Muslim leaders vow to be active in peace process campaign

ZAMBOANGA CITY — A newly created group of Muslim scholars and
religious leaders would take an active role in the southern peace
process and address the longtime security problem in Mindanao.

The National Ulama Conference of the Philippines (NUCP), which represents more than 3, 000 ulama and aleema (women religious authorities) nationwide, said it would be a catalyst to improve the Muslims’ welfare.

Ulama are a social, political, developmental, and can
even be an environmental force because of their influence,” said Amina
B. Rasul, director of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy
and NUCP convenor.

The pledged was made at the recently concluded three-day second National Summit of Ulama in the Philippines.

Muslim professor Moner Bajunaid said NUCP would fill in the gap
of an organizations representing local Muslim interest before the
Muslim world, international community, the government and media.

Ustadz (Muslim preacher) Esmail Ebrahim of the Darul Ifta in Maguindanao said the ulama can help in the advocacy of the peace process, inter-faith dialogue, and halal enforcement.

“Because there is no religious hierarchy in Islam, NUCP will be able to strengthen the work of the ulama sector in the country,” said former senator Santanina T. Rasul, one of the NUCP board members.

Roughly 80% of the country’s five million minority Muslims live
in Mindanao. A large number of ethnic Moros have been fighting for
self-rule for more than four decades.

At the summit, participants passed a letter that they hope
would strengthen ties with US President Barrack Hussein Obama, whom
they described as more sympathetic to the Muslims. Mr. Obama spent his
younger years in Muslim-dominated Indonesia.

NUCP requested Mr. Obama to support the Mindanao peace process. The two-page letter, which was signed by 190 ulama
participants, also called on the US president to support the legitimate
and inherent right of the Bangsamoro people to self-determination, and
the full implementation of the 1996 Final Peace Agreement between the
Moro National Liberation Front and the Philippine government.

The Muslim group also condemned the unabated abductions in Southwestern Mindanao believed to be carried out by a bandit group.

“While we ulama have no enforcement authority to stop
kidnapping, we can campaign that kidnapping is wrong and worth
condemning, which we do in our local masjid [mosque] in communities,” said Aboulkhair Tarason of the Basilan Ulama Supreme Council, who was elected chairman of the NUCP’s ad-interim board.

He said the ulama should constantly remind local
officials, particularly in the Muslim-dominated island provinces of
Basilan and Sulu, to strictly enforce laws.

Security officials have estimated that eight people, including
three members of the International Committee of the Red Cross, are
being held by lawless elements separately in the two island provinces.
A midwife in Lamitan, Basilan province was also abducted at the
weekend. — Darwin T. Wee