A verse in the Koran that says “with every difficulty, there is relief” keeps Salimah Ditucalan hopeful amid the difficulties she faces every day.
For the first time in her life, the 28-year-old woman observed the “Feast of the Sacrifice,” or Eid al-Adha away from her family in the southern Philippine city of Marawi.
Eid al-Adha, the second of two Islamic holidays celebrated worldwide each year, honors the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his son Ismael as an act of obedience to God’s command.
Salimah left Marawi in 2019 to work as a community organizer in the central Philippines for a local humanitarian organization.
“Leaving my family in the middle of a crisis was never part of the plan, but it was the only way I can help provide for them,” she told LiCAS.news in a phone interview.
The ordeal began on May 23, 2017, when a local Islamist militant group tried to occupy Marawi, resulting in the mass exodus of about 500,000 people who fled the conflict.
Salimah and her family found themselves squeezing for space in a crowded evacuation camp in a nearby town with nothing but the things they could carry.
“We lost everything,” said Salimah whose house was located in the most affected area of the city during what would be a five-month-long battle.
She could not bear seeing the difficulties her parents face to send her siblings to school during diaspora.
“I asked them to allow me to leave the province. I think they had no choice but to grant permission because of our situation,” said Salimah.
Her family is among the 153 displaced families now living in a transitory shelter in Bakwit (evacuees) Village 2 in the town of Saguiaran.
“Their condition in the village is not decent,” said Salimah. “There is only one faucet for tap water in the entire village of at least 700 people.”
“I have been convincing my parents to just leave the place and settle elsewhere, but they told me that our family would never give up our right to our land in Marawi,” she said.
Her family is one of the many Maranao families who continue to wait to be allowed to return and rebuild their shattered homes inside the city’s most affected area.
At least 126,775 individuals from the 24 most-affected villages have not yet returned home and are still in displacement since 2017.
Drieza Lininding, chairman of the Moro Consensus Group, said internally displaced person “are facing bigger and bigger problems every day.”
“Now they are facing a deadlier problem in COVID-19, which adds to the already painful situation of the displaced people of Marawi,” he said.
Lininding told LiCAS.news that they’ve been calling for the national government to allow them to go back to their lands “but they keep on denying us.”
“We do not understand why the government keeps on delaying the promised rehabilitation of Marawi City,” he said.
“The government is also running out of excuses why the rightful owners of Marawi City are not being allowed to rebuild their houses and lives,” he said.
Lininding called on the central government to implement the “immediate and dignified safe return” of the thousands of displaced people of the city.
“Apart from the fact that it is not just our right to return to our normal lives and go back to our lands, it is also the government’s responsibility to ensure the welfare of the people,” he said.
A ‘most painful’ Eid al-Adha
On July 31, as the Muslim world marked Eid al-Adha, Ustadz Alpatta Utto recalled the story of how Ibrahim willingly obeyed God and agreed to sacrifice his son, Ismael.
The religious leader said before Ibrahim could pierce a hole on his son’s body, “God stopped him and told him to instead sacrifice a lamb.”
To commemorate the event, Muslims perform the ritual of sacrificing an animal during the feast. The meat of the sacrificed animal is then divided into three.
“One part is given to poor members of the community, the other part is for the family, and the last part is for relatives,” said Ustadz Utto.
The feast also marks the end of the Haj or the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca.
Ustadz Utto, who lives in a transitory shelter in Saguiran town, this year’s observance of Eid al-Adha “is the most painful,” adding that the new coronavirus pandemic worsened “the already limited way of our celebration.”
“For the past several years since the [Marawi conflict], our community could not afford to buy an animal to sacrifice,” he said. “Now, we can’t even buy food for the feast.”
The ustadz said that for many years his community sacrificed animals and shared them to the poor and the needy.
“But now, we are the ones who are waiting for the one-third of the sacrificed animal because we are now the poor and the needy,” he told LiCAS.news.
The religious leader urged the government “to look into our situation.”
Sociologist Maylanie Sani-Boloto said the observance of Eid al-Adha “teaches us how to sacrifice for the sake of Allah.”
“These trials, both the Marawi siege and COVID-19 pandemic, make us realize our purpose as Muslims,” she said.
Boloto said the harsh conditions that the people of Marawi are into “sharpen our spiritual and intellectual capacity to understand our purpose.”
“Things may look bleak because we are deprived of mostly material needs and wants but the [observance] taught us to see the silver lining that can only be achieved when Allah allows us to elevate our faith,” she said.
For Salimah, the observance of Eid al-Adha is a reminder “that no suffering is permanent.”
She said she always believes that “every dark moment comes with lessons that we could use to better our lives.”