A Catholic bishop in the southern Philippines’ Basilan province has received a letter from self-described “Muslim warriors” possibly linked to Abu Sayyaf who are threatening him with harm if he does not convert to Islam or pay “Islamic taxes.” Further, authorities are seeking the return of three adults and two children, all Catholics, who were kidnapped in the same area this week.
On July 19 Bishop Martin Jumoad of Isabela sent a copy of the threatening letter to Church-run Radio Veritas in Quezon City, UCA News reports. Bishop Jumoad told UCA News that a student at Claret College in Isabela was told to give the letter to the school secretary who could pass it along to the bishop.
The writers of the letter claimed to be “Muslim warriors” who “don't follow any laws other than the Qur'an.” They say the bishop should convert to Islam or pay the Islamic tax, called a “jizya,” to their group in exchange for protecting him “in the place of Muslims.”
If the bishop refuses, the letter threatened, “force, weapons or war may be used” against him. Citing bombings in other Philippines cities, the letter said he should not feel safe even if protected by soldiers.
Bishop Jumoad was given two mobile cell phone numbers and told he had fifteen days to respond. The letter bore the two names “Puruji Indama” and “Nur Hassan J. Kallitut,” both of whom were titled “Mujahiddin.”
The letter was accompanied by a letterhead in the local dialect that said “Al-Harakatul Islamiyya.” The bishop said he has seen the phrase “Al-Harakatul” in kidnapping incidents in Basilan involving the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf.
He also reported that other Catholics have said they are receiving threatening letters. “Bishop, we are disoriented and we cannot sleep. What is our reaction to this?" they have reportedly said.
On July 21 the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines’’ CBCP News reported that three adults and two children who are members of a parish in Basilan had been kidnapped from a public jeep. Provincial administrator Talib A. Barahim on Tuesday told UCA News that no one has reported receiving a ransom demand.
Muslims who commit violence were rebuked at a joint conference between Catholic bishops and Muslim scholars on Monday in Manila, where Hamid Barra, the Muslim convener of the conference, underlined Islamic belief in the sacredness of life.
“It is God who gave life; he is the only one authorized to take life,” he said.
Barra, an Islamic law expert, explained that non-Muslims protected by an Islamic state are required to pay the jizya tax, which is used to support the needy, but no such payment is required in a non-Islamic state.