12/21/2007, 00.00
PHILIPPINES
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Muslim patrols to protect churches in Mindanao

by Santosh Digal
In the predominantly Muslim island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines ordinary citizens have started nightly patrols in the streets around churches to allow Catholics to celebrate “dawn masses” until Christmas.

Zamboanga (AsiaNews) – On the first Sunday of Advent patrols made up of Muslim volunteers began a nightly watch to protect churches in the predominantly Muslim island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. Grateful to these young people who are providing “help and protection” during the Christmas period residents near these Christian places of worship are offering them food and drink.

As part of this muftis from Basilan, Lanao Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi provinces have issued fatwas or Islamic edicts to remind the faithful that terrorism is prohibited and that Muhammad himself guaranteed Christians protection and freedom of worship.

“I have promised them (Christian residents) equal protection, and I asked Muslims and Christians here to uphold mutual respect on matters of religious belief,” said Sukarno Utto, village chief in Shariff Kabunsuan in Maguindanao city. “For this reason we have joined the local police in nightly patrols, especially during the Simbang Gabi (dawn masses),” a Filipino tradition that goes back centuries in which mass begins every day at 4 pm in every church till Christmas Day.

Government authorities and the police have expressed “satisfaction” for the decision taken by Muslim civilians.

According to the local city police chief, Superintendent Willy Dangane, this initiative must be praised. “It is especially useful because if the police does all it can, it still needs real help from citizens if we want to maintain peace and stability.”

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