gullible Muslims. The jihadists likewise marketed the belief that jahannam (hell) is closed during Ramadan.

Compounding this doctrinal enticement is the jungle of structures with ratholes, labyrinthine dungeons and subterranean tunnels that tested the capability of the government soldiers unfamiliar with and untrained in the complexities of urban fighting. Realizing their Achilles’ heel, government troops will now undergo training in urban warfare by their US counterparts in the Balikatan war games.

Ramadan is not merely about sawm (abstinence from food and drink). It is more of a renewal of spiritual commitment through prayer, meditation, fasting, and acts of charity. The monthlong retreat from mundane activities is an annual occasion to purify one’s soul and refocus attention on the Creator. One abstains not only from food but also, and more importantly, from evil acts, words and designs. Devotees spend hours in isolation, preferably in mosques, reading and reciting the Holy Quran and the Hadith al Sharif, or tales about the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and his followers. In fact, the Hadith narrates instances when the early mujahideen declared a truce with their enemies to give way to the observance of Ramadan, a cardinal injunction flagrantly violated by the Maute group evangelizing fake Islam.

Ramadan this month, being also the anniversary of the Marawi war, will surely bring a fresh wave of painful memories to the bakwit (evacuees) who are struggling to adjust to an unfamiliar life in transitional shelters even as some are still mired in the hard life in evacuation centers. They will spend pugang (the first day of Ramadan) in a strange environment on a revered special day traditionally spent with one’s family.

Such is their present condition as the rehabilitation of the city is snagged in a morass of bureaucratic indolence. But the Task Force Bangon Marawi is showing positive signs of taking to heart its mandate, with the series of consultations with stakeholders initiated by its chair Eduardo del Rosario and Mayor Majul Gandamra.

But cynics fear that the rehabilitation of Marawi would go the way of the Moro problem, a perennial item for unfulfilled promises by grandstanding politicians.

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Macabangkit B. Lanto (amb_mac_lanto@yahoo.com), UP Law 1967, was a Fulbright Fellow at New York University for his postgraduate studies. He has served the government in various capacities—as congressman, ambassador, undersecretary of justice and of tourism, etc.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, macabangkit b. lanto, Marawi siege, Maute group, Ramadan
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