‘Relief ops must not be used for evangelization’

Muslim religious leaders discuss in a meeting in Iligan City on July 12, 2017 proposals on how to deal with the ongoing siege in Marawi City. MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

ILIGAN CITY (MindaNews/21 July) — Leaders of various faiths in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur cautioned Christian groups assisting Marawi evacuees against using relief operations for evangelization.

“We appreciate the effort by many Christian groups and communities in helping the horde of evacuees from Marawi, many of whom continue to bear the burden of lack of sufficient food, especially those who took shelter in the homes of relatives,” a statement of interfaith leaders from Lanao del Sur and Lanao del Norte read.

“But we remind our Christian brothers and sisters to refrain from making relief operations an opportunity to evangelize on their faiths on the evacuees,” the statement added.

Some 20 leaders of Muslim and Christian denominations gathered for what they call a “reflective dialogue to consider the emerging state of relations between people of various faiths” in light of the Marawi siege.

The statement was signed by, among others, Ustadz Abdul Karim Ambor, former president of the Imams League of Iligan; Anglican Bishop Stephen Villaester, president of the Interfaith Council of Iligan; and Rev. Rodulfo Galenzoga, former director of the Iligan Diocese’s Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue.

The meeting was particularly called to discuss and manage any fallout from a July 6 incident in Ceanuri Subdivision here where a group of Christians included Bibles and magazines of a Bible story in the hygiene kits it distributed to mainly Muslim evacuees.

The Bibles and magazines were set in Maranao language.

An owner of a madrasa where most of the beneficiary evacuees settled said the timing of the distribution is suspect.

The evacuees did not immediately discover the Bibles as these were part of the goods contained in plastic bags. It was only when they opened the relief packs that they found out about it.

To prevent the Bibles from being desecrated by Maranaos who could be insulted by the act, Ambor rounded up the evacuees who received them and asked that these be turned over to him. He collected 320 copies.

On Thursday, the Bibles were turned over to the Marawi-based Center for the Discovery of Faith (CDF) which has been ministering to so-called Balik-Islam or converts to Islam.

“We appreciate the gesture of our Muslim brothers in safekeeping the Meranao-translated Bibles that were distributed to Marawi evacuees in Ceanuri Subdivision in Iligan City,” the interfaith leaders said.

CDF director Maulana Andam thanked those who produced the Meranao-translated Bibles.

“These will be helpful in making Muslim Maranaos understanding the Christian faith. It was just unfortunate that these were distributed under a wrong context,” Andam said.

“The act of giving a Bible to a Muslim, or giving a Qur-an to a Christian, per se, is not offensive. In fact, it is an indication of trust between each other. But timing it during a relief operation should be avoided,” the interfaith leaders reminded.

They expressed concern that as a result of the siege by Islamic State-linked militants in Marawi, “tensions between Christians and Muslims are reignited.”

“This is especially felt in communities which are hosting massive influx of evacuees who escaped the crossfires in the besieged city,” they noted.

“While the situation gives us worries, we view this as an opportunity to further strengthen our solidarity and common bond in the name of humanity.”

The interfaith leaders said the Marawi siege “displayed the best examples Christian-Muslim solidarity: Muslims saving Christians from being harmed by the militants.”

“These are stories that we celebrate; these give us hope that we have come a long way in the process of achieving harmony despite the diversity of our faiths.” (Ryan Rosauro/for MindaNews)