Marawi is a sleepy, idyllic and cold-weather city in Lanao del Sur. The lone city and 39 municipalities surround Lake Lanao; that is why residents are called Maranao—“people by the lake.”
Members of other Moro tribes such as the Maguindanao, Yakan and Iranun, as well as non-Muslim Filipinos, go to Marawi to study in the main campus of Mindanao State University.
But since the 1990s, many families in Marawi had been migrating to other cities in Mindanao, the Visayas and Luzon in quest of better livelihoods or employment. Many have sought jobs overseas, in Arab countries. Rido—or feuding between families or clans—had also caused the deliberate and gradual exodus.
Our family is among the migrants. Our father now has a good career in the government outside Lanao. We lived in Marawi until I was in the first grade, and then we moved to Butuan City in Agusan del Norte. I earned my college degree in Cebu City.
Throughout my growing-up years our family visited Marawi infrequently, and only for important reasons, like weddings, funerals and kanduri (thanksgiving), or visiting sick relatives.
Every time we returned to the city we always took delight in the cold breeze. And we enjoyed the delicious Maranao food, as well as the warm welcome of relatives.
Yet, at the same time, we silently observed that nothing much had improved. It seemed like Marawi was just how it was before we left for good in the mid-1990s.
The only noticeable changes were the mansion-like houses of the local politicians and the latest-model cars jamming the small streets where there were no traffic enforcers or policemen in sight. Garbage was everywhere—to our left and right downtown, and even in the residential areas.
Locals would joke: One must be careful driving because “everyone is someone.” Anyone you may have a road accident with comes from a big clan. People take justice in their own hands. It is a city where there is no rule of law.
In our most recent visits to Marawi—in 2015 and 2016—relatives and friends told us of the recruitment activities of an Islamic-State-inspired group as well as Shia believers, a faction of Muslims with a strong belief in martyrdom.
This was later manifested in the clashes between government troops and local bandits led by the Maute family in the municipality of Butig in November 2016.
Thus, it was not entirely surprising that last May 23, four days before the start of Ramadhan, the holy month of fasting, the Maute group attacked Marawi, stirring chaos and horror among peace-loving residents and forcing them to flee. That same day, President Duterte declared martial law in the whole of Mindanao and suspended the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus.
Although our family is not in Marawi, we are pained by the stories of suffering of our relatives and other civilians, Muslims or non-Muslims, in the city. Our knees are buckling, our hearts are broken, and our minds are disturbed because of images from Marawi similar to Aleppo in Syria.
We are not angered by the military and police. We are outraged by the Maute extremists who mercilessly snuff out lives, destroy property, and besmirch Islam.
Many ask why the Maute group is terrorizing Marawi and inflicting suffering on fellow Muslims. I can only wonder why they seek recognition from the IS in order to get funding and ammunition and carry on with their misled and deviant faith.
Islam is a complete way of life. The Holy Koran is encompassing on how Muslims should lead their lives socially, economically and politically. It includes jurisprudence on jihad or holy war.
Chapter 2, verse 190 of the Koran states: “Fight in the cause of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits; for God loves not transgressors.”
Jihad is enjoined as a defense, not an offensive measure. Fighting should be on the condition of a presence of oppression against Muslims.
The Koran has many passages describing how martyrdom should not cause harm to others. The Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) laid down the rules of engagement, such as not attacking a temple, a church, a synagogue, and even not bringing a tree or a plant down. Islam further obliges Muslims to submit to a peace treaty offered by an enemy.
The acts of the Maute group do not represent jihad. Let that be a resounding statement.
In fact, in Islam, the most excellent jihad is at a personal level called the “Jihadun-Nafs,” the intimate struggle to purify one’s soul of satanic influence, both subtle and overt. It is the struggle to cleanse one’s spirit of sin.
But although the Maute family and its blind followers will be infamously carrying their act of terror down to history and until the Hereafter, it is not purely of their own doing. Poverty that resulted in lack of proper education and sufficient livelihood made them vulnerable and pushed them to the wall.
For a long time, Lanao del Sur has been hounded by systemic corruption. Some local government officials and certain families have engaged in the drug trade for a get-rich-quick life.
What has become of Marawi, its people brought on themselves. Chapter 13, verse 11 of the Koran says: “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”
But while darkness prevails in Marawi, there is light on the horizon. If there’s any good that the violence has caused, it is introspection. The long-entrenched mismanagement of the provincial and city governments as well as surrounding municipal governments has been uncovered for everyone to see.
Voters wrong themselves in electing the same untouchable, power-hungry and abusive local officials. Where are they, and what are they doing now that their people are in crisis?
Marawi is a story and a cycle of a people no longer actively demanding and participating in good governance. Its leaders have long been misgoverning—or perhaps more aptly, malgoverning.
Marawi, let your nightmare awaken you from your stupor!
Nesreen Cadar Abdulrauf-Hadjirasid, 28, is a Maranao who “envisions a Bangsamoro land where good governance prevails.”
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