‘Islam real victim of Marawi siege’

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 16 July) — Islam is among the major victims of the Marawi siege.

This was the view of leaders of various sectors in Mindanao convened by the Bishops-Ulama Conference (BUC) from July 12 to 14 to “seek silver linings and rays of hope amid the Marawi crisis.”

“We acknowledge that Islam is the real victim of the Marawi siege and similar activities of violent extremism carried out in its name. It is sad that concepts rooted in this religion of peace are being twisted and given new meanings and interpretations,” read a statement issued by conference participants.

“We would like to stress that the enemy is not Islam. Neither is this a war of religions,” the statement further said.

The Bato Ali mosque located within the conflict zone in Marawi City stands against a backdrop of smoke from bombs dropped at a distance on Wednesday, 14 June 2017.  MindaNews file photo by FROILAN GALLARDO

The multisectoral peace conference gathered some 70 key representatives of Christian and Muslim education, civil society, peace groups, the military, Islamic and Christian religious, and youth to discuss how they can contribute to the process of rebuilding Marawi.

According to Dr. Hamid Barra, Dean of the King Faisal Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Mindanao State University (MSU), the actuation of Islamic State (IS)-linked militants who besieged the city since May 23 “is not sanctioned by any Islamic teaching.”

Barra cited their killing of civilians and destroying properties and religious structures, among others, painting a negative image of Islam.

“We are pained by the destruction of Dansalan College,” said Barra, himself a product of the school which has existed in the city for 66 years.

He added that his wife and seven children are all alumni of the school.

“One of the purposes of the Islamic State is to destroy Muslim-Christian brotherhood,” Barra explained.

He said this has failed because of stories of Muslims defending Christians whose lives were threatened by the militants in the course of the siege.

But the conference participants also worried “that the siege has reignited Christian-Muslim tensions.”

“We hope to address this through increased dialogue efforts,” they said.

Earlier, the country’s Catholic bishops also called for increased inter-religious dialogue, jumping off from a 2007 open letter to Christian leaders titled “A Common Word Between Us and You” released by Islamic leaders throughout the world.

In a statement following their meeting last week, the Catholic bishops cited the open letter: “The basis for peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God and love of neighbor.”

The conference noted “the gravity of the humanitarian crisis spawned by the siege.”

As of July 9, the National Emergency Operations Center accounted some 410,457 persons belonging to 89,589 families displaced due to the fighting in Marawi.

Of these, some 23,339 persons belonging to 4,277 families are staying in 87 evacuation centers while 85,312 families, accounting for 387,118 persons are staying in the homes of relatives.

“We empathize with the evacuees who have suffered the indignity of observing Ramadan away from the comfort of their homes, and have by now been dying to return to the city,” the statement read.

“We pray for the safety of the hostages, and hereby appeal for their unconditional release.”

Almost two months into the siege, the militants are still holding at least a hundred hostages, among them Catholic priest Teresito Suganob, seven faculty members of Dansalan College, and two MSU professors.  (Ryan D. Rosauro / MindaNews)