From Fri Dec 26 19:45:08 2003
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From: John MacDougall <>
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Date: Fri, 26 Dec 2003 19:00:26 -0500
Subject: [indonesian-studies] Wahhabi Extremism Gaining a Hold in Mindanao

Wahhabi extremism gaining a hold in Mindanao

The Straits Times 27 December 2003

COTABATO CITY (Philippines)—After 15 years, Mr Amir Baraguir has taken up smoking again.

He does not particularly enjoy it, but he likes the message of defiance it sends to Muslim clerics on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, who are trying to instil a much stricter version of Islam than he and many others are used to.

Mr Baraguir's small protest is a sign of how the rise of a more radical doctrine is dividing the country's Muslim homeland and tapping into deep discontent caused by poverty and decades of war between separatist rebels and government troops. Our unique culture is under serious threat, said Mr Baraguir, whose family belonged to a centuries-old sultanate system in the central Mindanao region of the mostly Roman Catholic country.

We might wake up one day and find that the rigid foreign-influenced Islamic beliefs have replaced our own distinct cultural identity.

We have to fight back and raise the local consciousness on the perils of a borrowed culture.

His ancestors were among the first Arab missionaries who introduced Islam to the Philippines in the 15th century.

But the times started changing in the late 1970s with the introduction of rigid Wahhabi teachings brought to the southern Philippines by religious leaders trained in the Middle East.

The newer ways have little room for the brand of Islam practised by most of the nation's eight million to 10 million Muslims, or traditions such as the pandita, the dwindling number of elderly village men who conduct cradle-to-grave rituals.

The younger generation of Muslim scholars and preachers, or ustaz and ulama, is fast embracing the imported practices, especially after being given scholarships to Egypt, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Their numbers are growing rapidly, Mr Baraguir said.

They have the facilities and the money to recruit more missionaries and scholars, send them to the Middle East for schooling and bring them back to influence more people to embrace their faith.

He said the Wahhabi influence could be seen in the daily lives of many Filipino Muslims, who were being urged to give up habits such as smoking and drinking beer, and were growing beards and attending Islamic schools.

Islam in the Philippines is predominantly from the Shafi'ite Sunni school with an influence of Sufism, a more mystical branch of the religion practiced widely in South-east Asia, where close to 300 million Muslims live.

Mr Zamzamin Ampatuan, executive director of the government's Office of Muslim Affairs, said the rise of stricter Sunni Islam from Arab countries dated back to 1979, when Iranian Shi'ite students seized the US Embassy in Teheran.

Mr Ampatuan said the Sunnis mounted an unprecedented Islamic revival campaign by recruiting, training and sending missionaries, and even helping the Afghans drive out the Soviet forces.

Poverty was another factor behind the increase of Wahhabi influence, he said.

Thousands of Filipino contract workers who have gone to the Middle East since the 1970s have returned as converts, many showing more dedication than those born as Muslims at home.

They build rural clinics, mosques and Islamic schools, and influence the community to embrace their brand of Islam.

Mr Ampatuan said there were now at least 3,000 Islamic schools in Mindanao, and some government officials believe they could be becoming the recruitment ground for militants.

But Mr Izaldin Macamimis, a senior accountancy student at the Catholic-run Notre Dame University, denied that the schools were moulding radicals.

It's only black propaganda to destroy Islam, he said.

He said he had spent eight years at an Islamic school,but we were never taught to become guerillas or terrorists.

Mr Baraguir and several others in Cotabato City have taken up the cause of trying to check the inroads of Middle East-inspired Islamic beliefs.

Five years ago, they began broadcasting a radio programme criticising foreign-trained religious leaders seeking to impose practices akin to those of the Taleban in Afghanistan.

Three years ago, a bomb exploded outside the radio station where the group was airing its one-hour daily show.

We are undaunted by these threats, Mr Baraguir said as he opened another pack of cigarettes. This is our culture, our tradition. We will defend it with our lives.