The Monks in a Muslim World

I am reminded a couple of days ago of the start of the Muslim Ramadan, a 40-day fasting

The book and my journal

The book and my journal

akin to  the Christian season of Lent. The reminder brings me back to a book I am almost agonizingly trying to finish, halted midway since 2 months ago, for reasons I am still trying to figure out. Have you had started reading a book only to shelve it for a while even if it is gripping of your attention? Perhaps – this book is asking too much of me, asking the hard questions that Christians like me would instinctively shelve into some dusty corners of creedal belief and exclusivism? WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO LIVE MEANINGFULLY WITH OUR MUSLIM BROTHERS AND SISTERS?

My interest in the Muslim culture/s, at least an intellectual one, started in college when I opted to enroll in a semestral course on Muslim for my elective (the other one is Spanish). I enjoyed the course and got an excellent grade. The more I studied, the more the Filipino Muslim culture fascinates me. The term that was most etched in my memory is the minaret where the call for communal timed prayer started like the peal of the Christian church bell. It fascinates me how the call for prayer could itself emanate out of a human voice of the muezzin. It makes me think maybe I am fascinated by the human beckoning because I was once a “muezzin” back in my high school days, everytime I rang the church bell for a sacramental. I was the hand behind the beckoning.

Back to the book.

It is a historical one, though not written from a historian’s quill but from a storyteller named John Kiser, a frequent MBA writer for Harvard Business Review and other corporate journals. It revolves around 9 Trappists monks, the most ascetical of Christian contemplatives, who decided to devote their lives for the Muslims  in war-torn Algeria:
View Larger Map

In the spring of 1996 armed men broke into a Trappist monastery in war-torn Algeria and took seven monks hostage, pawns in a murky negotiation to free imprisoned terrorists. Two months later, the monks’ severed heads were found in a tree; their bodies never recovered. The village of Tibhirine had sprung up around the monastery because it was a holy place protected by the Virgin Mary, revered by Christians and Muslims alike.”

The monks, under their abbott named Christian, had a choice to leave as Algeria was in disarray towards their own democracy after being colonised by the French. But they chose to stay, shedding their lives both for the Christian church and the Muslim believers who embraced them in return.

“They lived from the produce of their garden, the sale of honey, donations from guests.”

During Ramadan, Christian, with his exemplary modelling, would also fast for 40 days, and developed the habit of taking off his shoes upon entering the mosque or chapel. At one point, the construction of the mosque was right in front of the monastery, and builders would ask the monk to leave their materials inside the monastery. Some monks raised their brows for possibility of encroachment of their space but not Christian who challenged them: “Christ love is not an exchange, nor is it limited to a category of people. It is gratuit.”

“In the midst of the lush, dense shade of the cedars, cypress, and pines with cones the size of pineapples, the grasping wisteria, the flowering chestnuts and almond trees,” these monks happily lived out their vocations. In utter simplicity.

monk 1

John Kiser wrote this impression:

“I also began to better understand why my exposure to the Trappist culture had a certain resonance for me. Simplicity is one reason. Doing less, not more, and doing those fewer things more intensely, are values in perpetual struggle for survival in a world that is always offering more – more activities, more choices, more means of communication, things that distract and require decisions. Trappists have stripped their lives down to a simple triad of prayer, study, and manual labor. They have made only one decision: to love and praise God in the Trappist way. Their way is that of obedience, humility, and charity, practiced in a working community of brothers wedded in Jesus Christ.”

How on earth could these brothers live and die for their Muslim neighbors when they had the choice to run away from the chaos? Only through inner peace cultivated in long solitude and deep silence. Christian himself loved to quote this from a Jewish mystic Etty Hillesum:

“If there is ever to be peace, it won’t be authentic until each individual achieves peace within himself, expels all feelings of hatred for a race or group of people, or better, can dominate hatred and change it into something else, maybe even into love – or is that acting too much? It’s the  only solution.”

For you friend – 



12 thoughts on “The Monks in a Muslim World

    • Makigpusta ko – you will be in charge of an SVD retreat haus someday whether you like it or not hahaha. Bitaw Pads – Trappists stories are really exciting…

  1. Wow! ang lalim nito. I really admire trappist monks, lagi ko silang pinapanood sa youtube.

    I’m currently working in a muslim country. As for my colleagues, wala naman kaming nagiging problema about religion, we never talk about it. Mababait sila at prayerful, minsan I admire them kasi during office hours, they will literally stop their work just to pray..

    • Tama ka jorge, sabi nga nila – it defaynds on the situnation…There is so much from the Muslim’s disciplined prayer moments…

  2. Hmmm… Hindi ko na bibilhin ang librong ito kasi may full review na dito… haha!

    “Have you had started reading a book only to shelve it for a while even if it is gripping of your attention?”

    Yes, kapatid… In fact, ang bedside table ko ay puno ng maraming libro na hindi ko pa tapos basahin… 🙂 Isa dun yung “Sole Survivor” ni Philip Yancey… May ilang characters pa akong hindi nababasa ang life stories… Gripping kasi nakakakonsensya at parating umaagos ang luha ko sa kwento ng mga buhay ng mga taong nandun… (Or baka mababaw lang talaga luha ko…)

    When I was in high school, I had schoolmates na Muslims. I think I can say that I have no biases against them and I respect them for their devotion to their prayer time…

    I believe that peaceful coexistence with our Muslim siblings start with the acceptance that they too are children of God. And I believe that respect begets respect so part of the peaceful coexistence is mutual respect for the differences in beliefs and practices…

  3. may friend din pala akong muslim dito sa isla…

    special siya na friend kasi lagi ko siyang nakikita sa aking mga daily masses sa barrio…

    nagtitinda siya ng ice drop…

    marami siyang catholic friends…

    hindi na nga muslim ung accent niya eh, cebuano na…

  4. great post!
    I like this one, It reminds of Ramadan. Alam nyo maraming muslim na mabait, madasalin at talagang dedicated sa tuwing darating ang ramadan, nakita ko first hand kung papano sila manalangin.ex ko ay muslim.

  5. Pingback: A Film to Watch | Climbing Mt. Tabor/DesertFishing…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s