Unfolding the layers of my Spirituality

In my more than thirty years of existence on this planet, I have traveled to different continents and one of my favorite places that I visited is the province of Tawi Tawi. My team in my office in Ateneo de Davao was fortunate to accompany me for a project coordination with different sectors and institutions in the municipality of Bonggao.  Unknowingly, the entire trip became spiritual experience for me.

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Blue seas

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Almost near Tawi Tawi

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White Beach Front…

We were supposed to take the plane from Zamboanga to Tawi Tawi. But our flight was cancelled, thus, we took MV Trishia Kerstin II. The travel time took us more than 19 hours. We were scheduled to depart at 12:00 pm, but we got on board the ship at 4:00 pm.

The ship’s crew advised us that the ETD was at 7:00 pm. But we left Zamboanga at past 9:00 pm. Unfortunately, due to a steering problem of the ship, we went back to Zamboanga. We finally depart at 3:00 am the following day.

We arrived at Bonggao at past 8:00 pm. It was my first time to visit the place. We went straight to Beachside Inn. Our accommodation was pre-arranged by my staff.

In the morning, we had our breakfast at the Bonggao market. After our breakfast, we went back to Beachside to prepare our coordination work. We finished early doing our job because the people at Bonggao were very friendly. The next 36 hours at Tawi Tawi were spent exploring the islands.

Imagine, seeing different colors of the sea: turquoise, green, sky blue, dark blue and sometimes light brown. All the beach fronts were white sand. The people were friendly. There was lots of seafood: crabs, curacha, sea mantis, white squid, and grouper fish. Our host served all those sea creatures that I mentioned. Some were fried, steamed, and adobo style. If you love seafood, you will definitely find Tawi Tawi as an island of paradise.

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After eating all the halal seafood we could ever imagine, it was a time for us to do some island hopping.

The first island that we visited was the municipality of Simunol. It took us less than an hour boat ride from Bonggao. In this island, you may find the oldest mosque that was built by an arab missionary, Shariff Makdum. According to our history, the mosque was built in 1380. It was also the marking of the start of the Islamic faith in Mindanao.  Inside the mosque, you can still see the strong pillars that are made of Ipil.

After walking around and taking some pictures, I performed an ablution and went inside to pray one sunnah and dhuhur.  While inside, I noticed that the floor was made of white tiles. Interesting to note that when I prostrated, the floor had soothing smell that reminded me of my pilgrimage to Mecca few years back when I prayed inside the Masjid Al Haram near the Ka’aba.

Outside the mosque is a Muslim cemetery. Shariff Makdum was  believe to be buried within the premises near the mosque.

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As I sat inside the mosque, I asked myself. What happened to Islam? What happened to the Muslims of Mindanao? What happened to the Islam that were practiced by our forefathers? Why is it that Islam nowadays is linked to Al Qaeda? Muslims are labeled as terrorists? And the Islam that our forefathers practiced are threatened by the “new” Islam being spread by the Arabs in the Middle East. As I reflect on these matters, my thoughts turned to our beloved prophet Muhammad (SAW).

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was a very pious man. He was a man of peace, a man of compassion, a man with honor and trustworthiness. A man who died leaving only two possessions in life, a shield and a mattress made of dried leaves.

He was instrumental in the rise of Islamic civilization. A civilization that values knowledge, science, mathematics, astronomy, algebra, and a way of life called Islam, a way of life that adheres to peace and active non violence.

One of the basic hadith of the prophet was to seek knowledge. But how come most of us do not value the true essence of education and having knowledge of the different fields of arts and social sciences?

While sitting inside this oldest mosque in the country, I remembered a verse in the Holy Quran that made mentioned about Tafakkur. This word in arabic means “to reflect, meditate, think over, contemplate, and consider”. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran 17 times.

In Surah A-Rum verse 8, it says: Do they not contemplate within themselves? Allah has not created the heavens and the earth and what is between them  except in truth and for a specified term. And indeed, many of the people, in [the matter of] the meeting with their Lord, are disbelievers. (Sahih International)

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The tomb of Sharif Makdum just outside the mosque.

When we left Tawi Tawi, I begun to reflect even more further.  Slowly as I ask more questions inside my head, I also uncover layers of my spirituality.

I know someday death will come his way to me. But I also remembered a friend that once said:

“Remembering death more frequently has helped me live a better, more-fulfilled life. It enables me to keep my struggles, triumphs and challenges in perspective.  I remember to treasure loved ones, and treat others kindly and respectfully at all times. I’m less likely to hold a grudge for long, and more likely to apologize quickly if I feel I’ve said a cruel word. Amassing wealth, hoarding possessions, worrying excessively about the future become unreasonable waste of time, while praying, giving charity, spending time with family and friends, and striving always to say kind words and do good deeds take the focus of my energy.”

My friend was right. I guess the same thing happens when we tend to globalized Islam and make it an ideology and political stand. Our vision of Allah (SWT) becomes different. We then forget that this world is just temporary and the Day of Judgment will eventually come. Allah (SWT) is the Master of the Day of Judgment. If He can create the beautiful wonders of the world, then He has the power to protect it and help us face our everyday challenges.

(All photos were taken by Vinci Bueza of Ateneo de Davao University.)

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