I want to share with you an article I wrote on what it means to be a Filipino Muslim living as a minority in a Christian world. I hope it will give some insights on discrimination and the dialogue Muslims and Christians must have if we will find peace in this country.
– Adel Tamano
SUPERMAN IS MORO – PROBLEMS OF IDENTITY, ALIENATION,
Superman is a Moro. How do I know this? – He has too many similarities with the contemporary Moro that simple logic reveals his true identity and ethnicity. Let’s turn to the facts which confirm that, indeed, this icon of goodness, truth, and decency, the man of steel, is a Filipino Muslim.
Proof No. 1: He has a Moro name. This is the biggest give-away – Kal-El is the real name of Clark Kent, Superman’s mild-mannered alter ego. His given name is incredibly similar to common Filipino Muslim names like Khalil, or even Ysmael and Abdul. In fact, for this reason, for him to get a job in the Philippines, he would have to use a pseudonym. According to the latest Social Weather Station Survey, Filipinos prefer hiring people with Christian–sounding names rather than those whose names appear to be of Islamic etymology.
Without a doubt, within the context of the global war on terrorism, wherein the usual suspects are those of the Islamic faith, it becomes easy to rationalize the preference. It needn’t be rooted any longer in stereotypes of Moros as violent, aggressive, and vicious, the classic “juramentado”, but can be much more easily and socially acceptable on the basis of general security concerns.
While liberalism encourages and advances the renunciation of discrimination and stereotyping, new anxieties about terrorism and safety provide seemingly liberal-minded people a basis for discriminating against Muslims without the concomitant guilt. In fact, honestly, whom would you prefer to hire as your clerk, manager, driver, etc., Kal-El, or Clark?
Proof No. 2: He has to keep his real identity a secret. Imagine how difficult it must be for a person with the power to fly, smash through walls, bounce bullets off his chest, and x-ray vision to keeps these phenomenal abilities secret. Most people would want to shout it out to the world, publicize it, and, ultimately, capitalize on it. But Superman is different. And wise. He knows that in the increasingly globalized and homogenized world, being alien, different, and outside the norm is a surefire way to becoming ostracized and misunderstood. This is the reason why he dons his suit and tie. This is the supreme irony: it is his corporate attire and not the blue tights with the Superman logo and big red cape that is his real costume. The coat and tie conceals his authentic identity – as an alien and, ultimately, an outsider.
This is the same situation that the Moro faces; a case in point is the fact that many Filipino Muslims, when interacting with the Christian majority, have to adopt Christian names – Michael instead of Muhammad – as a way of side-stepping discrimination. This too is an aspect of an emerging Moro culture of keeping things hidden and undercover. The name itself is a costume, a camouflage, to conceal the reality of being Muslim and therefore different from the Catholic majority.
In fact, Moro women, particularly in Metro Manila, suffering daily the indignities of subtle discrimination, such as Taxi drivers refusing to accept as passengers veiled (hijab-wearing) Muslim women, are forced to forego using the hijab when taking public transportation, keeping their Muslim-ness incognito. For both Moro genders, the badges of being a Moro, which include the cultural traits of the Moro as Maranaw, Maguindanao, or Tausug, as well as the indivisible Islamic element that infuses the culture of these Muslim tribes, such as headscarves, Moro hats (kupya), beards, and prayer beads, are eschewed for modern clothing for easier acceptance.
Even prayer, the most fundamental of human actions, with man communing with his creator, has to be done clandestinely. It is not difficult to recall the recent furor that was raised over the request of Moro merchants in Greenhills to build a small prayer room so that they could perform salah (prayer). Some prominent members of Philippine society vehemently objected, using the media as their forum, to the establishment of the prayer room, at times using the most racially and ethnically discriminatory of arguments.
Proof No. 3: He is forced not to wear his ethnic costume. This is really a corollary to No. 2, but the use of clothing to emphasize and be express pride in one’s culture only makes sense in a world without prejudice, particularly when one belongs to a minority. In this world, wherein intolerance abounds, emphasizing cultural pride, particularly when it is Moro pride, produces real-world problems.
Interestingly, some Moro women, and their counterparts in the West, have taken to wearing the veil as an overt political statement, a re-affirmation of their Islamic faith in the face of discrimination. It is worn, literally, as a badge of fearlessness and courage knowing that an intolerant society will make them suffer, in ways subtle and otherwise, for their beliefs. The current increase in veil-wearing among Moros is paradoxical because originally the use of the hijab was a sign of old-fashionedness and modesty and not worldliness in terms of the knowledge of the political implications that using the veil engenders.
For those of a more activist bent, the use of the hijab is a banner screaming for an end to prejudice and intolerance against Muslims; for those who prefer convenience, then they go the route of not wearing their veils to avoid complications, even in small things like hailing taxi-cabs.
Regardless of what route is chosen by the Moro woman, whether to use or not to use the hijab, the undertone of forcing conformity is inescapable. The coercion not to express one’s ethnicity and a person’s deep conviction in Islam is a reality that is faced by Moros, both men and women, on a daily basis. Now imagine what stares, rude comments, and general disapproval Superman would get by his non-conformist attire, least of which is his big red cape. Imagine further the spectacle of Superman applying for a job, say as a reporter in news daily, in his red, blue, and yellow tights. Compare this with a Moro woman, proudly wearing her veil, applying as a clerk in a bank or government office. Our own inner sense will tell us that they will be treated similarly – with equal measures of disdain, discrimination, and prejudice.
Proof No. 4: He has strong views about what is right and wrong that constantly gets him into trouble. This is one of the powerful aspects of Islam – it provides its adherents with a simple and clear view of the world. A Muslim is tasked with knowing what is right and wrong and, in fact, all that is good in the world, and even those elements that man considers as evil, exist on the basis of
God’s will. This forms part of the Islamic conception of Tauhid, the essential oneness of existence. The Islamic injunction to enjoin what is good and forbid wrongdoing becomes problematic for Moros who must live in an unjust and intolerant society. Accordingly, striving for what is good and just will pit Moros against forces that desire and prefer the status quo. Superman too, in fighting for what he believed was good, had his Lex Luthor to contend with. In fact, there is never a shortage of villains for Superman to square off against, a reality that he bravely accepts as part of his responsibility. Kal-El needn’t have to put up with this situation because he could easily leave the Earth for another less violent and complicated planet. But he stays here and sticks to his beliefs.
Moros do that likewise. You find them in every metropolitan center in the country, usually with a small business, striving to survive within a system that discriminates against him not only socially but in terms of recourse to economic resources. Many in the Christian majority do not know the difficulties Moros face in looking for credit facilities.
Despite their hardships, the Moro maintains his faith no matter where you find him – in Manila, Baguio, Cagayan de Oro. He does this despite the routine harassment from the authorities, for some, especially those living in the poorer areas of the metropolis, the raids and tactical interrogations, which are all part of the global war against terrorism. How easy it would be for others to just renounce their faith and their culture in order to live a less stressful and challenging life. The Moro may, pursuant to Proof Nos. 2 and 3, change his name or clothing style but in his heart the Moro maintains his identity and his faith. Faith being something unseen and deeply personal in nature is a matter that should be easy to change, simple to dispose of for the sake of convenience. However, the Moro chooses otherwise and maintains his faith, identity, and culture. As the BangsaMoro will attest, almost half a millennia of struggle for independence by Muslims in the Southern Philippines, is strong evidence of the Moros tenacity for their faith and culture.
Proof No. 5: He never finds peace. Unfortunately, because of this struggle, the Moro, like Superman, never finds peace. For ever Lex Luthor that he defeats, another villain appears in a never ending cycle of conflict for the man of steel. For him, peace too is elusive, a dream that never seems attainable. For the Moro, one of the tragic non-variables of Philippine history is the fact of the conflict between the Muslims and Christians in the Southern Philippines. From the Spanish period through the American and into the 21st Century, our country never attains the peace that it deserves. In fact, it may be this never-ending conflict between Muslims and Christians in the Philippines that have embedded in Philippine mainstream culture the prejudice and intolerance against Moros. It is a sad self-perpetuating cycle – the intolerance against Moros breeds resentment in the Filipino Muslim against the Christian majority, which is the basis for some Moros to take up arms against the Philippine Government, which becomes the basis for the Christian majority to view Moros as violent, vicious, and unacceptable.
Moros have borne discrimination, marginalization, and intolerance in the Philippines for centuries with great measures of dignity and self-esteem. We remain proud of our being Muslim and being part of the BangsaMoro. Some brothers have taken the path of armed struggle, a matter that many Moros may have strong disagreement with but, at the same time, understand the roots and the motivation for fighting. That many Moros still strive to succeed – and in fact some do succeed – in an intolerant society is a great display of innate strength and resilience. Some would say that the armed struggle of the Moros, centuries long as it is, is also a sign of this inner power. Actually, we started this piece with a wrong premise; Superman is not a Moro; indeed, it is the Moro that is the Superman.