IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD: An Islamic State for the Bangsamoro?

PENANG, Malaysia (MindaNews/29 August) — First of all, I claim to be no expert in the subject of Islamic governance and jurisprudence. However, the topic of Islamic State holds so much relevance and importance to ordinary Moros, like myself, who continue to be confused. Thus, I wish to offer some simple discussions. To start, I read a statement that in fact, “there has never existed a truly Islamic State after the time of the Prophet and of the Medina Caliphate….”[1] And because of the historical developments and rise of Western civilization, the Muslim world is further challenged to re-establish this longing for an Islamic State. Muslim countries all over the world face this challenge. While some of them may have developed their own system of governance and are calling it as Islamic (e.g. Iran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), others are innovating ways in putting a definitive place for Islam in their country’s government system (e.g. Indonesia, Malaysia). Considering this reality, it brings me to ponder whether the Bangsamoro people really want to establish an Islamic State in Mindanao as part of their ongoing Right to Self Determination (RSD) struggle. To make things clearer, is the present RSD struggle hinged on the aspiration of an Islamic State?

Last July in Davao City the Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society (CBCS) and JICA Manila organized a very timely seminar on Aceh. And the participants to this seminar had a great opportunity to listen to our friends from Aceh on the many stories of struggles, survival, and triumph in rebuilding Aceh as a result of their peace agreement with the Indonesian Government. Similar to the Bangsamoro, the Acehnese have been fighting for freedom for a long time. Islam, and the ideals of Islam, has long been one of the main pillars of Acehnese struggle for self-determination. They were part of the Darul Islam movement in the 1950’s whose main objective was to create an Islamic Indonesian state, replacing the secular Pancasila ideals with Islamic tenets. The movement was successful in giving them a “special status” with Islam accepted as the pillar of Acehnese society. Syariah law however was not fully implemented. The next phase of conflict which started in 1976 and lasted until 2005 was more about economic, identity, and justice issues. The Helsinki MOU of 2005 addressed these issues but also allowed for the review and implementation of Islamic Syariah laws in Aceh as part of the expanded autonomy deal. The laws have to be tabled and debated at the regional Assembly like any other laws and can be implemented after this process. The decision lies solely on the Acehnese whether and how much they want to introduce and implement Syariah laws in Aceh. Today, there is relative peace in Aceh and people continue to work hard for it. Aceh is not an “Islamic State” per se but it clearly puts Islam as its State religion and implements some aspects of the Syariah law.

Going back to our own scene in Mindanao, it is but normal that some non-Muslims use the discussion of the Islamic State as another fear-raising effort towards the Bangsamoro’s RSD aspirations. For one, the idea of an Islamic State is vague and confusing, even among some sectors of the Bangsamoro or to Muslim Filipinos. In my own little fieldwork with the poor rural communities, the desire for an Islamic State comes out in the discussion as part of a view that the Bangsamoro has declined immensely due to the dominance of the Christians and their culture, in detriment to their own development. It is no accident that the younger generations of Bangsamoro are somewhat confused of their identity and have consequently lost their faith in themselves.

While it is true that there is freedom in religion in a democracy like the Philippines, the enormous struggles of the Bangsamoro in developing themselves cannot be denied. If we are to listen to what a poor “Amah” or father and “Inah” or mother would want for their children, it is but normal that they want them brought up to be educated and become good Muslims. There is an existence of an RSD conflict in Mindanao, mainly because the Bangsamoro feel that their very existence and way of life is threatened. As such, the Bangsamoro are fighting for their freedom so that they can govern and develop themselves in a path that will make them educated and good Muslims, and allow them to progress as a community.

Generally, many Filipinos fail to realize what are the needs of the Bangsamoro in order for them to fulfill their RSD aspirations, especially that the topic of RSD has been limited to the political dimension. Beyond the political part and the consequential peace agreement, the development of the Bangsamoro community would have to include many things, like the strengthening of the Syariah Law system—as an institution of social order; the re-building of their social, cultural, and religious institutions; development of an economic system that follows the halal values; the institution of a political and judicial system appropriate for them; an implementation of an education system that promotes their values system and goals of achieving a progressive and modern society; and the conservation and sustainable development of their natural environment and resources as part of their “amana” or principle of trusteeship in Islam.

The road to an Islamic State for the Bangsamoro, or the idea of having a form of governance system that coherently integrates Islam in the whole of a State’s life, is a long and winding road. Its attainment is both a means and an end in itself. Therefore, introducing or re-orienting the Bangsamoro to this road will be a gradual one. At the minimum, it will have to start on helping the Bangsamoro individuals regain their identity and confidence as a people. On the other hand, the issue of an Islamic State cannot be a primary concern for non-Muslims in Mindanao since this is something that can only be decided by the Bangsamoro themselves as they undergo this process of development and enlightenment. And following the leadership paradigm of Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w.), they must adhere to the practice of “Syura” or mutual consultation, “Hurriyah al-kalam” or freedom of expression, and “Adl bil-qist” or justice with equity, if and when the discussion of an Islamic State is seriously considered in the future.

Every Muslim aspires to fulfill their obligations to be good Muslims, including the pursuit of an Islamic State. The rationale of an Islamic State is rooted in the belief that “The innermost purpose of the Islamic State is to provide a political framework for Muslim unity and cooperation.” [2] While this is an ideal view, the Bangsamoro are also realistic enough to know that it is not as easy as putting a flag and declaring their territory as an Islamic State. It is therefore prudent, not to mistake the Bangsamoro RSD aspirations as a goal to establish an Islamic State when it is clear that what they aspire for is their right to freedom and the preservation of their identity and territory. If people helplessly ask what do the Bangsamoro want? Or “Ano ba ang gusto niyo?” There is always a simple and unequivocal answer–the Bangsamoro are embarking a “jihad” to regain their lost home in Mindanao and build peace with other Filipinos. (Ayesah is the coordinator of the Mindanao Peace Program at the Research & Education for Peace Universiti Sains Malaysia or REPUSM in Penang, Malaysia. You may email her at [email protected])