Brotherhood in Humanity

The believers, in their mutual love, mercy and compassion, are like a (single) body: if one part of it feels pain, the rest of the body joins it in wakefulness and fever.” – A hadith

More than 200 people were killed and no less than 10,000 homes were ruined in the Zamboanga crisis that exploded in September 2013, when the Moro National Liberation Front laid siege to the city. The government declared the crisis “over,” but more than a hundred thousand people were displaced.

The struggle for political control by both the government of our predominantly Christian nation and by the Moro people is just one of the many issues in Mindanao today. It is difficult to determine if the now four-century conflict between Muslims and Christians is a cause or effect, or both, of the region’s problems, such as rampant drug and human trafficking, unstable peace and order, and poverty.

Islamic scholar and translator Elmer H. Douglas identifies four possible causes of estrangement between Muslims and Christians.

The first possible cause are the major differences in doctrine, such as the strict monotheism of Islam and the Christian belief in the Holy Trinity. For Islam, Jesus is not the Son of God, but a prophet and apostle. Some Muslims believe that the Quran is the only holy book that is pure, “contrary to other distorted books” (Al-Kahee).

The second possible cause are the territorial hostilities that are as old as history. In the seventh century the Christian Byzantine Empire engaged in battles for control of the land with Arab Muslims, a conflict that lasted for centuries. The Crusades of the Catholic Church against Muslim territories that began in 1095 “were a tragedy because they left to the Church a legacy of distrust and ill will that has not been effaced from the memory of Muslims to this day” (Douglas).  The religious and politico-military clash extended to the seven-century belligerence in the Iberian Peninsula. (The term Moro is said to have come from Morocco, or Moor in English, which referred to Muslims in Spain and Africa.)

Related to the second cause, the third possible cause is the reputation of Christians for proselytism, or for exerting pressure on non-Christians, including Muslims, to convert to Christianity. The 2004 International Religious Freedom Report states that “Christian missionaries work actively throughout the [Philippines], including most parts of western Mindanao, often within Muslim communities.” In the country, Christianization was used as a tool of colonization by both Spain and the United States. As Mark Snakenberg explains,

The United States recognized the cultural heterogeneity of the Philippines upon assuming control of the archipelago in 1898 and deliberately fostered a new ‘Filipino’ identity through education and civic government.  Ironically this would foster the development of the Bangsamoro [Moro nation] ideal.  The Filipino identity was centered on the Christian, Tagalog-speaking communities of Manila and the north; integration was the process of bringing all inhabitants closer in line with this Filipino ideal using American-imported concepts of public education, representation, and mass media as the vehicles.  In the south these developments cut against Muslim sensibilities; the Moro insurgency of the first two decades of the twentieth century left the traditional sultan and datu leadership structure in shambles and replaced shari’a law with secular Western practices.

The fact that there are more Christians than Muslims in Mindanao may be explained by the diaspora that began in the early nineteenth century.

In order to facilitate the integration of Muslims into the new Filipino ideal, the government initiated an immigration policy bringing landless Christians from the north south to settle in Muslim areas; a practice continued throughout the 1960s. These developments resulted in “marginality, dissatisfaction, and ultimately, among many, rejection of the Philippine nation-state,” driving the development of the Bangsamoro identity in opposition to the imposed ‘Filipino’ identity (Snakenberg).

Related to the third cause, the fourth possible cause is the “imbalance of religious authority and religious freedom that has been traditional in both Christianity and Islam” (Douglas). Religious freedom refers to an individual’s freedom to practice his or her religion without opposition, and outside the purview of the government. In both Islam and Christianity, and especially in the Philippines, religion has been used to advance political interests, despite the 1987 constitution which declares that “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable.”



Baptism of Muslim converts, Davao, Circa 1898


Al-Kahee, Abduldaem. “The miracle of guarding the Qur’an.” Secrets of Quran Miracles. Retrieved January 8, 2014

Buendia, Rizal G. “The Mindanao Conflict in the Philippines: Ethno-Religious War or Economic Conflict?” Retrieved January 8, 2014

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. “International Religious Freedom Report 2004.” U.S. Department of State. Retrieved January 8, 2014

Douglas, Elmer H. “Church and Mosque: Confrontation or Symposium?” Understanding Islam and Muslims in the Philippines. Peter Gowing (Ed.). Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1988.

Quismundo, Tarra. “Zamboanga faces massive humanitarian crisis.” Philippine Daily Inquirer, October 5, 2013. Retrieved January 9, 2014

Snakenberg, Mark. “The Bangsamoro Insurgency: An International History.” In Small Wars Journal, September 21, 2011. Retrieved January 8, 2014

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