[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. The first section was published in the last issue.]
CI: The Philippine government has alleged that the MILF has received money from outside Muslim sources, including Mujahid Osama bin Laden. We see a sinister agenda here to project the MILF as part of what the US, and the western and zionist media, depict as a “worldwide Islamic terrorist network.” Do you see a risk of the US intervening directly in the war in Mindanao under the pretext of fighting “terrorism”? The Estrada regime is also pushing for legislative approval for the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which would allow the US to station troops and establish military installations in the Philippines. What measures have you and the MILF taken for defence?
USH: I do not think the US has so far intervened directly in the war in Mindanao. But we feel that after suffering a series of defeats in recent fighting, the Philippine government is trying to attract the attention of the US and drag it into the conflict. Obviously, this is why the Philippine government is trying to project the MILF as becoming very strong because of assistance from what they call ‘terrorist’ organizations and groups. The government is trying to link our legitimate struggle for freedom and self- determination with Sheikh Osama bin Laden knowing that he has been declared the enemy number one of the US. The Philippine government says Bin Laden is sending us arms. How can Bin Laden give us arms? He had guns but after joining the jihad in Afghanistan, he became a poor man. All of Bin Laden’s properties were sequestered by the Saudi government. The Philippine government uses this as propaganda to get attention of the US and to gain sympathy and support of the Filipino people to the proposed Visiting Forces Agreement. The MILF has been trying to mobilize support of neighbouring countries to oppose the plan. I think all neighbouring countries including China will oppose it.
CI: In one of your press statements you said the MILF does not receive any aid from Muslim governments but it receives support from Islamic organizations and individuals abroad. This is not surprising, given the fact that most Muslim governments today are captives of the western and zionist powers. Do you think that any Muslim government is likely to recognize an independent Islamic State in the Bangsamoro homeland?
USH: When an independent Islamic State is established, I think the present secular Muslim governments will have no choice but to recognize it. Iran, which is an Islamic State, is recognized by those governments; so is Sudan, which has declared implementation of the Shari’ah. Even the government of the Taliban is recognized by some secular Muslim governments. We see no reason why they will not recognize a Bangsamoro Islamic Republic. The official name of Pakistan is the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. No one refused to recognize Pakistan for being an Islamic Republic.
CI: Let us look at on the neighbouring Muslim countries. Malaysia supported the MNLF-led Bangsamoro struggle in the 1970s, but only while it served the Malaysian national interest. The MNLF was dropped like a hot potato once Malaysia’s territorial dispute with Manila over Sabah was ‘settled’. In Indonesia, the pancasila government’s abhorrence for anything Islamic is well known. Indonesia, which boasts of being the most populous Muslim country in the world, “brokered” the surrender of Nur Misuari to the Ramos regime in 1996. The MNLF is not even Islamic but secular-nationalist. The killing of Muslims in Mindanao has not abated. The refugee figure from recent fighting is 120,000-plus in the combat zones alone, most of whom are Muslims, but not one word of sympathy, much less protest, was heard from these Muslim governments. Can we, therefore, expect them to support or recognize the future Islamic State once it is established in Mindanao?
USH: The situation in the Muslim world is gradually changing. The MILF sent delegations to Indonesia after the fall of Suharto. We found a great change, especially on matters regarding freedom. Our delegations met with many high- ranking officials; they were warmly welcomed by both the government and the masses. We were surprised by the abrupt change, which we never expected. They even requested the head of our latest delegation to deliver a khutba in one of the biggest mosques in Indonesia. Even in Malaysia where there is no change of leadership, we find things different from before. The situation in many of the secular Muslim countries is changing from worse to bad rather than from bad to worse. Perhaps soon, insha’Allah, it will be from good to better.
CI: Going back to the fighting in Mindanao, the Philippine government continues to belittle or downplay the MILF’s role as the current vanguard of the Bangsamoro Islamic revolution and jihad. It says that the MILF numbers 10,000-12,000 men only as compared to the much larger MNLF. What do you say to this?
USH: We don’t mind. Even Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, was belittled by his enemies. Insha’Allah, sooner or later the truth will come out. With the help of the Almighty Allah, a time will come when we don’t need to say we are stronger. Even now, everybody admits it except the propaganda machinery of the government.
CI: There are reports spread by government intelligence agencies alleging that foreign Muslims are fighting alongside the MILF. Some say these are said to be veterans of the jihad in Afghanistan. Can you comment on this?
USH: This is not true. The government says this to save face. Every time its troops are defeated in the battlefield it says: “Our enemies are not just the Moro rebels but foreigners as well.” This is a blatant lie. Many Muslim brothers from all over the world offered to help us in the battlefront but we politely told them just to standby. We will inform you when we feel your direct involvement is necessary. We are trying to make the war simply a Bangsamoro-Philippine government war. We don’t want to internationalize it, but limit it to the oppressed Bangsamoro people and their oppressors.
CI: Despite intense fighting in Mindanao and the inhuman brutality of the Philippine military forces against Muslim civilians, the UN has not reacted in the same manner as it did in Bosnia-Hercegovina, Kosova, or in Africa. What do you think could be the reason?
USH: From the Marcos dictatorship to the time of [Cory] Aquino and the early part of [Fidel] Ramos’s administration, the Philippine government managed to conceal the untold atrocities perpetrated by the barbarous Armed Forces of the Philippines against the Bangsamoro people. These included the burning of houses, schools and mosques; desecration of the Holy Qur’an; killing of children, women and the aged; destruction and looting of Bangsamoro properties and the devastation of plantations and farms, etc. These heinous crimes of the AFP were not known to the outside world especially in the western countries. But this time the regime can no longer hide the barbarous crimes committed by its armed forces against the Bangsamoro people. The International Red Cross is already involved in humanitarian assistance and services to the badly affected Bangsamoro civilians, and some UN agencies have started contacting us. However, there is still a great difference between the help provided here and that in the countries you mentioned. We are in Southeast East. Whatever is happening here does not directly affect the interests of western countries. Those countries you mentioned are in the heart of Europe. The western countries are affected by any war there.
CI: The Crescent International, as the newsmagazine of the Islamic movement, expresses its wholehearted support for the Islamic jihad and revolution of the Bangsamoro people under the Islamic leadership of combatant ulama such as yourself. All Muslims struggling for the restoration of the global power of Islam have you in their salat and du’as. Through the Crescent, would you like to convey any message to the Ummah?
USH: Thank you very much to the Crescent for enabling the MILF to convey its message to the Islamic Ummah. It is a matter for profound gratitude and immense happiness that the Crescent has given us this opportunity to convey the message of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front to the Islamic Ummah. We would like to remind the Ummah of the promise of Almighty Allah and Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, that Islam will prevail and that the Islamic Ummah will have to assume the responsibility for leading and guiding humanity to the right path, whether the world likes it or not. And, whether the world likes it or not, Haqq will prevail over baatil. However, this promise of the Creator of the Universe and His Messenger, peace be upon him, can be realized only after an intense and long jihad in the Way of Allah which carries with it much sacrifice, suffering and adversity on the part of the Ummah. Your brothers and sisters in the Bangsamoro homeland are waging jihad in the Way of Allah against an oppressive and tyrannical kafir government. This colonial puppet illegally and immorally annexed our independent and sovereign homeland. The inalienable right of the Bangsamoro Muslims to freedom and self- determination was usurped. We reiterate what had been said before: we are fighting not for the purpose of killing, injuring, or destroying but we are fighting simply to regain our freedom and independence. On this note, we implore all our Muslim brothers and sisters all over the globe to join us in our du’as for the Help of Almighty Allah in order to achieve our legitimate objective. Insha’Allah, we can serve the Islamic Ummah better when we are free. We pray for the victory of the Ummah and the prosperity of every Muslim. Ameen.
Muslimedia: April 1-15, 1999