Last July 24, The Peacemakers’ Circle, an organization of Filipino people with diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions, hosted an online Interfaith Dialogue dubbed “The Call of My Faith. The Challenges I Face” which was attended by a number of Filipino peace advocates. One of the keynote speakers was Assoc. Prof. Pablito A. Baybado, Jr., PhD,  the Associate Secretary General of Religions for Peace Asia, Executive Secretary of the FABC-Office of Education and Faith Formation, and member of Religious Educators Association of the Philippines and DAKATEO-Catholic Theological Society of the Philippines. Bong, as he is fondly called by friends in the interfaith community, is a Catholic Christian who holds a doctoral degree in Philosophy and is the Theology Program Lead of the Graduate School of the University of Santo Tomas (UST). He is dedicated to promoting peace and harmony among peoples of diverse religions, spiritual expressions, and indigenous traditions through various forms of dialogue.


Another keynote speaker was Dean Macrina A. Morados who is an Associate Professor and Dean of the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. She has been serving the academe successfully in various leadership capacities but is best known and loved by The Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation, Inc. (TPCFI) for her unflagging support of its interfaith peacebuilding initiatives through the years. She has been helping TPCFI in the endeavor of bringing together student leaders of UPIIS and the nearby Ateneo de Manila University in initiatives that promote relationships of mutual respect and understanding between Muslim and Christian youths and creating safe spaces for dialogue and cooperation among them.


During the interfaith dialogue, Dean Morados shared a beautiful speech on the challenges that she faced as a Muslim and provided some insights on how to address these challenges. Below is the inspiring speech of Dean Morados:


Assalamu Alaikum . Peace be with you. 


I was born in Jolo, Sulu and just before the war broke-out and the burning of Jolo in 1974, my parents decided to move to Davao del Sur. I was 6 years old at that time, so my childhood recollections would always bring back memories of my family living in non-Muslim community and having non-Muslim friends. The nearest mosque and Muslim community was like 20 minutes ride from our place. 


We grew up questioning many things, like why can’t we eat pork? Our playmates enjoyed the lechon during barrio fiesta.  Why can’t we attend and join the Flores de mayo parade? My mother would tell us not join gatherings to venerate Virgin Mary because she is Sitti Maryam in Islam and should not be depicted in any form. 


 All the while, I understood later, my parents were facing big challenges in keeping our identity as a Muslim. They imparted to us basic rules of Islam – we learned the shahadah, the fatiha, the early fasting training. At age 10, we were trained to fast.  


Despite having a different religion from our neighbors, I witnessed my parents’ very welcoming attitude towards our neighbors and sharing with them whatever we have. My father was a fisherman and he always set aside some fish for our neighbors. Our neighbors did the same to us,  I remember during fiesta some neighbors gave us chicken assuring us it was free of any pork ingredient. 


And my experience with Non-Muslim friends became even more personal to me when I entered the RVM convent in Sta. Cruz as a working student of Sister Sabina Brinan, RVM. I helped her  in the RVM literacy program of the Badjaos in Sta. Cruz, Davao del Sur. 


I finished my high school education with the help of the RVM sisters. I was the only Muslim allowed to stay in the convent. I was attracted to the very contemplative life of the Sisters and I told Sister Sabina I want to become a nun. She told me to understand Islam first. She challenged me to study my faith and come back to her if after learning Islam and I still want to become a nun. 


After High School, I went to MSU General Santos City.  I started searching for the deeper meaning of my faith. I got hold of the English translation of the Qur’an, attended Islamic seminars and read many books about Islam. Allah swt guided me to Islam with correct understanding of its teachings.


 In 1993, I met the focolare movement and I felt it was like going back home to the convent, but that time I was so assured — I know my faith and I am a Muslim. I felt more comfortable engaging with them. And it was there when I had that great moment of understanding why Allah swt allowed me to stay in the convent and fell in love with the nuns’ vocation,  I realized Allah swt has a greater plan for me. In fact, many of my Muslim colleagues were so amazed of my very trusting and comfortable stance every time I am with Christian friends. All I know, my experience with the Sisters in the convent, with the focolare and now with the interfaith circles like our group and individual partners was not a coincidence but Allah swt has prepared me to face greater tasks in bringing Islam closer to the heart of my non-Muslims friends by sharing to them the friendly and tolerant Islam taught by the Qur’an and lived by the Prophet Muhammad swt.


At this point in time, the greatest challenge I faced as a Muslim is the proliferation of the ideology of violent extremism, for the past several years especially after 9/11 we see how people claiming to be Muslims hijacked the beautiful teachings of Islam. People use Islam to justify their violent actions contrary to the teachings of Islam. Have you remembered, during the Bombings in Boston, in Paris, in New Zealand,  and for the local incident the bombing of the Cathedral in Jolo,  in our silent moment we utter apologies to the victims because the world is made to believe that the culprit are Muslims. We all know that the culprit is the ignorance of the violent few and lack of understanding and appreciation of the Qur’an. 


So how do I respond to this challenge? The only way is through education and reaching out to the most vulnerable sectors in the Muslim Ummah, that is women and the youth. I started my advocacy with women in jail since 2005, but the problem is recurring. We have to highlight the role of women in the community. They are the best educators and peace builders and teachers, beginning the early education of the children at home. This is one of the calls of my faith–to change the narratives of Islam.  


One best example I can share to you the positive effect of educating our youth who happens to be MA students at the Institute. I am referring to the Reskyu team.  Our students organized themselves and launched clean-up drive at Muslim compound. Recently, they spearheaded a three day celebration of Eid Adha in the community to foster unity of the tribes and to give the youth the chance to contribute to the Ummah. 


The next pressing and most challenging concern that we face as Muslims is to combat if not lessen and eradicate the threat of COVID 19 in our community. Our faith has many things to offer to combat the surge of COVID 19.  One is to abide by the teachings of the Prophet.  Performing ablution, avoiding intoxications, segregation somehow a good social distancing strategy and final riba there is an acknowledgment social obligation – protecting people from dire poverty. 


What would be our response to the needs of our fellow Muslims? We have to remind ourselves about the injunctions on Zakah and charity. And our experience last Ramadan affirmed that through dialogue in action our interfaith circles  were able to show to our Muslim brothers and sisters our solidarity with the Muslims during the pandemic in the most special occasion of Ramadan. 


Mustaqim Philippines admires the efforts of all Filipino peace advocates. May they continue to inspire others to tread the path towards peace.