Writing Process

Nurmina Abdul

I struggled with holding a pencil in preschool. While my classmates raced out of our makeshift classroom, I was left behind, clutching my pencil as if my life depended on it when it should be the pencil depending on me to guide it across the paper. My concerned and, at the same time, stressed-out teacher would let me do “Close-Open Hands” Exercises to help work my right hand’s control muscles and allow me to grasp a pencil without assistance. At home, my mother would teach me how to make du’a by letting me imitate how she lifted her hands, asking for the Almighty’s blessings. I remember these not because my handwriting had turned appealing or I became the best in making du’as but because my palms would seize my memories and ideas, ultimately processing them through my attempts at writing.

As a kid, I quietly enjoyed reading in corners. But growing up, soaked in an irretrievable rush to build a dream, I considered writing more seriously. The people around me, however, don’t seem to take me seriously each time I tell them I’m taking up creative writing. What more if they knew I couldn’t hold a pencil properly as a kid? Some of my relatives and acquaintances would confuse my course with Education major in English: They see the two disciplines as identical. If they were birds, they’re of the same feathers. Both struggle to find a nest to rest in. Though teaching is noble, and I might dive into it, I don’t think it’s fair to continually mistake something for something else.

In seventh grade, I learned a narrative could get amplified twice as others, especially when the other is perceived lightly. I remember first hearing the outcome of SAF 44’s OPLAN exodus in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, through my computer teacher, who prayed for the eternal repose of the slain forces and for protection against “bandits” who, according to him, wanted to take over the land of promise. In some way, he tried choosing his words carefully. Later, I’ll discover that at least seven civilians were dead, including a five-year-old and a farmer. While I’m far from competing about whose pain is more painful, maybe it’s worth saying that no one has a monopoly on suffering. I refuse to be convinced that someone wakes up waiting to be killed in their own home. Perhaps my classmates and teacher have forgotten the scenario because I would wish the same. Yet, the daunting task of writing, I have to feel, I have to remember, I have to retell.

A quick Google search of words synonymous with “process” would include procedure, operation, action, activity, undertaking, proceeding, development, course, measure, and means, to name some. I thought my writing “process” included opening and closing my hands like what I did in preschool. The more I practice, the better I’ll be. The tighter I hold onto narratives, the better. But I realize that as I learned to hold pencils and keep memoirs, I struggled to let go, too. There are times that I refuse to write because of such reasons.

My mother told me I should put my trust in God, especially regarding things outside my control. Indeed, it’s convenient to let the higher being take care of those beyond our capabilities. Yet, I’m not immune to the pressure. I admit to seeing writing as a chance to navigate through my Maguindanaon identity. Growing up, I struggled a lot with representation. I wondered why Bangsamoro history is obliterated in most history books while our clothing, food, language, and customs are appropriated. I wonder why Muslims get asked to explain Bin Laden’s actions when I don’t recall any credits for Rumi’s brilliance. I find it extra challenging to process the necessity to put frequent efforts into proving I’m not a threat to anyone by merely existing or, for that matter, writing. Probably, my mother was right to say I must relinquish what I can’t control.

Writing a short story involving Maguindanaon characters unveiled my internalized prejudice against my fellows. “Why did you kill off the character?” My lecturer asked in an afternoon Fiction I Workshop. The class was curious about the ending of my draft. They couldn’t wrap their heads around the death of the male protagonist turned combatant. It didn’t help that he was murdered by his fiancee, who didn’t earn the readers’ trust that she got in her the ability to kill. Looking back, I assumed that erasing my character was an easy shortcut to tie up the story. Perhaps a part of me didn’t yet have the full courage to defend my choice to write about arranged marriages and armed struggle. I failed to distinguish constructive self-criticism from pure contempt in writing about my people. I’m quite sure developing a sense of inferiority doesn’t happen overnight. I suppose I’m not alone in my experiences either. However, I consider it a personal battle that I must overcome. Regardless, on that afternoon, I gave everyone equally bad and lazy answers via Google Meet.

Mostly now, I imagine Moro writers who came before me had also searched for their specific voices and inspirations and had to learn and unlearn many things in their writing process and beyond throughout their journey. I find solace in thinking of fellow beginning Moro writers out there likewise trying. What’s left for us, I guess, is the boldness to keep on writing. I know I learned to hold a pencil to write stories. I believe I have an axon of assertions — even when pulled away, impulses.

Dear Mojahidin

Kristian Rivera

You are a Muslim, and I am a Christian, yet I haven’t fully discerned how much this friendship genuinely means until I learned the history and the story of the Moro people in Mindanao. This came full circle when I realized that your roots have been systematized with marginalization and prejudice throughout the years.

Of course, being part of the second generation, you and I haven’t really experienced the escalation or re-escalation of violence that the generation before us went through, and how the brotherhood between a Muslim and a Christian is being questioned due to the unending biased distinction, negative reframing of stories, and the struggles between the two religions.

In the course of our friendship, I have heard your countless “Muuli ko sa SND“, specifically on Fridays. It was nothing to me, not until I realized how much you gave importance to your space, to your home, and to your family. I wasn’t even sure what SND stands for, which somehow raised a question on my part on whether I really know you, or whether I took our friendship for granted.

Today, I have educated myself, and a part of that was the reemergence of the memories we had relished during our senior year of high school, which all persist in my vision. The years I spent being best friends with you felt like an invisible space that separated us, being unable to grasp the real story behind your name. But I think a part of this feeling is because I wasn’t really introduced to the concept of the Bangsamoro and the history of the Muslim people until I got into college.

I have heard that SND or Sultan Naga Dimaporo is a beautiful province in Lanao del Norte. I’m intrigued about the blue beaches, the carnival, and the night market! I hope I had the time to ask you about your hometown before, which may mean that I’d be closer to your home as a non-Moro. In fact, I would love to go there and simply experience the place with my own feet.

I look up to you because of how you value your family and how you truly care about their success in life. I can still remember one time you shared about the livelihood of your parents and how it helped you and your siblings’ education. Your perseverance has always been one of the traits that has kept you going. I hope you still have this today.

Four years ago, after Ramadhan, you brought a Meranaw food called “dodol“, a sweet toffee-like, sugar palm-based confection commonly found in Muslim-dominated areas in Southeast Asia but also common in Mindanao. I wasn’t asking you to get me some, but you gave me one. Please know that I won’t forget that day, as I shared it happily with my family. It even became my favorite!

Brother, although it has been years since our last in-person contact, I made sure that your history is clearer to me now. Our difference is not really a difference; for me, we have always been one; we have similar interests, hobbies, and perceptions, and sometimes we envision the same ideals.

Your bloodline has fought for centuries, and today, I am with you to keep and protect your honor.

I am proud that you are my best friend, and I hope more friendships like this will be born.

When you hear hoofbeats

Afdal B. Kunting

Stuck in a traffic jam at Veterans Avenue again! During the day in Zamboanga, there is virtually no chance to rev one’s engine and sprint to a destination. I was running a little late at around 7:15 AM, but the traffic build-up was already colossal. Just another day in Zamboanga.

Typically, during these episodes of boredom, I would yearn for simpler times, the carefree Zamboanga of old, our Ciudad de Flores (City of Flowers). The city was very much provincial then, like a charming barrio lass. Acacia lined avenues, verdant greenery and a profusion of bougainvillea flowers exuded a quaint country charm.

After a couple of deep sighs, I stumbled across a favorite memory of my childhood, the calesa ride. I was probably around four or five years old back then, in the late 1970s. Sundays were specially anticipated because it meant the possibility of a picnic at the beach at Cawa-Cawa Boulevard. We lived with my Angkong (Granddad) and Amah (Granny) at Sto. Niño, on San Jose Road, just a stone’s throw away from the beach. It was a short walk for an adult but a fair distance for kids. So, a calesa ride was in order.

I don’t know why this memory is something that I could recall after so many years. Perhaps happy memories are etched with more fervor in one’s brain cells? Even today, the images seem so vivid. A typical jaunt to Cawa-Cawa would involve our Amah Lei Wah and Ae (Aunt) Rosita, calling us to prepare hurriedly so we can get a good spot at the beach. At that time, there were no beach resorts of note except maybe Caragasan Beach, but that was too far away. Apura ya, nuay mas ya kita lugar alya! (Be quick or else we won’t be able to get a spot there!)

I would gather up our dog, Skippy, a poodle with a questionable pedigree and shepherd my younger brother, John, and first cousin Koji towards the camino or road. We had a neighbor who operated a calesa, our suki for these excursions. His name escapes me, we just called him Nyor (Mister), but his features are still clear to me. He was a short, slightly rotund, jolly person. His weather-beaten face always featured a gap-toothed smile. “Hoy Peter! Anda ya tamen ustedez na aplaya? (Hey Peter, you are going to the beach again?) We would reply in unison with a gleeful Si! Si! Si! (Yes! Yes! Yes!)

If you didn’t notice, we had nicknames not aligned to our first names, my brother being Ahmed and Koji is Emmanuel. My Mmah (dad) is a multi-ethnic Muslim while my mom is of Chinese descent. I was told that her parents came from Manila during the war leaving their fledging business to escape the fighting. Being Muslim, my dad gave us Arabic names, however, my Amah didn’t like it one bit. Deficil habla ese mga nombre. Hard to say those names. She would remark. Thus, we were nicknamed Peter and John after the Apostles. Our family was one multi-religion affair. Since my Dad was in Tawi-Tawi during our early years, we practiced a variety of religions before becoming Muslim later. We went to mass at the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral, had a Chinese altar at home and celebrated the ancestors’ birthdays, burned paper money and joss sticks. We even had lechon during birthdays! The crispy lechon ears were the first to be consumed! Those were carefree days indeed, just don’t tell my dad!

Back to the calesa. We clambered onto the brightly colored contraption whose sizable wooden wheels were bright yellow covered with flat gray rubber for a less bumpy ride. The dark red spokes provided a jarring contrast. The sky blue coach was average sized, easily fitting two adults and three boisterous boys plus the kutsero. I don’t know why, but the rhythmic clip clop clip clop of the hooves on the mixed asphalt and gravel road was a mesmerizing sound to my young ears.

Nyor’s horse was a cantankerous old stallion with a mean temper. We knew better than to come near its legs or mouth. Experience is a bitter teacher. When the grumpy horse strayed away from the chosen path Nyor kutsero would give him a healthy whack on his fly-covered butt. The judicious use of the whip allowed us to make good time and arrive at the correct destination. This horse also had a nasty habit of stopping suddenly and depositing a steaming heap of manure as we were eating our breakfast. Ay loko gat esta caballo! (What a crazy horse!) My Amah used to remark in her shrill voice! I don’t know if this was intentional, but it happened too often to be a mere coincidence! This caballo was toying with us!

Since we would go early, we usually brought food to eat; suman ibus, tamal, and alfajor. The latter is a Zamboanga delicacy that is sort of like a biscuit made from corn and probably coffee. It felt like eating gravel, but it was Amah’s favorite. The tamal, on the other hand, is a handy eat-as-you-go snack of steamed glutinous rice powder with coconut milk, chicken, sotanghon and boiled egg wrapped in banana leaf. Real good quality tamal just melts into your mouth, sending an explosion of salty, umami goodness. As you can probably tell, it is my all-time favorite comfort food. We form lifelong habits from childhood activities.

After an hour or two hours of invigorating dips and feeble attempts at swimming, we would call it quits. Nyor kutsero knew to be back by that time to pick us up. The fare, a few centavos, was good enough for him to buy some tuba bajal or coconut toddy for his afternoon buzz. As we headed back home, the horse’s mane would flick in cadence to his clip clops. Boys being boys, we would rock our heads in unison with the horse’s mane, not minding our salty skins and dry lips. Everything was a game back then.

Such trips were highlights of my childhood. Sadly, as we grew older and my Amah became frailer, these trips became few and far in between. The appearance of more jeepneys and tricycles signaled the inevitable demise of the calesa.

A loud honk broke me out of my revelry, the traffic enforcer was signaling for our lane to move. As I drove in a sea of cars, I found it remarkable that in the span of less than fifty years, no traces of the calesa can be seen in my city. Such a sad end for an iconic mode of transportation.


An Amazing Grace

Pearlsha Abubakar-Quebral

I first became familiar with the Islamic principle of “barakat” when my Aba (father), the late Hashim Rasul Abubakar, asked me to work with him on a Powerpoint presentation for an international group of development workers visiting Manila in 2007. The group wanted to hear other perspectives on what makes social development sustainable.

The Western model of development prides itself on democracy, open-mindedness, visionary leadership, and courage of the pioneer, which is why it should dovetail perfectly with the requirements of barakat. After 911, it had become particularly hard for the West to see anything good in Islamic culture. Together, my father and I expounded on the meaning of “barakat” and attempted to articulate it to a secular audience, in a small effort to build sturdier, more lasting foundations in place of the physical structures that had come apart after 911.

What is Barakat? “Barakat” in Arabic is the plural form of “blessing.” Aba extended the definition to mean a principle whereby “rahman” or grace is the singular element that fuels social change. It is literally singular in that “rahman” is bestowed upon a human being by a combination of fortuitous personal and sociopolitical circumstances. Having become extraordinary by acquiring this “rahman” or grace, this human being then moves to improves large swaths of human lives using their own personal means.

This main feature of barakat is controversial: an extraordinary human being favored by the universe to effect lasting change. It makes the 99% of us wince. It makes all the inequalities and inequities even more apparent and therefore painful to bear. Why can’t rahman be bestowed upon every single one of us?

If only we can ask Prophet Abraham, Moses, or Jesus Christ what they thought of their extraordinariness. But history did tell us how inconvenient it had been for them to be extraordinary during their lifetime. If they didn’t nearly drown in the Red Sea after barely escaping their hunters, they got crucified and were left on a hilltop to die.

Now that will make the 99% of us not only wince, but scream, twist and shout in agony as well. We don’t want any of this, after all.

In the province of Sulu in Muslim Philippines, where my father was born, extraordinary human beings were called tubuanan or magaagama, people or families with blood links to history and whom circumstances have installed in positions of wisdom, power and influence. Descendants of the Prophet Mohammed are considered as such. This concept is neither alien nor impractical to many cultures. Histories and herstories, oral and written, are full of kings, queens, shamans and healers whose powers did not come from excessive striving, but from being at the right place at the right time, with them possessing the necessary mental, social and spiritual faculties to effect meaningful change. Human design could only go so far – we cannot truly predict when the ocean swells will be at their highest point. Most of us only know that the ocean will heave at some point; but barakat allows the extraordinary person to ride the biggest wave, for the rest of us to see where dry land could be. To give a very simplistic example, it will be usually easier for a child of a family of sailors to succeed in sailing than a child of a family of lute players, or vice versa. Intergenerational inheritance and the epigenetic effects of a supportive environment are constantly operating on an extraordinary person’s life. One cannot exist without the other.

To be part of world history is Grace. A truly amazing grace. “In God We Trust” is minted on American coins; “Inshaallah” (or God Willing) is marked on Muslim leaders.

The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate for 2006, Mohammed Yunnus of Bangladesh, practiced barakat, with or without him knowing it. Using his own personal wealth, knowledge and wisdom, he went back to his poverty-stricken homeland to introduce a micro-financing scheme for Bangladeshi women. The deep reason for the poverty was neither poor soil nor military harassment; it was a patriarchal culture that stifled the potential of women. Mohammed liberated the women from this insidious culture by lending money exclusively to them, not to their husbands who would most likely mismanage it. With it they bought cows they grew and whose milk they sold in the market. Some bought plows to till the soil, and the benefits of their hard work empowered the women and their families, instantly improving their lives on all levels: physical, psychological, spiritual, and economic.

Yunnus is hardly an ordinary man. It could be mind-boggling how a person as endowed with wealth and power as he was could have such compassion for his fellowmen, and such compassion is not ordinary. It is grace. With grace, a person becomes fit to lead. Unfortunately, electoral processes, which were initially developed with the pure intention of representing the people’s will, have since become so warped that they have instead weeded out people blessed by amazing grace and nurtured the people blessed by amazing money and power.

Fortunately, however, the enlightened man, aware of the failure of the electoral process, shares his grace through means other than political. And in Muslim Philippines, the actions of a mere handful of powerful people in the central government can spell life or death for the future of barakat. For instance, a powerful leader that continues to appoint warlords-turned-politicians in a town where private citizens have been practicing barakat can quickly diminish the gains of barakat. These leaders were appointed by the central government, not chosen by the people, which explains why they rule with such brute force, not with the effortlessness and lightness of touch that comes with true grace.

In 1996, my Aba, a beautiful human being who I believe to have possessed an amazing grace, started developing a piece of property that lay directly in the path of two warring families. For a long time, the An Noor community in Indanan, Sulu was a place that drew residents, Muslim and non-Muslim, from all over Mindanao. The endless blue waters of the Sulu sea, the mangroves, the movements of the gentle Sama people that built houses on stilts close to the property, all inspired Aba to make Paradise on Earth a reality for the community, achieved without any government support. On Fridays, residents went to the little bamboo mosque to pray, and helped each other run errands. Mango trees and yellowbells bloomed, and an ancient banyan tree by the water’s edge witnessed much drama, love and laughter happening under its shade.

But the Universe had other Plans, and when our house was bombed during a particularly tumultuous period in Sulu’s modern history, the family moved to higher ground and did not come back for a spell. My brother has since begun picking up the Pieces that will make An Noor worthy of its brilliant name again, but it will be a long time before a full peace can be restored.

Maybe someday, Inshallah, paradise on earth will become a reality once more in my father’s homeland.

Or perhaps, paradise is already underway as I end this essay.

Volume 2 Authors




[box]Imadodin Dimao Imadodin “Imad” Basar Dimao graduated from Zaid bin Thabit Quranic Institute. He’s been an expat for years in the Middle East. He is a tenured Bilingual (Arabic) Technical Support Analyst for Coursera since 2019. He contributes Islamic articles to Philippine Muslim Today.

Read Submission: Here


[box] Elijah Marvin Santos GuangcoElijah Marvin Santos Guangco is a Bachelor of Arts in English graduate from the Mindanao State University in Marawi City. He has been published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer Youngblood (2016), Youngblood 7 (2019), and Mirar: Untold Scribbles (2021). Currently, he works as a Communications Officer and teaches Research at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University Senior High School. He also teaches literature in the College Unit of the same University.

Read Submission: Here


[box]Shariful S. Mansul Shariful S. Mansul was born in Sulu, spent his high school years in Bulacan, and attends college in Zamboanga. He studies philosophy and occasionally scribbles. He likes reading stuff on history, language, and power—or just anything that makes him understand or that deepens and widens his already-placed understanding. He prefers to be called Perry.

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[box]Alminah B. Alyamen Alminah B. Alyamen is a twenty-year-old first year college student at the Mindanao State University- Main Campus where she is taking up her Bachelor of Science Major in Physics. She was a former member of LANGKOM Official Student Publication of RC-AL Khwarizmi International College Foundation Incorporated, Senior High School. She loves to read books and writing is her best escape. For her, without books she can’t truly live well.

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[box]Bensar M. Saed Bensar M. Saed is a graduate of Bachelor in Elementary Education. He just finished his Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Administration last June 2020. He is currently teaching at J. Marquez Elementary School. He is handling Grade Six learners and teaching Science.

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[box]Ahmad Shaid J. Sallim Ahmad Shaid Jundam Sallim is a current second year law student at Western Mindanao State University, College of Law in Zamboanga City. He took his Bachelor of Arts major in Asian Studies in the same university. Born and raised in Basilan during the height of the island’s political unrest, his consciousness about outside world beyond his understanding and environment is vague and dimmed. Somehow, his inspiration to write was the book about the history of Sulu. As an aspiring lawyer and writer, he started his passion in reading and writing since he was very young. The urge to redefine the Basilan’s tumultuous past drive his passion to write his experiences about the island. He is currently engage with the non-government organizations (NGO) involving youth leadership and environmental conservation and currently working on his project about writing the local history of his hometown in Maluso, Basilan.

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[box]Maleeha Ampatuan Ansari Maleeha Ampatuan Ansari is a medical student who has a passion for uplifting and inspiring people through her writing and creativity. She is the creator of Maleehini.art, the associate editor of her medical school’s publication and the co-founder of Muslimah Artist Philippines which is an online group created for female Muslim artists and aspiring artists to share and connect with one another.

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[box]Omira S. Abdulbasit Omira S. Abdulbasit is currently a senior clerk (fourth year) medical student at Liceo de Cagayan University. She is a professional civil service eligible and a licensed nurse. She is both a passionate advocate and a volunteer since undergrad and is affiliated with different organizations in line with academic or socio-civic associations. She excels both in public speaking and journalism, being the previous Editor-In-Chief of MSU-CHS The Lamp Publication and graduated with “Writer of the Year” and “Best Thesis Awardee” as part of her numerous graduation awards. She won multiple competitions in the fields of writing and public speaking. She also presented her paper focusing on mental health and got it funded and published internationally.

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[box]Amira R. Bagumbaran Amira R. Bagumbaran is a teacher from Marawi City. She graduated cum laude from Mindanao State University and ranked 10th place in the Licensure Examination for Teachers last September 25, 2011. With passion to teach, she enjoys teaching both children and LET reviewees as a part-time lecturer. She strongly advocates for respect and unity in diversity.

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[box]Adia Arianne A. Bangcola Adia Arianne A. Bangcola is a young M’ranao poet and writer. Her spoken word performances of her original work has granted her distinctions in competitions organized by Pilumbayan, Inquirer, and the Film Development Council of the Philippines. She is currently pursuing medicine, and would like to work with children in the future.

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[box]Bai Fairuz Candao Bai Fairuz Candao is the youngest daughter of former ARMM Regional Governor Datu Zacaria A. Candao with his late wife Bai Saada Bajunaid Candao. Her exposure to the Bangsamoro struggle for self-determination all through the years has inspired her to express her views through writing. As a creative writer, she aims to appeal to the hearts of her fellow Bangsamoro with her thought-provoking short stories, poetry, and essays. She also specializes in speech writing and public speaking. As a current employee in the interim Bangsamoro government, she hopes to impart her skills to the younger ones and convince them to express their valuable thoughts.

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[box]Rohaina Dansal Rohaina S. Dansal is a twenty-year old student in Mindanao State University Main Campus. She worked with student publications as part of the editorial staff from her past and present schools. Her written works were published in Banwag, Bedlisiw, The Worksheet, and Mindanao Varsitarian. She lives in Kauswagan, Lanao del Norte.

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[box]Jahara A. Solaiman Jahara A. Solaiman is an instructor at the English Department of Mindanao State University-Marawi City, where she teaches English, literature, and art appreciation. Her earlier works have appeared in other literary anthologies, the most recent being Lawanen II (Gantala Press) and Ani 40: Katutubo (Cultural Center of the Philippines). In addition to creative writing, she loves imparting her love of art (she works with colored pencils, watercolors, and acrylic) to her students.

Read Submission: Here