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Monday, July 26, 2010

Muslim pride
Mano-a-mano By Adel Tamano (The Philippine Star)

Mmmm. Pizza with everything on it: pepperoni, bacon, ham, sausage and any other kind of high-fat processed meat that you can put on top of a cheese pie. For our law office’s trip to Malaysia last year, a trip to Pizza Hut was one of the things I had been looking forward to. I literally had sleepless nights in anticipation of my pizza-fest. I know Super Supreme is not exactly an exotic dish in Manila so you may be wondering — and thinking that I’m being very silly — why I had been obsessing over pizza. But it isn’t silly. I’m a Muslim and I’m forbidden to eat pork. So it is only in a predominantly Muslim country like Malaysia where their food is halal or pork-free that I can order pizza with everything.

It is not easy being a Muslim in the Philippines. When I was on the campaign trail, most of our hosts served only meals that, one way or another, featured pork. To be sure, these were gracious and thoughtful hosts, but like most Filipinos, they take dietary restrictions imposed by faith for granted.

The difficulty is even more pronounced during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for the followers of Islam, which incidentally, will start in August this year. During Ramadan, Muslims are not allowed to drink, eat, or smoke from sunup to sundown. In Muslim countries, there is a slowing in the pace and ritual of daily life to accommodate people’s hunger and lower energy levels. In fact, in some countries, eating and drinking in public places, even for non-Muslims, is discouraged if not prohibited. In the Philippines, most Filipinos are not even aware of Ramadan and so there is no similar accommodation for Muslims. The majority of Filipinos will eat and drink, unconscious of the fact that the Muslim minority are fasting. I certainly hope and look forward to a time when most Filipinos will be sensitive and considerate of our conditions while we are fasting.

Still, the most the reprehensible difficulty that Filipino Muslims face is discrimination, which affects even the mundane. Just observe the number of taxi drivers who refuse to give rides to women wearing hijabs or headscarves and it will remind us that religious and ethnic discrimination is a disease that, unfortunately, lingers in this country. Sadly, many Filipinos continue to have negative attitudes and stereotypes of Moros or Filipino-Muslims.

I’m certain that in some ways, my life might be easier if I had been born into a Catholic family. I grew up in Manila and attended high school, college and law school in Catholic schools. I was exposed to Catholic beliefs and practices, which I have learned to respect and, in many instances, even admire. However, I was born a Muslim. Both my parents practice the Islamic faith and belong to the ethnic group called Maranaws. But my being Muslim is more than a mere accident of birth — it is also the faith I choose.

As I have realized in my youth, as I have time and again affirmed as a man, I am a proud Muslim.

My best friends were Christians and we would have impassioned — sometimes even angry — debates on religion. In fact, a few of my devoutly Christian friends have been worried about my burning in hell. These are well-meaning friends and I appreciate their concern; I respect their beliefs even if there are times when they cannot seem to respect mine. (Interestingly, it appears that my exposure to Christianity has made me appreciate my religion more and has enabled me to be more tolerant of other people’s beliefs, religious or otherwise.)

Notwithstanding the difficulties, my faith is a great source of comfort for me. I doubt I would have been able to face the challenges in my life if it were not for my faith. A Muslim is defined in Islamic belief as someone who “surrenders” to the will of Allah (God). It is a faith that encourages acceptance and grace. When I have to face life’s disappointments, surrendering and knowing that all are part of a divine plan is incredibly comforting and provides me perspective.

There are a multitude of reasons but among them, I appreciate that Islam is, in essence, uncomplicated. We have five simple pillars: Shahada (profession of faith), Salah (five daily prayers), Sawm (fasting), Zakat (giving of alms) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). A devout Muslim will find time in his daily routine for prayer five times in a day so that faith becomes an integral part of his daily existence. For one month in every year, during Ramadan, a Muslim will fast and sacrifice, so that the faith is experienced at a real and visceral level — facing hunger and thirst and exercising self-control.

I’m sure that we all have our own reasons for our choice of faith and we must all respect and celebrate those choices. Whatever your faith is, what is vital is that you choose it — meaning you are committed to your faith and you make it a part of your life. Commitment does not mean having a perfect faith or living a perfect life. It is an aspect of the human condition that we all will fail in our religious duties — I’m certainly no stranger to not being able to fulfill even just the five pillars of my faith. I believe that being committed to your faith means that you strive to be the best Muslim, Christian, Jew or Buddhist that you can be. Just imagine how much better this country would be if the majority of Muslims and Christians actually lived their faith and genuinely practiced the virtues of love, kindness and charity that are the hallmarks of all great religions.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Adel.

    You've mentioned "injustices" and discrimination such as your oft given example of the taxi drivers refusing to give women wearing the hijab a ride. I can’t help but think that that is the exception rather than the rule. You know that in Iran, no male taxi driver can pick up a female unless she's accompanied by a man. In some Muslim countries, women cannot move about freely or even receive an education by virtue of their sex. I think that if you were to ask Muslim women throughout the globe, who are the ones oppressing them - those that are indeed oppressed - the answer will most likely be a husband, father, uncle, brother.

    You seem to be inferring that non-Muslim Filipinos should be more sensitive to those observing Ramadan (by not eating in public, eating less, omitting pork from their diets and menus perhaps?).

    I'm sure discrimination against Muslims is alive and well in the Philippines (other forms of discrimination being against those who are overweight, homely, slow). The thing is, despite all our country's faults, we're pretty liberal. In some Muslim countries - Afghanistan, Pakistan, pockets of India (yes, I realize it's Hindi), Iran etc. - Muslim women get stoned to death, beaten, beheaded, whipped by their fellow Muslim men, all in the name of religion. (Yes, Catholic men can be violent too.) So I don't think that because the Philippines is predominantly Catholic that it gives Muslim women a hard time. On the contrary, maybe it is the Catholic values passed on to us by our Spanish colonizers/oppressors that make Filipinos bend over backwards to be unusually understanding, quick to forgive, sensitive to the feelings of others, etc. I am of course using a very broad brush here. My point is, the quality of life of Muslim women can sometimes be far worse in some Muslim countries than in our dear old Pinas.