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Imam protests against distribution of Bibles to displaced families from Marawi

(Reuters/Neil Jerome Morales)Evacuated students draw their experience about what they and other Marawi residents experienced before fleeing the city still under siege during a school day at Pantar elementary school in Lanao Del Norte, Philippines June 6, 2017.

An Islamic preacher has decried the distribution of Bibles to families who fled from Marawi City, where the Philippine military is currently fighting against terrorist groups who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.

Bibles that have been translated to the Maranao language were reportedly distributed as part of the relief goods to Marawi refugees.

Sunstar reported that the evacuees in Ceanuri Subdivision in Tubod village received the scriptures along with bath soap, shampoo, toothpaste and toothbrush.

Ustadz Abdul Karim Ambor, former president of the Iligan League of Imams, urged Christian groups to avoid proselytizing to refugees from Marawi because he said it could result in more harm than good.

"Of course, the people want help and they need help, but what they don't need today is an insult to their sensibilities," Ambor stated, as reported by Inquirer. "The aim really is to convince Maranao Muslims to embrace the Christian faith," he added.

Ambor, who runs an Islamic school in Ceanuri Subdivision, said that the refugees did not immediately discover the Bibles until they opened the relief packs. He noted that the Maranao Bible had the phrase "So Sindaw," which translates to "The Light." Some of the relief packs included magazines on the Bible story of the fisherman, which was also translated to the Maranao language.

Hadji Amir Ali, a Marawi evacuee, said that members of the Christian group urged the refugees to read the Bibles, and told some of them that it was a history book.

Abelardo Moya of the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI) stated that the group's attempt to proselytize "transgresses some cultural and religious sensibilities," noting that various Christian denominations have been doing humanitarian relief work in the area, "even earning the trust of Maranaos to prepare food for them."

"This must be dealt with soonest. Now that this has happened, it is best seen as an opportunity to dialogue," he said.

Ambor said that pious Muslims wanted to throw the Bibles in the garbage or burn them, but he urged them not to do it. He said that he will turn the scriptures over to an Islamic group in Iligan "for proper disposition," adding that he cannot return the Bibles to the Christian organization because no contact information was found in the kits they distributed.

He said that while evangelists do not find the distribution of Bibles to be offensive, the act of proselytization may be used by extremist groups like the Maute, which led the siege in Marawi on May 23, to persuade others to fight the government.

"We cannot tell what will happen. So I am appealing to our brothers in the Christian faith, please don't mix evangelization with your attempts to help the needy Maranao," the Islamic preacher pleaded.

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