Jasmine Diorka Suleik
Founder of Friends Beyond Faith

Assalamualaikum Jasmine! Muslims are the minority in the Philippines. How is it like living there?

Waalaikumussalam! I was born and raised in the capital of the Philippines, Manila. In Manila, there are not as many Muslims as in Mindanao, which is the Southern part of the Philippines. I am used to being the only hijabi in class, since primary school until I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree. Only during medicine school did I have fellow hijabi batchmates, both of them also from Mindanao.

Through those years, I’ve met people with varying perspectives on Islam. Some are open-minded. However, most have a restricted “violent-terrorist” view on Islam. I grew up being teased for being a Muslim. I remember once in primary school, I walked into class and noticed that words had been scribbled on the whiteboard. Things like ‘terrorist’, ‘Al Qaeda’ and ‘violent’. As soon as my classmates saw me, they started chanting, “Terrorist! Terrorist!” Another time, I was ambushed by a bunch of people. They noticed my hijab and threatened to kill me. I was terrified and upset. Fortunately, my friend, who is non-Muslim, stepped in and said adamantly, “She’s not like what you think.” Even when I was walking up on stage to receive my diploma, I heard whispers from students who were taunting me for being a Muslim.

Being a Muslim in Metro Manila, especially a hijabi one, would somehow mean that you represent Islam to everyone. Yes, even when you’re in Manila, and a massacre of Muslim families happens in Mindanao, people in Manila would still think you’re part of it. You’re related to them– all because you’re a Muslim too. This outlook made my decision to wear the hijab with my nursing uniform a challenging and memorable one. Some of my mentors didn’t say anything. However, some strongly disagreed. They were afraid that my hijab will destruct the pure image of being a nurse.

That sounds really tough… How did you overcome those challenges?

By standing up for what I think is right. If you fear Dunya more than Akhirah, it means that there’s something wrong with your imaan. I’ve always kept in mind what the Prophet SAW said, “Always look down to those below you so that you get reminded of how blessed you are”. My studies are my ibadah, and my uniform is a part of it. Allah has guided me to deal with it wisely. Instead of being discouraged, I used this dichotomy to share the significance of hijab. Since I was in a Catholic university, I pointed out to others that nuns and sisters cover their heads too. They are excellent examples of the significance of wearing hijab in practicing a faith. After explaining to our college priest how important hijab is in my life, as Islam is a way of life and wearing hijab is a vital part of it, he kindly helped me explain my point to others! Alhamdulillah.

Throughout those difficult years, I’ve also gained true friends who constantly defend me, and make me love my identity even more. I may have been the one who always had to make the first move on friendships. However, whenever they mention that I have changed their perspective on Islam, it gives me hope that Islam will be perceived as a genuine religion of love. I don’t want my children to grow up having to be afraid just because they are Muslims. They deserve a chance to make their mark in the world. I hope that I can help to let others know that we treasure compassion and peace just like the other existing religions in the world.

Subhanallah! May Allah make things easy for you. You were picked to represent the Philippines in the Young Southeast Asian Muslim Forum. How was it?

Alhamdulillah, it was very fulfilling and a memorable experience. It was my first time attending an international conference for youth that focused solely on the Ummah. I loved working with my co-delegates and listening to their personal experiences as Muslims in their country. Everyone has a struggle to share, and that is how it should be. We are just travelers in this world, and we wouldn’t find peace in this Dunya. I felt amazed hearing ideas on how to present a positive image of Islam through social media from all over Southeast Asia. During the conference, one of the points highlighted was how Islam is being viewed on the internet, especially the social media. We were shown how Islam correlates with “terrorism”, “jihad” and the likes – and how interfaith relationship news are only broadcasted if they dealt with death and violence. Why don’t we have headlines highlighting and promoting the positive relationships among different faiths?

That’s exactly why I, and a fellow peace advocate Bari Macalawan, conceptualized Friends Beyond Faith (FBF) – a social media campaign designed to promote positive interfaith relationships and to value the differences and celebrate the similarities among different faiths. One of the components of FBF is the #fastingchallenge. Fasting is perceived as a common ground among religions, and sometimes for political and health reasons too. We thought that this would be a great way to break the barrier of the thought of how different one faith is from another.

FBF’s #fastingchallenge encourages non-Muslims to experience the way Muslims do it during the month of Ramadan, refraining from drinking and eating from sunrise to sunset. Last year, we had 250 fasting challengers from 23 countries – and all of them shared their memorable reflections online. We also had Friends Beyond Faith Camp in Manila, Cebu and Saranggani Province which gathered 70 interfaith youth who shared their faith openly and built friendships beyond faith during the workshop.

This year, #fastingchallenge will be held from June 6 to July 5, 2016. FBFs are encouraged to pick one day to fast from sunrise to sunset, sign up online (http://goo.gl/forms/GaWHDRsKjr) and share their fasting experience on social media, tagging #fastingchallenge. Just in case they cannot make it through fasting, they are asked to share a meal with a street child. You may check www.facebook.com/friendsbeyondfaith for updates. I’m inviting everyone to take part in this, especially our non-Muslim friends. This is our chance to show the world that it’s possible to gain more friendships beyond faith. If you are a Muslim, invite your non-Muslim friends to join. If you are new to this, we’re sure that your Muslim friends will be glad to share some tips. We can also assign a fasting buddy to our challengers!

That’s a great idea, Jasmine! I’ll join in too, in shaa Allah. You told me before that you want to be a doctor. Why?

It all started when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to know everything about her diagnosis. I wanted every doctor to attend to my mother’s needs, without delays. I felt helpless because we didn’t know any of the doctors in the hospital. That’s when I knew that I wanted to be a doctor. This love for medicine deepened when I worked as a volunteer nurse for the Philippine Hajj Medical Team in 2013. My passion for service ignited even more. I can never forget the feeling of contentment and fulfilment whenever a pilgrim came over to speak to me in our native language, thanking me for serving them.

Traveling to different parts of the country, and visiting my parents’ hometown in Mindanao, I have realized how health care is not possible for some, especially the marginalized Filipinos living in the remote areas of the country. How one doctor could offer much difference in these remote areas ignited my passion to serve these people. I want to be an OB/GYN to improve the condition of deprived communities in Mindanao. I have learned that there are a few Muslim communities in Mindanao where women don’t go for their pre-natal check-ups. These niqabis, those who only allow their eyes to be seen, are very skeptical about being able to protect their aurah during medical treatments and delivery. I want to be one of those to bridge the gap. I want to serve and be an eye-opener to these mothers that there is a halal way to deliver their babies. In fact, this method is beneficial not just to Muslims but also to non-Muslims. Though I wasn’t born and raised there, I want to serve the people of Mindanao for I know that they really need me. I look forward to their grateful smiles after I have served them as their physician.

Ma shaa Allah! What drives you to strive for excellence?

My faith in Allah, the Sunnah and my loving family.

Alhamdulillah, I’ve been really blessed too much by Allah. The challenges and blessings I’ve faced and received have made me who I am today. Now, it’s my duty to be an instrument to fulfill Allah’s will. I believe that Allah has blessed us with all the raw materials that we need in Dunya. It’s just up to us to figure out how to cultivate them. Since studying and working are my Ibadah, I know Allah only deserves the best of service. The best entails excellence, hard work, and faith. All up to him, in shaa Allah.

What is your hope for your community?

I hope that our country will allow Muslims to be given all the possible resources to fully develop their potential as leaders in the community. Also, I hope that access to quality healthcare is given to everyone. This should not be something that is just for the privileged ones. We all have the right to the best healthcare, no matter what our social status is.

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