The Islamic City of Marawi: The Myths And The Facts

I happened to pay a visit to Marawi City in one of my business trips to the area.  I could have taken a detour from the main road and visited there before when I was on vacation with my family, but we didn’t have the guts to go out of fear for our lives.  

Marawi City is a Muslim city in the province of Lanao del Sur in the Philippines. It is the capital city of Lanao delSur in Mindanao. The people from Marawi speak a dialect called Maranao language, the name originated from a lake which is known as Lake Lanao, which is also called as Ranao in Maranao.

Starting the Trip

The journey to Marawi starts with a fork on the road.  There is a huge stone landmark in the middle that reads, “This way to Marawi City” and points to the left, while the main road is to the right.  The moment you turn left, it’s an hour-long ride until you finally reach your destination.

Along the way you pass through small towns – Muslim towns – along wide, neatly cemented roads traversing the mountain.  It’s a long way up, but the terrain isn’t so steep.  About thirty minutes away, you will be overlooking Lake Lanao, which practically looks like an ocean what with its vastness and placidity.

Before reaching the city, you pass approximately six checkpoints – there’s one of the Army, another of the local police, and a few more.  They didn’t let us out or open the trunk or anything; we just had to zigzag through alternately blocked points on the road where guys in fatigues with guns were on guard.

The City of Streamers

Another thing you’d notice along the way is that every 2 meters or so, there are banners screaming congratulations to certain graduates and licensure exam passers – new Muslim professionals.  And when you reach the city proper, there are even more of these “tiny billboards” with a lot more smiling faces reflecting the honor and joy that comes with a professional degree or title.  Marawi City: The City of Streamers, they call it.

You’ll know you’ve reached your destination when you see a huge landmark that says, “Welcome to the Islamic City of Marawi.”  Since it is situated at the top of a mountain, the air is always chilly.  The wind is cold 24 hours a day, even at the middle of the day.  And even when the sun shines on a hot, lazy afternoon, there always is a cool sting whenever a gust of wind traverses the scene.

Food

Practically all businesses in the city are owned by Muslims.  And most of the food you order in locally-ownedrestaurants and foodstops will either be hot or spicy – that’s the way they like it.  There are no fast food chains – no McDonald’s, no Dunkin’ Donuts, no Jollibee – anywhere.  Local businesses thrive in the city.

Evening Prayers

At around 6 P.M., the silent air is broken with the thin, soft sounds of distant worship and praises to Allah.  I could not, of course, understand what the prayers were about, but as we made our way down the mountain and approached a mosque or two, the chants became louder and more vivid.  When we turned on the car radio, a man was chanting prayers on air.  We turned it off instead.

Peace?

Even when I was there, I heard a few stories about kidnapping, robbery, shooting, etc.  However, thank God, I didn’t get to see these stories materialize before my eyes.  That’s all the fear I had – from those stories.  The entire time I was there it was as if I was always holding my breath and waiting for something to happen – but nothing ever did, thank goodness.

The stories surrounding Marawi City will always be there, and whether they are good or bad ones, they will always be part of the culture that colors the place.  The city is like a haven to the Muslim community, considered a minority in the Philippines.  It is the one place where THEY make the population.

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