Peace be upon you
So why are we, a predominantly Christian nation where 86 percent of the population professes to be Catholic, celebrating a Muslim holiday today?
Last week, President Duterte signed Proclamation No. 729 declaring Eid al-Fitr a national holiday, to give “the entire Filipino nation… the full opportunity to join their Muslim brothers and sisters in peace and harmony in the observance and celebration of Eid al-Fitr… and bring [its] religious and cultural significance to the fore of national consciousness.”
Beyond enjoying this school-free and nonworking holiday, what is there to celebrate about Eid al-Fitr? Why join the 10.7 million Muslim Filipinos in our midst in making the most of it?
Eid al-Fitr means the “festival of breaking the fast,” a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the month of Ramadan when believers of the faith refrain from eating, drinking and intimacy with their spouses from sunrise to sunset. The evening, when fasting gives way to enjoying a communal repast, is also reserved for prayers in the mosque.
Muslims believe that, having felt what it was like to go without food or drink for 12 hours, people who fast are bound to become more sympathetic to those less fortunate than them. Such voluntary deprivation, in turn, should cause people to be more generous to help end hunger among the poor.
Aside from fasting, many Muslims spend Ramadan in sincere devotion—giving to charity, refraining from evil thoughts and performing good deeds as a way to draw themselves closer to Allah. As these acts of devotion are done collectively for a whole month, Ramadan is often considered a high-intensity period of expressing the faith, much like the Christian Lenten week when sacrifice and prayers concentrated within a few days are expected of the faithful.
Knowing how Muslims are no different from Christians in their worship should help demolish the wall of fear stoked by the frightening image of Islam believers that has lodged in some people’s minds. Celebrating the Eid is a welcome and vigorous nod to recognizing and celebrating the common ties that bind Filipino Christians with their Muslim brethren, while also embracing the religious and cultural differences that make for a dynamic, diverse and pluralistic society.
This path to solidarity in the face of global strife and religious wars is one that Pope Francis and the grand imam of al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, sought to trod in February this year, when they signed a historic declaration of fraternity that called for peace between nations, religions and races. Appropriately enough, it was witnessed by religious elders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.
The Pope and the head of Sunni Islam’s most prestigious seat of learning pledged to work together to fight extremism in the name of “all victims of wars, persecution and injustice.” The pledge stressed the unity between Christianity and Islam, and encouraged respect for the plurality and diversity of beliefs. Said the document: “We resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood.”
Violence can never be justified in the name of religion, the Pope said, as he called for religious freedom and tolerance, predicated on “standing on the side of the poor.” He might well have been speaking not only of Catholic charities, but also of compulsory giving, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Among Muslims, the end of Ramadan also means a time to gather the family for prayers and gift-giving, a focus on family ties that resonate strongly even among Filipino Christians.
Finally, observing this Muslim holiday complements the government’s firm overtures toward a more equitable treatment of Filipino Muslims, as indicated by the signing and ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) early this year. With a number of provinces opting to become part of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the prospects for peace and political stability are greater now than they have ever been all these years. A peaceful Muslim Mindanao will help unlock the island’s economic potential, and lead to social progress that can tamp down the simmering discontent behind some Muslim factions’ turn to extremism.
Along with the BOL, understanding and valuing the core beliefs of Muslim Filipinos by observing and respecting the Eid and their other traditions can help pave the way for greater harmony between our Muslim brethren and other Filipinos, Christian or otherwise—all citizens of one country. As-salamu alaykum, brothers and sisters. Peace be upon you.
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