I write this piece with a heavy heart. If my readers will notice, the central theme of my articles is mostly to educate the uninitiated of the peculiarities of Muslim belief, culture and mores.
Through my pen, it is our wish that better understanding and peaceful coexistence among people of diverse cultures and sects will pave the way for mutual respect and, by and large, peace. They have always been conciliatory and never offensive. It is aimed to quash distrust and promote respect among people.
However, respect as an element of civility is a two-way street.
Mutuality must be observed, else, it will breed abuse.
I make this a priori statement because of an incident that happened at the Iligan City Hall.
Allow me first to say that the town is my second home.
I spent the most memorable days of my formative and growing up years in Iligan, a Christian-dominated city.
I got my early formal education there.
Family members considered themselves “Lumad” Iliganon.
In fact, the street where we grew up and where our modest house still stands is named after my deceased father Datu Lumampao Lanto, in recognition of his invaluable contribution for the peaceful and harmonious relationship between Muslims and Christian-Iliganons.
Any negative report therefore about my beloved city is my concern.
Recently, a post by a Muslim lady, Hdj Shajeea Macabato, on her Facebook account, datelined 18 February, stirred up a hornet’s nest, so to speak, among Moro netizens.
She blogged in a piece entitled “Racism, A demise of human morality,” her gripe against an employee of Iligan City Hall.
This went viral among Muslim netizens who expressed their indignation and anger by reposting it in chatrooms.
Briefly, culled from her narrative, she went to Iligan City Hall to apply for a residence certificate or cedula.
Upon inquiry, she was referred to the window of “Teller 4” manned by a female employee.
She did not expect any fuss about it, after all she claimed to be a longtime resident of the city and equipped with identification documents to prove her identity and residency like her “barangay ID card membership.” Instead, she was subjected to strict and intense questioning and humiliation by the employee.
She dutifully answered all the questions asked of her.
The rub, however, was when her picture was to be taken.
She was required to remove her hijab, locally called kombong, a Muslim women’s scarf covering her head, neck and breast.
She resisted, arguing that she is a Muslim, but the female employee “raised her voice” and said, “You take it off, if not, I will not take the picture.” She argued that when she applied for a national valid ID, like a passport, professional PRC ID, driver’s license, voter’s ID, etc., she was never asked to remove her hijab.
She said she wears hijab publicly because “it’s a part of me… and wraps up my identity.” She was adamant, but the better part of her made her relent to the demand of the female employee.
Initially, I couldn’t believe the narrative and entertained doubt about her identity.
I thought it was concocted by the political enemies of the incumbent mayor to destroy the image of his administration.
But my source confirmed that it was not a fake account nor the handiwork of a troll or bot, and that the incident really happened.
Recently, I wrote about the issue of Muslim women wearing hijab, a peculiar religious practice based on the Holy Koran and Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, PBUH.
The world is gaining headway in its long struggle to stamp out bigotry, prejudice and intolerance.
People of different faiths no longer give a second look to hijabis.
The incident in Iligan City is unfortunately a fly in the ointment.
In the Iligan I know, diversity of sect and culture has long ceased to be an issue.
This column appeals to the City Government of Iligan to have this incident investigated and, if warranted by evidence, to mete out the administrative penalty to the erring female employee.
This will send a strong signal to all and sundry about its commitment for respect and unity in diversity among residents.