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by Alia Zaldarriaga

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A Muslim In Manila

I am simply a Muslim with the usual Filipino loyalties, pride and hopes. My wearing of the headscarf gives me a feeling of being proud in a sense that I can be identified as a Muslim in a non-Islamic place such as MetroManila. I am proud that I can show my fellow non-Muslim Filipinos that a Muslim is, like anybody else, also a decent and trustworthy person. And that Filipino Muslims do not necessarily have to come from the South. That Muslims do not have to originate from a tribalism that is so often mistaken for paganism and backwardness of times past.

Contrary to the common notion of many Christian Filipinos who tend to dismiss Islam as a tribal religion which is not relevant anymore in the present, Islam actually comes from the same teachings taught by all of God’s prophets from Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus up to Muhammad, may peace and blessings of God be upon them all. More efforts still need to be exerted to make people realize that Islam is a universal religion that everyone can benefit from in their daily lives today and in the future.

It is of course unfortunate that many Muslims themselves, when placed in the larger context of the Filipino society, seem to shy away from manifesting their own faith in their behavior and countenance, preferring to ‘blend in’ with the crowd by abandoning such things as the recommended Islamic dress code and even the performance of the daily five prayers. They get torn between wanting to religiously practice their Islamic faith, and being just like anybody else.

This conflict is internalize among us Muslims, as I have felt this many times over before, and it is probably this feeling that makes us Muslims seem unable to accept for us a positive role in the Filipino society. It is also a feeling that sadly is reciprocated by our non-Muslim countrymen with the worse attitude of indifference and ignorance about what Islam is all about.

I have however long overcome this internal conflict. I wear my headscarf and my modest long dress whenever I go out of the house simply because that is what I, as a Muslim, consider proper to do. The only conflict I struggle with about this matter these days is the usual conflict of anyone trying to choose among several colors, patterns or textures of their dresses from the wardrobe. I certainly feel not fully dressed up if I did not have my headscarf covering my hair.

My only wish is that my other sisters in Islam, especially those Filipino Muslims who have not even been introduced to the wearing of the headscarf, may eventually experience the contentment and peace that an Islamic code of dressing provides.

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