Like many young people before me and throughout history, I have been called slack, self-centered, and shallow by the generation who came before me. I am, after all, a millennial whose best talent they say is taking a selfie that can get many hearts and likes. I have heard from well-meaning elders that the culture of my ancestors may die completely during my time and that the Moro identity that kept us different will eventually disintegrate as we assimilate within the global community.
And yet as I ponder on these thoughts, sitting on a public vehicle, typing this on my phone, my scoliosis-stricken back throbbing, I remember the faces of fellow youth whose names I may never get who marched with us to Banggolo Bridge to assert our rights over our homes and properties inside the Most Affected Area of Marawi City. They carried placards for hours to protest, with arms trembling from exhaustion, they raised their words of defiance as a military drone loomed above them. They raised the fists in the air as they yelled Allahuakbar — words that those who know mean Allah is Great but for the prejudiced ignorant means “I am about to do a terror act.” They went to the streets despite warning from parents that it is not safe because Martial Law in Mindanao is not going away anytime soon.
No, we are not slack. We are not lazy.
Synchronously but not deliberately, those who could not join us in the rally in Marawi are marching in Maguindanao to campaign for a yes vote for Bangsamoro Organic Law. This piece of legislation is seen by many as a way to address the injustices, many of which stem from disputes on ancestral land and decades of neglect. It will also hopefully end the long years of conflict in the region.
No, we are not selfish. We are not narcissistic.
In the far-flung island of Tawi-tawi, I know someone who is back-bent on her social awareness advocacy. I haven’t met her in person, but she is one of my most beloved friends. Through her popular blog and her social media presence, she creates content about Muslim life and the beautiful culture of the Bangsamoro. She fights misconceptions—good-naturedly explaining issues such as why Muslim women wear hijab and why we are not necessarily oppressed by wearing it.
No, we are not shallow. We are not purposeless.
When I was left practically homeless while a group of terrorists laid waste to the city that I called home, the first ones who offered help were fellow Moro youth. Many of them I have not met in person but only got acquainted with through social media. One gave me a prayer dress when she found out I shared mine with my mother and sisters because we were only able to salvage one. Throughout the months when I grappled to keep my sanity, when I stared blankly on the walls, they constantly had to check on me, making sure that I was okay. And I understood the Meranao proverb: “Sekano na sekami, na sekami na sekano,” which means you are us and we are you.
Now I understand why throughout the centuries when the Bangsamoro was threatened by forces, it stood firmly within its roots grasping tightly the fertile soil of the land. That is because we are one, we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of our Moro brothers and sisters. That is because we are like a beautiful tapestry made of thousands of multicolored fibers from thirteen ethno-linguistic groups of people woven tightly by one faith: Islam.
We, the Yakan, Tausug, Sangil, Sama, Molbog, Meranao, Maguindanao, Palawanon, Kalibugan, kalagan, Jama Mapun, Iranon, and Badjao, we are one. The blood in our veins is one. We may have been isolated from each other centuries ago, but our narratives have crossed and interlinked. Ultimately, we have found safety in each other, especially when we banded together to fend off the oppressors and the colonizers.
When Sultan Mohammad Dipatuan Kudarat called upon other Muslim leaders to stand against the Spaniards, the tapestry is colored rich-red from the blood of the martyrs. Long after Sultan Kudarat, each Moro adds a fiber to woven textile as colorful as the pis siyabit of Sulu, as intricate as the sinaluan of the Yakan, and as beautiful as the langkit of the Meranao. Each one adds a different hue, and with each new innovation of modernization, a new pattern comes forth. But the tapestry has been continually being woven by the loom of time. There is no break in it. Each generation holds on and contributes new material and colors.
And in this digital age, we are adding a new dimension to the weave.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The faithful, in their love for one another and in their having mercy for one another and in their kindness toward one another, are like one body; when a member of it ails, all (the parts of) the body call one another (to share the pain) through sleeplessness and fever.”
In a single Bangsamoro tapestry, one tug in one fiber is felt throughout. The whole fabric wrinkles. A small laceration in a remote corner is felt throughout. The difference between Islam and most other religions is that it is not only about acts of worship and giving up the needs of society to a form of temporal governing body. Rather, Islam established ways of conduct, relationships, and rights and obligations. These were for the individual vis-à-vis members of the family and the nation, and for the nation vis-à-vis other nations. This has always been our way since Islam came to our land in the 13th century. We have been taught that the ummah is a compact union having recourse to itself, possessing an inner sense of responsibility for its own members, and resisting decay, both individually and collectively.
We are under the giant shadow of our forefathers. How can we ever match the heroism of the martyrs who died in Padang Karbala? How can we live and die as gloriously as the warriors of our liberation fronts? Each generation faces a challenge unique to their times. They did what they had to do in those circumstances.
Ours is a monster with a different face. This is a sly one that hides behind the veneer of a friendly face. We may not have to shed as much blood, but the cunning that we need is greater than ever before for the survival of our nation—the Bangsamoro. And as long as we hold on to the rope of our faith, of our identity, we will continue adding length to our tapestry.
And if the Bangsamoro youth are to be reduced to anything, it is to our decided commitment to continue the legacy of our forefathers.
(BATANG MINDANAW is the youth section of Mindanews. This piece by Sittie Ayeesha Dicali of Marawi City won second prize at the ARMM Essay Writing Competition)