MY, MY, MY MARAWI: Biryani Nights with Global Muslim Social Activists and Leaders

From the Singapore zoo to the seas of Mindanao, I am back in my family’s arms, at a beach in Linamon, Lanao del Norte, after 14 days of seeing rare species of flowers, animals and plants in the “International City” of Singapore and travelling the “globe” of concerns for various meetings.

After the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meeting on June 12-14, ARMM International Business Conference in Tawi-tawi on June 16-17, and dinner event for the young fellows of the World Islamic Economic Forum at Greenbelt on June 18, May I share notes from a wonderful travel of three weeks (June 7-20), a fitting tribute to ready for Ramadhan and recommit to the world and humanity.

Tough to be a woman? It wasn’t just the chilli in our yummy cuisine but one can feel the social task of being an ambassador of goodwill at a forum where mostly male diplomats and civil society come together. It was refreshing to hear various off-beat conversations in a Muslim assembly where religion wasn’t the major theme but about social development concerns. A lady from the United Kingdom mentions Angelina Jolie promoting and hosting an event against sexual violence. Singapore’s Minister for Health, Professor Faishal Ibrahim, was gracious to chat a bit, replying he too has a Facebook page, hehe. And they did recycling, too, replying to my question why they use plastic and not paper bags in shops.

Before this, the coaster where I rode had ladies from Cambodia, Indonesia and Australia who joined academics and social activists tackle the contemporary challenges in the Muslim world.

We would be attending the OIC Third Meeting on Information Issues of Muslims in Diaspora. OIC is the United Nations of Muslims. It is said to be the second largest grouping of nations after the United Nations (UN). One speaker, the OIC representative who heads the Dawah Committee, spoke in Arabic with a PowerPoint translation.

Islam, like all religions, works for the good of humanity. Thus we must do things and remove the ills of discrimination and violence. A Moroccan high official tells me that Jeddah, where the OIC is based, is hosting a unity meeting of the MNLF and MILF this day (Philippine Independence day at that). Alhamdullilah, at our end, the youth leaders of the major fronts have opened dialogues and have always initiated moves for solidarity.

Not to be just nice and avoiding ticklish concerns, I also learned from my Indonesian seatmate an issue on corruption about Hajj management in her country which unseated the Department in charge. Can you imagine awaiting 15 years for Hajj and be dislodged by those who would be less qualified to perform the most Holy Journey to Makkah.

I also met a Chinese academic who wrote about the Sulu sultanate’s roots in China, where monuments are at a locale beside Beijing. Yes, truly these stories and alternative narrations deserve space and recognition. Azeema, our kind Jamiyah Singapore forum host, mentions media is around to do so.

The Singapore charity group Jamiyah Singapore extols tripartite system in the success of the 82-year-old group. The government, private sector and NGO work in uplifting the needy. And the trained children (and many orphans) in the school where we delegates had an opening ceremony for the Information Forum of the OIC performed well in song, Islamic recitation and drum-beating. No pictures please as children’s right to privacy was reminded. In my table too was the elderly mother of the debonair president of Jamiyah who mentioned a tribute to the founding President Mr Maidan (he might have been the one who spoke at Manila Hotel at the CHED Conference hosted by ARMM).

As the youngest speaker, I am obliged to share about the aspirations for the youth bulge to be given more in terms of voice and opportunity. We spoke about the Young Moro Professionals Network using social media to bridge divides and push peace building.

Other stories from panelists include Indonesia, which is not just the world’s largest archipelago but is also the biggest Muslim community. It was inspiring to see East Asian Muslims cope with modernity. The world’s largest country, China, has 35,535 mosques, 10 Muslim colleges, 130 former Arab schools and 477 Islamic associations.

The Burmese speaker said Muslims must relate with the universal culture of justice and students can resonate with it.

Each synthesizer came with wisdom. Our very own Amina Rasul theorized on the need for Muslims and grassroots groups to be active in peace building. Dr Leon Moosavi of the University of Liverpool, Singapore, said , “All around the world is a need to promote peace and harmony, and at times, religion is perceived to be cause of conflict, lack of peace and harmony. How can it be that religion is the cause of peace and harmony? This is hard to see because few organizations embody it.”

[Samira A. Gutoc-Tomawis, Ll.B., is former assemblywoman, women sector, of the Regional Legislative Assembly, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao; former director, Al-Amanah Islamic Bank, Inc.; former director, Marawi Resort Hotel, Inc. See her blog at]