Opinion

"You Don't Look Like a Muslim"

At some point, naivete crosses over into bigotry.
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There are preconceived notions about Muslims in the Philippines, some of them are insulting in a racist kind of way—as in the way Ramon Tulfo demonizes Meranaws, or Winnie Monsod makes sweeping generalizations about people with Chinese ancestry. These notions are bigoted, plain and simple.

Let’s start with looks. A Meranaw friend of mine was applying for a job in Quezon City when a fellow interviewee asked him: "Oy Muslim ka? You don’t look like a Muslim." My friend didn’t know what to say because he didn’t know if that was actually a serious question.

Come to think of it, what does a Muslim “look” like anyway? Our faith is not a genetic thing, although we do practice Islam within our families and communities. We also accept converts to Islam who do not come from Muslim families. There is no “typical” Muslim look to any of us.

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Next: How we sound. “Muslim ka, bakit wala kang tono? (you’re Muslim? Why don’t you have the intonation?)” We have an intonation? Some of us have accents from our use of Arabic, and of our native languages, like Meranaw or Tausug. Other than that, there is no single Muslim “tone.”

There is also that idea that we cannot speak Tagalog or Filipino. We can. We go to school under the same curriculum in which Filipino is taught. We can speak that language, too. Plus read and write in it.

Come to think of it, what does a Muslim “look” like anyway? Our faith is not a genetic thing, although we do practice Islam within our families and communities.

Then there’s that idea that pirated DVD vendors must be Muslim. Er, there are non-Muslims who sell those bootleg videos, too. Why single the Muslims out?

Then there is my favorite one, that query where people ask, because I am Muslim, if I will marry four wives. You don’t get a free pass to take four wives: First, your other wife (or wives) must agree to adding another wife (or more) to the household. Next, you must be able to support all of your wives and treat them all equally. It isn’t as carefree as you may think. Then that begs the question of whether I even want to have four wives, or whether I can afford to care for and support that many wives.

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There are the people who want to learn how to “speak Muslim.” They probably mean Arabic, the language we speak and read in order to pray and read the Quran. Or our native tongues, Tausug or Meranaw. I do wish they’d be a bit more specific so I can respond correctly to their request. Islam is a religion, not a language.

As for food, Moros don’t eat Mediterranean cuisine. Believe it or not, we aren’t sawang-sawa with the food of the Mediterranean or the Middle East. Dishes from those parts of the world are as exotic to us as they are to you. We have dishes that are part of our culture as Moros in the Philippines: tiyulah itum, piyanggang, palapa, and other dishes that are cooked with ingredients taken from the places we call home in Mindanao, sweet Mindanao.

Another friend who is studying law told me he had to call a classmate out in the middle of their study time when she read that the people involved in the case they were studying were Muslims. She'd said: “Pangalan pa lang kriminal na.” (So, if a rapist is Christian, does that make ALL Christians rapists?)

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These are naive remarks and ideas, especially when you’re in Metro Manila. Many of these remarks are discriminatory in a bad way. All of them are ignorant. 

These are naive remarks and ideas, especially when you’re in Metro Manila. Many of these remarks are discriminatory in a bad way. All of them are ignorant. 

As much as we may want to forget about these notions, they are not small things. It is from these small things that bigger issues of religious discrimination against Moros grow: We have difficulty renting or buying condominium units or houses and property where we can establish businesses in some parts of the Philippines—even in Mindanao.

You know you are Muslim when you face this kind of discrimination simply because you are Muslim. You know you are Muslim when you need to set the record straight about being Muslim because, well, the people making the above-mentioned remarks have it all wrong.

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You also know you are Muslim when you find yourself praying that Allah will let you see the day when these preconceived notions about being Moro no longer exist.

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About The Author
Amir Mawallil
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Amir Mawallil is a Tausug writer based in Cotabato City. He is the founding chairperson of the Young Moro Professionals Network in western Mindanao.
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