This centre represents a leap of hope in such a context as the Philippines which have been marked for more than 60 years by a conflict between Islamic groups and the government. While relations between the Philippine government and the official Muslim guerrilla groups, such as Moro National Liberation Front or Moro Islamic Liberation Front, though having experienced highs and lows, are nevertheless directed towards a lengthy peace process, relations with Abû Sayyâf are of an altogether different order. Since the 1990s Abû Sayyâf has engaged in an armed struggle against the government which has resulted in massacres, abductions and throat-cutting in the name of Allah, with the aim of separating the island of Mindanao from the rest of the Philippines and transforming it into an Islamic Republic.
In addition to the peace efforts by the government, the Catholic Church, protestant communities and the Muslim religious leaders are also involved in the peace process. In 1996 the Bishops and Ulama Forum was established with the aim of addressing each year themes that go beyond the exclusive issue of politics and negotiation between government and groups of Muslim rebels. Today the Forum is composed of Catholic Bishops, Protestants and Ulama who come in the main from Mindanao and as such clearly understand that for the peace process to succeed the political issues need to be resolved as well as the question of the identity of the Muslim religious and tribal minorities within the wider context of the Philippine Republic state.
This will require a political dialogue of a more cultural and inter-religious nature between Christians, Muslims and Lumad (the indigenous population present in Mindanao). One aspect that this conference will pursue in respect to dialogue is the experience of the movement Silsilah, a community of Muslims and Christians which since the 1980s has promoted an education towards a living dialogue between the two religious communities, through approaching the path of life as a dialogue with God, with oneself and with “the other”, and with society and creation. According to Silsilah to enter into a sincere dialogue, one that is attentive to the problems people are experiencing and is united with their needs, it is necessary to enter into a dialogue with reality: God desires a dialogue with us in order that we might open ourselves to a dialogue with Him.
This point marks the spiritual transformation of the individual, in the daily re-discovery of his own identity as a person loved by God, capable of loving even those who live a religious experience which is different from his. The movement Silsilah believes that this is the only way society can change and take steps towards peace. In addition to the experience of Silsilah there are numerous other experiences of dialogue in Mindanao: Duyog Ramadhan, who emphasises the need to have a knowledge of moderate Islam; the “peace week”, where Muslims and Christians together promote reconciliation through the arts and cultural events; Peace Advocates of Zamboanga, a group of Christians, who with fellow Muslims concentrate on the area of human rights and respect for minorities.
These realities and others, especially present in the university environment, promote concrete gestures of peace and reconciliation between the peoples of Mindanao. Small gestures of peace in a sea of violence, as signs of that hope which is part of the meaning of the island: Mindanao, “island of hope”.