An activist’s intention this Ramadan – to fight for Moro people’s right to return to their lands

Jun. 14, 2018

On June 15, Muslims all over the world will celebrate the Eid’l Fitr, the end of the fasting month, the holy month of Ramadan. Muslims all over the world will break the 30 day fast and pray, rain or shine, the Eid’l Fitr congregational prayer with the hopes that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) will receive all our prayers and struggle during the fasting month.

These are the days that the Muslims feel the ummah, the oneness of the Muslim community – from collectively fasting (sawm) for at least 14 hours during the day to praying the congregational prayers at night (taraweeh) and midnight (tahajud), in addition to the five times a day obligatory prayers and the Friday (Jumaah) prayers. You can sometimes say that a Muslim is in his or her most religious form during Ramadan.

In the history of Islam, Ramadan is the month that the Qur’an was revealed through Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) through the angel Jibreel (Gabriel). Fasting (sawm) is one of the five pillars of Islam and is obligatory for all Muslims to practice, but also excuses those who cannot wholly perform because of health reasons.

The holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month in the Hijrah calendar, the Islamic calendar that is based on the moon’s cycle, 29 or 30 days. When we hear the takbeer mursal, a form or prayer usually in the form of chanting or singing of Allahu Akbar (God is Great), this signals the start of the Ramadan. We start by professing our intention (niyat) and asking Allah (s.w.t.) to accept our intention to fast, perform the ritual bath (ghusul/abdas) for the literal and figurative cleansing, and the congregational prayer taraweeh in the evening.

Around 2:00 to 3:00 in the morning, you will hear the masjeeds in our communities shout sahoor (sawl in Moro), telling us to start eating until we hear the call (azhan) for the Fajr prayer (pre-dawn). We observe the fast until we hear the call for the Maghrib prayer, the prayer during twilight or sunset. Then we break our fast called Iftar (lapis or buka in Moro).

Depending on the moon sighting, we end fasting month by celebrating the Eid’l Fitr (Hari Raya Puasa in Moro) through a congregational prayer in the early morning and a simple feast with families and relatives. Before the end of Ramadan, we are also encouraged to give the fitrah (Zakat al-Fitr), or charity to the masjeed or the poor with amounts varying from area to area but usually measured by the weight of rice or wheat.

The whole concept of the observance of the fast lies in the capacity of a Muslim to continue his/her work despite lacking food and water. It is the experience that we share with the rest of the Muslims, which puts us in equal footing, experiencing the same hardship and hunger due to abstinence, at least for a month.

Our fasting this month was burdened by the need for our Moro brothers and sisters to forcibly evacuate their communities because of the continuing military operations in Mindanao. There is no respite on the attacks on Moro communities and individuals before and during Ramadan.

A week before the start of this year’s Ramadan, Mayor Sarah Duterte ordered the demolition of one of the oldest Moro communities in Davao City, Bgy. Salmonan, which has the oldest mosque in Davao, the Masjid Assalam. Built by Meranaw families who were forced to leave Lanao del Sur and del Norte, the 65-year-old mosque served as the landmark of the Meranaw migrant community and Islamic identity in downtown Davao. Almost 67 families, 34 of them are Meranaw, were displaced as the local government demolished at least 69 structures, including the mosque, in the 3,515 square meter prime land to make way for a local businessman’s hotel.

On May 25, more than fifty families were forced to evacuate their homes in Bgy. Kilada, Matalam, North Cotabato due to a combined military and police operations that left nine members of the 105th Base of the Bangsamoro Islamic Auxiliary Force of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, including its deputy commander Dadting Kassan and his 16-year-old son.

The families are currently staying at a makeshift evacuation center in Kidapawan City and are afraid to go back in fear of the 71st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army and the Matalam Philippine National Police that led the killing of the BIAF family in the guise of a drug bust operation.

Even the MILF leadership could not contain their protest. It is condemnable that the massacre happened during Ramadan, and at the time when the MILF is in the middle of lobbying the government for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is considered by the GRP and the MILF as a major step towards concretizing their previous peace agreements.

And as we are about to end this year’s Ramadan, the government launched another military operations, this time against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) inside the communities of Liguasan Marsh in Maguindanao, forcing at least 10,000 residents in nearby towns of Pagalungan, General Salipada K. Pendatun and Sultan sa Barongis to evacuate in fear of becoming the target of the military airstrikes. And like in Matalam, it was done at midnight, while the Moro families were preparing for their sahoor.

Forced evacuation of the Moro people during or even before Ramadan takes an added toll in their observation of sawm (fasting). There is disruption and uncertainty in their lives, families and neighbors and the regular attendees of the congregational prayers (the Jamaah) go on separate evacuation centers.

As what happened to Meranaw residents who were forced to evacuate Marawi City last year due to the Maute siege and the military airstrikes, they could not bring the food they stocked for sahoor and iftar and ended up without food inside evacuation centers. They could not bring their sajadah (prayer mats), malongs and other items for prayer in their bid to escape the bombs and bullets. They cannot bring their whole family, as some were trapped inside the battle zone, some rescued weeks after due to an MILF-initiated peace corridor but others were discovered a year later as bones under the rubbles.

Of the more than 350,000 who were forced to evacuate Marawi City and neighboring provinces last year, more than 12,000 families or 88,000 individuals remain homeless, scattered in Lanao del Sur and in other provinces and cities in the country.

Like our fellow Palestinian brothers and sisters, our Meranaw brothers and sisters fought for their right to return to their homes as the government declared 27 villages in Marawi City as off limits to residents due to the government’s rehabilitation plan. The 27 villages identified as ground zero, the battle area of the government forces and the Maute group, are the areas most destroyed in the course of the government’s military operations to subdue the Maute group and other ISIS-inspired groups that sieged the city on May 23, 2017.

According to Sultan Abdul Hamiddulah Atar of the Ranaw Multisectoral Movement, the group that led the Kambalingan rally (the great return) in Marawi City on March 30, in that ground zero, more than 11,000 houses and 20 masjeeds were destroyed due to aerial bombardment. More than 27,000 families are homeless because the government’s rehabilitation plan prioritizes a new military camp and an economic zone, infrastructures for commercial purposes and not for rebuilding residents’ houses.

Another year for the Moro people to observe the fast in evacuation centers and away from their families and communities. This is the second year that we are fasting under the threat of Martial Law, full of fear and contempt for the injustice done to our fellow people and communities. Another year that we will pray the Eid’l Fitr with uncertainty in our lives and doubts that we can return to our lands and reclaim our communities.

As activists and fellow Muslims and Moros, we cannot contain our protests at what was happening in our communities, despite the limitations brought about by our observance of the fasting month. That is why we started Ramadan this year through a protest action at the US Embassy upon learning about the massacre of Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force and the Israeli Zionist government that opened fire at Palestinians who protested the decision of the US government to move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, based on US President Donald Trump’s unilateral declaration to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

We also protested on May 17, the start of Ramadan, the torture that our fellow Moro activist, Jerome Aladdin Succor Aba, suffered at the hands of the US Customs and Border Protection and the US Homeland Security when he was suspected of being a terrorist, arrested and held incommunicado upon his arrival at the San Francisco International Airport on April 17.

On May 23, under the scorching heat of the sun, displaced residents under the group Tindeg Ranao held a protest rally in front of the Lanao del Sur Provincial Capitol inside Marawi City to pressure the government to heed their calls for their immediate return to their communities, to break the barrier that prohibit them from going to their communities. In Manila, fellow Muslim brothers and sisters also braved the scorching sun as they marched to Mendiola to call for an end to Martial Law in Mindanao and justice for the victims of military and police abuses.

Ramadan 2018 is indeed a challenge for the Moro people to ponder on their human rights situation due to continuing anti-terror policies, counter-insurgency operations, discriminatory statements and policies that perpetrates Islamophobia and on President Rodrigo Duterte’s sincerity to resolve the conflict in the Moro areas in Mindanao. (

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