What is in the heart of Jihad?

Jihad. As a Christian I used to fear this word for I had grown to associate this with violence and war. But in my striving to understand Muslims and Islam, I found that this word simply means “struggle,” and this struggle may be internal as well as external efforts among the followers of Islam to be good Muslims. I myself have come to appreciate the concept of “jihad al-nafs,” or the struggle with the enemy within oneself, and I see the constant practice of overcoming and befriending our inner demons as the greatest battle that we, human beings, are to fight in our daily lives.

But today, there are those who pervert the real meaning of jihad. They are referred to as Jihadi, or jihadist. They are extremists who claim to be Muslims but are indoctrinated to fight for the creation of an Islamic state and wage war against all who, in their eyes, have corrupted the ideals of Islamic governance. Outbreaks of violent extremism and acts of terrorism are expressions of this contemporary phenomenon that plague our humankind today. They continue to sow terror in the name of Allah despite the fact that Muslim religious leaders and scholars condemn violent jihad as “not sanctioned by Islam.”

As a Catholic Christian struggling to promote peace among religions and build mutually respectful and collaborative relationships with Muslims, I wonder what is in the heart of jihadists. What is it that attracts them to extremist views, and to engage in dehumanizing acts of violence?

I came across this Bafta-nominated film JIHAD by Deeyah Khan, a Norwegian film director and human rights defender of Punjabi descent. She is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary film director and founder of Fuuse, a media and arts company that tells moving stories of women and children from minority communities and cultures of Muslim heritage.

This is worth viewing.

Bomb Threat

A bomb threat received by the administration of the Ateneo de Manila University yesterday morning caused the evacuation of all students, suspension of classes in all levels and the locking down of the entire campus. Two things came to mind as I circled my way out of the deserted campus: How worried the parents (especially of the grade school students) must be when they heard the news of their children’s early dismissal; and what my students must be thinking about Muslims now…”

I am teaching an elective course on Muslim-Christian Dialogue and Cooperation for Nation-Building to college students under the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies of the Ateneo de Manila University. I have one Muslim student in class, but the rest are Catholics. Finding creative ways of educating these young leaders–on the issues involved in the Mindanao conflict–and developing in them capacities for critical thinking as well as healthy attitudes of respect for Muslims out of their familiarity with Islamic teachings, is a challenge I continue to strive to respond to and find meaning in.

One day I encouraged the girls in my class to wear a hijab (veil), and the boys to wear a taqiyah (skullcap) to school the whole day as a way of promoting awareness of and interest among members of the university community in attending a forum on Locating Women’s Rights in Islam using the Sharia Framework that our class organized. I received various responses from students. Some of them had the courage to wear the Muslim garb only at the forum, while a few others did so for only some limited stretch of time during the day albeit with a sense of apprehension.

This reflection of Anna Raina, one of my Catholic students who dared wear the hijab to school the whole day makes what I do worth carrying on despite the overwhelming tide of anti-Islamic sentiments that threatens to drown tiny voices like mine crying to keep the hope for peace alive in our wounded midst.

Casu (2)

              Casu’s story


Interfaith Action with Vision and Conviction

VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100    I have long harbored the desire and intention to share my experiences in the field of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding in some form of writing. I have been engaged in the endeavor for 16 years (since 1998). The challenges I have faced and the difficulties I have hurdled along the way have been richly laden with soul-nourishing moments that developed in me soul organs–organs through which I have learned (albeit with great difficulty!) to perceive and respond to the world around me with some clarity of vision, depth of conviction, and integrity of co-creative actions.

     There was no manual for interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding to guide me when I first started. I have had to play every moment by ear one movement at a time every step of the way. I did so with only the vision in my mind, the passion in my heart, and the music in my soul to guide me as I danced with the rhythm and flow of destiny’s unfolding in my life.

     A person I greatly admire in the field of peacebuilding once described the endeavor as a “marathon,” and spoke of us, peacebuilders, as “marathon runners.” Although I can understand this from the perspective of one who has been “running” for sixteen years in this so-called “marathon,” I do not wholeheartedly subscribe to this rather space-and-time bound description of the experience. It seems to me to focus rather much on the “running” experience as an effort that is functional, goal oriented, and temporal.  VLUU L100, M100  / Samsung L100, M100

    For me, the endeavor of interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding includes and transcends the boundaries of space and time. Here, every choice we make and every action that we take along the way arises from and is moved by the spirit within and around us–the spirit that enables us to see and appreciate wholeness and unity in the midst of fragmentation and diversity; to see peace as the true nature and being of humans, and as the matrix of creation giving order and meaning to chaos; and to awaken to the subtle arising and unfolding of truths in every present moment even when our intellectual minds are unable to detect or grasp them. In this light I see that hope inheres in every present moment. And the energies that arise from hope are those which embrace even our fears and human frailties so that we find ourselves in the eternal now of the moment, the now which is the wholeness of Divine Love that unites all in oneness.

     So I carry on with spirit strong even when the bodyInternational Women's Day celebration March 9 2012 210 is weak and maturing. In this light, time and space fall meaningless in my experience. There is always something transcendent and indescribably awe-inspiring about truth’s unfolding and revealing its essence in each present moment of my hopeful striving. Yes, the experience may be intellectually demanding and physically tiring. But there is something ennobling about this that is also spiritually uplifting and emotionally rewarding. I experience this in ways that give life clearer direction and deeper meaning.

Embracing Courage with Hope

Pembains embrace

Pembain’s embrace

    May I embrace you, Ma’am?  Pembain Suga Olimpain, a feisty 48-year old Muslim mother of ten children (all of them girls!) respectfully asked me this on the second day of our time together. She was one of the twenty-two participants of the 3-day workshop on Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation that I was privileged to conduct in North Cotabato,Mindanao from February 25-28. She was also one of those whose amazing story struck a chord in me.

    Pembain is from a barangay (community) in Aleosan, North Cotabato that is affected by sporadic outbreaks of armed conflict. She bore sixteen children in her lifetime, but only managed to save ten of them from the pangs of poverty and want. The hardships she has been experiencing have been exacerbated by the recurring cycles of conflict and violence in their area. For Pembain, surviving them meant that she had to teach in the nearby madrasah to be able to earn a living and bring food to their table. Helping her husband plow the fields and till the farmlands brings little financial security to the family in times of war, she said. There is very little money to be had there that would compensate for the heavy toll this took on her body. So she prefers teaching children to become better Muslims, she said, and she finds deep fulfillment in it.

Lourdes saying NO to violence

Lourdes saying NO to violence

Lourdes' hope

Lourdes’ hope

    Pembain’s story is one of the many stories that remain vivid in my memory. There is Sive’s story as well, and Lourdes’ and many others. They are awe-inspiring stories of courage and hope that stand out against the stark backdrop of violence and war.

Hope & pain

A vision of peace vis-a-vis the reality of violence

SHEG group photo

Leaders of the Self Help Group (SHEG) & Cluster Level Associations (CLA) with community leaders and Balay Rehabilitation staff

     It was a thrill for me to be able to return to North Cotabato just three weeks after having been there to conduct our Fetzer Institute funded workshop on Interfaith Dialogue for Muslim-Christian Understanding. I was invited this time by Mon Plasabas of Balay Rehabilitation (based in the municpality of Midsayap) to give a workshop on Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation to women leaders of Cluster Level Associations and Self Help Groups (SHEG) representing five barangays (communities) of Aleosan, a municipality in North Cotabato affected by armed conflict.  Three men (local barangay leaders) took the courage to join the women and likewise engage themselves in the workshop experience. It was heartwarming to see them there!

Mon Plasabas, in-charge of Balay Rehabilitation in North Cotabato

Mon Plasabas, in-charge of Balay Rehabilitation in North Cotabato

With Balay staff-- Nash, Bai, and Gigi

With Balay staff– Nash, Bai, and Gigi

     I was glad for another opportunity to see how the peacebuilding training modules that I had developed–using John Paul Lederach’s teachings on MORAL IMAGINATION (MI) and its four disciplines–would work in helping Balay Rehabilitation, our Mindanao-based partner organization, realize its objectives in providing its grassroots community leaders with training in peacebuilding and conflict transformation.

    I was told upon my arrival there that violence had erupted anew in two neighboring communities in Aleosan, and residents feared that this might escalate to such an extent that their lives would be adversely affected and endangered again. But despite the apprehensions our workshop pushed through at a venue about 1 and 1/2 hours away from the area of conflict.

Rey (Balay Field Coordinator for SHEG) & Lisa Ugay (Balay Rehabilitation, Manila)

Rey (Balay Field Coordinator for SHEG) & Lisa Ugay (Co-facilitator, Balay Rehabilitation, Manila)

Peace greetings

Coming to a Common Ground: Participants from five barangays meet and introduce themselves to each other

    Conducting the workshop was a huge challenge to me for various reasons. One of which was the fact that the participants were tri-people– composed of Maguindanaon Muslims, Ilonggo Christians, and indigenous Manobos– who all spoke their own dialects! So I had to switch from speaking Tagalog, the language that most Filipinos understand, to Bisaya, the language that is widely spoken in Mindanao (but is not generally accepted by Muslims because it is identified with the Christian settlers). Although I was born and raised in Mindanao, I now live in Metro Manila where Tagalog is the language used, and not Bisaya. So I was pleasantly surprised that, after some awkward attempts at first, I was able to switch from Bisaya to Tagalog with ease, and could understand a bit of Ilonggo (because my parents were from Iloilo).

    Those three days of training in Mindanao made me realize why I love the work that I am doing. This calls for designing and developing workshop programs on dialogue and peacebuilding, conducting them and engaging myself in the exciting process of training people in the grassroots! It is always awe-inspiring to bear witness to the “miracle” of transformation happening in our midst as the days unfold!

    While conceptualizing and drafting the workshop design, it is all I can do to hope that the modules and activities that I decide to include in it would work for the participants and serve them well. But as I go through the process of actually facilitating the workshop, I experience anew the humbling realization that what we are engaged in together is not happening because of my work alone. There is something bigger than myself that is always moving and weaving its Spirit within me and among everyone who participates in the experience! Thus, my workshops are deeply listening processes that are fluid and open to revisions and re-directions as we go with the flow of the spirit moving in our midst.

    It amazes me no end to see how these workshops become catalysts for self-awareness and transformation among us. It moves us in ways that are spirit-filled and “larger than ourselves” than I always imagine! It is like throwing a tiny pebble into a pond and seeing the ripples grow wider and wider or putting yeast in a dough and seeing it rise!

Beginning journey- Kumustahan

Beginning the journey- Kumustahan

     The participants came in the first day looking tired and weary, but they later seemed to come alive and become energized in the course of the workshop–with their eyes growing lively and attentive, bodies fully engaged in the creative work of the modules, and minds processing the experience with questions and reflections. As workshop facilitator and trainer, holding a workshop group together fully and completely in mind, body and spirit for three days is not easy. But seeing the transformation happening is always worth all the sacrifice!

    I was with them and, happily, they were with me too. We were one in the journey of heart and mind! And it was fulfilling beyond words to realize that the energy, positive thought forms, and heartfelt intentions that I invested of myself in the endeavor set into motion more energies, positive thought forms, and heartfelt intentions that inspired all participants together to commit themselves (individually and collectively) to engage in co-creative action in order to realize their shared visions of peace in their respective communities!

    Here are glimpses of how the days unfolded:

Sharing photo journey

What attracted me to this photo, and why

    DAY 1. We began the journey with INNER WORK FOR SELF-AWARENESS & TRANSFORMATION. This called for exercises that “unlocked the door to our inner landscape.” The journey inwards began with breathing exercises. Then, while engaged in mindful breathing, the participants slowly walked around in a big circle–the sacred space and common ground they had earlier created–and then around a table where black-and-white photographs were displayed. After another walk around the table, the participants picked a photograph that attracted them the most, took this to a quiet corner of the hall for silent reflection, then later gathered in small circles to share with others their reflection on what it was that attracted them to the photo and why.

Sharing a glimpse of my inner landscape

Sive’s hands expressing anger and pain

Hope & fear

Hope for peace vis-a-vis the reality of violence (Sive’s memory of seeing someone shot in the head)

Reflection circle

Inner Work Circle

    This led to reflections on conflict in their lives, and to exercises that enabled them to see conflict as “neither bad nor good” but as a turning point in human relationships that heralded opportunities for growth. A moment of guided reflection encouraged them to express their experience of conflict in their lives, to image their “enemy” in their minds, and to express negative thoughts and feelings with their hands through clay work.

Hamsiya's fence

Hamsiya’s fence of fear

Tug of war

Tug of war

    This exercise was followed by presentations on what conflict is, and John Paul Lederach’s six relational shifts that happen when conflict is not perceived as an opportunity for growth in relationships and addressed accordingly.

Listening Stone

Listening Stone, anchoring oneself in stillness

Sive's stone

What my stone said to me about me


Listening Stones on clarity of Yang & the passion of Yin

    The participants were given a glimpse of how thought forms affect human relationships. Then the Listening Stone exercise enabled the participants to anchor themselves deeply in stillness and listen to silence speak within themselves. Listening Stones were painted with vivid colors to visually express the beauty of the participants’ inner landscape.

Bailan's stone

Bailan’s Listening Stone


Creative reflection on the experience of war

Burning negativities

Burning negative thoughts and feelings that get in the way of conflict transformation

   The day ended with a ritual of burning negative thoughts and feelings.

Pembain’s resolve

DAY 2.
The journey continued with exercises that engaged the participants in the experience of awakening their capacities for Moral Imagination (MI). After the presentation on what Moral Imagination is as defined by John Paul Lederach (in his book Moral Imagination: Art and Soul of Building Peace), its four disciplines were explained in detail, followed by a guided visioning exercise on what peace looked like in their community in the year 2020.

Sharing visions of peace in community

    The participants were divided into four groups (according to barangays or community). Each participant in the group shared his/her vision of what their community would be like in 2020. From the vision sharing of individuals in the group, a big picture of the community was created by everyone as they participated in drawing and coloring their shared vision of what their community would look like six years from now.

Drama presentation of the practice of Moral Imagination discipline #1: Centrality of Relationships

Drama presentation on the practice of Moral Imagination discipline #1: Centrality of Relationships

Barangay Dungu-an & Dualing dramatizing Moral Imagination discipline on risk-taking

Barangay Dungu-an & Dualing dramatizing Moral Imagination discipline on risk-taking

  Then each barangay group discussed the current situation of conflict that they were experiencing in their community and, using the MI discipline assigned to their group, presented in drama form the steps that they would take to realize their shared vision of their community in 2020.

    One of the most powerful sharing was on the MI discipline of risk-taking. The feisty Pembain said that, for the sake of her ten surviving children–all girls in their teens and early thirties–she wanted to see the end of violence in her community. She said that she would take the risk of reaching out to the women in the “enemy camp” to encourage them to join her in the peacebuilding endeavor. She went on to detail her risky “covert operation” which to her would lead to all participating Muslim women wearing the same colored tondong (veil) and the Christian women wearing the same colored scarf around their necks as a statement of their stand for peace. This was received with applause by everyone around the circle. I could not help but wish that John Paul Lederach was there to witness this. In the silence of my heart I felt deep gratitude for this gift of awareness of the power of Moral Imagination and its four disciplines that I had received from him!

Being blindfolded and not knowing where to go

         The importance of anchor points (or people of influence) was brought to the fore in the process, and the steps that needed to be taken in DIALOGUE for conflict transformation and peacebuilding were identified by the participants themselves. The day ended with exercises in SEEING DIFFERENCES in Position and Disposition, and this gave rise to many rich insights and realizations concerning dialogue and relationship-building from the participants.



    DAY 3. The last day focused on Awareness of the Self in Relation to the “other.” It highlighted the value of DIALOGUE in relationship-building and conflict-transformation. Deep Dialogue was defined and practiced in small dialogue circles with the aid of the Listening Stone, and the participants were encouraged to listen deeply to the NEED of the “other” that lie underneath the POSITION, INTEREST, and VALUES of the person. Words of comfort and assurance (arising from their listening stillness) were given by each person to the other in their small circle.


Barangay Dualing-Symbol of Peace


Barangay Malapang- Symbol of Peace


Barangay Bagolibas- Symbol of Peace

Affirming community friendship and support

To prepare the participants to face the challenges of peacebuilding in their conflict-affected communities, an orientation seminar on the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamroro (FAB) was given. This gave rise to many questions and expressions of apprehensions concerning the impact of the FAB on their lives. Lisa Ugay, who did the presentation, responded to them with reminders on how they could be the change that they wished to see in their respective communities, and make  something good out of this opportunity for transformative change to be possible in their midst.

Dungu-an women presenting their Symbol of Peace

Barangay New Leon-Symbol of Peace

Web of Commitment to Peace

   The closing ritual saw the participants transform the negative thoughts and feelings that shaped their clay artwork (during the first day) to one beautiful Symbol of Peace in their community that they all participated in shaping together. This they presented at the sacred space at the center of the common ground that they had earlier created, and a WEB OF PEACE was woven out of their individual pledge of commitment to hold in their hearts and minds the individual responsibility for ongoing collective conflict transformation and peacebuilding in their community.

Symbol of Peace- Dungu-an

Symbol of Peace- Dungu-an

Happy Ending

Happy Ending

    On my flight back to Manila, the sense of awe, joy, and gratitude for all that I have experienced in Mindanao kept my spirits high. It stayed with me long after we landed on solid ground. Bearing witness to the ways that poverty stricken and conflict-ridden people in the grassroots can become aware of and awaken to the power within themselves–for being the change that they wish to see in their world, and for being part of a co-creative peoples’ movement for social transformation—is a larger-than-life human experience that never ceases to amaze me!

INTERFAITH FRIENDSHIP PILGRIMAGE 2014 with The Peacemakers’ Circle

    We at The Peacemakers’ Circle celebrated this year’s World Interfaith Harmony Week in the spirit of thanksgiving for the gifts of friendship and the joys of oneness with friends in the interfaith movement. Together we shared hopes, dreams, and aspirations for peace and harmony in the world!

    We launched the week’s activities in North Cotabato, Mindanao where we conducted a 3-day training workshop on INTERFAITH DIALOGUE FOR MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING & COOPERATION. This was participated in by Muslims and Christians from the areas of armed conflict in the municipalities of Aleosan and Midsayap. They had earlier participated in a series of workshops on INTRA-FAITH Dialogue that inspired the creation of SALAM and SHALOM INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE CIRCLES in their respective communities. From January 30-February 2, they met and interacted with each other for the first time in an interfaith dialogue circle. They created safe spaces for engaging moral imagination in learning how to deal with their fears, anger, hatred, and mistrust of each other and be able to engage in mutually respectful dialogue and cooperation.  20130906_110012



    In Metro Manila, The Peacemakers’ Circle spearheaded and participated in various interfaith activities during the week, including activities organized by colleagues in the UNI-Harmony Partners Manila.

February 1 (Saturday)    

Shakun at the Mabuhay temple    The Peacemakers’ Circle was represented by Shakuntala Vaswani in the celebrations at the Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple on the theme “Love & Peace: Practicing our Faith.” She offered a Hindu prayer and spoke at the Symposium where leaders of different religious organizations were likewise invited to share their reflections on the theme. She also talked about how The Peacemakers’ Circle has been contributing to the endeavor of building a culture of peace and harmony in the world.

Mabuhay Temple -FEb 3  HIndu Temple -Feb 5

FEBRUARY 2 (Sunday)

    The UNI harmony partners visited the Hindu Temple in Paco, Manila where Shakun Vaswani explained the rituals and symbolism in Hinduism to the interfaith group.

FEBRUARY 3 (Monday)

    While I and Orlan de Guzman, Jr. (The Peacemakers’ Circle’s Projects Coordinator) were away in North Cotabato, Shakun represented The Peacemakers’ Circle at the Breakfast Forum with Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila at Villa San Miguel in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila. Cardinal Tagle gave a warm welcome to the interfaith groups and the diplomats who were present and spoke on the practice of  ” Love for Neighbor.”

Cardinal Tagle breakfast Feb 3 2014

FEBRUARY 4 (Tuesday)

    Upon my return from the conflict-affected communities in North Cotabato, Mindanao, I conducted a workshop on Muslim-Christian Relationship-Building for the Catholic high school students of Miriam College and the Muslim students of Rajah Mudah High School of Pikit, North Cotabato. This was upon the invitation of Dr. Loreta Castro of the Miriam Center for Peace Education (CPE). Rajah Mudah dance for Miriam studentsMarites with Rajah Mudah students at Miraiam CPE

Miriam & Rajah Mudah students together

FEBRUARY 5 (Wednesday)

    The Peacemakers’ Circle embarked on an INTERFAITH FRIENDSHIP PILGRIMAGE to different places of worship around Metro Manila. This was to renew bonds of friendship with members of the different faith groups and communities, and to introduce new people to their ways of worship.

    A group of twenty-four curious and excited Muslim and Christian members of Silsilah Manila joined the pilgrimage. It was their first time to experience being in places of worship other than their own.

TAOIST temple-Feb 5    The first stop was the Sheng Lian Cho Taoist Temple in Quezon City where all were welcomed by Rev Wong Seng Tian, a known Chinese Astrologer and Feng Shui master. The children read with interest the astrological predictions for the year which were displayed on the walls of the Temple. Everyone was curious to know about the teachings of Taoism and about the central image of the Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy. They were happy to light incense sticks and eagerly offered their own quiet prayers in this strange but welcoming place of worship. Before they bade goodbye, Rev. Wong gifted everyone with packets of blessed chocolates.

    The next stop was at the Philippine Karma Kagyu Tibetan Buddhist Temple where Lama Damdul welcomed the party. With Shakun acting as translator, the Lama answered the questions about the deities in the Temple and the masters of the Tibetan Buddhist faith tradition. The group offered their prayers and received blessed food from the Lama. After receiving the offering, the eager young adults went outside to the Stupa and walked round it in the traditional way.Lama Damdul Feb 5 2014

    The final stop was the Hindu Temple in Paco Manila. Shakuntala Vaswani welcomed the party and gave them an introduction to the tenets of Hinduism and introduced the various deities in the Temple. They were curious to learn more about the concept of Karma and Dharma.

    The friendship pilgrims of Silsilah Manila expressed appreciation and gratitude to The Peacemakers’ Circle for the experience of meeting Buddhists, Taoists, and Hindus at their places of worship and to learn about their faith. The leaders of the temples were likewise pleased by their visit and looked forward to the next.

    Later, at the Hindu temple, the crew from Solar TV Chanel interviewed Shakun on the contribution of the Peacemakers Circle to the endeavor of addressing conflict & violence in our society.Shakun on Solar TV

FEBRUARY 6 (Thursday)

    The Focolare Movement organized an interfaith youth gathering in Tagaytay, but because it was a school day, the youth members of The Peacemakers’ Circle were unable to attend. Nonetheless, they extended their best wishes to the Focolare group in support of their endeavors for interfaith dialogue and peacebuilding.

FEBRUARY 7 (Friday)

    The Peacemakers’ Circle’s INTERFAITH FRIENDSHIP PILGRIMAGE continued. The first stop was the Golden Mosque in Quiapo, Manila. Going there, we had to take a walk along the busy streets of Globo de Oro where we were greeted here and there by friends from the Manila Muslim-Christian Peacemakers’ Association who were at their sari-sari stalls by the roadside striving to earn a living for their families. Mang Ely & family in Quiapo Feb 7 2014Quiapo visit Feb 7 2014

        At the Golden Mosque we were received warmly by the assistant administrator and his officers, and they expressed their interest in supporting our Project on INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE FOR MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANIDNG in Mindanao.  We were later graciously escorted to the mosque to offer our prayers. Golden mosque administrators

          It was Friday, the busiest day in Quiapo. Right across the street was the Basilica of the Black Nazarene, and it was crowded with devout Catholics attending Mass. The streets were teeming with church goers and vendors selling their wares. We waded through the human traffic in the heat of the noonday sun to the Silsilah office where a Poster Painting Competition for the youth was going on. It was interesting to witness young adults of different faiths creatively expressing their hopes, dreams and aspirations for peace and harmony! Quiapo painting contest Feb 7 2014

    Our final stop was the Baha’i center where we were warmly welcomed by Ador Newman and her vibrant group of Baha’is. Talk was interesting and we learned about how the Baha’is helped to address the need for values formation and spiritual strengthening among people in the grassroots regardless of their religion or faith tradition. We were enthused by their willingness to conduct study groups for the Muslim and Christian youths in the grassroots community of Tala in Caloocan City. We have been serving the community for a decade and we feel that they are ready for another group to accompany them as well.

    Delicious vegetarian lunch was served us by our Baha’I friends. This was a heartwarming way to end the UN INTERFAITH HARMONY WEEK!

    Later, we returned to the familiar surroundings of our homes with hearts filled with hope for the enriching journey ahead of us! We look forward to its unfolding with gladness and anticipation!  Baha'i Center Feb 7 2014

    MAY PEACE & HARMONY PREVAIL in our minds and hearts, and in our ways of being in relationship with one another in the world!!

Founder & Executive Director
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59 C. Salvador St., Varsity Hills, 1108
Quezon City, Metro Manila
Cell phone no.: +63 917-538-9358
Tel. no.: (63) (2) 925-2815; (63) (2) 788-6402
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E-mail: thepeacemakerscircle@gmail.com


Webpage: www.thepeacemakerscircle.org                 

What I learned in Mindanao about Love & Forgiveness

Image  I have always wondered how forgiveness works, and how love comes into the equation in this. Do we have to love our enemies first before we can forgive? Or do we forgive first before we can say that we love? I wondered and pondered on this throughout my fifteen years of endeavors at building relationships of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation between Muslims and Christians in conflict-affected grassroots communities around Metro Manila.

    Last year, with the help of Dr. Ruben Habito of the Perkins School of Theology (Dallas, Texas), and with funding from the Fetzer Institute (Kalamazoo, Michigan) and a happy partnership with Balay Rehabilitation Center, came the opportunity for us at The Peacemakers’ Circle to conduct a pilot action-reflection training program on INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE FOR MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN UNDERSTANDING in North Cotabato, Mindanao. This was a three-phase pilot program that spanned a period of one year.

    Inspired by the disciplines of Moral Imagination that I had  learned from my earlier training under John Paul Lederach, the program was designed to help Muslims and Christians in areas of armed conflict learn to address fear, anger and hatred so that they are able to build mutually respectful and harmonious relationships with one another.

  20130906_09323820130910_090023 Phase I of the program focused on INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE and this consisted mostly of modules on Inner Work (or jihad’un nafs, as Muslims would call it) that encouraged them to look inside themselves to find the “enemy” within that hindered them from opening up to the “other” without fear. Muslim and Christian participants went through separate three-day workshops that encouraged them to reflect on the teachings and ideals of their respective faith traditions and how they were living their lives as true Muslims or true Christians based on those teachings. Activities for Self-Awareness and Transformation engaged head, heart, and hands to ensure that the experience was holistic and the process had a good balance of yin-yang forces. A presentation on the History of the Mindanao conflict (by Rev. Fr. Bert Layson, OMI) capped the experience of self-awakening as the participants became aware of the circumstances in the past that lead to perceived injustices today. This paved the way for Phase II of the program.

20130726_104620    Phase II  was a call to action. This challenged the participants to carry on with their action-reflection intra-faith learning process by creating SALAM and SHALOM INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE CIRCLES in their respective grassroots communities.  The Intra-Faith Dialogue Circles provided safe spaces for deepening of the participants’ understanding and appreciation of the teachings and ideals of Christianity and Islam on Love and Forgiveness.20130726_092727 The participants, together with family and friends of their own faith tradition, met twice a month in their respective Dialogue Circles to share reflections on how they have lived into their faith in their daily lives, what difficulties and challenges they faced in the process, and how they were able to or intended to overcome them. This Phase II program consisted of modules for eight (8) action-reflection sessions that spanned the period of four months.

    Phase III brought the Muslim and Christian participants together for the first time in a three-day workshop on INTERFAITH DIALOGUE FOR MUSLIM-CHRISTIAN RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING (held last January 30 to February 2, 2014). This third and last phase of the training included activity modules on Storytelling, Heart Listening, Moving From Darkness to Light, Creating a Web of Peace, Seeing Differences in Position and Disposition, Dialogue and Conflict Transformation,  Moral Imagination, and Creating Safe Spaces and Common Grounds for Relationship-building. This was a turning-point workshop that was to determine the success of our efforts at promoting LOVE and FORGIVENESS between the Muslims and Christians in the areas of armed conflict. And I was astonished by the results. I say astonished because I and members of my facilitating team, Orlan de Guzman and Analisa Ugay, were at first not sure how well the modules would work so that Love and Forgiveness could come about in their midst. But happily, it did. So upon reflection on the process, I am struck by the answers that came to me about how we human beings might turn from the darkness of fear and mistrust towards the light of Love and Forgiveness.

Candle in the dark    I believe that the turning-point exercise in the workshop that helped make the transition from fear and mistrust to love and forgiveness possible was that of Moving from Darkness to Light. Lying on the floor in darkness The module consisted of these three activities: 1) Creating a Safe Sanctuary within oneself, 2) Facing that which one fears, the “Enemy” out there and expressing negative feelings non-verbally through ones hands using clay dough, and 3) Using the Listening Stone in the practice of deep listening and hearing the response of the “Enemy” that is being expressed back non-verbally.

Freeing pain from the body

LIstening Stone
Confronting my demons

Shedding tears of contrition






    The turning-point is that moment when one is able to shift ones attention away from the raging noise of anger, resentment and hatred in one’s head, tune in to silence, and in that silence hear the sound of one’s pain echoing back to oneself from the heart of the “enemy.” It is that moment when one hears the cry, “It hurts!” and one realizes that this cry is coming from a human being other than oneself stumbling in the darkness of his/her human frailties. “Naawa ako sa kanya kasi tao rin pala sya,”  said one participant hearing this cry in his heart. I felt sorry for him because I realize that he is a human being too, he said.

Love letters   Muslim women healing each otherShaping love & forgiveness

Freeing the spirit in shibashi

Colorful stones

    His realization made me stop and reflect on what this means in the context of my interfaith relationship-building work. I realized that in conflict transformation and peacebuilding, FORGIVENESS is the turning-point that moves the person from darkness to light. It is an experience of “humanizing” rather than “demonizing” the one whom one considers the “enemy.” It is a choice to love where Love prevails over Fear; a choice to tune in to stillness where one is able to hear with the heart humbly and listen to the silences speak clearly of that which is in the heart of the “other.” In this listening silence, one finds oneself in oneness with the “other” in a sacred place that is deep within oneself yet is beyond and transcending all boundaries of fear.

Salam group & yin-yang    This realization affirms what I have come to believe about Fear and Love, that they are two opposing forces that cannot co-exist at the same time and in the same space. Fear contracts. Love expands. These two opposing forces give rise to two very different movements of soul that make the person think and act in very distinct ways. A relationship that is motivated by fear is very different from that which arises from love. One is rigid, stifling and confining. The other is spontaneous, expansive and liberating.

    So I figured that when one chooses to love, one is moving away from the darkness of fear, anger and hatred to be able to see the light of goodness in the “other” although this goodness may not be readily apparent. And when one forgives, one is seeing the light of goodness in the “other” because of the light of love within oneself that enables one to see the light in the “other” even in the midst of the engulfing darkness.

    This is what we at The Peacemakers’ Circle humbly hope to accomplish in our endeavors at building relationships of mutual respect, understanding and cooperation in the areas of armed conflict in Mindanao. We strive to help our ailing Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters illumine each other’s darkness with the light of Love and Forgiveness.  We saw this happening before our eyes, and are thrilled by the success of our concerted efforts. Yes, Love and Forgiveness is possible among people in conflict! And we would love to see the realization of this unfolding elsewhere in the country and in other areas of armed conflict around the world! INTRA-FAITH DIALOGUE FOR INTERFAITH UNDERSTANDING can be a powerful tool for bringing about healing and relationship-building among people of diverse cultures and beliefs everywhere.

    We are aware, however, that this is just a small beginning. For the success of this project to be sustainable, the journey of building relationships must continue on the ground. One year is not enough. With enough help and support, we look forward to accompanying the process of nurturing and strengthening the efforts of the members of the Intra-Faith Dialogue Circles in the grassroots communities in North Cotabato (Mindanao) where we have started, and to the creation of more Dialogue Circles elsewhere where they are needed.

    Meantime, we hope that this may be a helpful contribution to the successful implementation of the Peace Agreement between our Philippine government and the Bangsamoro people in the grassroots. And may this generate more light among those who are inspired to support this project to make its success sustainable and its impact far-reaching.

SALAM-SHALOM group photo