On February 17 and 18, I had the chance to meet up with various Muslim religious leaders coming from Lanao del Sur and Norte for a workshop entitled, Engaging religious leaders on the Bangsamoro peace process in Iligan City.
ForumZFD and the Philippine Muslim Welfare Society (PMWS) in partnership with the Alternate Forum for Research in Mindanao (AFRIM) and the Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia spearheaded the workshop on the FAB and the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) for the religious sector. The training aimed to inform religious leaders about the current state of the peace process and strengthen their roles as social multipliers and carriers of information to their respective communities.
I was tasked to facilitate the module on visioning for peace. The focus question was, “How do we envision a peaceful solution to the conflict(s) in Mindanao”? I consider this a tough question because it is like asking a priest or a rabbi the same question. To lessen the complicated task, I opted to modify the process a little bit. I started by finding what are the inherent assets and resources available to the participants based on their personal background.
Asking about conflicts and problems are approaches that we usually use when we apply a problem solving method. This approach is usually referred to as “deficit-based paradigm”. In this method, it usually results to a fragmented response. It looks into realities on the ground that are time bounded and needs proper contextualization.
On the other hand, vision setting is part of strategic planning. This is the process by which you will envision the future of your organization/community and identify the areas on which you want the current and future key leaders to focus. This vision helps give the group direction and the potential energy to begin moving.
We are so adept in seeing things through a problem based approach. We try to identify the problems and the needs of the communities. This standard approach begins with the fundamental belief that the community is broken. It creates problem lists, needs assessments and identify inadequacies.
Focusing on needs fails to harness the wisdom and strengths of community members – boxes them in and reinforces a client – fix me – mentality. Focusing on assets empowers individuals and communities”. (CCPH Summer Service-Learning Institute ~ June 2005)
In contrast, an Asset Based approach demands a major paradigm shift. “This approach begins with what the community has. Its fundamental premise is that all communities have capacities, gifts, skills which, if identified, mobilized and applied can bring about significant economic and social change.
What is promising in this approach is that it looks into the community assets, rather than the needs, represents a significant shift in how community development practitioners have approached their work in recent years. In the past, most NGOs and donor agencies began their efforts by conducting a needs assessment that examined the problems and weaknesses of the community (Johnson, Meiller, Miller, & Summers, 1987). Then, the community feels bad about the whole situation, then the system of dependency begins.
How many community projects are project-based? After the donor agency spent millions of dollars, mostly in their admin cost, the project dies when the intervention ends. Thus, we find the community is less empowered and more dependent in the end.
Going back to my task in the workshop, I decided to divide the process on two parts. The first focus was the “Values and Principles Setting”. The participants were grouped into a five member group. Then they were asked to share with their group their knowledge about “peace in Islam” and how these contribute in peace building with in their organizations and communities.
The output of the workshop was an eye opener. We were able to gather their personal experiences about how Islam affected their lives. They talked how the doctrinal teachings of Islam encourages them to be peaceful, organized, and become a person of good character. It gave them a sense of empowerment in terms of their roles as religious leaders in their communities.
The workshop yielded two relevant and important points. Compassion and Justice. Every participants agreed that these points are keys in solving the Mindanao problem. Both values are present in all the religions of the world.
‘Compassion’ is the most frequently occurring word in the Qur’an. Each of its 114 chapters, with the exception of the 9th, begins with the invocation ‘In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful…’, and yet there is a perception that a great deal of violence and injustice today are attributed to Muslims. How come an obvious contradiction seems to exists?
This contradiction is rooted on the idea that we are “trapped” in a consciousness of the past. We glorify the golden age of the sultanates, the Islamic civilization contributions in the world, but we somehow today, most of us feel that we are oppressed and discriminated.
A ray of hope which will allow us to transcend these contradictions is the perseverance of our communities to live in accordance to the teachings of Islam. There are Muslims who continuously exemplify the values and principles of Islam. They need to connect with each other and establish a strong network and alliance and work hand in hand to make the peace process succeed.
The recent developments in the peace process have shown us that the Bangsamoro narrative espouses by the MILF resonates the grassroots desire to change the status quo. The Comprehensive Agreement of the Bangsamoro aims to level the playing field and allow development to reach every human being living in the proposed area.
I believe that peace process is not a project. It is not a legacy of only one administration of the government or the rebel fronts. We cannot have a deadline based on the convenience of the people in power. It should be based on the actual capacity of the people in the community level to live peacefully with one another.