By Angel L. Tesorero
Dubai, UAE—Dubai resident Inshirah Taib, from Marawi City in southern Philippines, has two contrasting pictures of her hometown and favourite city: Once a centre of Islamic grandeur and tradition, Marawi has been razed to the ground after Daesh-inspired Maute group laid siege to the city exactly a year ago.
Marawi, the capital of Lanao del Sur province, is the religious centre of the Maranaos, a tight-knit indigenous Muslim community in Mindanao. With strong Muslim tradition it was renamed in 1980 as ‘Islamic City of Marawi,’ the only Islamic city in a predominantly Christian country.
“Marawi is the spiritual centre for the Maranaos, the most devout of major Muslim groups in the Philippines. Muslim moral values are part of the city code. Muslim women cover their heads, the sale of pork is forbidden and alcohol and gambling are banned,” Inshirah shares.
The city used to be full of life during the holy month. Every house had dazzling lights; women would bring out from the drawers their colorful ‘mukna’ which were used for Taraweeh prayers and the elders would stay at mosques, spending the entire holy month reading the Holy Quran,” she adds.
“But now the beauty of Marawi is gone. A year after the internecine conflict, many residents are still living in evacuation centres collectively called as ‘Tent City’. At ground zero, including our own place, the government has not yet allowed anyone to return – because of threats of unexploded bomb and ordnance. Buildings which are still precariously standing are likely to collapse after most structures suffered heavy bombings. And some residents now call our place as haunted city, because of the desolation brought by the futile war which claimed more than 1,100 lives and brought the displacement of more than 400,000 residents due to daily air strikes and intense ground combat which lasted for five months after the Maute group rampaged the city on May 23 last year,” Inshira shares.
Residents of Marawi and nearby villages had to put their lives on hold; farmers and breadwinners lost their means of livelihood. Children were forced to stop schooling. Up to now, bones and skeletons of those who were caught in the crossfire are still being unearthed from the rubbles. Worse, the faithful now have to spend Iftar and recite their prayers at the evacuation centres as bullets and bombs left gaping holes on mosques.
But this was not the Marawi that Inshirah grew up with. She shares: “At Banggolo, the heart of Marawi, where the plaza is located we had various programmes, including Islamic lectures during the month of Ramadan. There was also a contest for the most beautiful voice reading of Quran and residents would showcase their talents. Marawi used to be known as “the land of cars” because most families had cars and most of us drove, including girls or teenagers. Visiting of relatives and friends was common and highly encouraged. Once, I along with my brothers, slipped away with our father’s car just to visit friends from the nearby village.”
She continues: “Every night during Ramadan the town plaza was crowded with people enjoying all kinds of street foods and sweets. Eateries, numbering to more than a hundred, served “Palaw A Apang” (mountain of hotcakes) and different flavours of broasted or grilled chicken.”
“The well-to-do families sponsored Iftar for groups of people while the less-fortunate ones never felt hungry because Ramadan is a time of giving,” adds Inshirah, who has been a resident of Dubai for a decade and married to her kababayan (compatriot) Ahmad Jumar Taurac, and mother to one-year old Safiyyah.
“It hurts that the present generation will not experience the beauty of Marawi but its memory will never be erased in my mind. Ramadan is very much missed in my hometown but it is always in my prayers as I cry to Allah in supplication and lay prostrate on my prayer mat to revive the glory days of Marawi,” Inshirah concludes. #
(This article was originally published in The Khaleej Times)