I write this open letter as a friend in solidarity with you who suffer for what is going on in our beautiful land of Mindanao. I dare to say “our beautiful land” even if I am Italian, but I have been in Mindanao since 1977 and I am still here in Zamboanga. This gives me the courage to write this letter to you as Muslim religious leaders. It is the humble voice of a Christian religious leader who journeys with you in this sad time of our life in Mindanao. I was in the seventies a negotiator for the MNLF in the area of Zamboanga Del Norte. I have studied and taught Islam in Italy. After a sad experience in the early eighties in my efforts to defend the Muslim communities in my mission of Siocon, Zamboanga Del Norte, I started in 1984 the Silsilah Dialogue Movement in Zamboanga City. I have also been the national secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for the mission on Interreligious dialogue. At that time I helped to start the Bishops Ulama Forum that is now called Bishops Ulama Conference (BUC).
These and many other experiences in the Philippines and other countries didn’t stop me to be with you in Mindanao, Yes! I continue my mission here, even if I lost my dear friend, Fr. Salvatore Carzedda, PIME in 1992 in Zamboanga City killed in his mission of dialogue and peace. I also lost other friends and alumni of Silsilah killed in Jolo, Basilan and Tawi-tawi areas along the years for the same mission.
This letter is, first of all, a sign of solidarity with many of you Muslim religious leaders who are agonizing in this situation and time. Some of you continue to say that those who do terrorism are not Muslims because Islam is a religion of Peace. But allow me to remind you that there are also those who bring the name of Islam, especially now as Abu Sayyaf, ISIS, Maute groups doing acts of violence and terrorism. They are usually young people who claim to be Muslims and even dare to say that they are more faithful Muslims than you to the point that they also threaten you. Some of you are afraid to face this situation and others, unfortunately, play a double game, most of the time to save their lives or to have advantages in this situation. Indeed, all of us suffer and I appeal to you to save Islam and Mindanao from the hands of those who use Islam pushed by some foreign or local player behind this sad situation.
On the part of the Christians, there is fear that becomes hatred in many cases. What can we do? How can we build peace in this situation? How can the government implement the BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law) in this stage of terror covered by beautiful promises, often presented in a form of humanitarian assistance and solidarity on the part of some politicians and other local and international groups? We cannot be blind anymore of many killings, massacres, cutting of the heads, often done saying “Bismillah” (in the name of God).
Allow me to say that the situation is alarming in Mindanao and I appeal to your courage, sense of responsibility and love for the real message of peace of Islam. Do not be contented only of gestures of goodness that we see here and there to prove the goodness of Islam. I too can testify to so many signs of goodness among Muslims and I treasure them and I continue in my mission with hope and love for all.
I am with you and other good Muslims and Christians who continue the mission of love with Silsilah and other groups who do their best to build peace, but it is not enough. I wish to see more courage on your part. Do not be afraid. The Holy Qur’an reminds you: “O humankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes that you may know each other. Truly, the most honored of you before God is the most pious of you.” (Surah 49:13) Well, you have the chance to save lives in many ways as Muslim religious leaders. If you do not act with a sense of urgency now others who claim to be Muslims continue to oppress and kill and are ready to be killed, guided by their belief that doing so they can go to paradise.
Please receive this open letter as a sign of friendship and great respect for your religion and for the many Muslims of Mindanao that are suffering. Silsilah will continue its mission. I will also do my part, but please do more together in a form of Ijma (consensus) for the common good of all. This is my hope and prayer. Padayon!
Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra, PIME
Founder of Silsilah Dialogue Movement