By Josemaria Claro
Farida, a Muslim store owner in Marawi City, had no choice but to let the terrorists that barged in her store last May 24 plunder her goods and products. But when the armed men turned their attention to her 13 male employees huddled in a corner of the store, Farida looked the men in the eyes and told them in Maranao, “You will have to kill me first before you even touch them.”
The terrorists, mostly in their teens, sensed the seriousness of Farida’s resolve and contented themselves with their loot. Farida knew she had to resort to such extreme measure to prevent any interaction between the gunmen and her employees who were mostly Christian migrants from nearby provinces. They have worked for almost a decade for Farida. Had the gunmen talked to them, it would be immediately found out that they were Christians and they would have been taken along with their families.
After the terrorists fled, Farida immediately ordered all her employees to hide in a relative’s house. She then contacted an uncle to facilitate the escape of her Christian employees by boat to cross the Maranao lake, and from there travel safely towards Iligan City. Farida’s story was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI), one of the nation’s most widely-read newspapers.
In their language, Maranao means people of the lake as the elevated city of Marawi is located along the shores of the majestic and placid Lake Lanao. The Maranaos are the largest of the thirteen ethnic Muslim groups in the Philippines with each group having its own culture, literary tradition, and language. They are known for their music, epics, and textiles. They are also famous for their trading skills which let Marawi City flourish as a business hub from the early 1900s.
As skilled tradespeople, the Maranaos are among the more affluent Muslim groups in the Philippines and Marawi City is one of the few places in the country where Christians from nearby provinces work for Muslim employers. Some Christians have decided to migrate to Marawi thanks to the good treatment of Muslim employers like Farida, who lets her workers live in their family compound.
Other stories like that of Farida’s were reported in various Philippine newspapers for the past days. There is also the story of Zaynab, a humanitarian worker who personally went along with 20 Christians in a 15-hour alternate route to avoid the gridlock of fleeing residents north of Marawi City. “I never minded the danger. I was prepared to die first before they (terrorists) could harm the Christians”, the PDI quotes Zaynab.
Another newspaper, The Philippine Star, recounts how a Muslim prosecutor sheltered 42 Christians in a tall building that he owns before facilitating their escape by batches. It also published a story about how seven Christians studying in Mindanao State University were trapped in their dormitories for days with three other Muslims. All throughout the ordeal, the Muslims assured their Christian schoolmates that should they be captured, they will never forsake them.
Marawi City Bishop Edwin dela Peña told international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need how a local Muslim official advised the family of his personal driver and their other Christian companions about what they should tell the terrorists in the event of a confrontation. He then personally led them to buses that would take them to safety in Iligan City. “I would consider him a hero for leading these group of Christians and Muslims together, trying to flee from the danger that was awaiting them,” Bishop dela Peña said.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA);www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)
By Josemaria Claro