Marawi folk waiting for iconic Grand Mosque to rise again

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The bullet-riddled domes of the Grand Mosque in Marawi City

By Edd K. Usman | Special to the BusinessMirror

Marawi City in Lanao del Sur suffered immense destruction in 2017 like in a theater of war in World War II.

In the aftermath of the five months of Marawi siege, 3,153 buildings were totally destroyed and 2,145 were partially or heavily damaged, news sources said.

Datu Omar M. Pangarungan

Destroyed and damaged buildings on ground zero included houses, schools—22 of 69 were totally destroyed—hospitals, business structures and places of worship, such as a cathedral and more than a score of mosques. 

The scene of the main battle came, called ground zero, was where the combined contingents of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the National Police fought against some 1,000 pro-Islamic State (IS) tandem of Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups, who sought to establish a foothold for their supposed “caliphate” in southern Philippines.

With such destruction, many believe Marawi City will never be the same again.

Grand Mosque and 24 mosques destroyed, damaged

In ground zero alone, 25 mosques—the biggest of which is the Grand Mosque—were destroyed or damaged during the conflict. Perhaps what hits most the hearts and minds, the soul, that is, of the “People of the Lake”—as the Maranaws are referred to—was the destruction of mosques, which in Islam and among Muslims, is the center of life of every community.

It is where followers of the messenger of Islam, Prophet Muhammad, pray. It is where they hold mushawara (meeting). It is where they discuss even their political life, for in Islam, after all, has no separation of Church and State.

In the past, whenever foreign ministers and ambassadors from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation visited the city, part of their itinerary included the Grand Mosque, giving it more prominence as a historical landmark.

Marawi, the Philippines’s only Islamic City, has a population of 177,391 people based on a 2015 government census. It is called Islamic City owing to the number of mosques dotting the area. 

The city has 96 barangays, 24 barangays of which, with a combined area of 250 hectares, are in ground zero.

Donating 2 hectares of land

Members of the rich and poor families of Maranaw clans suffered deaths, injuries and destroyed or damaged properties, and personal treasures and money lost.

One of the prominent clans in Marawi City that suffered the most—over P1 billion—is the Pangarungan clan.

So, it must be a surprise to other Filipinos that the children of the late Sultan Salic and Hadja Mohmina Pangarungan, in response to President Duterte’s call to help the displaced residents, are donating 2 hectares of land. 

The property will be apportioned from the clan’s 19 hectares a few miles from the Pangarungan Village. It will be used by the government to establish a vocational school and a hospital for the internally displaced Marawi children, both Christians and Muslims.

When asked about the generous donation despite the clan’s losses, Datu Omar M. Pangarungan, vice president for External Affairs of the Jameo Mindanao Al-Islamie Islamic Center of Marawi, which manages the Grand Mosque, quoted Jean-Jacques Rousseau: “The heart has a reason which reason does not know.”

Clan’s properties destroyed

Part of ground zero, now called Most Affected Area, is the Pangarungan Village, where the various branches and households of the clan have been living for decades. 

The clan’s property spans 24 hectares at the heart of Marawi City’s commercial district.

Datu Omar, who was on an official mission to the Middle East when the siege took place, told the BusinessMirror that he “couldn’t believe until now what happened to Marawi.” 

He returned to the city on January 22 “to enter ground zero to make an assessment to the damage to the clan’s properties.”

He said the clan’s 93 commercial and residential houses were flattened to the ground. These include the Grand Mosque, the Pangarungan College buildings, the P45-million Shell gasoline station, the newly built four-story and soon-to-be-opened P50-million-worth Mayrasna Magayoong-Pangarungan Hospital owned by Dr. Maimona Magayoong and daughter Dr. Mayrasna Magayoong-Pangarungan, and six rice mills in different locations in the village.

Besides the gasoline station that she owns, Hadja Jawhara Nora Pangarungan-Dianalan lost over P100 million in personal properties, including expensive jewelry, cash collections from the gasoline station, delivery cars and family heirlooms.

The Magadapa Pangarungan couple also lost their P8 million to P10 million worth of eight-door commercial building.

New Grand Mosque is best option

“In the heart of the city stands the Grand Mosque, which [was able to] accommodate around 5,000 worshipers before the siege,” Datu Omar said. 

Nestled on an area of 7,500 square meters, the mosque, with an area of 2,500 sq m, has three floors for 5,000 worshipers. Its lower ground houses the Arabic Department consisting of 15 classrooms and a staff room for teacher.

“The Islamic School of the Grand Mosque aims to teach Islamic knowledge based on the Koran and the Sunnah [sayings] of the Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Allaihi Salam,” Datu Omar said.

He added that it is no longer being used even after the government took the mosque back from the Filipino pro-IS militants, who used it as their base, posting machine guns and snipers in the minaret. The militants used mosques in their fight, perhaps capitalizing on their being religious structures and the government forces’ reluctance to attack places of worship.

When the government forces moved to retake the Grand Mosque, they did not use air bombardments or mortar rounds because, as the AFP said, they wanted to preserve the religious structure.

AFP Spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said after the retaking of the historic mosque that they did not launch a head-on attack even if international protocols permitted because of President Duterte’s strong guidance to not destroy any place of worship.

And preserved it was. However, the Grand Mosque still suffered so much that it is not anymore practical to use because of the risks to worshipers as local government executives have declared.

Rehabilitating the house of worship is, obviously, not an option anymore. So a new Grand Mosque would be the next best option.

Actually, Datu Omar said that, even before the Marawi siege, there were already foreign groups, which expressed their interest in renovating the Grand Mosque. Now that this is no longer possible.

He said that on record, the first phase of the Grand Mosque was laid in the early 1950s through the efforts of the landowner, his grandfather Datu Pangarungan Desalongan.

Datu Omar, besides being vice president of the Islamic Center, is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Pangarungan and Sons Enterprises, the umbrella business entity of the clan. He said funding came from voluntary contributions of local Muslims (private sector) and some foreign individuals.

“With the support and contributions of the Muslim community in the region and abroad, the construction of the first phase of the Grand Mosque was completed in 1970,” he said.

With ground zero still to be opened to the public as demolition of government properties are still ongoing, the Maranaws—especially the displaced residents and those whose properties were either destroyed or damaged in the conflict—and civil society organizations are hoping the government can assist the owners of the mosques in looking for funds for their reconstruction or building of new ones.

The Pangarungan scion clarified that no funds will come from the Philippine government for the mosques because of the separation of Church and State.

However, he added: “The role of the government is to assist the owners of mosques for the sourcing of funds for the reconstruction/building of the mosques.”

He also revealed that, after the Marawi siege, some countries have expressed their interest to participate in rebuilding the mosques on ground zero, subject to the guidelines of the Philippine government, which they have to undertake.

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Usman is a freelance journalist who writes about science, information technology, current events, etc. He won the “Best Science Feature Story” in the first University of the Philippines Science Journalism Award 2018 on February 17, and the DOST-PCIEERD “Kabalikat Award” for Print Media on June 27, 2014.