MANILA – Jaffari Abdulwahab, 24, faces a problem that many Metro Manila commuters are familiar with: he often gets refused by taxi drivers when he tries to get a ride.
But on top of that, he finds it hard to rent an apartment and book a hotel room because landlords and managers are spooked when they find out that he is a Muslim.
Since the Maute Group took over Jaf’s hometown, Marawi City, and engaged in war against government troops – now in its fifth month – he has experienced more acts of discrimination than ever.
“Diretso sa ‘yong sinasabi ng may-ari na, ‘Sorry, hindi kami tumatanggap ng mga Muslim’ (The owner will tell you straight up, ‘Sorry, we don’t accept Muslims’),” Jaf recalls. Taxi drivers in Iligan City, where many of the evacuation centers are located, are particularly hesitant to go to areas populated by Muslims.
He adds, “Hotels – may nakasabay din ako in which non-Muslim diretso siyang binook, nung ako na, so they were doing talagang intensive background checking. ‘Please give us your ID,’ ganun. Hindi lang isang ID but two IDs (As for hotels, I was once in a line together with a non-Muslim whom they immediately booked. When it was my turn, so they were doing really intensive background checking, saying, ‘Please give us your ID.’ And it wasn’t just one ID, but two).”
Such incidents compelled Jaf, together with five fellow Muslim, Maranao teachers from Marawi, to create the group Kalilintad. The term means “peace” in Maranao, and the group’s advocacy is to build understanding and peace between Muslims and Non-Muslims. Kalilintad’s first campaign revolves around the hashtag #TerrorismIsNotOurs.
“Hindi naman lahat ng Muslim ay extremists. Hindi naman lahat ng Muslim ay terorista (Not all Muslims are extremists. Not all Muslims are terrorists),” Jaf told reporters on Thursday during the first day of the Think Before You Share Digital Youth Summit in Taguig City.
Team Kalilintad is among the 70 youth leaders who are learning the best practices to make their advocacies succeed with the help of social media, thanks to mentorship from Facebook, education non-profit Mano Amiga Philippines, and digital influencers such as TV personality Bianca Gonzalez, Save Philippine Seas executive director Anna Oposa, and journalist Karen Davila.
“Ang after-effect po kasi sa amin ng siege is, aside from masakit na wala na ‘yung mga bahay namin, ang city is talagang wala na, halos burahin na sa mapa because of the bombing, sa airstrikes, na kagagawan ng mga extremist na nandoon, ang masakit is parang burden din ngayon ‘yung judgment ng environment o ng community kung saan kami nakituloy. Like merong discrimination, merong negative labeling like, ‘Ay, Muslim ‘yan, terorista ‘yan,’ o kaya, ‘Miyembro ‘yan ng isang ganitong grupo’,” Jaf explained.
[The after-effect of the siege on us is, aside from the pain caused by the loss of our homes, the devastation of our city, the wiping off of it from the map because of the bombing, the airstrikes, which the extremists there caused, what hurts is that another burden is the judgment of the environment or the community where we’re seeking shelter. Like, there’s discrimination, there’s negative labeling like, ‘Oh, you’re a Muslim, you’re a terrorist,’ Or, ‘You’re part of this group].
He continued, “Nangangailangan sana ng tulong ‘yung mga kapatid nating internally displaced but ang masama is that mas lalo silang kumbaga napapahirapan ng community o ng society dahil nga sila ay sinasabihan na mga terorista.”
[Our brothers and sisters who are internally displaced are seeking help, but what makes matters worse is the community or society they are in makes it more difficult for them because they are called terrorists].
It is Jaf’s mission to educate social media users about the importance of unity in diversity. He wants Netizens to stop stereotyping Muslims as bad people and bad citizens of the Philippines.
Through their social media campaign, he wants to send out this message: “Merong mga Muslim na maaayos, merong mga Muslim na mapapagkatiwalaan (There are Muslims who are decent, there are Muslims who are trustworthy).”
And he thinks Kalilintad can make an impact through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, since many Filipinos have accounts on these social media platforms, and the reach of a single message can be amplified through shares.
Aside from countering prejudice, the team plans to shine the spotlight on the developments in Marawi, and the hardships being faced by evacuees.
Although Jaf didn’t have to flee to a cramped evacuation center, as he and his family were able to go to his aunt’s house two hours away from Marawi, he saw the situation in these evacuation centers because he was a community coordinator for a time. Their main needs are still shelter, because their homes had been reduced to rubble; and food, water, and clothing.
He noted that people were getting sick in these evacuation centers, especially children. Special attention was also needed for the mothers and their newborns. Sanitation was also a problem.
Jaf also noted the emotional stress these people were under.
“‘Yung sakit, tapos hirap, ‘yung trauma, naghahalu-halo na, plus ‘yun pa, ang trato pa sa ‘yo nung kinabibilangan mo is hindi maganda, lalo’t hindi ka naman talaga ganun, it’s a burden (The pain, the hardship, the trauma, everything has gotten mixed up. Plus, there’s the way you are treated by the people around you, which is bad, especially since you aren’t really what they fear you are. It’s a burden),” he said.
Nevertheless, Jaf is still able to maintain a sunny outlook.
“Andiyan na ‘yan. Nangyari na. Tuloy ang buhay. Think positive, like everything really happened for a reason. So siguro way na rin ito ni Allah, ng God, na magbago, magkaroon ng mas magandang pamumuhay sa Marawi. Way na rin ng mga, siguro pag-unlad, or development ng Marawi.”
[It’s there. It happened already. Life goes on. Think positive, like everything really happened for a reason. So maybe this is Allah’s way, God’s way, to make a change, so that there will be a better way of life in Marawi. A way perhaps towards the development of Marawi].
Watch the News5 report below: