If there is one thing that binds the Moro communities despite cultural differences, it is faith. And if there are people who can be effective instruments of peace, these are the faith-based leaders.
The role of ulama or Muslim faith-based leaders is integral to peacebuilding at the grassroots level. Ulama have been present since the 15th century and they exert considerable influence for people whom they serve. As explained by Dr. Anwar M. Radiamoda, Director of the Shari’ah Center in the Mindanao State University in Marawi City, in any conflict and mediation process in the communities, the role of an ulama is critical, as people in the communities trust and listen to the advice shared by Muslim faith-based leaders.
In February 2020, almost 100 Muslim faith-based leaders and teachers from different provinces in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and adjacent regions, gathered in an Peace Networks Assembly. Supported by the Australian Government and United Nations Development Programme, the intrafaith assembly provided a space for different schools of thought to come together, bridge the gap and foster “common words for common peace.”
Through faith-based narratives, the platform promoted peaceful engagement for social change and focused on building resilience to violence. The series of dialogue also allowed ulama and teachers to tackle critical issues relating to human rights, women’s rights, conflict-prevention, and peacebuilding.
Members of the peace assembly have since led a research study on the principles of Islamic law and its role in preventing and responding to violent extremism. This was a particularly focused research carried by faith-based leader on faith-based leaders’ perceptions and attitudes to extremist violence.
Findings from this pioneering research have been used to inform government leaders and the public of the development of alternative narratives on Islamic values and principles that could be effective in engaging the more extreme members of their community, as well as radicalized groups and individuals. These narratives were also envisioned to help develop the curricula for educational institutions or madrasahs as well as teaching in mosques.
Since the intrafaith dialogue, the faith-based leaders have now pursued various initiatives – some have served as resource speakers on peace from Islamic perspectives in various fora, while others have actively participated in dialogue and mediation work in settings confronted by conflict and violence. Some have also contributed to risk communication and community engagements in support of Covid-19 prevention and protection in their respective communities.
“The camaraderie that was developed through this platform have brought the faith of Islam closer to more communities – not just in Bangsamoro Region, but in the island of Mindanao. These ulama are now better instruments of peace by strengthening peacebuilding and development down to the grassroots level of communities,” said Dr. Radiamoda.
Australia is committed to helping Mindanao’s conflict-affected areas towards achieving long-term stability, security and development. We affirm our continued support for the new Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and the ongoing peace process.
This story was first published under the Australia-Philippines 75th Anniversary Mateship and Bayanihan campaign: https://mateshipandbayanihan.com/75stories/common-words-for-common-peace/