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KISSAH AND DAWAT: The power of soft words

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ZAMBOANGA CITY (MindaNews / 04 May) – I still vividly recall my experience with an ace writer. Fresh out of college, I attempted to write an essay for a local paper. However, the words that came out of the ace writer and the way they were spoken left me with the notion that writing was not for me. I thought it was an unachievable goal better left in the backyard of dreams, maybe to be pursued in another lifetime, but not in my current one.

While I can write a decent essay or two, I have no illusions of being a professional writer. In the hands of an expert wordsmith, my writing could easily end up in the trash. However, I believe that spoken words and actions can be just as sharp as the traditional weapons used by fearless warriors like the Tausug or Sama Bangingi’. A critic’s sharp critique can cut through a topic like a barong slicing through a fresh fish. Similarly, a powerful argument can pierce through someone’s heart like a kampilan leaving no hope for change. And so, I grew up knowing words can be sharper than these traditional blades.

In the evening of May 1 holiday, I had the opportunity to sit among a select group of influential figures in provincial politics and religion. The purpose was to brainstorm ideas, but there was no rush for anyone to speak their mind. Rather, their presence, demeanor, eyes, and smiles conveyed everything that needed to be said. Their hearts were talking to each other in a way I am overwhelmed. I cannot remember the last time I was in a gathering like this one. 

Despite their knowledge about the topic, there were few verbal exchanges during our conversation. The speakers avoided attempts to impress or dominate the conversation and instead focused directly on the matter at hand. In the pauses between speaking, they exchanged soft words that conveyed empathy and understanding for each other’s perspectives. These moments of spoken words and non-verbal actions epitomized the essence of empathic and dialogic conversation.

I am awestruck as I recall my research mentors, Dr. Ofelia Durante and Dr. Norma Gomez, speaking about the presence of the Holy Spirit during fruitful conversations. This feeling of blessedness is especially poignant as we have just left the holy month of Ramadan, and two or three of the participants in our discussion have already begun their optional fasts for the month of Shawwal. It is as though we are all connected in a spiritual sense, united in our pursuit of knowledge and understanding. The words of my mentors remind me that there is something special about the way we communicate with one another, and it is not just about the words we say, but the spirit in which we say them.

The tasks at hand are difficult and long-term. Eventually, many of us will need to walk our talk. Some will be on the giving side of zakat (mandatory alms), sadaqat (optional charity), and awqaf (lasting endowment), while others will need to manage these resources sustainably and according to Islamic principles. I am simply in the middle, providing technical advice.

If there is one important lesson to take away from this evening’s conversation, it is the power of soft words to inspire, motivate, and move us to action. May the Almighty bless our efforts and allow them to bear fruit for the benefit of the Muslim community on this side of the world for years to come.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Noor Saada is a Tausug of mixed ancestry—born in Jolo, Sulu, grew up in Tawi-Tawi, studied in Zamboanga and worked in Davao, Makati and Cotabato. He is a development worker and peace advocate, former Assistant Regional Secretary of the Department of Education in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, currently working as an independent consultant and is a member of an insider-mediation group that aims to promote intra-Moro dialogue.)

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