Christian-Muslim Relations in the Philippines: Perspectives for Inter-religious Dialogue

The next CRCS&ICRS Wednesday Forum will talk about “Christian-Muslim Relations in the Philippines: Perspectives for Inter-religious Dialogue”. The discussion will be held on Wednesday, March 26, 2008. The key speaker will be Jerson Benia Narciso. Jerson Benia Narciso is a doctor candidate in religious studies at Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS). He earned his Master of Divinity in 1995 at Central Philippine University, Jaro, Iloilo Citi, Philippines and Master of Theology at the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology in May 2006. Jerson Benia Narciso has been involved in numerous advocacy works for peace and human rights and other political and ethical issues affecting the lives of the Filipino. He has also served as a local church pastor under the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches for more than 11 years.

The discussion will be held at the Graduate School of Gadjah Mada University, third floor, room 306, at 13:00 to 15.00. The discussion is free of charge. Please invite your friends to join the discussion.

Below is the abstract which will be presented in the discussion.


Christian-Muslim Relations in the Philippines: Perspectives for Inter-religious Dialogue
By; Jerson Benia Narciso

My interest on Christian-Muslim relations had begun in 1986 when as a seminary student I was invited by the Peace Commission of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) to participate in a two-month Christian-Muslim dialogue program in Mindanao. This program had given me the opportunity not only to engage with some Muslim intellectuals in academic discussions and dialogue, but more importantly, to learn how to live and get along with people within another faith tradition. In 1992 to 1998, I was appointed to serve as member of the Peace Commission of NCCP where I became more actively involved in several peace initiatives and Christian-Muslim dialogue programs especially in Southern Philippines. The NCCP peace program was anchored on the conviction that the conflict in Mindanao could not be resolved by force or violent means. Against the Government?s ?All Out War? policy and ?militaristic? approach the NCCP encouraged peaceful means to resolving Christian-Muslim conflicts in Mindanao through friendly and peaceful dialogues. The following are some of the significant observations and insights that I have gained during the 6 year period that I have served as a member of the Peace Commission:

1. In spite of the numerous dialogues that had been initiated through the efforts of the NCCP, both in local and national level it was disheartening to see that bloody confrontations between Christians and Muslims continued to escalate. Many Christians were disappointed at the seemingly fruitless efforts for Inter-religious dialogue. Consequently, the program got very little support from among Christian churches. Most people thought that inter-religious dialogue was nothing but ?cheap? and easy slogan. It was like a ?lame duck? facility that accomplished nothing. In short, it?s useless!

2. Worst is that, while dialogues were being conducted the government continued its military offensives against Muslim ?rebels? and ?terrorists.? The Christian vigilante groups did the same as well to eliminate the so called ?evil? Muslim elements. They believed that the only way we can resolve the conflict in Mindanao is to eliminate all ?bad? Muslim elements (if not all Muslims). This violent action by the government and Christian vigilantes had jeopardized inter-religious dialogue. Since, Christians are identified with the government it was somewhat logical for Muslims to suspect the legitimacy and sincerity of the dialogue.

3. More often clashes between Christians and Muslims were intensified by inflammatory rhetoric of leaders from both sides. Sometimes the media would also fan the hysteria and muddle the issue by issuing propaganda that put Muslims in bad light portraying them as ?war freaks? and ?dangerous fanatics.? Some scrupulous politicians and individuals were also taking advantage of the situation for selfish ends.

4. Much of the previous dialogues were more on the cultural and theological issues and not much has been done in addressing pressing issues such as, socio-economic, and political injustice. As it appears, the main root of the conflict is not religious but rather, socio-economic and political conflict caused by the increasing marginalization of Muslims by the government.

5. Inter-religious dialogue initiatives were coming from the churches while Muslims were only recipients or passive partners in the dialogue. Still, there is a strong feeling of mistrust among Muslims who identify Christians with the Government and the West. In this case inter-religious dialogue is seen as a ploy by the Government to pacify and subdue Muslims in Mindanao. Some Muslims feel that Inter-religious dialogue is used as a subtle ?tool for mission? and an attempt to promote Christianity to the detriment of Islam.

6. Most of the Inter-religious dialogues initiated in the past were top level types of dialogue and not much has been done on the grass root level. I think dialogue should not be limited to academic discussions of conceptual ideas. The ongoing dialogue in day-to-day life should not be ignored. I feel dialogue should not only be among chosen representatives but should spread into wider circles involving larger number of people and communities. I also feel that Christian leaders and clergies in the Philippines should devote more time to educate their laity about inter-faith living and correct the lingering stereotypical misconception of Muslims as ?traitors?, ?barbaric? and ?evil terrorists.?

7. The sincerity of the Philippine Government in addressing the economic and political demands of the marginalized Muslims in Mindanao has remained uncertain. Militaristic way is still conceived as the best way to resolve the conflict. For example, instead of sending medical doctors and social workers to help build Muslim communities the government kept on sending battle clad Marines to destroy them. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is still the order of the day. Violence begets violence.

Against this background, I see the need to develop a dialogical process and approach that is based on a broader and a much deeper understanding of the roots and causes of Christian-Muslim conflict in the Philippines. To understand the roots and the nature of this conflict would require a critical analysis of the dynamics of Christian-Muslim relations in the Philippines from a historical, socio-economic, political and theological perspective. In line with this, I also see the need to develop a new paradigm of Inter-religious dialogue which takes into account the prevailing socio-economic and political injustice that affect Christian-Muslim relations in the Philippines. Inter-religious dialogue in this sense may take a different form and direction.



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