I’m writing this post from Cagayan de Oro, a city in Northern Mindanao (in southern Philippines) known as “The City of Golden Friendship” and one of the Philippines’ most progressive and rapidly developing cities. It’s a tourist haven and is known for white-water rafting, eco-tours, warm people, and great food.
My trip here, however, is not for leisure so I won’t be able to show you any breathtaking photos of the Cagayan de Oro (known locally as CDO)’s sights and charming vistas. (Food is another story, though. More on that soon!) I’m here to know more about the city’s people and their issues, to contextualize all of this for a larger project on “reimagining” the Philippines. As you can well imagine (pun intended), the Philippines has A LOT of reimagining and re-tooling to do.
The highlight of my day came late at night, after a great discussion session with peers and new friends from different walks of CDO public life and after a great dinner with healthy fare. At a coffee session in what is known here as The Park, a number of us sat down to talk about, among many things, Islam. (Some of you may be well aware that Muslim-Christian relations are relevant in this part of the Philippines, so we were in the right place and had the right company for it.)
Now, some of you who know me well will know that I have developed a fascination for Islam–a “crush”, I called it. (Read: “Islam on My Mind”, my post in ProPinoy.net.) I also admitted this to the larger group during our earlier meeting, when I said that my fascination for Mindanao comes partly from my fascination with Islam, albeit in a shallow and superficial manner, the way a foreigner is always fascinated with the unknown. I’ve always been interested in stories about their culture, in the way their tolerance and their ideas (and their architecture!) have shaped Spain for 800 years, for example, and about how they are so misunderstood everywhere around the world, even among their own people. I balk whenever I hear the phrase “Muslim terrorist” because I believe that there can be “Christian terrorists”, too. I believe that if you tried to attach a particular religion to the word “terrorist”, you will find that practically every kind of religion and culture will have its own terrorists. To frequently attach the label to Muslims is grossly unfair and irresponsible.
Okay, I won’t be talking politics and religion here in this blog, but I simply brought that up because last night gave me one of my best conversations ever, although I was largely a listener than a participant. In the group sat two Muslim men of my generation who shed so much light on a lot of the Philippines’ issues and how these related to Islam, but the conversation itself showed me an example of what can happen when we throw our prejudices away, allow ourselves to sit together and really talk. It also showed how changes can take place in and around us when we take the time and energy to earnestly, actively listen.
Throw prejudices away. Talk. Listen.
Repeat after me: Throw prejudices away. Talk. Listen. (And I will add another: Respond appropriately.)
They seem to be so simple, yet for many of us they are very difficult to do.
Imagine what will happen in your life–in our world–if more of us started to do these more consciously.
To end, here’s a quote from the Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”