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At Large

The face of Moro womanhood

Long before winning election as mayor of Isabela, the capital city of Basilan, Sitti Djalia Turabin Hataman presented a gentler, gracious face of Islam to the Christian majority.

Most memorably, guesting in an interview with entertainment journalist Boy Abunda, she spoke not just of the Moro community’s hundred-year struggle for peace and autonomy in the face of the then brewing campaign to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law, but also of her own personal struggles as a Moro woman, wife, mother and legislator. As a girl growing up in a majority Christian community, studying in a Catholic institution, and yet still facing deep-seated bias and long-held fears and suspicions, she wondered out loud why religion continued to divide the nation hundreds of years after the Spanish conquest.

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It had come to a point, she recounted in a “Kwentong Kabaro” (Sisters’ Story) session last week, that during the campaign for Isabela mayor, she was often asked if an electoral victory for her wouldn’t mean the prosecution of Christians in the city.

“During one of our ‘town hall’ sessions, someone asked me if I knew any Christian prayers,” she recalled. “I said I did because I spent my childhood studying in Claret, a Catholic school.” She then asked everyone to join her in prayer, reciting from memory the standard Christian prayers, including the Magnificat, reminding the crowd that “for Muslims and Christians, the story of the Nativity is central to our faith.”

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She was egged to do so, Hataman said, because her political opponents had harped on the “threat” she posed to Christians. This was because in the plebiscite held a few months before the elections, she had campaigned hard for a “yes” vote on the question of Isabela joining the Bangsamoro entity.

“Isabela had always voted ‘no’ on that issue,” Hataman said, so it was hard going convincing the voters to change their minds. In the elections that followed, their “defeat” in the plebiscite was seized upon by their opponents, and so Hataman had to work doubly hard to convince her would-be constituents that her administration would respect the results of the plebiscite.

But her experience in politics and public service, she added, has at the same time “deepened” her understanding of and appreciation for her Islamic faith. While sitting in the House as a representative of the party list group Anak Mindanao or Amin, Hataman took a stand against the re-imposition of the death penalty, “but I felt I needed more guidance from the Quran and the teachings of Islam to firm up my stand, especially since other Muslim legislators were claiming the Quran was for the death penalty.”

With the help of scholars and religious leaders, she read more and studied deeper the Islamic teachings on the taking of life, discovering that the Prophet himself had taught that authorities must take every measure—and even beyond that—to delay an execution and ensure the welfare of the children to be orphaned by this extreme measure. “God is not unjust or unmerciful,” she asserted, “God is most forgiving and merciful.” Which is why, she said, Islam teaches that every chance for atonement and forgiveness must be allowed, including giving the family of the victim the choice to forgive the criminal and accept reparation.

Aside from sitting as Amin representative, Hataman also served as secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, and before then was quite active on the development front, including a woman’s group, “Pinay Kilos” or Pink.

She is also married to Mujiv Hataman, who had served as mayor of Isabela before he took on the responsibility of being regional governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanano, a post he had no problem leaving as the Bangsamoro process was underway. They have five children.

In the course of her public career, Djalia or Dada has often found herself squirming under her husband’s shadow, viewed by some as a mere consort even when, given the nature of the event, she was more rightfully the “guest of honor.” A friend of hers was even moved to remind organizers to introduce her for her own merits, and “only incidentally the wife of…”

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That is a challenge every woman of substance and worth faces, and finding the balance between self-worth and partnership, family and society is a lifelong quest.

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TAGS: At Large, Moro women, rina jimenez david, Sitti Djalia Turabin Hataman
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