We’re here at the Harmony Village a 14-hectare property of low rolling hills and woodland, located 10 kilometers from Zamboanga City. The village has many prayer houses for both Christians and Muslims. It’s the home of the Silsilah Dialogue Movement.
The Arabic word “Silsilah” or “chain” was chosen to represent the group’s belief that Muslims, Christians and people from other faiths are all one universal family. It was founded by an Italian missionary priest, Father Sebastiano D’Ambra in 1984.
”I observed how the relations between Muslim, Christian and also the indigenous people was not really dialogical. I need to be like a bridge between Muslims and Christians,” Father Sebastiano said.
In 2000, the Philippines President Joseph Estrada declared “a total war” in Mindanao to fight the Muslim Moro Rebels.
Silsilah responded with Harmony Chain Initiatives where members from all faiths intensely prayed for peace. As a result, more people lived their life in peace.
The Harmony Village is the group’s initiative that started in 1999. 37-year-old Ustadz Garson Hamja is one of the teachers here.
”We were prisoners of the past where we were taught that Christians come to convert Muslims to their religion. When my mother joined the Silsilah Dialogue Movement, she inspired me to become a better Muslim because she became good to our Christian neighbours,” ustadz Garson explained.
Zamboanga city has been the center of conflict for more than four decades between the military and the Moro National Liberation Front, a rebel Muslim group.
In September 2013, the rebel group attacked and proclaimed an independent state in Zamboanga City. More than 200 people were killed. buildings were burnt down and people had to flee the city. Among them was 35-year-old Silsilah member, Rasma Sappan.
“I was also evacuated from last year’s war but we continued to do our work to take care of the orphans of parents who became victims of the violence. We also helped people to heal their trauma after the Zamboanga crisis,” she said.
In recent years, the Silsilah members have helped in negotiations between the government and the Moro rebel group. Their work has helped led to the recent signing of a peace deal between the two.
The Silsilah today offer programs and initiatives to promote peace in the Harmony Village. Virginia Montebon, a member of the group, says they’re helping people to move on with their lives.
“At Padayon Center, we don’t discriminate. For example on one Sunday, a man from a far away village whom we do not know came asking for blood for his wife. He said people advised him to come to us. We gave him a referral to the general hospital. On the following day, he thanked us because his wife was treated.”
The Silsilah group was recently awarded the Goi Peace Award for its contribution to building peace. But Father Sebastiano doesn’t see this as the end of the road.
“Our slogan is cry peace with your life in dialogue. We have encouraged one prayer called the Harmony Prayer. In 2010, the UN promoted World Interfaith Harmony Week. We felt good, because it’s in line with what Silsilah is doing,” father Sebastiano said.
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