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Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - Opinion -

AL QALAM In­sti­tute was founded last 2011 by Ate­neo de Davao Univer­sity. This is an in­sti­tute for Is­lamic iden­ti­ties and di­a­logue that en­vi­sions to have un­der­stand­ing of Is­lam, the Mus­lims, and peo­ples of Min­danao that are cul­tur­ally linked to South­east Asian com­mu­ni­ties.

With this goal in mind, un­for­tu­nately, there are some peo­ple who do not like what we do in Al Qalam In­sti­tute. They do not like the way we teach our Mus­lim youth to­day to be crit­i­cal minded and have a process of dis­cern­ment on cer­tain is­sues they en­counter in their com­mu­ni­ties. They do not like to hear us say­ing that there can be many “truths” in this uni­verse when we speak about God, re­li­gion, and hu­mankind’s way of life.

In Al Qalam, we have the monthly ac­tiv­ity called Bi­tiala (con­ver­sa­tions) within the univer­sity and some­times with our part­ner com­mu­ni­ties to dis­cuss about any im­por­tant is­sues that our Ummah (Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties) face in the cur­rent con­text. The Bi­tiala is sim­i­lar to what we call to­day as “safe space”.

To de­scribe what “safe space” is, I would like to quote an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by Katherin Ho en­ti­tled, “Tack­ling the Term: What is a safe space?”, pub­lished on­line by Har­vard Po­lit­i­cal Re­view last Jan­uary 30, 2017. The ar­ti­cle dis­cussed that there are two types of “safe space”. Safe space ac­cord­ing to Ms. Ho can be de­scribed as emo­tional space and aca­demic safety.

Ac­cord­ing to her, “Emo­tional safe spa­ces of­fer com­fort and re­spect­ful­ness; aca­demic safety refers to the free­dom to make others un­com­fort­able through in­tel­lec­tual de­bate. When used cor­rectly, emo­tional and aca­demic safe spa­ces are both ben­e­fi­cial for stu­dents.” I agree with her def­i­ni­tion but this is eas­ier said than done. She also rec­og­nizes that a ten­sion ex­ists be­tween emo­tional space and aca­demic safety.

She ar­gues, “If the goal of an aca­demic set­ting is to keep peo­ple com­fort­able, then the ac­cept­abil­ity of speech will be de­ter­mined by how ob­jec­tion­able it is. And if ar­gu­ments are limited based on how of­fen­sive they seem, peo­ple are ex­pected to ad­here to an im­plicit set of po­lite ide­o­log­i­cal norms. Speech is al­lowed so long it doesn’t ap­pear to con­flict with the so­cially ac­cepted opin­ions on cer­tain touchy top­ics. In this way, new safe spa­ces be­come less about re­spect­ing and em­pow­er­ing in­di­vid­u­als than sanc­ti­fy­ing cer­tain ideas. Provoca­tive speech is cen­sored, which has per­ni­cious ef­fects on the aca­demic tra­di­tion.” Terms like re­spect, em­power, ideas, and speech are key in hav­ing a safe space dis­cus­sions.

We in Al Qalam, we try to ques­tion the “sta­tus quo” in the name of jus­tice and com­mon good. We fol­low the prin­ci­ple that “truth emerges not only through di­a­logue but also from rec­og­niz­ing our dif­fer­ences and our di­verse opin­ions.”

In one Bi­tiala we had last year within Al Qalam, we dis­cussed the is­sue about “Mus­lims greet­ing their Chris­tian friends, “Merry Christ­mas”. Is it al­lowed in Is­lam: Yes or No?” There were many op­pos­ing ideas that came out dur­ing the dis­cus­sion. We learned that some ulama would ar­gue that we can­not say “Merry Christ­mas” be­cause it is like we are cel­e­brat­ing the birth of Je­sus Christ and rec­og­niz­ing him as a “Son of God”. There were also some par­tic­i­pants who said that two decades ago, this is­sue in not a prob­lem be­cause we live in a Chris­tian dom­i­nated coun­try. Hence, we can greet our Chris­tian friends as a ges­ture of re­spect, but we do not cel­e­brate it the same way they do.

Un­for­tu­nately, in our con­text, most of our com­mu­ni­ties be­lieve in that there is “only one truth”. They be­lieve that their way is the “only way”. Hav­ing this line of thought have caused vi­o­lent con­flict in our com­mu­ni­ties. We should re­al­ized by now that we should find a space where we can com­pro­mise, not our own faith, but our way of build­ing re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple that are dif­fer­ent from us.

In my work in Al Qalam, I learned that when we lis­ten with our heart, we can co-ex­ists with other peo­ple who have dif­fer­ent re­li­gion or po­lit­i­cal views from us. I learned that it is not life threat­en­ing to lis­ten to other views, it ac­tu­ally makes us more hu­man to learn our com­mon­al­i­ties and find our hu­man­ity amidst our di­ver­sity. For this 2018, may we have more.

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