In remote areas of Marawi City, in a humble mosque, I have seen our Muslim brothers and sisters meet God personally
What do you think of when you hear the name Marawi?
Many things have been said about the city of Marawi. On the one hand, it is known as a dangerous city, where ISIS-affiliated fighters launched a bloody and month-long siege of Marawi, which destroyed the city and displaced many civilians.
These events were present in our minds as I immersed myself in Marawi with my friends from different countries as part of the Asia Pacific Theological Encounter Program (APTEP). This program was developed by the Jesuits in Indonesia to help the Society of Jesus respond to the Church’s challenges in the area of interreligious dialogue, particularly with Muslims.
In this week-long immersion program, I lived in a Muslim family’s home in a residential area near Mindanao State University. While staying with my foster family, I learned about the struggles of the Meranaw Muslims, who were very stigmatized and viewed negatively by outsiders. In one of our conversations, Intesar Aba-Conding Ali, one of Lola Raihana’s daughters, shared that when she introduces herself as Meranaw, people become suspicious and ask her if the terrorists are still present in Marawi. It is undeniable that Marawi was known as an unsafe city in the past. But over the years the city has been steadily rebuilt and rehabilitated.
Based on my experience of living there, the city of Marawi is relatively safe to visit and even has the potential for tourism. The cool air and weather of Marawi reminds me of the cool city of Baguio. One of my immersion friends, a South Korean, said he felt safer walking the busy streets of Marawi than in Manila. This sense of security and enthusiasm to promote a peaceful situation also aligns with the spirit of Mindanao State University, which has a mission to become the National Peace University in the Philippines.
The Marawi siege in 2017 had a significant impact on its citizens. I had the opportunity to visit Ground Zero, the place most affected by the war between ISIS troops and the Philippine military. Many buildings were damaged, the cathedral destroyed and thousands of residents had to be resettled in makeshift settlements. Lola Raihana, the matriarch of our foster family, shared how terrifying and gripping the atmosphere was at the time.
One story that inspired me from Lola Raihana was when her family decided to open their doors to Filipino soldiers as a place to rest and get food. In the name of a deep sense of humanity, Lola Raihana’s family attended to the needs of the soldiers and their neighbors amid the dangers and threats of ISIS forces to attack them at any time. In fact, this heroic attitude cannot arise in them without strong faith and deep trust in God’s protection.
I also had the opportunity to visit the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) headquarters in Marantao and listen to a commander and his members speak. They shared how many dialogues and agreements with the government have been held but not materially implemented. They also hope to become an autonomous area with a degree of freedom from external authority. The saddest complaint concerns the inadequate provision of residents with basic necessities such as a steady supply of water and electricity. It’s ironic that they have Lake Lanao, which powers all of Mindanao. Despite this, they suffer from constant power cuts and water shortages. I can attest to this as I experienced power outages many times during my stay at Lola Raihana’s house.
A week of living, meeting and dialogue with people in Marawi has opened my eyes to the realities of Muslims in general and the Meranaw in particular. During my time there, there was a spirit of peace and a desire to build dialogue and maintain a peaceful and safe atmosphere. Marawi will no doubt continue to improve to become a safer travel destination. As a foreigner in the Philippines, I have found peace among the people of Marawi who continue to struggle to be respected, accepted and cared for as people and citizens of this country.
I felt that I could find God precisely in the simplicity of Lola Raihana’s family, who openly accepted us foreigners and were from a different religion. There was no bad prejudice and instead they treated us like their own family. When I went to a modest mosque near our foster family’s home and saw a young boy sincerely reciting the call to prayer for an Isha prayer (evening prayer), I also found God personally. It seemed to me that at that very moment the boy was having a personal and deep encounter with God through the singing of his extraordinarily melodic and exquisite call to prayer.
This encounter strengthened my belief in the existence of the Spirit “who finds God in all things”. In remote areas of Marawi City, in a humble mosque, I have seen our Muslim brothers and sisters meet God personally. I believe that God is there and interacts with the people who are praising and praying to him. – Rappler.com
Septian Marhenanto is a Jesuit scholastic from Indonesia. He is now studying theology at Loyola School of Theology – Ateneo de Manila University and is doing an internship at Rappler.