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On being a Muslim: The other side of discrimination

/ 11:13 PM August 10, 2013

Recently I had an interesting, although depressing, talk with a female CPA-engineer from Iligan City who could not hold down a job because she was being driven out of good, high-paying jobs in Metro Manila, which I found quite unusual as she impressed me as being very intelligent and well read.

Since graduation from college, she had always aimed to work in the country’s business and financial centers for professional and intellectual growth.

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But her excellent credentials could not sustain her against the poison of prejudice. Envious colleagues would always try to bring her down and block opportunities that she deserved through discrimination and labeling: She was from Mindanao, went to school with Muslim children, had Muslim teachers, therefore she was an Abu Sayyaf.

When I asked her what her plans were then, she quickly answered, “Leave and work abroad. I have no choice.”

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Now if you think this kind of “discrimination against Muslims,” a catchphrase used by Muslims to get concessions from the government, exemptions from anything they consider burdensome, and “maximum tolerance” for such things as infraction of city ordinances, etc., is bad enough, try to look at the other side of discrimination as I did and you will see much worse.

The discrimination against Christians by Muslims is bigotry of the lowest, most godless kind.

There is hardly any place of “informal settlers” in the inner cities of Metro Manila where there are no Muslims. Most of the Muslims in the slums, however, hardly qualify as urban poor because not only can they afford high-powered firearms and expensive appliances, but they also have the means to, as soon as authorities look the other way, build concrete homes, making it next to impossible to evict them.

As soon as they find an ideal place on which to squat, they systematically drive out, through intimidation, the original, genuinely urban poor settlers. In a matter of  days, what started as just one or two families becomes a village whose residents do not pay taxes yet demand public services, get free electricity and water through illegal connections, exposing the surrounding community to the constant danger of fire. They pollute the environment through indiscriminate trash disposal, spread disease with their unsanitary lifestyles, and eventually their colonies become safe zones for drug dealers, gunrunners, guns for hire, and petty criminals.

And all because the government’s hands are tied by fear of being accused of “discrimination against Muslims.”

Religion of peace

The uprisings in the Middle East, the recent spate of bombings in Mindanao, the kidnappings in Sulu as Muslims around the world fasted during the holy month of Ramadan—what do all these mean to Muslims?

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What do all these, collectively, mean to me?

Put another way, how do I view these events as a Muslim in a so-called Christian-majority country?

How do I see the grief on the faces of widows and orphans, the blood-soaked and mangled bodies of fathers and sons, babies and children whose lives have been suddenly snuffed out in violence they neither deserved nor asked for?

No, I don’t cry for them as a Muslim; I grieve for them as a human being, a member of humankind.

This is because I know that Islam, my religion, the faith of my parents and my ancestors, is a religion of peace.

But so are other religions and belief systems, which are expressions of humanity’s desire for order in the universe, which serves as the foundation of religion.

There is no religion or belief, from the mythologies to ancient religions to major world faiths to the beliefs of indigenous peoples, that espouses violence, murder, chaos and discord because this is contradictory to religion’s reason for being.

To say therefore that those who are killing each other in the Middle East, bombing each other in Mindanao, or kidnapping innocent people and depriving them of their human right to freedom are doing so in the cause of Islam, as the perpetrators keep on insisting, is highly erroneous and totally beyond logic and reason.

Pariah

And yet the truth is, in this country, the Muslim community is the pariah among the ethnic groupings that make up Philippine society. Muslims are generally avoided and feared in the belief that they are criminals against whom other people are powerless because they are armed and they use their guns, their most precious possessions, to dominate any community.

And because they are armed, these so-called Muslims play god, and Christians have come to believe that trying to bring them into civilized discourse through reason and logic, social norms and even the very laws not just of the State but also the divine and sacred laws is an exercise in futility.

And the unfortunate consequence of these beliefs is the labeling of people from Mindanao, whether Muslim or Christian, as terrorists, kidnappers, bombers, Abu Sayyaf, killers.

The majority—professionals, businessmen, teachers and students—is powerless to counter this bigotry because like all forms of bigotry, it persists through mob repetition.

No, this tale of lamentation I have just written has nothing to do with my faith, with my being a Muslim, for at the bottom of all this is the ancient story of Sodom and Gomorrah, a tale of human greed and excess.

This story is not about religion, but the lack or even absence of it.

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TAGS: Abu Sayyaf, discrimination, Muslim community, Ramadan, urban poor
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