“Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh.”
I memorized the greeting as we entered the gated entrance of the urban settlement nestled right next to a bone-white mosque. A few meters away, a mounted bullhorn was blasting a prayer to the rest of the community.
It was 12 noon, a Friday, and by Muslim tradition, that day is extra special, extra holy. And a congregational prayer was in full swing.
A few meters away from us, a couple of children were playing on a bed just in front of sari-sari store, unmindful of the stench from an open sewer line right behind them. Young girls wearing hijabs, and older women covered from head to foot were slowly, gingerly emerging from a narrow alley, just big enough to accommodate a full-grown man. When we entered though, they looked at us with unabashed brazenness, first because we were strangers – I wore a scarf over my head, as did my fellow reporter – and second because our team carried tripods and cameras. They sensed we were the press. There was no alarm in their eyes though; just wariness and curiosity, loads and loads of it.
It was nearly 12:30 p.m. – that means that the Jumuah, or the early afternoon prayer, was about to end.
And end it did.
Soon the small area we occupied were swarming with people, mostly men who were slowly coming out of the mosque.
I searched for our contact, and found him. I was about to say that greeting but the words vanished.
I introduced myself and the team, and the cameras started rolling.
These people, I realized, merely needed a platform to tell their stories.
And how the stories started flowed.
REAL CHILDREN OF ALLAH
“A real Muslim is one who does Allah’s will. He does not lie, harm others, steal, or slander people.”
Abdul Gaffar Palagawad is the president of the Muslim Association of Bacolod City. He is tall, wiry, with a dark rich complexion which betrays his Maranao lineage. He speaks in a low voice, a soft voice, as he explains the basic tenets of the Islamic faith.
“Haram is anything not allowed – stealing your neighbor’s food, slandering them, committing adultery,” he says in Tagalog, the language he is most comfortable with.
Halal, on the other hand, is something that is pleasing to Allah, including doing His will and obeying the teachings of the Quoran.
A Muslim who cusses, steals, slanders, and sleeps with his neighbor’s wife is not a true Muslim, he firmly says.
Abdul Gaffar is one of the 3,000 Muslims residing in Bacolod City. Three thousand in a population of close to half a million. That is hardly 1 percent of the entire population.
A handful of those 3,000 are living in cramped conditions in village 31, one of the urban villages that is a five-minute ride from commercial centers and financial institutions in the city.
But, a pity that local government does not treat the Muslim community as a priority.
There are no policies, no legislative measure to protect the rights of the Muslims in the city.
“There is none,” Abdul Gaffar confirms to DNX Lifestyle, “the officials do not know our plight because none of them have come to check on us.”
But, he says, despite the apparent neglect, Muslims in the city have been generally peaceful and law-abiding.
“If anybody ostracizes us, or says hurtful things, we just leave it all to Allah,” he says.
HOME OF THE OLDEST MOSQUE IN THE REGION
Monib Cali is the caretaker of the mosque in village 31.
The mosque, he proudly says, is the oldest in the region, specifically in Visayas.
“This mosque has been serving Maranao Muslims since 1979,” he says.
The inside of the mosque is rather spare. It is painted mostly in white, and has a makeshift azan clock, or prayer clock that serves as guide for praying times of the Muslims.
The walls are bare; no pictures of deities, nothing.
The mosque also serves as temporary resting place for those who have undergone fasting during Ramadan, to make them regain their strength.
One of those young boys is Samsodee Dimasangcai, a 14-year-old fourth grader studying in Rizal Elementary School.
“I was not focused on my studies then,” he says when asked why the delay in his schooling, “but now, I am trying my best to make my life better.”
Children are mostly studying Arabic and English classes, the men are off to work, while the women stay at home.
This was confirmed by Monib. Muslims in the city are mostly engaged in small enterprises, like vending DVDs in sidewalks or, putting up a small grocery store within the community.
Others sell fruit just before entering the small cramped compound next to the mosque.
Despite the apparent neglect and stigma that the Muslims experience though, they keep on thriving, living, existing, making ends meet.
“We try our best to do Allah’s will,” Abdul Gaffar says, “even without outside help. Because a real Muslim does what Allah intends them to do.”