I MAY not fully understand, but I can commiserate with the feelings of Islam believers hereabouts. At least those who just want to make a living and live in peace.

It's much like the days that followed 9-11, the time when Islamic extremists rammed jet planes in New York's World Trade Center twin towers. Suddenly, everyone who looked Muslim and had names that sounded Muslim was suspect.

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It's worse now though. Because while 9-11 killed more and at a grander and highly technical scale with more finesse at that (read: flying a commercial passenger jet as against a backhoe with the government mark), ours had the footprints of government in it. Our government. *Shiver!*

There's the government backhoe, the Department of National Defense and Philippine National Police caches of arms and bullets, the titles of mayors, vice mayors and governors of the prime suspects.

Hatred is indeed an emotion that springs unbidden, fanned to burning rage by prejudice long simmering in our collective consciousness. And then suspicion...

And so a man, better known to many as Datu Muss suddenly finds himself behind bars while everyone goes, "Ha?"

Admittedly, Islam is a sticky subject these days, stickier than it was before. Stickier still because there are decades of prejudice that have to be waded through.

It's about time for the believers to stand up and show who they really are; not the warlords who have been using their identification as Muslims to strike fear on those who live only with the prejudice but without the knowledge; not the distrustful vendor who has to live through the spite and distrust thrown his way as well; but the believer of a Prophet who espoused peace and inner purging (jihad).

Rather, the real datus and sultans who were Islamized sometime in the 16th century as a result of brisk trading activities and supremacy in the age of commerce. The same datus and sultans and their people who wove Islam into their culture and thus made "Singkil" a distinct dance that is known to us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as Muslim.

But like what was really behind 9-11, there are those who want all Muslims to look all the same, their women covered in burkas and hustled from dark corner to dark corner. It wasn't like that before when the Muslims were sultans and datus and people who were proudly serving their sultans and datus thus clothing them in dignity, the dignity that exudes from a singkil dancer.

The gestures, the posture, the colors, and the clanging of agongs, the dance, the dignity, infused with the humility of the prophet... that is the Muslim that the Muslims should let everyone know. It's going to be very tough though, especially after November 23, 2009. But it wouldn't have been as tough had the movement to rise as one peaceful people against violence was waged right after 9-11, almost a decade ago... Prejudice and hatred, as we know too well, build upon every reason and season, and there has been too many reasons and seasons made to pass. saestremera@yahoo.com