Assalamu malaikum warakmatolahi barakatu!
I was told by my Indonesian officemate that today starts the holy month of Ramadan. I have experienced Ramadan having lived for two and half years in KSA. Then I celebrated it with my then co-intern Mus. I decided to observe it as well this year. Not only for health reason but as a personal cause to meditate, pray and invoke an end to violence to the people of Mindanao.
Below is a reflection of a good friend, colleague in the NGO who have direct working experience with the tri-people ( Muslim, Christian, Indigenous People (IP) or Lumad) of Mindanao on the issue of peace and development.
I invite everyone to celebrate with our Muslim Brothers and Sisters the real spirit of Ramadan, may peace start with us and spread it to the world. Peace in Mindanao!
Reflections on the Eve of Ramadhan
by Marides Gardiola (email@example.com)
The other day I was watching a friend as she slept. She had just come back from a heart-rending trip to Pikit where they had commenced relief work. In the brief moment we were together she described how distressed she was at the recent turn out of events. The same sentiments were echoed by my other friends in Iligan, Marawi, Cotabato and Zamboanga. Mindanao has slipped into another cycle of violence. This has been going on for several decades. And it is making people like my friend frustrated about all the energies for peacebuilding that many people like her have put in.
Halfway through her sharing she dozed off unconsciously and for me the least I could do was to allow her that space to rest. It gave me a profound sense of joy to watch her. In the midst of all the hatred and chaos that has gripped her homeland, she was an image of peace.
But in my heart, I could feel her pain.
We have been friends for eight years. Those were the years when Mindanao became a refuge from a phase of disillusionment about methods of work and patterns of relationships I had opted to take in my social involvement in Luzon . We met two years after I had returned to Mindanao to fulfill the seed of a promise I made as a young community volunteer in Kitaotao Bukidnon in the mid-80s. In the past years, I developed strong ties with her people so naturally it felt like I was a sister to them. Our NGO had been invited to help train some of the MNLF combatants who were trying the ways of peace in their community. I remember how we would talk about their struggle till midnight and how they were trying to get used to a life where they were able to move around freely. When my daughter graduated from high school, they volunteered to come as our guests in place of the other relatives who could not come from Mindoro . “We are now your relatives”, they said. I had never felt so touched by such gesture in my whole life.
At that time, my daughter did not have any idea who they were but now, as a young and idealistic worker for an IP and Muslim education program in Mindanao , she is proud to share with others how an entire squadron made it to her graduation guest list. And how all of them had to scrounge their allowance to be able to come in their best clothes.
Today, she just got back from volunteering in the evacuation sites in Pikit too. She is very engaged in peace work and obviously shares the same affinity for the Moro people that I have.
When the All-out War displaced thousands of people in that same place eight years ago, she wanted to go and bring some old clothes and blankets for the children. Somehow that did not happen inspite of the arrangements my friend was trying to make then. This time she was able to do it with her own connections.
We have both lived the best period of our lives here in Mindanao . As I continued to interact with more IP and Moro groups, I became more aware of the complexities of violent conflicts which manifested in poverty, injustice and war. I felt the simplest thing I could contribute was my own experience of how a peaceful life can be more meaningful as an aspiration. Lately, my mentoring work with development facilitators of the BDA have opened my eyes to the beauty of Islamic principles and how people can be mobilized for community development through value transformation.
In 2005, an opportunity to migrate to Canada became an embarrassing choice in the midst of the serious work that needed to be done here. Mindanao had become my home and there was a tugging feeling in the heart at the thought that I had to leave. As we marked our eighth year here, the decision to build our family nest in Davao had become a wiser option. And for me and my daughter, life has never been better.
But today, on the eve of the start of Ramadhan, we both reflect on “salam” and what it means for the Moro people who have been bombed, displaced and forced to a state of insecurity and risk all their lives. It has always been said that war is crazy but this is perhaps the craziest one, having come at the heels of all the peace efforts of so many stakeholders. I try to search for what positive things can be gathered from this situation and it is only my friend’s sense of humor I can think of. How she can remain lighthearted in this situation is something that escapes my mind.
I love my friend for she has taught me more lessons than I could have possibly learned on my own. I guess that is the reason why inspite of the many differences and disagreements we had to hurdle in the past, I just had to honor the connection we had nurtured from the start. No matter how many twists and turns our relationship had taken, it just had to be embraced fully.
In much the same way that she has accepted me as a friend in her homeland of ancient memories back.
Tonight, I will light a candle for my friend and her people. Maybe not just one candle. Several candles to invoke the peace that is within each one. The times are getting darker, no solution seems to be in sight, and people are growing more restless. Violence begets violence and all I know is that this cycle has to stop on both sides. I would like to keep the flame burning in my vision. Firstly, for my friend, that she will be able to keep her faith in peaceful ways firm. And then for all those who have the responsibility to stop the war to just do that. To end the thought that problems can ever be solved through violence. And with finality, to cease all actions that contribute to that.
As my friend starts another period of fasting, I would like to journey with her to the depths of the cleansing ritual that I have integrated into my own personal tradition of purification. Let me take a fast from the hopelessness and negativity that shrouds this beautiful land. Let me break away from my own internal contradictions as I check how I to can be contributing to the entrophy of energies pulling us into the abyss of despair. And from my cleansed state, let me emerge the innate qualities of purity, peace, love, wisdom and bliss.
From that state of power, I am able to fulfill the vision of peace and love that God has steadily held for us… all these lifetimes. Only then, I believe, can my actions be truthful and beneficial.