MANILA, Philippines - Put the black robes, beards, veils together and you get the most influential platform makers in Muslim society. Islam is the fastest growing religion in America and has the largest following in Asia.
It is the third largest religion in the Philippines, with an estimated 10 million followers among 85 million people.Against the backdrop of recent kidnappings, persistent poverty and uncertain peace in Mindanao, Muslim religious leaders and scholars are set to begin a three-day National Summit of the Ulama in the Philippines Monday night at the Imperial Palace Suites in Quezon City.
The summit is expected launch the historic national federation of Ulama organizations in the Philippines.The Ulama is the body of Muslim scholars trained in Islam and Islamic law who are the interpreters of Islam's sciences, doctrines and laws. Described as the learned men of Islam, they are looked up to by Muslim communities in terms of spiritual guidance and moral directions.
In the Philippines, there are thousands of Ulama who are members of local and regional organizations. A national Ulama organization can become a potent force not just in guiding the Muslim faithful but also in terms of peace and development in Mindanao as well as providing a learned and strong articulation of the Moro voice in the national discourse.
The summit is expected to gather 217 Ulama from 116 local organizations coming from 24 provinces and cities. It opens with a dinner ceremony on Monday night featuring a keynote address by Dr. Endang Turmudi, Secretary General of Nadhlatul Ulama (NU).
NU is one of the largest independent Islamic organizations in the world with estimations of their membership ranging as high as 40 million. NU, one of the most influential Muslim organizations in Southeast Asia, is at the vanguard of interfaith work on protection of human rights and pluralism in Indonesia.
Dr. Turmudi is expected to deliver a speech on "Islam and the Challenges of the Modern World".The following days of the summit will see the Ulama approve the charter for their federation and elect their first set of officers. The newly elected officials will take their oath on January 29 before former President Fidel Ramos.
The Ulama are also set to discuss various issues that affect their communities like human rights and electoral reforms, and peace process. Al-Amanah Islamic Investment Bank of the Philippines Chairman Jaime Panganiban, COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Atty. Leila de Lima and Assistant Secy. Camilo Montesa, of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP), are the principal resource persons for these crucial topics.
"With the success of Islamic models as Islamic banking worldwide, it's time the world sees Islam in a new light, as a developmental and liberating force for all to learn from," Panganiban said.
The project is supported by the British Government's Engaging the Islamic World Program and organized by the thinktank Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy. Aleem and lawyer Hamid Barra of the Ulama League of the Philippines is the project director.