07/10/2017, 14.40
PHILIPPINES
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Silsilah for a future of peace in Mindanao, against “the path of hatred and conflict”

The “victims are not only Christians but also, and especially, Muslims,” the movement says. “The reality is that there are external groups and centres of power who are interested to divide us.” It wants to promote “a new form of dialogue based on a love that goes beyond the limit of tolerance." It calls for a “radicalism with love to have radical changes in our society".

Zamboanga (AsiaNews/Silsilah) – The island of Mindanao has been the scene of violent clashes between government forces and the Maute, a terrorist group inspired by the Islamic state, holed up in the Muslim city of Marawi since 23 May. Violence has left more than 400 people dead and sparked ethnic-religious tensions across the island, where Filipino Muslims, about 20 per cent of the country’s population, are concentrated.

In a climate of fear of sectarian conflict, the movement for Islamic-Christian dialogue Silsilah (chain, link in Arabic) has reiterated its commitment to peace in southern Philippines, plagued by decades of divisions. In a statement, the movement founded by Fr Sebastiano D'Ambra in Zamboanga in 1984 calls on the people of Mindanao to remember the importance of interfaith outreach. Here is the full statement.

The siege in Marawi is a new sad experience that we cannot ignore any more. The first question that we have to ask is why the Maute groups chose to start from Marawi, the Islamic City of the Philippines, a kind of visible presence in Mindanao after years of preparation. The answer is difficult. We may find many answers in the effort to find the correct answer.

For us in Silsilah, a Movement for dialogue formed by Christians and Muslims, which started in Zamboanga City in 1984, this is a new test of our mission of dialogue and a new sad story. Listening here and there we find those who are still thinking that this is part of the history of the past.

Others are more inclined to think that we are victims of international geo-political struggle that finds in Mindanao a proper ground among the Muslim population. But the victims are not only Christians but also, and especially, Muslims. Which kind of Islam does the Maute group want to introduce and who are those who pay for this war and why are many Muslims afraid to react?

These and many other questions today are often without proper answers. There are also those who believe that the answer is to have more powerful arms and security, more soldiers, to give more power to the military, etc. The reality is that there are external groups and centres of power who are interested to divide us. First to put Muslims against Christians and now to divide Muslims among themselves. Indeed, all of us are victims.

What are we to do? There are those who are discouraged to continue on the path of dialogue and peace and think of taking arms in their hands to fight. This is not new in Mindanao even in the recent conflict when the Moro National Liberation front (MNLF) started in the seventies. In those years the Christians organized groups called "Ilaga" to go against the Muslims and the Muslims organized the "Baracudas" to go against the Christians. The result was more hatred and prejudices among many Muslims and Christians. The conflict continued in Mindanao in many stages to the point that in the year 2000 president Estrada declared "total war in Mindanao". It was another disaster and division.

The pain of the people continued with the siege in Zamboanga in 2013 that fortunately was controlled as "conflict of religions". Thanks to many Muslim and Christian leaders and groups in Zamboanga, including Silsilah, who acted together to say that it was not a conflict of religions. But what will happen in the siege of Marawi? We share this reflection to encourage all in Mindanao not to get tired to work together for the promotion of dialogue, peace and reconciliation. This is a critical time because we do not know yet the end of this sad story and we have thousands of refugees to help, not only to give food every day, but also to build hope in this complicated conflict.

There is hope. Meanwhile, there are those who see only the negative aspects of this conflict or, more dangerously, who are planning to revenge and to create more violence. Silsilah promotes a new form of dialogue based on a love that goes beyond the limit of tolerance. A new form of "Martabat" that is the opposite of the traditional cultural aspect of "revenge" a new beginning built on reconciliation and love. We know that this can be considered a "utopia", but this is what Silsilah wishes to do. Tell all: "Stop using radicalism with violence" and embrace a "radicalism with love to have radical changes in our society".

Some of the Silsilah members in the areas of conflict near Marawi are moving in this direction, in silence. We hope that the violence will end soon in Marawi and other places of Mindanao, but that is not all. We have to work hard to tell Muslims and Christians: "We need to start a new page of history". Meanwhile the history of the past is full of violence. We have to dream of the future peace. We have to recall that the deepest part of our mission of reconciliation is with Muslims. They are invited to recall the holy Qur'an which says that there are occasions when it is possible to react in a form of struggle (Jihad) with violence, but the Qur'an adds "... but if you forgive it is better". The Christians also can recall the many parts of the Gospel, especially the message of Jesus, "... to love all, also our enemies".

We cannot deny that today the feeling of many Muslims and Christians is negative for many reasons, including now the sad story of the Marawi siege, but we have to rebuild together not only buildings which have been destroyed, but also to cure the internal wounds which takes a longer time to be healed. Silsilah is committed to do all possible, telling all to abandon the path of hatred and conflict and to work as brothers and sisters, moving together for the common good.

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