Religious leaders, civil society vow to continue interfaith dialogue between Christians, Muslims

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/21 July) — Efforts to foster interfaith dialogue will continue despite attempts by “militants to drive a wedge among our respective religions and to paint a renewed war of religions,” religious and civil society leaders said in a statement signed in Iligan City Thursday.

The signatories were referring to the Marawi siege staged by the Islamic State-inspired Maute group which entered its 60th day on Friday.

“We will not tire in doing dialogue among faiths and grassroots communities especially among the young so that they appreciate the historical reality of our divergence, and imbibe the reasons for our coexistence,” the statement released on Friday said.

It said the siege has reignited tensions between Christians and Muslims.

Evacuees from Marawi City pray during the Eid’l Fitr celebration in Saguiaran, Lanao del Sur on June 25, 2017. “Islam is a religion of peace and mercy,” religious and civil society leaders said in a statement on July 20, 2017. MindaNews file photo by H. Marcos C. Mordeno

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

At the same time, the statement said the situation provides “an opportunity to further strengthen our solidarity and common bond in the name of humanity.”

It added the 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.”

The signatories lamented that the siege portrays Islam as a source of inspiration for violence.

“This is wrong; the militants are wrong in twisting and giving new interpretations to its concepts. We emphasize here that Islam is a religion of peace and mercy,” they said.

They lauded Christian groups and communities who extended relief assistance to the displaced residents of Marawi, but asked them not to use it as a venue to evangelize their faiths to the evacuees.

They were alluding to the inclusion of Maranaw-translated Bibles among the relief goods distributed by an unnamed group to Marawi evacuees in Ceanuri Subdivision in Iligan City.

“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 statement said.

“We pray for the safety of the hostages, and hereby appeal for their unconditional release. We have missed the presence of Fr. Chito Soganub in our interfaith activities for almost two months now. We especially missed him during Ramadan, during the Eid al-Fitr festivities.

“We pray for the end of the war in Marawi soonest. We hope that the ulama and traditional leaders be actively involved in building consensus among the Marawi residents in mapping out a way to end the crisis, recognizing their special influence on the people,” it added. (MindaNews)