Exploiting people in times of crisis

There are reports that copies of the Christian Bible are distributed along with relief goods to refugees of the Marawi siege at various evacuation centers in Mindanao especially in Iligan City. A member of the group known as “I Care for the Bangsamoro Movement” called our attention on this matter. We asked them to provide us with more information. And we are we are waiting!

This is simply exploiting people in times of crisis!

For fairness’ sake, however, we are still validating the reports from various sources. Any unscrupulous person can do this to destroy religion or to sour relations. Surreptitiously, it can also be done by individuals or groups who are sympathizing with those fighting the government in order to gain support or to give religious colour to the conflict in Mindanao, at least the Marawi crisis.

 However, the disturbing part is that even during the bloody siege on Zamboanga City in 2013, Bible distribution to displaced people was also reported – and validated. But nobody or group came forward to accept the responsibility. If we have identified them, we could have initiated a dialogue or perhaps requested the Bishop-Ulama Conference to start a bridging session. Or if they belonged to any of the protestant sects in this country, which we have excellent relations, it is not difficult to connect either. We have been in dialogues for years.

What makes the reports this time very sensational and particular was that the Bible was not an ordinary one written in Standard English; it is a translation of it in Maranao language, which means that there is a deliberate plan to convert non-Christians to Christianity. It is means also that it is a long-term missionary programme. Thus, we expect more and more of this problem in the future. So, what must be done? To us, it is better to address them now than to let it grow bigger and bigger until the perceived religious configuration of the Mindanao conflict is reinforced. Perhaps, the oft-repeated cliché, “an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure,” will be the right decision to adopt.

 By and large, proselytizing people aggressively is not civil; it should be prohibited. True men and women of religion must shun this unethical practice. Islam had already banned this practice more than 1400 years ago. Allah says in the Qur’an: “There is no compulsion in religion, unto you your religion and unto me my religion.”(2:256)

 We urge anyone (of the refugees) to come forward and show us more evidence. This can be an opportunity not to sour Muslim-Christian relations but it can be a great opportunity to better the same. We believe that a threat is also at the same time an opportunity. We don’t believe that if such distribution is true can lead to more problems. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to sort thing for the better. We are sure that legitimate or mainstream religious groups both on the Christian and Muslim sides would ever agree to such a cheap way to spread the messages of religion.

 We also appeal to the Christian communities through their various ministries to extend a helping hand to validate these reports. If found to be correct, we can use these to improve our working relationships. Knowing the truth is halfway to solving it.