01/29/2009, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Filipino Muslim learns English reading the Bible

by Santosh Digal
From guard at the cathedral in Zamboanga City to university professor in Manila. An encounter with Catholic missionaries and Christian television programs helped him to improve his understanding of the language. He says people should overcome their "personal prejudices" for the sake of better "mutual understanding."

Manila (AsiaNews) - From guard at Immaculate Catholic Cathedral Church in Zamboanga City, in the southern Philippines, to professor at the school of business administration in Manila. This is the story of Abdurajak J. Undain, a 54-year-old Muslim who for more than 30 years read a passage from the Bible each day in order to learn and improve his English. Thanks to his study of the language, he was able to get his degree, and today is a university professor.

His story begins 30 years ago, when he was hired for three months as a guard at the cathedral in Zamboanga City: " I had the keys to the building," Undain tells AsiaNews, "and I was the one who opened the doors for services. I heard the religious speaking in English, and I wanted to talk with them. The Catholic missionaries urged their students to study and work tirelessly for social development. The priests suggested to me that if I wanted to improve my English proficiency, I should read the Bible daily, as in those days not many English learning materials were available."

He adds that the Catholic missionaries "never told me to convert to Christianity," but supported him in his desire to improve his understanding. "I attended the Masses in English," the professor says, "in order to learn the pronunciation, and today I still participate in Catholic religious services."

In order to improve his mastery of the language, Undain regularly watched Christian television programs; in 2003, he completed his doctorate, and began his university career. The university where he teaches is characterized by an interconfessional approach, welcoming students of all religions. "During my years of study, reflection, and reading," he continues, "I assimilated many Christian values, which have not separated me from my faith in Islam. Reading the Bible has also helped me in interreligious dialogue with my colleagues and with the majority of the students, who are of the Christian faith."

"If people could overcome their personal prejudices," Undain concludes, "there would be greater mutual understanding, and more fraternity among the faithful of different religions."

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