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THE RISALIE NUR AND BEDIUZZAMAN SAID NURSI’S THOUGHTS
AS SOLUTION TO THE MINDANAO PROBLEM
Juvanni Yahya A. Caballero
You probably have heard about the problems in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. You must have learned about the armed clashes between the government forces and Muslim secessionist groups, the high incidence of poverty, graft and corruption, undelivered social services and the election-related violence, most recent of which was the Maguindanao massacre.From the perspective of social science, we have plenty of explanations and theories on this. In fact, a number of writers had already devoted a lot of efforts to explain the political and economic dimensions of the Mindanao Problem.
If the political and economic aspects have already been given enough attention by other scholars, there is one aspect of the problem however that remains relatively unexamined. This aspect includes the cultural, moral and spiritual dimensions and this is where the Risalie Nur movement in Mindanao comes in. This, I think, is the reason why this paper becomes relevant to this symposium.
It must be recognized at the outset that all communities and cultures have their respective beautiful and ugly sides. Mindanao and its Muslim inhabitants are not an exception to this. In fact, Islam’s image in Mindanao is sometimes tarnished because of some ugly aspects of the local culture that is often confused with Islam but in reality they are utterly un-Islamic. Cognizant of the above, this paper shall explore some negative aspects of the local culture and how the Risalie Nur and the ideas of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi could provide the right direction and become solution to our problem.
Nature of the Problem
There seems to be internal complications that tend to contribute to the relative backwardness of the predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao. But quite often, people simply tend to blame external forces like: the government, the biases of non-Muslims towards the Muslims, the inequitable distribution of wealth, etc. A closer look at the problem however would reveal that from within the Muslim society in Mindanao, there are things that are as weighty as (if not weightier than) the historical, political and economic roots of the problem. Based on observation, these things include: 1.) Confusion of the local culture with Islam and adherence to old customs and traditions; and 2.) Moral decadence and spiritual neglect among Muslim leaders and constituents.
1.) Confusion of the local culture with Islam and adherence to old customs and tradition
There are certain practices in the local culture that are often confused with Islam. Generally, these practices are regarded as Islamic both by some Muslims and non-Muslims in Mindanao primarily because they are practiced by those who are identified as “Muslims”. In reality however, Islam does not have anything to do with these practices. But since it has been part of the indigenous tradition of the Islamized tribes of Mindanao, these practices became associated / identified with Islam. Some of the practices include: Maratabat, Rido, Awidan, Pengampong mentality and the warrior image.
Among the Mindanao Muslims, there is one concept that defines their traditional psyche and image. This concept is locally known as Maratabat, which is thought to be the “fundamental motivating force that served as basis for judging a person as good or bad not so much in terms of the consequences of his acts but rather in terms of the extent to which he has maratabat”. Among the Maranao, Maguindanao and Tausug Muslims, Maratabat is considered as more precious than life itself. There is no exact equivalent of Maratabat in English but it can roughly be translated as pride, “honor” or self-esteem.
Per se, pride, honor or self esteem is not bad but a closer look at the native culture would reveal that this kind of pride or honor is destructive as it oftentimes takes the form of egoistic boastfulness. An obsessive public display of wealth, power and arrogance are few of the indicators of Maratabat and this becomes peculiar because of its extreme degree of manifestation. For instance, it may sound funny and unimaginable in Turkey to think that families and clans could wage war and try to annihilate one another merely because of a question like whose car should follow next to the bridal car during a wedding motorcade. Indeed, Maratabat could motivate one to show off (even beyond his means), to desire more wealth and power regardless of the manner, to resort to aggression to prove that one is “really brave”!
Another prominent feature of the local culture is Rido, which may be translated as family feuds or clan wars. More often, Rido is caused by an offended Maratabat and is considered as the traditional means of obtaining justice. Some believed that the Mindanao Muslims may have found justification for resorting to Rido in some verses of the Holy Qur’an which permits fighting and retaliation. But fighting as mentioned in the Holy Qur’an has its own context and limits. To a large extent however, fighting in Rido transgresses the limits of Allah as warring clans could resort to wanton killing of innocent individuals whose only mistake is their blood relations to the warring clans. In the traditional culture, if one can eliminate more members of his enemy clan, then he becomes respected, displays more Maratabat, becomes satisfied and feels “justice” is obtained. However, the killing is only the beginning of a cycle of violence, retaliation and counter retaliation, which endangers not only members of the warring clans but the general public as well.
Awidan is the concept of mutual help and support for one another. Although it is a Maranao term, Awidan is not a monopoly of the Maranao Muslims. At first glance, this concept of mutual help and support seems positive especially if we think of it as applied in the Muslim Ummah. But a closer look at the native culture would reveal that Awidan is made exclusive to members of the family/clan. This explains why a person, if he happens to be a government official, would prioritize his relatives as beneficiaries if ever there are employment opportunities or projects under his “care”. Awidan therefore is largely a selfish kind of mutual help and support made exclusive for the family/clan and not necessarily for the entire Muslim community. This explains why the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) tops the list in terms of nepotism as well as graft and corruption in local governance.
Among the Maranao Muslims of the southern Philippines, there is a concept known as Pengampong. Among other things, this concept reflects the clannish, regionalistic and tribalistic tendencies not only of the Maranaos but also of the other Islamized tribes of Mindanao. It is this mentality that tends to make a person resistant to someone who does not belong to his clan or tribe regardless of the worth of that someone. For instance, when Nur Misuari, the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) leader, became governor of the ARMM, he appointed a qualified Tausug Muslim from Sulu as Bureau of Fisheries chief in Lanao del Sur. The Maranaos of Lanao del Sur however vehemently opposed as they could not accept that they would be placed under a Tausug superior in their own territory. The same could be observed about the Muslim armed struggle for self-determination in the southern Philippines. Several years after they started the struggle, the original group of MNLF fighters started to break into splinters such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Fronts (MILF) and the MNLF-Reformist Group. Interestingly, the MNLF of Nur Misuari (a Sama-Tausug Muslim) was dominated by Tausugs, the MILF of Hashim Salamat (who was a Maguindanao Muslim) was comprised largely of Maguindanaos and the MNLF-RG (one of its leaders was a prominent Maranao) was chiefly composed of Maranaos.
The long history of colonial resistance and the deep-rooted Maratabat culture may have been responsible for creating among Mindanao Muslims a warrior image. At the slightest provocation, a traditional Maranao, Tausug or Maguindanao tribesman could easily become belligerent and resort to violence. Both historical and anthropological evidences tend to show that manhood and respect among the traditional Islamized tribes in Mindanao are measured through his martial boldness and violent capability. This partly explains why the predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao possess the reputation of having the most number of loose firearms and the most number of armed groups.
2.) Moral Decadence and Spiritual Neglect among Muslim Leaders and Constituents
While it is true that our colonial experience had contributed much to the economic marginalization of the Muslims of Mindanao, there is however a big opportunity at present to change their destiny. This opportunity is now in the possession of the local Muslim leaders who can definitely bring about positive change if only they are sincere. But more often, our leaders’ sincerity seems to revolve only around uplifting their own economic status and that of their family/clan. Present trends show that these leaders tend to forget their being Amir i.e, care taker answerable to Allah for the well-being of the Muslims. They usually neglect their moral obligation to the community and would rather take every opportunity to secure themselves in power by buying votes during elections, by procuring arms and ammunitions to ward off challengers and by enriching their own pockets to be more capable of buying more votes and arms. Looking at this scenario, the ordinary Muslim constituent would hopelessly say: “Political positions are only for those who have big Maratabat (pride), exclusive to the rich and powerful. Whoever is up there, nothing will change! I would rather sell my vote to the highest bidder to also take advantage”. In other words, the political processes and exercises, instead of becoming vehicles for positive change, have become avenues for local Muslim leaders and constituents to exploit one another.
It might be interesting at this juncture to share the findings of one research which revealed that “Muslim” politicians in Mindanao found justification to engage in graft and corruption because they regard the Philippine government as a foreign government which exploited the Muslims in the past. As such, stealing money from the government and not paying due taxes are considered an indication of valiant resistance, a manifestation of patriotism, a form of Jihad that deserve the Muslim constituents’ admiration and applause. This is definitely a case of what Beddiuzzaman Said Nursi said:
Tyranny has donned the hat of justice, treachery has clothed itself in the garment of patriotism, jihad has been given the name of rebellion, captivity has been called freedom. Opposites have exchanged forms!
The Relevance of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s Thoughts in Diagnosing and Curing the Mindanao Problem
Apart from those who believe that the Mindanao problem is political or economic by nature, there are also those who are convinced that the problem is caused by religion. Somehow, this is true but this needs elaboration to understand its context.
The statement “the Mindanao problem is a religious problem” is certainly capable of two meanings: 1.) It could mean trouble as caused by differences between the religious doctrines of Muslims and Christians in Mindanao; and 2.) It could mean trouble as caused by ignorance of religion. For the purpose and context of this paper, the first meaning does not apply; rather, it is the second that is more relevant.
In the previous pages, we learned that many of the Mindanao Muslims still cling onto their old habits, customs and traditions. As Muslims, they were supposed to judge people according to the standards of the Qur’an and the Shari’a. But reality shows that the Maratabat (pride) culture is still prevalent for measuring the worth of a person. Rido remains as the ultimate vehicle for obtaining “justice” while the warrior image continues to be the ideal indicator of manhood. Awidan (mutual help and support) remains self-centered and exclusive for the family/clan while the Pengampong mentality continues to hinder the unity of all the Mindanao Muslims in many of their endeavors. Does Bediuzzaman Said Nursi have something to say about the above scenario?
Although Bediuzzaman Said Nursi lived in the 20th century and may have been unaware of the nature of our Mindanao problem, his ideas nonetheless are very prophetic, fitting and therefore relevant for the Muslims of Mindanao. The wide range of topics he used to discuss and his eloquence in discussing these topics, did not only pin down one of the major causes of our problem but provided as well sound solutions. Contrary to those who believe that religion is the problem, Beduizzaman Said Nursi sees religion as a solution. He clearly pointed this out when he said:
The revival of religion is the revival of the nation. The life of religion is the light of life.
Consistent with the view that religion is the ultimate solution to social problems, He also said in the Damascus sermon:
History shows that the Muslims increased in civilization and progressed in relation to the power of the truths of Islam; that is, to the degree that they acted in accordance with that power. History also shows that they fell into savagery and decline, and disaster and defeat amidst utter confusion to the degree of their weakness in adhering to the truths of Islam.
The above statements of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi simply mean Muslims became progressive every time they draw their lives nearer to the ideals of Islam while they degenerated every time they pull themselves away from their faith. In the context of Mindanao, we see Muslims being pulled away from Islam not necessarily by modern things but by old customs and traditions. Yes, we have Islam in Mindanao, but we still observe folk practices, habits and “values” being mixed and confused with the pure message of Islam. Clinging onto customs and traditions such as Maratabat, Rido, Awidan, Pengampong and warrior mentality is still prevalent such that to some extent, many became Muslims only in name but in reality they still observe pre-Islamic values. This is precisely the reason why Islam’s image is tarnished because every time angry “Muslim” families/clans endanger public safety in trying to kill one another through Rido; every time “Muslim” politicians employ their own relatives even if they are not qualified in the positions just to demonstrate their commitment to Awidan; every time Muslim organizations fail to achieve their goals because of Pengampong mentality; every time flamboyant “Muslims” behave arrogantly towards non-Muslims to show they have Maratabat; non-Muslims would often say: “They’re doing that because that must be what their religion is teaching them”. Hence, even if they are not the exemplifications of Islam, they became the models of Islam in the eyes of non-Muslims in Mindanao. In such a case, the Muslims did not only tarnish the image of Islam but prevented too the progress of the Islamic community in Mindanao.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is reminding us to be steadfast in drawing ourselves nearer to Islam and to abandon things that pull us away from the Islamic faith. In the context of Mindanao, this means abandoning old habits and customs that have nothing to do with Islam. Particularly, abandonment here means discarding the irrational Maratabat culture, the violent Rido, the self and clan-centered Awidan, the divisive Pengampong mentality and the old warrior image. To be more effective, the abandonment of the ugly aspects of the local culture should be accompanied by a sincere struggle for our perfection of character in Islam. After all, it is not in violence but in the perfection of the Muslim character in Islam that Bediuzzaman Said Nursi sees the new weapon to defeat the enemies of Islam and ultimately achieve progress for the Muslims and all humanity. He clearly articulated this when he said:
In the past, Islam’s progress occurred through smashing the enemy’s bigotry and obstinacy and through defence against their aggression; through weapons and the sword. Whereas in the future, in place of weapons, the immaterial, moral swords of true civilization, material progress, and truth and justice will defeat and scatter the enemies.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi therefore is advocating for a new type of revolution – a moral kind of revolution, one that is not characterized by violence and weapons of destruction but a revolution from within the heart – a revolution that attracts people and radiates the beautiful message of Islam! Bediuzzaman Said Nursi sees this kind of revolution as the paramount requisite before anything else in the individual and social life of the Muslims. This kind of revolution is of course not possible without self-introspection. Thus, Bediuzzaman stressed:
The sole remedy for this disease is to accuse your own soul before others raise these charges, and always to take the side of your fellow, not your own soul.
If we apply the above idea in the context of the Mindanao Muslims, self-introspection would mean sincerely and honestly admitting that from within there are flaws; there are mistakes; there are things that need to be corrected! Condemning others who criticize us and denying that there are imperfections inside the local culture is certainly a form of self-deception – an act of “taking the side of our own soul”. Thus, self-introspection would not only mean an open-minded reassessment and critiquing of the local culture but also a redirection of the energies exerted for the negative and ugly aspects of many old habits, customs and traditions to more positive and wholesome ends. Doing so must be the initial step of taking “not the side of our own soul but the side of fellows”, which means abandoning our own selfish interests for the greater good of the Muslim community.
The Risalie Nur: Paradigm Shift and Challenge for Mindanao Muslims
As far as Philippine History is concerned, the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu have earned the reputation of being a people who offered valiant resistance to colonialism. However, this resistance proved ineffective as it often results almost merely to tragic deaths, bloodsheds and destruction not only of properties but of hopes, dreams and relationships. Evidently, the ugly sides of the local culture play an important role in the failure of the Muslim struggle. Historical evidences would show that from the 16th century up to contemporary times, many of the Mindanao Muslims resorted to armed confrontations based on the egoistic Maratabat and the Pengampong mentality (i.e. regionalism and tribalism). A unified action seems very difficult to do. There are even instances that the colonizers played one Muslim group against another and this has been easy because of old habits, customs and traditions such as the arbitrary Maratabat, the violent Rido, the selfish and clannish Awidan and the Pengampong mentality. The warrior image, which is supposed to be a manifestation of valor, has almost been reduced to a sheer mark of stupidity, violence and recklessness. Seemingly, impulsiveness, blaming others and resistance (both armed and passive) have been the Mindanao Muslims’ usual approach to their problems on self-determination, identity preservation, poverty, etcetera. So far, this approach has only produced more biases, alienation or even belligerence on the part of the non-Muslims of Mindanao and had not really been effective in producing genuine respect, admiration and attraction like how Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) attracted people in his lifetime to follow his religion through his noble character and excellent examples.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and the Risalie Nur offers the Muslims of Mindanao a paradigm shift – a change in their usual approach, one that raises the level of Jihad to a higher and more intelligent degree. To know this kind of jihad, we quote the preface of the Damascus sermon, which introduce Bediuzzaman Said Nursi and his main ideas:
“… answer at that level those attacks with a ‘non-physical jihad’ or ‘jihad of the word.”
The approach that Bediuzzaman Said Nursi advocates is also discernible in his reply to the question “Why was he and his students not concretely opposed to those who were oppressing them?” Bediuzzaman said:
The greatest danger facing the people of Islam at this time is their hearts being corrupted and belief being harmed through misguidance… The solution for this is light; it is to show light so that their hearts can be reformed and their belief saved.. the club (of politics) cannot heal the heart at this time, for then unbelief enters the heart and is concealed, and is transformed into dissembling. And at this time, a powerless person like myself cannot employ both of them – the club and the light. For this reason, I am compelled to embrace the light with all my strength, and cannot consider the club of politics whatever form it is in…
This paradigm shift is certainly challenging as it addresses the worst enemy of man – his very own self. Its unconventional approach mainly consists of enlightening the self, transforming the heart and sincerely struggling to let the self live with the light and ideals of Islam. Waging war against the self is undeniably difficult as “[our] worst enemy is [our own] soul. Yet, these are the basics Bediuzzaman wants to remind us because in our impatience to achieve immediate and tangible results, we often overlook and take for granted the very basic requisites. Impulsiveness tends to immediately push us to aggression and armed confrontations without first addressing the illnesses within. The egotism in Maratabat, the culture of enmity and violence in Rido, the selfish and clannish Awidan, the divisive Pengampong mentality are only few of the social diseases the Mindanao Muslims are suffering from within. Thus, we say that among others, the enemies of the Mindanao Muslims are their very own selves, particularly: their adherence to pre-Islamic habits and customs which confuses and mixes with the pure message of Islam; the moral decadence and spiritual neglect among Muslim leaders and constituents; the culture of violence prevailing in many of the predominantly Muslim areas of Mindanao; and the existing attitude of self-acquittal – generally absolving ourselves and accusing that the fault emanates from the outsiders alone. If all these internal diseases are properly addressed by the Muslims themselves, violence would no longer be necessary to change our external environment and the foresight of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi would not be far from reality:
If we were to display through our actions the perfections of the morality of Islam and the truths of belief, without doubt the followers of other religions would enter Islam in whole communities; some entire regions and states, even, would take refuge in Islam.
The confrontational and aggressive approach to address our problems in Mindanao had already been tried; but so far, it looks like its evils outweigh its benefits. Bediuzzaman Said Nursi is offering us another alternative – a sound option that comes not from impulse but from a discerning and intelligent analysis of what the real situation is. Most basic in the option he advocates is self-introspection and the perfection of the Muslim character in Islam – abandoning everything un-Islamic including our time-honored habits, customs and traditions and struggling to achieve genuine belief, sincerity, morality and material progress all at the same time. When all these basics are achieved, everything will follow and fall into their proper places! It is only then we shall see the beauty and light of Islam naturally and intensely radiating and doing wonderful things for Mindanao and its Muslim inhabitants. Insha Allah!
I really wish that my fellow Mindanao Muslims will see the point of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi that we cannot change our external environment unless we change first our internal situation. And since many of my fellow Mindanao Muslims are not acquainted yet with Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, I also wish that more of us in Mindanao will know him and the Risalie Nur to avail of his very practical ideas as option to address our problem in Mindanao. Insha Allah!
The Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre occurred on the morning of November 23, 2009, in the town of Ampatuan in Maguindanao province, Mindanao, Philippines. While the victims were on their way to file a certificate of candidacy for Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, they were kidnapped and brutally killed. Mangudadatu was challenging Datu Unsay mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr., son of the incumbent Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr., in the forthcoming Maguindanao gubernatorial election, part of the national elections in 2010. The 57 people killed included Mangudadatu's wife, his two sisters, 34 journalists, lawyers, aides, and motorists who were witnesses or were mistakenly identified as part of the convoy.