I grew up in Cotabato City. It was a period of post-martial law and the early part of the EDSA revolution. I was a high school student back then of the Notre Dame Cotabato Boys’ Department. I was one of the young student activist members of the Bangsamoro Student League (BMSL). My idea of being cool back then is to be an activist fighting for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized Muslims in Mindanao. I can still remember when we recruit members, we usually start the discussions on colonialism, US imperialism, and the writings of Karl Marx.
In 1990, our organization even set up a play which was entitled, Al Fajr (The Dawn). It was a musical play that told the story of the Bangsamoro struggle and the split of the MNLF group to two factions. But because most of the members of BMSL belong to a political family of our province, the local police authorities did not really saw us as a threat. They just considered us an “adventurist young individuals”. That was my early life in Cotabato city.
Upon entering college at Mindanao State University in Iligan City, I brought with me the same sense of activism and deep concern for the Bangsamoro people, but studying in that university gave me different sense of identity. Students from different walks of life and coming from different parts of Mindanao, and even some from islands of Palawan, all shared the same desire of finishing college to help their own families. We had our own struggle of passing our courses and maintain our grades to remain as academic scholars.
My environment in Iligan taught me no amount of religious differences nor political ideologies are needed when people live in the present and together address their own concerns and issues. It is good to know the past and learn from it, but we should not be trapped in living in the past for we cannot move on and face the future.
My thesis in college was a descriptive analysis of the Maguindanao revolutionary songs. In doing my research, I unlocked several key concepts about moro, bangsamoro, and the moro struggle. I found out that these concepts were a product of powerful discourses that academe, civil society, and our government provided a platform to create this identity. The stories of injustices committed by the colonizers, the early Christian settlers in 1960s – 1970s towards the Muslims are valid. They did happen and the wounds are imbedded in our hearts and souls. But there are also injustices committed by the early sultanates of Maguindanao and Sulu in the Visayas islands where rampant attacks and slave trading were committed by the armies of the sultans.
Those events happened in our past. We cannot deny them. Unfortunately today, because of the moro uprising it resulted to series of violence in different parts of Mindanao from 1970s to the present time. The moro conflict has exacerbate the culture of violence, corruption, worsening of the lives of the people in Muslim Mindanao. These are the current realities in the region: gun trade, human trafficking, drug trade, political dynasties, failure of electoral processes, and lack of delivery of basic social services.
During the early part of Afro-Americans’ struggle for their civil rights Martin Luther King Jr. said that in order for people to condemn injustice, they must go a process of dealing with the issue of injustice. He mentioned the following: First, we need to “ascertain that indeed injustices are being perpetrated”. Second, we need to “negotiate, that is, approach the oppressor and demand justice”. Then third, “if the oppressor refuses, self-purification follows: “Are we ourselves wrongdoers? Are we ourselves oppressors?” Lastly, “take action after true self-examination, after removing one’s own wrongs before demanding justice from others”.
Today, we need to ask ourselves, “Who are the oppressors? Who are the wrongdoers?” I guess it was crystal clear, the Spaniards, Americans, and Japanese did commit injustices to us. But, the Sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao also did commit injustice in the islands of Visayas and Mindanao when they attacked these places and sold the people as slaves in other places. In the present time, Muslim elite and the traditional politicians in Mindanao also committed injustices not only with their own people, but to the Tedurays, Manobos, and other indigenous peoples in the region.
In the new book of Hamza Yusuf that I am reading lately, he made mentioned that often times the present problems are brought about by previous events. Thus, in so many ways, we, Muslims in Mindanao, are reluctant to ask ourselves—when we look at the terrible things that are happening: Zamboanga standoff, attacks in Cotabato and Maguindanao —”Why do they occur?” And if we ask that with all sincerity, the answer will come resoundingly: “All of this is from our own selves.” We have brought this upon ourselves. For me, this is the process of transcendence. This is the only empowering position we can take. The Quran implies that if a people oppress others, God will send another people to oppress them: We put some oppressors over other oppressors because of what their own hands have earned (6:129).
Moreover, in the same book of Hamza Yusuf he said that, “according to Fakhruddin al-Razi (a 12th century scholar of the Quran), the verse means that the existence of oppression on earth may be caused by previous oppression”. Therefore, “by implication, often the victims of aggression were once aggressors themselves. But Hamza Yusuf was quick in saying that this is “not the case with tribulations, for there are times in which people are indeed tried, but if they respond with patience and perseverance, God will always give them relief and victory”. Therefore, we need to end this “moro-moro” issue and start examining ourselves.