Everyone has his/her own pursuit—a dream job, an ambition since childhood, things to accomplish or to own. Some discover their interest or goal late in life. In my case, I did not exactly plan to be a peace advocate. I went through a life journey and political socialization that led me to the pursuit of peace.
My strongest social agents for learning and value formation were my parents. I would say that importantly, they raised us conscious of our Islamic faith. Also, our parents taught us to value our historical heritage as among the families of royal blood in Lanao del Sur. They told us of the “Battle of Bayang,” where our forefathers fought the American colonizers to protect our homeland and agama (the Maranao word for “religion”). They raised us to value our distinct religious and ethnic identity amidst being part of a minority in the country.
In the modern and multicultural world, what is the significance of learning about our past and our roots? I believe that it provides us hindsight and foresight, a sense of who we are as well as our context, and it should be part of our purpose in life.
Looking back, I thought that I would grow up in Marawi City. But I studied in Mindanao State University only until the first grade because our family moved to various places according to where my father’s career took him. From my second grade to high school, we lived in largely Catholic and Visayan-speaking cities—Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, and Cebu, where I went to college. Nevertheless, my childhood memories of our hometown remain vivid and the close-knit kinship continues to be cherished. Wherever we moved, we proudly carried the identity which is an inexorable part of our life.
Living as a member of a minority, I believe, has the (positive) effect of reinforcing one’s sense of self-identity. We inevitably represent, and serve as bridge to understanding, our group in a majority non-Muslim society. It has been a common life experience to address questions and misperceptions regarding our religious and cultural background.
Moreover, as members of a minority, we have to put up with the challenge of being included in the mainstream while cautiously resisting influence and preserving our distinct values and traditions. Being in a minority also has the effect of making us strive to be competitive in a way that will make other people realize that regardless of religion, Muslims can be equally excellent.
Nevertheless, discrimination between Muslims and non-Muslims does exist in Philippine society. I remember my elder sister getting into a quarrel with a classmate because of ill-intended jokes against Muslims that ignited argumentation and drama in the classroom. The golden rule taught in our class on good manners and right conduct surely applies to this at the personal level. But understanding the macro-level prejudice against Muslims in the country entails a deeper historical background, and the political problem on the status of Muslims requires a political solution.
I believe that as we mature, we should adopt critical thinking, open our eyes to the problems affecting the various and specific people in our country, and find and become part of the solutions. So I throw these questions to all across ages, religions, or locations: What is your life goal? How do you aim to contribute in solving our country’s problems? Do you see the need to address peaceful coexistence, religious tolerance, and respect for diversity? What do you know about the conflict in Mindanao? Do you care to understand it? What does peace mean for you? How can you help in peace-building?
I hope it will interest everyone to ponder on these bigger questions throughout the new year.
Apart from interfaith dialogue, there is the larger picture of strengthening non-Muslim understanding of the place of Muslims and the Bangsamoro (Moro nation) in Philippine history and society. These issues are not fully and properly included in the basic education and narrative of the Filipino people.
Indeed, Philippine education has shortcomings in promoting appreciation of our rich national diversity and of the struggles and heroism of our Muslim ancestors. Our national history is silent on the history of the neglect and marginalization of Filipino Muslims. Moreover, strong agents of socialization like the media are not free of stereotyping and discrimination against Muslims. In the social media, a range of videos and websites make a mockery of Islam, such as the controversial film “Innocence of Muslims.”
In confronting political and socioeconomic issues specific to them or their areas, Muslim youth have organized themselves. I became part of the Young Moro Professionals Network due to a shared concern about the affairs and welfare of Muslim communities. Because we share a religious identity as Muslims and a sociopolitical identity called the Bangsamoro, we voluntarily came together in pursuit of peace and progress.
Alhamdulillah (All praise and thanks are to God), the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro was signed by the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Aside from its being the mother peace agreement, what is its significance, especially to the Muslim youth who value their sociopolitical identity? According to a Maguindanaon lawyer and Moro who is part of the government’s negotiating team, the Framework Agreement begins the transformation of Moros from being invisible to visible. As though to underscore her remark, the announcement of the agreement resulted in an upsurge of interest in the Bangsamoro.
I believe that the Framework Agreement will serve as the beginning of the Bangsamoro people’s recognition in the Philippine legal system and parlance, and of their crucial role in advancing good governance in the planned enhanced autonomous region in Mindanao. I also hope that it will start the process of installing the Bangsamoro in its true place in Philippine history.
InshaAllah (God willing), this political roadmap will lead us Filipinos to lasting peace. In this new year, I hope that more Filipinos will realize that all of us have a role and responsibility in supporting the pursuit of peace in the South. As we continue to make good in our respective careers and in our pursuit of happiness, let us make the pursuit of peace, that will benefit all, part of our life journey. Much work has to be done. With faith in and patience for this collective endeavor, we will keep youth’s vigor, idealism and optimism fresh. Peace is possible.
Tasneem C. AbdulRauf, 24, is a writer in the communications group of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process.