Islam attracts the disillusioned

By Johnna Villaviray, Senior Reporter 

(Second of three parts)

Joey Ledesma lived a good life. 

A member of Manila’s moneyed elite, he lives in a

mansion in Greenhills and teaches economics at La

Salle University. His uncle is an ambassador whose

connections have opened the door to job opportunities.

Still, Ledesma chose to complicate his life two years

ago by becoming a Muslim. 

“I used to be very nationalistic. But not anymore,

because I’m more Muslim now and Islam transcends

ethnicity,” explained Ledesma, who now answers to the

name Yousuf. 

Ledesma became enamored with how Muslims stick to what

the prophets practiced centuries ago, unlike he says

how modern Christians improvised in their worship.

After a few sessions, he reverted. 

Becoming a Muslim was the best decision he ever made,

he says, despite the nagging of his mother and wife

who are hostile toward his new­found brothers. 

Ledesma and his brothers credit the spread of Islam

today to Divine Predestination, i.e., Allah chose this

time for the faith to spread. 

Police Senior Supt. Rodolfo Mendoza has a less

profound, but more practical, explanation: social


 “Filipinos are fond of searching for new horizons and

are naturally very religious. It’s no surprise that

they’re turning to religion to escape the

disappointments of this life,” said Mendoza, who has

studied terrorist groups since the mid-1990s. 

He believes the country has become the breeding ground

for Islamic radicals because of widespread poverty and

injustice and the failure of institutions to deal with

these problems. 

Mendoza said Balik Islam does not fall into a specific

age group or social status, because disappointment at

the state of the country’s affairs is not limited to

any class or education level. 

“But it’s also associated with poverty, people are

giving up.” he said. “[Religion] is like a magnetic

pole that attracts the poor.” 

Islam, like Christianity and most other religions, is

heavy with the promise of paradise in the afterlife.

According to the Koran, a good Muslim will be rewarded

after death with a huge marble palace and virgins and

young boys to attend to him. 

The promise of paradise in the afterlife after much

suffering during this life draws many would-be


Mendoza and Balik Islam differ on why Filipinos

revert, but they agree that the quest for purity is a

great attraction for many would-be reverts. 

The reverts are disgusted with the open patronage of

violence and sexuality in secular society. 

“If we were under a true Islamic government, we

wouldn’t be complaining of the crime or corruption or

poverty. All of that is addressed by the Koran,”

Santos said. 

The first Islamic preachers here were from the Middle

East. The reverts eventually took over when

authorities cracked down on foreigners because of

their association, real or imagined, with Muslim

radicals overseas. 

The Islamic Call and Guidance-Philippines (iscag) has

about 16 preachers spread over the traditionally

Catholic Luzon and Visayas. Iscag alone recorded a

total 1,387 reverts since 2000 to June this year. One

preacher in Masbate reported that 24 locals reverted

this September. 

Iscag is one of 78 Muslim organizations accredited by

the Office of Muslim Affairs (OMA) as of November

2001. Most of these organizations listed da’wah, or

propagation, as their primary objective. 

The most effective and active in da’wah, it seems, are

Balik Islam. Santos says this is because they speak

with the background of other, more popular, religions.

Zamzamin Ampatuan, OMA chief, acknowledges that

reverts tend to have more credibility to non-Muslims

because they are more fiery about the faith. 

“The outlandish propagation could also reflect a

deeper commitment to understand the faith. Those born

into Islam are more sober toward the faith because

we’ve had more time [to digest its teachings],” he


Preaching Islam can be as informal as going to a

market or street corner and speaking to the crowd from

a microphone. Other means are more structured. 

The madrasahs, or Koranic schools, are where Muslims

teach their children or others willing to learn about

Islam. OMA records place the number of madrasahs

nationwide at 1,890. 

More than 800 of the madrasahs are in the Autonomous

Region in Muslim Mindanao (armm). There are 19 schools

in Metro Manila, 48 in Ilocos, Cagayan Valley and

Central Luzon, 65 in Southern Tagalog and Bicol, 70 in

Western Visayas, Central Visayas and Eastern Visayas,

126 in Western Mindanao and Northern Mindanao, and 480

in Mindanao. 

At least 35 of the madrasahs offer secular education

and are accredited with the Department of Education.

One of these is the iscag school in Dasmariñas,

Cavite, which has 112 pupils enrolled from

kindergarten 1 to Grade 6. It started with 34

pre-elementary students in 1999. 

But a madrasah could also be less structured. 

Iscag’s Nooh Caparino said an imam could gather the

local children or anyone willing under a tree and that

would already be a madrasah. There is no way of

monitoring how many of these informal schools are in

operation, because they could be organized and

disbanded easily. 

Balik Islam’s activeness in da’wah was what triggered

suspicion that the groups are being used as fronts for

terrorist operations, or at least as an avenue for

laundering money used to finance training and the

acquisition of weapons, ammunition and bomb-making


It isn’t just the authorities who are suspicious of

the activities of the Muslims. Ledesma said his mother

is still uncomfortable allowing his brothers full

access to their Greenhills home. 

“My mother was asked once what a madrasah was, and she

said it was where children go to become terrorists,”

he said. Ledesma added that his wife is so allergic to

Muslims that she spanks their five-year-old son

whenever the boy shows interest in Islam. 

The boy’s experience is a stark example of how

difficult it is to be a Muslim in a predominantly

Catholic country. Besides the many required rituals,

Muslims must also live with distrust and animosity

from strangers to the faith. Still, they stick to

their religion, believing that they will be rewarded

in the afterlife. 

(Concluded tomorrow)


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