Filipino Theologian Embraces Islam


By Rexcel Sorza 
November 7, 2005
IOL Philippines Correspondent

http://www.islamonline.net/english/journey/2005/11/jour01.shtml

When Muslim rebel leader Nur Misuari wanted Mindanao
to secede and become an Islamic state, a Mindanao-born
theologian and sociologist was among the first to rise
and argue that the southern Philippine island is never
home to Muslims alone.

Catholic priest Estanislao Soria campaigned against
the Moros’ takeover of the whole of Mindanao. “I
vehemently disagreed with Mr. Misuari. I campaigned
against the Moro movement,” said Soria, who used to be
popularly known as “Father Stan.”

Soria did not want to argue without basis as he is an
academic and theologian schooled in the Jesuit-run
learning institutions.

He embarked on a historical and sociological research
to back his arguments. In the back of mind, though,
was the thought of the need to convert Muslims to
Christianity. This also brought him to read Islamic
writings, and, quite surprisingly, lead him to revert
to Islam.

“As a linguist well-versed in Latin, Greek and Hebrew,
I thought I can learn Arabic that easily. I also
wanted to translate Arabic writings into English as
well as translate Western ideologies like
existentialism into Arabic but I realized it was
difficult,” he told IslamOnline.net.

Soria believed that making Western writings available
in Arabic would lead Muslims in Mindanao to appreciate
Christianity more than Islam. “I wanted to open their
minds to Christianity because I had heard a lot of
negative things about the Muslims. I told myself they
have to be educated.”

But in getting deep into his readings, Soria realized
that persons considered as “Church fathers” such as
Saint Thomas Aquinas, got their knowledge from Islamic
readings and teachings; that many of the so-called
Western ideologies and theologies have long been
discussed in Islam.

“[My readings] enlightened me that Western
civilization’s thoughts sprung from Islamic teachings.
After reading more works of Islamic theologians, I
strongly changed my views on Islam,” he told
IslamOnline.net.

Soria added, “I even realized that the Gospel of
Barnabas is even more credible than the gospels of the
four evangelists [included in the Christian Bible].”
The Gospel of Barnabas is a work purporting to be a
depiction of the life of Jesus by his disciple
Barnabas. It is also considered to be pro-Islamic.

He, too, found out through his sociological research
that most of the negative things said of the Filipino
Muslims were untrue. “They were not what they were
stereotyped to be.”

In 2001, Soria, who had served as parish priest in
various cities and towns in Metro Manila after taking
his college and theology studies at Xavier University
and Loyola School of Theology, both of the Jesuit-run
Ateneo de Manila University, reverted to Islam.

He has since been known as Muhammad Soria, but many,
including his Muslim friends, still call him “Father
Stan.”

The 64-year-old Soria said his decision was met with
condemnation and disgust by most of his relatives and
former parishioners, an experience similar to what
many of the Muslim reverts, locally known as Balik
Islam, go through. This, however, did not deter him
from leaving the priesthood after 14 years and
embracing Islam.

Soria is getting used to Islam, which to him is not
only a religion but a way of life.

He has gone on Hajj in Makkah five times already,
being a member of the Islamic Da`wah Movement of the
Philippines. He also married a 24-year-old woman last
year after living a celibate life as a priest.

Soria said that if there is one thing that Muslims
should learn from Christians, it is being organized.
To him, having a structure would greatly help in
spreading Islam as structure helped the Christians.

For example, he said, Muslims should put up
universities all over the globe, as Catholic
missionaries did with their universities. Also, “why
can’t Islamic states produce preachers and do what the
Christian missionaries did?” he asked.

He further said there is a need to “intellectualize
Islam through rationality” because by doing so the
teachings embodied in the Qur’an would be better
appreciated by people totally new to it.

He is also ecstatic about the annual fast this
Ramadan. He said he is again reminded of the sunrise
to sundown fast’s “spiritual value” in contrast to the
Christian’s dieting “which is too material or human.”

Soria said, “In Islam, we are taught that if you
discipline your body the Creator would grant your
wish.” Harmony between Filipino Muslims and Filipino
Christians in this largely Christian nation, amid the
stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists, is among the
wishes he prays to be granted. 





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