By Raïssa Robles
I had known him for decades. As a journalist, I try to keep an emotional and social distance from my sources.
But somehow, through the years Jali became not just a source to me. From him I learned the gentleness of Muslims and their humanity. He was always open to all my questions about Islam and what was happening in Mindanao. And he was generous with his knowledge.
He also told me about Sabah. He kept a newspaper clipping in his wallet – which reported the 1939 judgment of Judge C.F.C. Macaskie naming the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu. He told me the history of Sabah from the viewpoint of a descendant of one of the claimants.
I don’t know how many times we met and talked for hours or how many times I phoned him for reactions.
He helped me understand the Muslim point of view. He told me how his father had refused to walk on the road built by the Philippine government because using it would be acknowledging Manila as a colonial master.
Ustadz came across as a man with integrity. He dreamt of a peaceful, just and prosperous future for Muslims in Mindanao. And he often spoke to me of his Egyptian wife and how she had to work for a living in the US for their family.
On the eve of the signing of the MOA-AD between the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Philippine government – a deal which Nur Misuari had harshly condemned, I phoned Jali for his reaction. He toed the MNLF line and condemned it too.
And then I asked him what he really felt about it in his heart. And Ustadz told me his heart was breaking because it was the MNLF that had the right to such a deal. But, he said, he also knew from having read the draft of the MOA-AD that it would redound to the benefit of all Muslims.
Ustadz studied in Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the same as the late MILF chair Hashim Salamat.
He was one of the few people who could disagree with Misuari and tell him so. He took his role as Misuari’s adviser seriously. When Jali seemed not to be in Misuari’s inner circle anymore, I felt that would spell trouble for Misuari.
Now the MNLF seems to be a sad shell of itself.
Jali kept going with his peace efforts. At one point, he said he had escaped through a window from a burning hotel in Cotabato. Unfortunately, he had hurt himself. Later, he told me he was getting old because he could no longer walk 10 kilometers without hurting. He could only walk about two kilometers.
And then the phone calls stopped.
I tried hard to find Ustadz.
I no longer knew his address in Zamboanga City. And he was no longer answering his mobile phone.
I will miss his wisdom. My condolence to his family.
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Janoose Jali found an article I had written about Ustadz for Asiaweek magazine.
The original can be viewed here.
Here is a copy below:
AUGUST 4, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 30 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK
A Peace Worth Keeping
The Muslim scholar who won’t be swayed
By RAISSA ESPINOSA-ROBLES Manila
They were in a Cotabato City hotel when the fire broke out, talking about how to make the new peace deal work. Outside their sixth-floor window, a plastic rope was dangling. Sharif Zain Jali grabbed it, but unbeknown to him another desperate man was also trying to shimmy to safety. Three seconds later, the rope broke.
Three years hence, Sharif is in Manila having the troublesome hip he dislocated in that fall examined. At 58, the religious adviser to Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao governor Nur Misuari lurches between hope and despair when it comes to the issue of peace for his homeland. Now the ARMM’s cabinet secretary, he played an important role in devising the 1996 treaty between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Philippine government that gave birth to the ARMM, and to a form of peace. And he refuses to let it go. “It will take maybe another generation [to implement the agreement],” Sharif says. “But my group does not want to see any more widows and orphans.”
Sharif’s clan arrived in the southern islands of Sulu eight generations ago. His ancestor, Sharif Alawi Balfakih, taught Islamic jurisprudence in the Grand Mosque in Mecca and has been identified by historians as a southern Philippines missionary who converted most of the population to Islam. Sharif’s great-grandfather, Innih Zain, was a religious adviser to the juramentados — those willing to martyr themselves in the fight against Spanish, American and native Christians. His grandfather refused to send his father and five other children to school, because all were run by Christians. He wouldn’t even walk on roads built by Christians. Sharif says “hundreds” of his clan were killed in the 1970s and ’80s. His sister died giving birth in the mountains during the height of the MNLF struggle. His brother was shot by a civilian militia, probably over a land dispute. After the 1996 peace deal, his nephew — who had just helped negotiate for Misuari the release of an Italian priest kidnapped by extremist group Abu Sayyaf — was also shot, suspected of being an Abu Sayyaf member. He had nine children. Sharif believes his nephew’s killers were members of the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force. “They raided my relatives,” he says. “They got 70,000 pesos, jewelry and motors [from boats].” Yet Sharif forgives his persecutors. “We do not want to retaliate,” he says. “It’s up to Allah to put his justice on those people.”
When his father sent him to a local madrasah (Islamic school), Sharif’s Egyptian teachers offered their most studious pupil a scholarship to Cairo’s famed Al-Azhar University, studying Islamic jurisprudence. Now, Sharif wears the robes of an ustaz (Islamic scholar). He has taught Arabic and an understanding of the Koran in many countries, including the U.S. His many students have included Japanese, Koreans and Americans. A moderate who adheres strictly to the Koran, Sharif advises Misuari only on religious aspects of political and state matters, not on personal spirituality. When Misuari was accused of being a Maoist by fellow Muslims and the military during a 1987 visit to Sulu by President Corazon Aquino, Sharif advised him: “You have to go to the mosque to pray.”
In Cairo, where Sharif met his Egyptian (and only) wife through a common acquaintance, he spent his free time inciting fellow Filipinos to fight the Marcos dictatorship. Because he knew the labyrinthine streets of Cairo, he also acted as chauffeur to Misuari and Hashim Salamat, who now leads the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Sharif respects the MILF drive for a separate state, but believes that MNLF-sponsored autonomy is still workable. “Misuari is trying to unite with the MILF because this is the clamor of the people,” he says. It is also the word of the Koran and the wish of the Organization of Islamic Conference. “But I can feel the Philippine government has a hidden agenda and does not encourage us to unite.”
Because of the “injustices, threats, intimidation” visited upon his people, Sharif observes that, internationally, the idea of a separate state as a solution for Mindanao is gaining ground. It pains him to see young Filipino Muslims being attracted to Abu Sayyaf, a loose collection of extremists who have resorted to murder and kidnappings to highlight their fight for independence. But Sharif doesn’t mince words about President Joseph Ejercito Estrada’s vow to crush the separatist movement. “I am a fan of Estrada movies. He can be my actor but, sincerely, he cannot be my president. He’s not conversant with the problem in Mindanao.”
When he returned to the Philippines, Sharif bought a wooden house in Zamboanga City, which he shares with his wife and two sons. “It’s now dilapidated,” he says ruefully. He was once offered an ambassadorship by a government official, but declined out of delicadeza (propriety). And, unlike some, Sharif has not profited financially from the peace agreement. He gets a modest salary as an ARMM cabinet secretary, but is preparing for the day when he might have to give that up. A small-business venture will suffice. Perhaps selling fresh fish.
It was as an ARMM representative that Sharif was billeted in the Imperial Hotel in Cotabato City in 1997. The owner provided discounts for MNLF officials, and a large group had been discussing the new peace agreement into the night. The cause of the fire that engulfed the hotel — killing 24 people, including three of the six men who had bunked with Sharif — was never established. Sharif, who spent three months in hospital, believes the fire was intentional and that the MNLF men were the target.
It did not weaken his resolve, although there are times when bitterness wells to the surface. “There’s no difference now between the time of Marcos and Joseph Estrada,” he says. “Martial law, democracy, just the same monster. We’re still being fooled.” His eldest son, a fresh graduate in mechanical engineering, has been unable to find a job. He tells his father: “If I have a future, show it to me now.”
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Last Tuesday, July 28, an International Conference on “Islam and Peace” took place in Dakar, Senegal.
It is the kind of conference where Ustadz Sharif Zain Jali would have felt right at home.
Hamadou Tidiane SY, an investigative journalist from Senegal, Africa whom I met at the recent Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, kindly sent me a notice of the conference.
Such conferences can help build peace.
Below is the press release:
International Conference on “Islam and Peace” convened in Dakar
500 delegates to attend, including top scholars from around the world
The event to discuss true image of Islam and building global peace
Dakar, 28 July, 2015 – Under the double patronage of his Majesty Mohamed VI, King of Morocco and Senegalese President Macky Sall, of Senegal, the two day international Conference on Islam and peace is to open on July 28 in the Senegalese capital.
About 500 delegates are expected to take part in this interfaith and multicultural dialogue.
The conference aims at promoting exchanges around the issue of peace in the world. It will look at enhancing the contributions of women and youth into a sustainable global peace. It also aims at identifying and defining the roles and responsibilities of communities in promoting a culture of peace and sharing good practices for community life.
The event is organized by the Medina Baye Peace Initiative, through the Senegalese branch of the Jamhiyatu Ansaarud -Din association (JAD), with the active support of the Senegalese government. His Excellency Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal and his Royal Highness, the King of Morocco are the official sponsors of the event. Mr Macky Sall will attend and chair the opening ceremony.
The participants invited in Dakar include scholars from different religions, academics and researchers, religious and spiritual leaders, policy makers and civil society activists, representatives of international organizations, peace activists from around the world, as well as technical and financial partners.
“This is a wonderful opportunity to restore the image of Islam which is totally different from the one portrayed by some of its so-called followers, or the one described by its fiercest critics “, said Sheikh Muhammad Ibrahim Khouraichi Niass, Chairman of the the Senegalese branch of the Jamhiyatu Ansaarud-Din. “Through reflection and dialogue between communities, we will demonstrate how Islam can contribute to the achievement of a sustainable global peace”, he added.
Various topics will be discussed during the conference, including solidarity and the role of Islam in the development of interfaith dialogue, or questions about extremism and terrorism, which are a threat to peace.
About the Jamhiyatu Ansaarud-Dîn
Originating from a community made of millions of individuals and represented in the five continents, the Jamhiyatu Ansaarud-Din was created in the mid 1940s by Cheikh al Islam El Hadj Ibrahima Niass, religious leader in Kaolack, Senegal. It was recognized on October 31st, 1960 under the registration number 1333 by the Senegalese government. It has always conveyed messages of unity, solidarity and peace, as issued by its founder. This vision is still promoted by his successors and all the members involved in the daily activities of the group.
For further information, please contact: Maty Diop: [email protected]
Tel. : +221 77 181 88 31.