Ramadan and Bataan during Lent and War



On the evening of April Fools’ Day, we turn solemn. The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims (about 10,000 in Bicol) begin to observe their month-long sacred holiday, Ramadan, until May 1 with fasting and deep contemplation. Interestingly, I discovered that Ramadan and Lent overlap in 2022, something that has not happened in almost 30 years due to the Lunar calendar. We from the Christian world began the Lenten season last March 2 to end after 40 days on April 14.


Meantime, April 9 is Bataan Day, primarily remembered by families of guerrilla fighters who fought the war against the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. It is also a special historic occasion for Naga City. Bicolano resistance fighters bravely battled for three days from April 9 to 12 to liberate the city from the enemy single-handedly before the American forces arrived. Sadly, these events are happening in the period of a global crisis caused by the Pandemic and now, the war in Ukraine.


Muslims and Ramadan in Bicol


Can Muslims and Christians live together harmoniously? A resounding yes, came the reply from Mike Mustapha, president of the Muslim organization, Maranao Guild Solidarity in Camarines Sur. From the war-ravaged Marawi City in the turbulent years of martial law, Mike brought his aspiration for peace and longing for the security of life away from Mindanao. Like most Muslims who left their homeland, he experienced a long, meandering life full of trials surrounded by diversity as a student, teacher, and office employee. From Iligan City to Quiapo, Manila, he searched for a life away from the homeland, even if temporarily, and found connection with a few relatives and friends who had earlier settled in Naga City. 


For centuries, a long history of disunity and hatred had marked the Muslim-Christian relationship. We were taught about the Moros, who were jeered at as “bandits,” “pirates,” and “savage” people who raided the shores of Bicol from1580-1792. When the Spaniards came to conquer, the conquistadores and the Christianized alta-de-sociedad ruled with such condescending culture of hate calling the Indios with derogatory connotations to mean servile, ignorant and lazy. But centuries forward, we hear many stories of Christians and Muslims living in harmony and solidarity together, working for change in their communities, as farmers, workers, women, urban poor, youth, and professionals in various fields. Belonging to the same social class, they struggle with life’s hardships, the same lingering problem on land, social justice, and poverty.


Mike says his experience is that most Muslims everywhere outside Mindanao easily integrate with the communities where they live with Christians together in mutual respect. He says there is a common problem and a shared dream. 


“I have excellent relations with Christians,” Mike assures me. “We usually talk about common goals and dreams of peace and development in our homeland. After all,” he says “both Islam and Christianity preach peace, love, and harmony. We agreed that finding convergence, cooperation, and solidarity areas should be the goal instead of conversion and distrust.” 


This year is the third when the period of Ramadan has been observed during the Pandemic. Then, Muslims would fast daily for 30 days only to eat before dawn. In the daytime, they skip food, liquid, and festivities. Instead, they perform the mandatory daily prayer five times including reciting verses from the Koran. Both Ramadan and Lent are observed in preparation for a big joyous event. For the Christians, it’s Easter Sunday or the Resurrection of Jesus; for the Muslims, Eid al-Fitr or the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast. 


Remembering Bataan and praying to stop wars


April 9 is about remembering the Bataan Death March during World War II. The official Philippine calendar is marked as Araw ng Kagitingan to pay tribute to the 76,000 starving and disease-ridden American and Filipino soldiers who marched to their death on a grueling 65-mile trek across Luzon following their surrender to the Japanese. 


Based on historical records, these brave soldiers started the deathly march in Mariveles, Bataan, onward north to San Fernando, Pampanga, and “were then taken by rail in cramped and unsanitary boxcars farther north to Capas, Tarlac.” The march lasted until April 17. By then, the prisoners were beaten, stabbed, shot, and, in some cases, beheaded, aside from a considerable number who died from disease and starvation. In addition, a large number of those who made it to the camp later died of starvation and disease. 


Did we know that the battle for the liberation of Naga, Camarines Sur, was also raging at this same time? The valiant Bicolano guerilla fighters engaged Japanese soldiers single-handedly from April 9 to April 12. Finally, the foreign invaders were repelled and forced to withdraw from the town and sought refuge in the hills of Mt. Isarog. When the Americans arrived, the Filipino insurgents had already won.


The horrors of the “Death March” and any other war are enough to remind us that war is never an option for peace and development in the world. The global phenomenon of war distorts all meaningful efforts for peace. Who stands to gain? Not the people. In one policy study, “only the military-industrial complex and weapons-ammo manufacturing industry of some superpowers benefit.” In times of war, “more people buy weapons, more money changes hands, which benefit the profit-hungry selling the weapons.” Stop the war, go for peace!