DAVAO CITY — For Amirah Ali Lidasan, 33, the Ramadan is a time of peace and prayer. Sawm, or the fasting during Ramadan, is one of the five pillars of Islam, or the five “duties” every Muslim observes to practice his or her faith.The entire Muslim world celebrates it to commemorate the time when Allah revealed the first verses of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed.

“To observe Ramadan, you need absolute peace of mind,” said Lidasan. “We make it a point to avoid stress. Farming communities, for instance, had to stack their food ahead of time, so that they can focus all their thoughts on Allah during Ramadan. Not an ounce of annoyance should be there during Ramadan,” she explained.

But when Mindanao Muslims started Ramadan on September 12 this year, fighting continued to rage in the island of Basilan. Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro himself said the government saw no reason to stop military operations that, according to the data from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), already displaced 24,000 since July this year. Groups like the Suara Bangsamoro said the number of the displaced persons who remained unreported could even be higher.

Also, Suara called the “fire and test mission” that government troops were doing in some Muslim communities in Basilan as a sign of “disrespect” for the Muslim religious exercise. Reports reaching Lidasan’s group said Scout Rangers and the Special Forces were doing fire testing in Muslim communities in TipoTipo town’s barangay Ungkaya Pukan, displacing whole communities as a result.

“The incessant fighting makes it impossible for the communities to celebrate Ramadan,” said Lidasan, who always relate the Ramadan of her childhood as a time not only of prayer but also of experiencing “oneness” with the entire Muslim community.

“When entire communities get displaced by war, how are you going to celebrate Ramadan?” she asked. “Ramadan completely loses its meaning. Foremost in your mind, when you’re in an evacuation center, is how to survive, where to look for food, or to keep yourself from being harassed, or get hit by a bomb,” she said.

In Saudi Arabia, which is considered the center of the Islamic world, there are laws that reduce the working hours of workers during Ramadan. Instead of being expected to report to work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., for instance, Muslim workers are allowed to report from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to lighten the burden while they’re fasting, Lidasan said.

But nothing of the sort is happening in Basilan. “They (the military) are supposed to be running after the Abu Sayyaf but when they drop those bombs, they hit the communities,” Lidasan said. Constant threat for their lives and the fear of being driven away from their homes are conditions that are very “strenuous” for persons who are supposed to refuse food and water the whole day, she said. “They’re supposed to avoid tension because they’ll develop headaches while they are fasting if they don’t.”

Instead, communities with increased military presence were worried that a bomb could fall any time and hit them, Lidasan said. There used to be a sort of “undeclared truce” between the government troops and the MILF rebels during the Ramadan in the past but it’s not happening anymore, she said.

She described the continued operations against the Abu Sayyaf in MILF territories as signs of “Islamophobia” among the military leadership and seemed to be designed to harass and alienate Muslims from the rest of the people. “As if, they want to tell the world, it’s completely natural to conduct an all-out war against Muslims during Ramadan,” she said. “Isn’t that a subtle way of demonizing the Muslim faith?”

Lidasan said she was also puzzled why government troops who were supposed to be running after the Abu Sayyaf were entering the MILF areas. Baguindan, for instance, has been known as an MILF area, which government had already rid of Abu Sayyaf cells years before. “MILF is a very religious group that observes all the tenets of Islam,” she said. “But how can they have peace of minds when they’re constantly on the run? How about the Moro integrees (the former members of the Moro National Liberation Front who have been integrated to the armed forces), how can they observe Ramadan when the government requires them to conduct military operations?” she asked.

RAMADAN has always brought good memories of Lidasan’s childhood. She used to spend it in Parang with her grandfather, Datu Bara Lidasan, whose hajj name, “Amir,” she took after. “Amirah,” the feminine of “Amir,” is an Arabic word for leader.

She used to spend Ramadan in Matanog, a town that used to be a part ofMaguindanao but is now a part of the new Shariff Kabungsuan province before her parents moved to Maharlika village in Taguig, Metro Manila.

She considered it as the time when people don’t want to get irritated or annoyed. “The whole month is devoted entirely to prayer,” she said. “Even the act of taking a bath, and cleansing oneself on the eve of the Ramadan make their intentions clear that they want to becleanse,” she said.

But her most memorable years, she said, happened on her third year high school, when she went on an “umrah” in Saudi Arabia. An “umrah” is a pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken at any time of the year. “It was my happiest moment,” she said, “I was 15 at that time.”

Her stay reached up to the season of the “hajj,” considered the “fifth pillar” of Islam, a pilgrimage undertaken from the 8th to the 12th day of the 12th month of the Islamic calendar, she said.

Prayers Amid Conflict. Muslims in Basilan in one of their prayers during the observance of the Ramadan this month. (davaotoday.com photo by Melgre Millan)

“Pilgrimage is a time when you devote a journey to your faith,” she said, “When you are in the mood for pilgrimage, you’re ready to be united with other colors, race, nation who share the same faith with you.”

She described the feeling of belonging to one community, of sharing something in common, which is Islam. “When you’re there, you really feel this “oneness, this unity,that at the call to prayer, everybody drops everything, and leave everything behind, including their store, just to join everybody in prayer,” Lidasan recalled.

Since the meaning of religious practices can only assume its weight when people are inside the community and when the family is intact, everything crumbles when the community is displaced in times of war.

“Then it will already be between you and your God,” she said. “Only your faith remains.”

She said it really takes a truly faithful and religious Muslim to go through all the sacrifices of Ramadan when he or she is displaced and removed from his or her community. “When you’re in an evacuation center or constantly on the run, you’d be thinking how to keep your family safe,” she said. “We need families, clan community to make to make our religion work.”

The sight of the new moon in the Islamic calendar marks the end of the Ramadan. Eid’l Fit’r, the feast to end the Ramadan may fall on the second week of October, base on Saudi Arabia time, where most Muslims in the Philippines base their celebration. “On the eve of the Eid’l Fit’r, no one sleeps, everybody awaits the new moon,” she said.

She said she longs for the day when they can celebrate the whole month of Ramadan with real peace of mind. (Germelina Lacorte/davaotoday.com)

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