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Muslim clerics, scholars lead fight vs extremism in Basilan

Local eaders distribute slippers to residents of Lamitan City as part of a security thrust supported by local Islamic preachers and intended to foster unity among local sectarian groups. John Unson
COTABATO CITY, Philippines — Security officials are urging mayors in conflict-affected areas to emulate how Lamitan City has put Muslim clerics in the forefront of a domestic campaign against Islamic militancy.
 
Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez, Jr. of the Western Mindanao Command said on Saturday that the Lamitan City government has organized the Imams in mosques and missionaries in Madrasah schools into a solid bloc now helping prevent any infiltration into the local communities of jihadists.
 
“This is something we have to replicate in other areas. Moderate Muslim preachers are our best partners in preventing the spread of violent religious extremism in areas vulnerable to infiltration by extremists,” Galvez said.
 
Lamitan City Mayor Rose Furigay, chairperson of the inter-agency city peace and order council, told The STAR via mobile phone Saturday that there are 150 Islamic theologians now helping guard the local communities against radical preachers.
 
The Lamitan City local government unit provides the clerics with regular stipends and fuel rations for their daily mobilization, according to Furigay.
 
Lamitan City is the capital of Basilan, one of the five provinces of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
 
Besides Basilan, the ARMM also covers Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, both in mainland Mindanao, and the islands of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
 
“Our Muslim clerics are helping us keep the solidarity of Lamitan City’s Muslim and non-Muslim residents,” Furigay said.
 
The organized Muslim religious leaders in Lamitan City also have regular fellowship activities with non-Muslim local officials orhabized by the local government.
 
Galvez said what is fascinating with the program is the monitoring by the religious group of the kutbah (sermons) in mosques to prevent radicals from using the obligatory Jumaah, or Friday worship rites, as medium for spreading Islamic militancy.
 
Among those helping oversee the program is Ustadz Bayan Marudji, president of the Madaris Association of Lamitan City.
 
The association is comprised of Islamic schools in Lamitan City, which has 45 barangays with mixed Muslim and Christian residents.
 
Marudji is also regularly consulted by the city peace and order council on how to handle the issues and concerns besetting Lamitan City’s Yakan and Tausug residents, whose common religion is Islam.
 
Chief Superintendent Reuben Theodore Sindac, director of the Police Regional Office-ARMM, said on Saturday that the Lamitan City government’s involvement of local Muslim clerics in maintaining law and order in its 45 component barangays can disprove the oft-repeated assertions by outlawed extremists that Filipino Muslims are being neglected by Malacañang.
 
Violent religious extremists, or VREs, like the founders of the Maute terror group, the siblings Omar and Abdullah Maute, have stoked public animosity to the government using poverty and poor governance by neglectful local officials as talking points.
 
Sindac said Christian police officers in Lamitan City help secure mosques on Fridays.
 
He said they also guard worshipers during the annual celebration of two important Islamic religious holidays, the Eid’l Adha, or feast of sacrifice, and the Eid’l Fitr that marks the culmination of the month-long Ramadhan fasting season.
 
“That is enough proof that we serve all people in the autonomous region, the Muslims, the Christians and the Lumads equally. No discrimination and neglect at all,” Sindac said.
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