Crescent International interviewed Ustadz Salamat Hashim, Chair of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), Amirul Mujahideen and Imam of the Bangsamoro People, at his main base at Camp Abu Bakre As-Siddiq, Central Mindanao, last month. The MILF is waging jihad for the establishment of an independent Islamic State in what is presently part of the southern Philippines. The main points of this wide-ranging and detailed interview are presented in two sections, in this issue and the next one.
CI: Is it possible that the MILF, like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), may settle for something less than its goal of an independent Islamic State?
USH: No. That is impossible. The MILF would never agree to any solution other than the full independence of the Bangsamoro homeland. Our people's rights to full freedom and self-determination cannot be compromised. The Bangsamoro people were independent hundreds of years before the creation of the Philippines by western imperialists. They invaded the Bangsamoro homeland, whose people fought these invaders, despite great disparity in military strength, for more than 400 years. History tells us that the Bangsamoro Muslims were never defeated by the imperialists.
CI: Muslims not only in the Philippines but also abroad greatly admire the consistency of your stand with regard to the establishment of the Islamic State, but how realistic is this, considering that Muslims in Mindanao have become a minority even in their ancestral homeland?
USH: The MILF position is very clear and practical. We demand the complete independence of the areas where the Bangsamoro Muslims are the majority, and of areas predominantly occupied by non-Muslim Bangsamoros such as the highlanders and others who live in the mountainous and remote areas. Although these areas cover several provinces, municipalities and villages, they do not constitute the whole of Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Palawan. The independence of these areas is not negotiable. For areas where Christian settlers from Luzon and Visayas are now the majority, we can negotiate. If they want autonomy (under the Islamic State), it is all right. If they want federalism, we have no objection. If they desire to stay with the Philippine nation-State, we don't mind. If they opt for citizenship of the would-be Bangsamoro Islamic State, they are very welcome.
CI: Looking at the pattern of how the war in Mindanao is fought, it appears that the MILF has adopted a "fight-negotiate-fight-negotiate" kind of strategy. What is the reason for this?
USH: It is simply following the teachings of Almighty Allah in the Glorious Qur'an and the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The following verses of Surah Anfal provide us guidelines: "For the worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are those who reject Him: they will not believe. They are those with whom thou didst make a covenant every time, and they have not the fear (of Allah)" (8:55-56). Further, "Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts) of the enemies of Allah and your enemies...; But if the enemy incline towards peace, do thou (also) incline towards peace, and trust in Allah: for He is the One that heareth and knoweth (all things); Should they intend to deceive thee, verily Allah sufficeth thee: He it is Who has strengthened thee with His aid and with (the company of) the believers" (8:60-62); And, "O, Prophet! Rouse the Believers to the fight..." (8:65). In the first two verses, Almighty Allah described the kuffar as the worst of beasts because they rejected Him and they broke their covenant with the Prophet, peace be upon him. In the following verses, Almighty Allah enjoins the Believers to be prepared for war and arm themselves with the best weapons they can acquire to strike terror in the hearts of their enemies. Furthermore, Almighty Allah commands the Believers to be ready to put all their resources into their cause. But while being strong to fight the enemy is mandatory, the Believers must also be ready for peace if the enemy inclines towards it. At the same time, Allah commanded His Messenger, which is also a command to all the Muslims, to rouse the Believers for battle. It is clear that Allah commanded the Believers to fight if the enemy fights them, and negotiate if the enemy implores for negotiations, and if the enemy breaks the covenant, to fight again and so on. But at all times, whether in peace or war, we must be prepared for war and be armed with the best weapons we can afford. Moreover, we must put all of our resources to the cause, that is, making the Word of Almighty Allah supreme or making Haqq prevail over baatil.
CI: How will Mindanao, which is economically very depressed, stand on its own feet after an Islamic State is established?
USH: Mindanao is presently economically depressed because it is under the subjugation of a corrupt, tyrannical colonial government. The resources of the islands are being drained by the Manila regime without consideration for the welfare of the inhabitants, both Muslims and highlanders. Mindanao is one of the richest places in Southeast Asia and perhaps in the world. When the Bangsamoro people are free, insha'Allah, the area's natural resources can be developed for the benefit of its inhabitants. Many prospective investors have offered to help in developing our homeland. There is abundant oil in the heart of the Muslim areas in Mindanao. The oil company stopped its operations here because of the peace and order problem. If the Islamic State is established, we hope that it will be like the Islamic State during the time of Umar ibn Abdulaziz, when no single citizen of the State lived in poverty; hence there was no crime at all.
CI: How do you see the struggle evolving, say in the next 5 to 10 years and how long do you think it will be before the Muslims of the Bangsamoro homeland will achieve independence?
USH: We are very optimistic that, insha'Allah, the Bangsamoro homeland will be independent but we cannot determine the timetable in advance. What we are doing now is to struggle hard to the utmost of our ability, then wait for the decision of the Creator. While waiting for His divine decision, we strongly believe in His promise to aid the Believers and the righteous and to make Haqq prevail over baatil. Furthermore, we pray day and night for Almighty Allah for the fulfilment of our objective, not for our own sake but for the sake of Islam and the Ummah. We hope that the Ummah will sincerely join us in our prayers.
CI: Have the Christians of Mindanao been taken into confidence with respect to the future Islamic State? If so, what is their opinion and how do they feel about the establishment of an independent Islamic State?
USH: We have been disseminating detailed information to enlighten non-Muslims about their rights in an Islamic State. We have emphasized that they will be much safer in an Islamic State than elsewhere; they will be given full freedom to practise their beliefs and culture. We have offered them four options: 1) full autonomy; 2) federation; 3) citizenship in the Islamic State with full freedom guaranteed and their human rights protected and promoted; and 4) to stay within the Philippine nation-State, and whatever properties they leave behind shall be fully compensated by the Islamic State. Many people frustrated with the Philippine nation-State, think that it is time to try other systems. Those who have lost hope in Manila, including many Christians, have visited the MILF headquarters in Camp Abu Bakre As-Siddiq. Some Christian professionals applied for membership in the Front; their applications were instantly approved. Many legal advisers of the MILF are Christian lawyers who volunteered to serve the Front. Christian villagers are also supporting the MILF; quite a large number have embraced Islam and some are now mujahideen.
CI: The MNLF has now been integrated into the Philippine nation-State system. Many MNLF fighters are serving as regular soldiers in the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). MNLF chairman Nur Misuari is governor of the so-called Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). What do you think would be the response of the MNLF if the MILF were to achieve a breakthrough?
USH: We are confident, insha'Allah, that our brothers in the MNLF will not hesitate to congratulate us. Their original objective was independence. We have the same objective but different means to achieve it. On our part, we adopted a tactical split (from the MNLF) in order to try another strategy. The split has proved useful. The agreement between the MNLF and the Philippine government has given a lesson to the Bangsamoro people; there is no more talk of autonomy. Everybody now supports independence. It has proved that no solution short of independence will work. We thank our brothers in the MNLF for proving us right on this sensitive issue.
CI: Before the latest round of fighting (January 19-29) between the AFP and the MILF, negotiations were going on with the government. One of the more ticklish issues was the recognition by the government of 46 MILF camps. Is this not prematurely exposing to the enemy the existence and location of these camps, considering the fact that the revolutionary war is far from over yet?
USH: The MILF has moved from a hit-and-run strategy to semi-conventional warfare. We are now fighting face-to-face with the enemy; we are no longer hiding. The perimeter and outer defences of our 46 camps cover about half of Mindanao. It is not possible to keep these areas secret. If these territories governed by the MILF are recognized by the Philippine government, we are closer to our objective. For these are territories we can legally claim even if we go by the laws of the enemy.
CI: How would you assess the recent fighting in terms of military, political, and even territorial gains for the Bangsamoro Islamic Revolution and jihad?
USH: Let me first share the most important factors and events that led to the recent fighting. Just before Ramadhan, the MILF captured four detachments of the AFP, inflicting massive losses in men and material. Hundreds of enemy soldiers were killed or wounded and vast quantities of weapons were captured. Even Christian civilians taunted the AFP for their defeat. Naturally, the AFP wanted to avenge their defeat, so during Ramadhan they started shelling the positions of the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Forces (BIAF), intensifying their bombardment in the last week of Ramadhan while we were observing Lailatul Qadr. Then two days after Eid ul-Fitr they attacked our positions near Camp Omar Ibn Khattab. The AFP boasted that they can capture at least one MILF camp in a week. But when the Manila regime realized that after 10 days of fighting the AFP had not advanced an inch while the MILF forces were advancing and inflicting heavy casualties on government forces, they called for a cease- fire. The government sent generals and top aides to Cotabato City to arrange a cease-fire. To prove our sincerity, we did not object. The enemy ranks are demoralized. They have suffered heavy casualties; about 900 soldiers and officers were killed. Hundreds were wounded. Politically, the government position has weakened. Previously it insisted on talks only within the framework of the Philippine constitution; now it has dropped this condition. Several Filipino senators, congressmen and top palace aides came to Camp Abu Bakre Siddiq to find out whether the MILF would accept something short of independence, but the MILF is firm. They used to tell us that they are willing to give us everything except independence. We told them that we would never accept anything except independence.
Muslimedia: March 16-31, 1999
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