Mobility and interaction are among the key social characteristics of our world today. Diverse environments have become the new normal. Rapidly advancing technologies have enhanced our capability to go beyond the borders of our country and expanded our horizons to relating with people from different nations, cultures, religions and lifestyles. Maintaining peace and order has become a major concern as the mindsets of peoples are not easily adapted to the increasingly global social environment, thus the need to promote tolerance.
Just recently, news about terrorism has taken over our prime time . The spate of killings by what was believed to be due to the rise of radical extremism proliferated by an Islam fundamentalist militant group called the Islamic State or ISIS, through its extensive and effective use of propaganda.
Despite public criticism and rejection even by fellow Muslim religious groups and societies in the world, ISIS continues to wage its religious war. Because of this, Muslims around the world are generalized and are unfairly being associated to terrorism making them subject to harassment and discrimination especially in places where they are a cultural minority.
In the US for example, a presidential candidate has pledged to ban Muslims from entering the country in the aftermaths of San Bernardino and Orlando shooting incidents, justifying that America has consistently been “under attack from people who believe only in Jihad”. In Europe especially in Britain, there was a “wave of discrimination” a day after their people have voted for the separation of Britain from the European Union spurred by public anger over terrorism and loose immigration policies as among their major issues.
Against this global backdrop, Indonesian and Filipino students are taking steps to promote intercultural understanding and tolerance. An interfaith exchange was hosted by La Consolacion College Bacolod on August 2, 2016. Although Islam is also one of the major religions in the Philippines, there is little understanding of their culture especially in Bacolod City where their population is very small.
In one very rare occasion at LCC, the visiting Muslim students from Sekolah Dasar Alam Anak Sholeh (SDAAS) participated in a Catholic mass as a gesture of openness and respect as they begin their cultural exchange program. The visiting students were accommodated by a class of Senior High School students who likewise gave them the opportunity to share something about their faith and culture. The Indonesians led a Muslim prayer and sung a few songs from Koran.
David Meier, a German volunteer of AFS Intercultural Programs Philippines and one of the facilitators of the cultural exchange visit, gave his account on the activity. He said that the activity was an opportunity for him to have a glimpse at two different Asian faiths and culture. He added that it was a great chance to clarify misconceptions about the two religions and identify areas where both share similarities.
The participants engaged in a meaningful interaction which was moderated by Helen Claire Manatad, mentor. Students were amazed to discover many similarities as the belief on the existence of heaven, earth and angels to the cultural traditions as fasting and abstinence.
The overall mood was friendly and genial. Some visiting students gave excerpts from the holy Koran to the astonishment of the Filipino students who have heard only for the first time. Although the Philippines and Indonesia are practically neighbors, their peoples are not as familiar with each other. The long eras of colonization has westernized the Philippines and culturally distanced it from the other neighboring countries in Asia. But the cultural exchange visit was one that was really enjoyed and appreciated by the Filipino students. They too are hoping that one day, they could travel and immerse with their friendly Asian neighbors.
In a world where fundamentalism continues to fuel divisiveness, intolerance and hate, there is a great need to promote intercultural understanding and acceptance, said Rodjhun Navarro, head of the Office for Institutional Advancement and Linkages. The interfaith exchange has been one that helped students realize some of the ill-informed misconceptions about Islam and the Muslim culture. They have learned from the international visitors and developed mutual respect and understanding for new cultures, he added.
LCC continually strives to provide opportunities for students to develop cultural sensitivity and opens its doors for cultural and academic exchange. Currently, there are five exchange students from Germany, Italy, Japan and the US and there are more than 50 students of LCC Bacolod currently having their international on-the-job training in countries like Thailand and USA.