Islamic philanthropy for refugees surges to $46m in 2023

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MANILA: Cotabato City, the main city of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, has lit up with colorful light installations as this region of the predominantly Catholic Philippines began Ramadan celebrations.

There are some 12 million Muslims in this country of nearly 120 million people, according to 2024 data from the National Commission for Muslim Filipinos. 

They live mostly on the island of Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago in the country’s south, as well as in Manila, constituting the third-largest Muslim community in Southeast Asia after Indonesia and Malaysia.

The administrative headquarters of the Muslim-majority BARMM is located in Cotabato City.

Its Ramadan lights were lit at the Bangsamoro Government Center on Tuesday night, marking the first day of the fasting month in the Philippines. There were accompanying activities including a halal food fair and local products being offered for sale at night markets.

“We want to send a message that although Ramadan is generally a month of sacrifice, it doesn’t mean that we should be sad,” BARMM Chief Minister Murad Ebrahim told Arab News. 

“It is believed that when the holy Qur’an was sent down by Allah to Prophet Muhammad, it started during Ramadan. So, to celebrate that we express our happiness.”

The annual festival of lights was inaugurated in 2019 and both Muslims and non-Muslims have been invited to participate.

“From the breaking of fast at 6 p.m., there’s a festive mood here until the start of fasting. There are programs being held every night. Everybody’s welcome,” Ebrahim said. 

When the illumination is on, the government center area looks from afar like a big mosque made from colorful lights.

Cotabato City, the main city of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao is illuminated for Ramadan celebrations on March 12, 2024. (Bangsamoro Information Office)

Andrew Alonto, director of the Bangsamoro Information Office, said it “becomes a venue for family and friends to get together” during the fasting month. 

“That is also the essence of Ramadan, to signify the importance of sharing meals and sharing time with the family during iftar,” he told Arab News, adding that throughout the month the Bangsamoro government sponsors iftar meals for those who fast. 

“Ramadan is very important for Muslims in the Bangsamoro because it’s one of the five pillars of Islam wherein we perform fasting during the holy month. So, Ramadan is a form of spiritual cleansing.”

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