Marawi conflict is not a religious war, Philippine bishops insist

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As violent conflict unleashed by Islamic militants in the Filipino city of Marawi continues to rage, the nation's bishops have stressed that the problem is not a religious one, and have urged all faiths to work together for peace.

"We all cry from our hearts: War in Marawi, never again! War in Marawi, no more!" the Philippine bishops said in a July 10 statement.

They called for a return to peace and normalcy in Marawi as soon as possible, and questioned whether "the continued state of Martial Law, much more its extension, will bring this about."

Furthermore, the bishops stressed their belief that the conflict, which has been raging since May, "is not religious."

Despite the fact that Islamist militants incited the violence, the bishops pointed to "truly stunning stories of how Muslims have protected and helped Christians to escape from almost certain death."

"Even now Christians are assisting thousands of Muslims who have fled from Marawi for safety. These are indisputable signs that there is no religious war," they said, and condemned the militants "in the strongest terms possible, as did Islamic religious scholars in Mindanao."

Militants of the Maute group stormed the city of Marawi, on the island of Mindanao, May 23. The group, formed in 2012, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in 2015.

Violence began after a failed army and police raid to capture Isnilon Hapilon, a local Islamist leader. The initial attack launched by Maute burned several buildings, including the Catholic cathedral and the bishop's residence.

The militants still have about 100 civilian hostages, whom they use as human shields, ammunition carriers, and stretcher-barriers.

In a video released shortly after the attack, the vicar general of the Marawi territorial prelature, Fr. Teresito "Chito" Suganob, was featured in a video released one week after his capture appealing to President Rodrigo Duterte to withdraw the army and stop the airstrikes. Although he has yet to be released, he was seen alive a few days ago.

The majority of the city's 200,000 people – mostly Muslim – have fled since its occupation. Nearly 400 people have been killed in the fighting in Marawi.

The government has said some of the militants appear to be from abroad, including countries like Russia, Indonesia, and Malaysia. However, according to officials there are indications other slain militants have come from the Middle East.

According to the Philippine bishops, the Maute group and its leaders, in pledging allegiance to ISIS, "have contradicted the fundamental tenets of Islam by abducting and hostaging, maiming and killing the innocent."

The bishops urged Christians and all people of goodwill to be proactive in promoting interfaith dialogue "so that our various faiths may not be exploited and abused for the sake of terrorism or violent extremism."

"Let parents, schools, churches and mosques ensure that none may be lured by the recruitment efforts of terrorists. Let us teach the young and the old that our faiths are meant for peace," they said, adding that "no religion teaches the killing of innocent people simply because they belong to another religion."

Quoting a 2007 letter on "the Common Word" issued by Islamic leaders throughout the world calling for peace between Muslims and Christians, the bishops said "the basis for peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God and love of neighbor."

They then cited several biblical passages on love of God and neighbor before urging action in showing solidarity with those who have fled Marawi and those who have been taken hostage.

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"Let us be vigilant and alert, helping our security forces thwart the threats of terrorism in other areas of Mindanao. Let us help the government rebuild the city of Marawi so that its citizens may return and restore their broken lives."

The bishops then entrusted efforts for peace and religious harmony to the intercession of Mary, who is "praised and honored" not only by Christians, but also in the Quran.

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