Sarah L. Handag, a Muslim educator: 'Education, a tool to fight hatred'
The woman is head of the madrasse educational program in Zamboanga (Mindanao). "Educate hearts, not just minds; Only by educating to religious dialogue we will be able to build bridges between Muslims and Christians. "Ignorance, lack of education, poverty, and politics are the true enemies of today's Islam." Silsilah's experience, the movement founded by Fr. Sebastian D'Ambra: "These stories can inspire other cities."
Rome (AsiaNews) - "The goal of terrorists in Marawi is to create hatred between Christians and Muslims. If we succumb to this idea, they will win. As a teacher, I firmly believe that education is an effective tool to counter these ideas and the key to defeating extremism”, says Sarah L. Handang, a Muslim educator and activist for the religious dialogue of Zamboanga (Mindanao), in the south of the Philippines.
The region is at the center of bloody clashes between government forces and the Maute, a terrorist group inspired by the Islamic State, who have laid siege to the Islamic city of Marawi since May 23rd. Violence has caused the deaths of more than 400 people and aroused ethnic-religious tensions in the territory, where most of the Muslim population in the Philippines is concentrated, about 20% of the total.
Sarah Handang is a senior education supervisor at the Department of Education in Zamboanga, where she heads the Mpe, the Madrasas Educational Program. The project, funded by the Philippine Government, provides a standard of basic education for all Arab language teachers and education to Islamic values (Alive) of the country's public and private madrasas. In Zamboanga, the Mpe has proved to be a real success and involves 289 teachers deployed in 48 Islamic institutes, where the teaching of the subject is allowed by the 2003 presidential decree that launched the initiative.
The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has given Sarah Handang a six-month scholarship named after Nostra Aetate, which has enabled her to deepen her knowledge of Christian doctrine and the teachings of the Catholic Church. "During this experience - the woman tells AsiaNews - I have gained a deep respect for the Christian faith and my religious sentiment has come out stronger. By learning about Christianity I became a better Muslim. For this reason, on my return to the Philippines, I will propose the inclusion of the study of interreligious Dialogue in the curriculum provided by Mpe. "
Sarah Handang emphasizes the importance of the educational process in forming students who are an active part of the dialogue between different religious confessions. "I believe what is happening today in society drives us to consider the idea of educating hearts, not just minds. Times have changed, as have the students. But if we do not return to the roots of God's love, people will find the way to distort what they believe. But if we nurture a child who is spiritually strong, we will nurture good people. Only by educating in religious dialogue will we be able to build bridges between Muslims and Christians. "
However, confrontation cannot transcend from overcoming misunderstandings and dangers within a community. The educator analyzes the situation of the current Muslim world, identifying the factors that often prevent it from opening up to dialogue. "The real enemies of today's Islam are: ignorance, lack of education, poverty, and politics. There are people who believe in Islam but do not know Islam. There are Muslims who read the Koran but do not follow the teachings. Others read the Koran and give it their own interpretation, distorting the meaning. Some verses, for example, are not contextualized to the time they refer to, the prophet's time. Other people live in poverty, and the lack of economic and educational prospects makes them vulnerable to the interests of politicians. If we counter this ignorance of education, then we will be able to eliminate poverty. The faithful, comforted by a stable job and a strong faith, will no longer be misled by politics. We cannot postpone this process tomorrow, we have to start today. As Muslims we are tired of being called 'terrorists' to be viewed with suspicion. "
Involvement and engagement in training activities aimed at supporting and promoting coexistence allowed Sarah Handang to come into contact with the experience of the center for Islamic-Christian Dialogue Silsilah [in Arabic: Chain, Link]. Founded by Fr. Sebastiano D'Ambra in 1984 in Zamboanga, the program aims to involve Christians and Muslims in various sectors of society to foster and strengthen the encounter and confrontation between the faithful of the two great religions. "In my home town, when I was little, the prejudices between the two communities were very strong. Thanks to my educational experience, I can say that the presence of Silsilah's interreligious dialogue has helped to change things. I have been able to collaborate with the movement, organizing seminars for mothers. They play a key role in dialogue, because they are home-based and have a greater influence on children's education and can inspire dialogue in them. Children trust their mothers and believe in them. This can have a great impact on the community. We also have another program that involves various religious leaders. It has been tested by the war in 2013, but we can see the fruits of the values that we have nurtured. Even in the war at Marawi we have seen episodes of hope, such as the Muslim girls who lent their hijab to Christian companions to help them escape the Maute raids. The interreligious dialogue in Zamboanga was a success. I think we can say that 75% have been able to eradicate bigotry and discrimination. As a voluntary and non-obligatory activity by the Ministry of Education, in schools we celebrate Christmas together and we celebrate Eid al-Fitr together. Educators have now reached an attitude of understanding towards each other. I am not so ambitious about wanting to change the world, but these stories can inspire other cities. Only if we can learn to coexist, to respect each other we can live in peace. "
Sarah Handang shares her impressions about Marawi's crisis with AsiaNews: "First of all we must point out the people's rejection of ideas of hatred. The Maute are just an accident, they do not represent the good people and the good Muslims of Mindanao, who want peace. The collateral damage of this war is precisely the latter. From an international point of view, this crisis has a great impact, because it shows that the Philippines are also affected by phenomena such as the Islamic State, in particular the Maute. But we remain confident and we pray that this will not happen. No one is a winner in war. Everyone loses. What is the purpose of the propaganda of this terrorist group? Creating hatred between Christians and Muslims. If we succumb to this idea, they will win. But this can lead to a new beginning, after a storm there is always the sun. " (PF)