DURING the World Interfaith Harmony Week, I was invited by the Bishop Ulama Conference (BUC) and the Silsilah Forum Davao to give a talk entitled, “Harmony in the context of Mercy: an Islamic Perspective”.
This was held last February 4, 2016 at the BUC Office, 5th floor Karpentrade Bldg. Davao City. For today’s article, I would like to share some points of my presentation in that activity. I shared my thoughts with the group of peace advocates and religious groups whose main advocacy is interfaith dialogue. The first point that I raised was “Mercy is innate in Islam”.
The words Bismillahhirahmanhiraheem, means “In the Name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, The Merciful.” Every Muslim starts their day and their prayers with this phrase to remind them of the very essence of Islam as reflected in the 99 Attributes of Allah (SWT).
Most Islamic scholars would say that the phrase I mentioned above has two root words: All-merciful (rahmn) and Ever-merciful (rahm). Both are derived from the word rahma, which is variously translated as mercy, compassion, and benevolence. Rahma is an abstrac noun derived from the concrete noun rahim, “womb.” Mercy is the mother’s attitude toward the fruit of her womb.
When God says in the Quran, “My mercy embraces everything” (7:156), this means that God has mercy on the entire universe. With this thought in mind, the very notion of mercy, some Muslim and non Muslim scholars referred to the realm of nature, like when we say “Mother nature”, this refer to the whole universe as the divine womb. (Taken from Dr. William C. Chittick, State University of New York)
Our prophet Muhammad (SAW) mentioned in his Hadith (Sayings) the close connection between mercy and motherhood. In one Hadith he said, “when God created mercy, he created it in one hundred parts. He kept ninety-nine parts with himself and sent one part into the world. Mothers are devoted to their children and wild animals nurture their young because of this one part. On the day of resurrection, the Prophet added, God will rejoin this one part with the ninety-nine parts — all for the benefit of those who dwell in the posthumous realms, whether paradise or hell”.
Moreover, mercy, as a divine attribute, is not similar with love. Love demands mutuality, as reflected in the Qur’an: “He loves them, and they love Him” (5:54). In contrast, mercy is one- sided, which is to say that God has mercy on creation, but not the other way around. The second point that I shared was about the life of our Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
He represents universal mercy. The Qur’an mentioned, “Allah (SWT) sent His Messenger Prophet Muhammad also as the Mercy of the World (Qur’an 21:107). As the Messenger of God, he is representative of His Mercy and hence the Prophet himself is known as rahmatallil ‘alamin (mercy of the worlds). Muslims must be reminded that the message of the Prophet (SAW) is for us to be merciful and compassionate to all humankind. But not all Muslims see the real message of Islam and the essence of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Thus, it is a challenge for us to work hard and become ambassadors of Islam in our world today.
My third and final point refers to how I see the celebration of Interfaith Harmony Week is relevant for us in Mindanao. As I reflected on its significance in terms of inter-religious dialogue and peace building in Mindanao, I raised some few questions for the participants to bring in their own respective communities and organizations. I also told them that it is indeed an opportune time to find shared meaning of harmony and mercy, most importantly, to reflect on the universal message of mercy and compassion that all religions in the world are teaching.
My questions were: “How does this message of mercy and interfaith harmony resonate to the peoples in Mindanao? How will it help in re-building relationships in areas of armed conflict and political divide? After the Manili massacre, Jabidah Massacre, burning of Jolo, burning of Ipil, Zamboanga siege and Mamasapano encounter, can we still rebuild our nation as one?
In line with these questions, I reminded the participants on the issue of injustice. I mentioned in my previous article that Cardinal Orlando B. Quevedo, in a paper he delivered during the 27th General Assembly of the Bishops’ Businessmen’s Conference in Taguig, Metro Manila on July 8, 2003 said that, injustice is the “root of the conflict in Mindanao.” He classified this injustice into three points: injustice to the Moro identity; injustice to Moro political sovereignty; and injustice to Moro integral development.”
Again reflecting on these points, I would like to ask the same questions that Cardinal Quevedo asked back in 2003: “given the injustices that I have described, where do we go from here? Will the fighting ever stop? Will the evacuees ever return home? Will integral development of the Bangsamoro ever seriously start?
These questions may be answered, not by anyone else, but we, as a nation. But as a nation of diverse people, let us not forget to think about these questions as we celebrate the World Interfaith Harmony Week.
Harmony in the context of mercy is a challenge for all of us. How can we apply them in our daily lives when are a diverse people? In another article I mentioned that studies showed, “the conflict in the South is not merely a Muslim problem but is in fact a Christian problem – a legacy of the Spanish era.” As early as the setting up of the first Filipino nationalism, even Jose Rizal, the national hero, regarded the Muslims as part of the Filipino nation, and in the statutes of La Liga Filipina, drafted in 1892, he proposed to unite the archipelago into one “compact, vigorous and homogenous body.” However, the Christian delegates to the Malolos Congress, who were influence by the Spaniards, were unable to appreciate Aguinaldo’s call for unity. Spain’s crusading spirit inculcated fear and hatred of Muslims.” (Rosario – Braid, 1995)
The same thing happened with the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). Majority of our lawmakers have strong bias and prejudices towards the Bangsamoro people. It seemed that history repeats itself.
Connecting the past and our present context, connecting the views of Cardinal Quevedo and the call for a strong Filipino nationalism, we need to learn from the past, address the issues of social and historical injustice and support the Bangsamoro peace process even beyond the term of PNoy.
As a Filipino Muslim, the activities like this encourage me more to engage in dialogue with my Christian brothers and sisters. We must continue our dialogue and continue supporting the peace process.