Most Filipino households — solidly over 80% to be exact — grow up knowing one faith, Christianity, but a woman whose own upbringing was spent with devout Catholic and Muslim parents is showing how the two worlds can co-exist side by side in harmony.
Arizza Nocum, a senior marketing executive at a public relations firm, took to Facebook early last week with a pair of pictures — one with her hair covered in a hijab, one with her hair down — and a message.
Her Catholic heritage was inherited from her father, she said, a Zamboanga native and a former seminarian who always reminded her to fear God.
“[But] in another world, I wear this hijab in a tradition passed down from generations from my mom, my grandmother, my grandmother’s mother. In the small town of Siasi, Sulu where my mom grew up, Islam commingled with Tausug customs to create a culture that respected faith, bravery, and compassion,” she said.
She said that as both her parents wanted to keep their own religions, they decided to start a family that identified with both, respected both, and lived with both. “As a result, I had a very odd childhood growing up in Zamboanga then in Manila.”
She shared that on one side of the family, she had Catholic relatives who strictly observed Lent and “did not even allow us to laugh during Good Friday.”
On the other, she said she had cousins bringing in Tausug delicacies during Muslim holidays, and aunts and grandmothers she “would silently observe as they would lay down their mat in our house and get ready for Salat (prayer) five times a day.”
As for her own family, home was neutral ground, with no religious symbols of any kind inside their house. Mom’s prohibition on pork, however, was the rule for the kids.
“No one was allowed to eat pork — except my dad. And, when I get into big trouble, I would sometimes have two lectures from my parents — one based on what Jesus taught and another on what is written in the Quran.”
She said that what she loved most about growing up in these two worlds “was the fact that I saw more of the common humanity across these two religions rather than their differences.”
She said that in sickness and in death, Filipino families always “support and keep each other strong.”
Nocum said that she posted the photos as an appeal to peace and empathy as the Islamic month of Ramadan comes to a close.
“Every Filipino can do a better job at remembering that the Philippines is a country of many faiths and cultures – each one as vibrant and worthy of admiration as the rest,” she wrote.
“The next time we think of stereotypes, belittle or ostracize, or label a person because of what we see in the media, I hope we can think twice.
“Because of the way I grew up, I learned that Muslim or Christian, the same stories – stories of poverty, success, failure, sadness, happiness, hope – bound us together. And this makes us only stronger as a country.”
Speaking to Coconuts Manila via Facebook, Nocum said that she didn’t expect her post to go viral as it was just her personal reflection on what the month of Ramadan meant to her. “What I wanted to explore through my post is what this whole period can mean for both Muslims and non-Muslims in the country.”
She added that the photos she posted were graduation shots from 2016, when she earned a degree in Industrial Engineering at the University of the Philippines.
When asked if she had always wanted to share her story, she said the viral Facebook post itself was spontaneous, but the idea behind it is something she’s been hoping to promote widely for the past seven years.
Since her college days, Nocum has led an organization called the Kristiyano-Islam Peace Library or KRIS Library, which builds libraries and provides scholarships for young people who live in communities affected by conflict and poverty.
“Through KRIS and our projects, we have been striving to promote peace using education. Our main message is that our country will not find peace if only those affected by conflict or if only specific areas invest in the process; all Filipinos should be in involved in big and small ways,” she told Coconuts.
Nocum said that they’ve built six libraries in Zamboanga, Davao, Rizal, and Manila, and gave more than 400 scholarship grants to students. She added that, at present, the organization is focusing more on peace education.
Since her Facebook post went up last week, it’s been shared more than 11,000 times, with netizens saying they were inspired by the commonalities the two religions have.
Winstoniutti Maizog said: “Great. May this inspire us to apprrciate (sic) and avknowledge (sic) our commonality and pass together the same bridge that unites and connects us with one another. Holding hands together, let’s move forward to where peace and progress await all of us.”
Julieta Estamo said it was “the best of both worlds.”
Marilyn Quinan said she loved the post. “[It’s] full of compassion and realities… GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!”
Angeles Carandang said she agreed with every word. “Let’s concentrate on our similarities & respect our differences. It’s only then when we can have peace.”
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