Sharjah: On a balmy May evening, following Iftar prayers at a nearby mosque, some Muslim Filipino families and friends in the UAE gathered in the apartment of Sharon ‘Roy’ Tamano.
The flat, on the first floor of low-rise building off Al Khudari Street in Sharjah’s Nasriya district, came alive with conversations over mouth-watering Maranao fare.
It’s time for iftar (end of fast), following a dawn-till-dusk abstinence from food or drinks observed by all abled-bodied Muslims around the world.
On this Ramadan night, the Moros (Muslim Filipinos) gathered here to share food and stories.
“Piaparan” and “Rendang” — among the many delectable Maranao delights (one of the Filipino Muslim tribes) cuisine — were served. There's fruit salad, too, made of young coconut strips and dollops of chunked-up fruits doused with condensed milk.
It’s one of the regular iftar gatherings here of “Moros” from Mindanao. Muslims in the Philippine archipelago have been marking Ramadan since about 1380, when Karim ul' Makhdum, the first Islamic missionary, reached Sulu and brought Islam to the Far East.
During the small community gathering, Ustaz Anwar Pangilamun, a Filipino "hafiz" (he memorised the whole of Quran) also gave a talk on the essence of Ramadan — the how’s and why’s of fasting, and one's rewards for good deeds.
Many of those gathered left their families back home.
Wishes and dishes
The iftar conversations revolved around their hopes, their jobs, their longing for home — and home-cooked food.
Rayhanah Natangcop-Guinomal, 40, a mother of three from Lanao del Sur, raved about “Palapa”. Her family is from Marawi City.
In her home province, Palapa is a popular spicy appetizer and condiment, made of “Sakurab” (scallions), ground and sautéed in coconut, mixed with herbs.
“They say that you haven’t been to Davao without durian. In the same way, you haven’t been to Marawi if you haven’t tasted Palapa,” she works as a manager for a Dubai-based startup.
For Rayhanah, Ramadan is a time for peace, for reconnecting with faith, family and the community.
She remembers Marawi City, a place decimated by war two years ago, following a five-month siege by hundreds of heavily armed Dash-inspired militants.
“I pray for peace and harmony, in the Philippines and around the world,” says Rayhanah.
Her husband Hashim Guinomla, 40, an investment banker in Dubai, expressed the same longing for peace, starting with his own family.
“I think peace in the family is very important because it enables us to live in harmony — with different cultures, different environments, especially we (who) are working abroad.
“For the Philippines, our home country, we also pray for peace. There are lot of issues happening. But hopefully, this holy month of Ramadan, everybody will be working together, in peace and harmony, and in reducing the conflicts,” Guinomla said.
What does he miss the most from his family kitchen back home? “Pater”, a simple rice-based dish with various toppings, usually meat, wrapped and cooked in banana leaves.
Tamano, a father of two and human resource manager in the UAE, expressed his sadness and longing for the rebuilding of Marawi City.
In May 2017, the city was declared by Daesh as its East Asian “capital”. After five months of intense fighting with the Philippine military, hundreds of the group’s members — including at least 100 foreign fighters — were killed.
“Marawi City saw total destruction,” said Tamano. “It’s sad to think we cannot bring back the past. Marawi City is very rich in cultural heritage… the centre of the Islamic community in the Philippines.”
Tamano added that Philippine President Duterte’s promise to rebuild Marawi remains “doubtful.”
What keeps him hopeful and happy is family? Tamano said: Seeing relatives and friends gather for iftar.
Shaharullah Ali Tahir, 40, head of the Maranao of community in the UAE, also pined for “pater”, a staple for Ramadan iftar. “Pater is the food of the masses, and it’s really tasty.”
For Tahir, Ramadan is a time for reflection, coupled with self-discipline and doing good deeds.
Tahir, who works for a Dubai utility, also longs for peace. “One thing on my wish list is peace…. Peace in my inner self, in the Philippines, all over the world.”
WHO ARE THE MARANAOS?
Maranaos are a proud “Moro” (Filipino Muslims) tribe who dwell in the verdant Lanao province, known as the “Baguio of the South”, in the Philippines’ mineral-rich Mindanao island. Known for their graceful, and dynamic folk dances and colorful garb, Maranaos have a rich cultural heritage, which also extends to their feasts, called “piging”.