AL QALAM Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia of the Ateneo de Davao University conducted last October 30, 2017 the first public discussion and research dissemination about the initial result of the nationwide “Baseline Survey on the Leadership Role of Muslim Religious Leaders in the Philippines”. This project was made possible through the support of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Philippines. The conceptualization and initial discussions of the baseline survey started last November 2016 and the data gathering was held from March 2017 to September 2017.

The objectives of the project were as follows: to evaluate the current training provisions for imams and Muslim religious leaders to be able to explore the strengths and weaknesses of current provision; and, in particular, to identify gaps in training of faith leaders that need to be addressed; to explore the different models and methods employed for the training of faith leaders and to identify elements of best practice for wider dissemination; and, to explore the possibilities of collaborative initiatives between the providers of Muslim faith leadership training and mainstream further education and higher education institutions and the possibility to attain additional knowledge and skills leading to higher qualifications.

The target respondents of the survey included the Muslim religious leaders and the Muslim leaders within their communities. During the public discussion an important question was raised by one of the participants, “who is a Muslim religious leader?”

Professor Crisanto Regadio, Project Co-Head Researcher, said that ‘in the context of the Philippines and the perceptions of the respondents from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, a Muslim religious leader has a wide scope of meaning. He can be an imam, a bilal, a khatib, a mosque administrator, a respected ustadz, a Mamoum, a mufti, a Mudir, a solemnizer, a preacher/giving da’wah, or a Mu’adheen.”

These perceptions show the diversity of views of the Filipino Muslims in defining who is a Muslim religious leader. However, Al Qalam decided to focus on the Muslim religious leaders who are responsible in the interpretations and preaching of Islamic religious texts such as the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Hadith. Hence, the Muslim religious leaders based on the context of the study may refer to a mufti (a Muslim legal expert who is authorized to give rulings on religious matters), an ulama (a body of Muslim scholars recognized as having specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology), an imam (the person who leads prayers in a mosque, it can also mean a title of various Muslim leaders, especially of one succeeding Muhammad as leader of Shiite Islam), or an ustadz (literal meaning to refer to any teacher, master or expert).

Dr. Moctar I. Matuan, professor from Mindanao State University Main Campus, said that “a Muslim religious leader is the one who studied in an Islamic university in the Middle East and gained a doctorate degree in Islamic jurisprudence”. Based on the study, this definition is also correct. However, leadership has a broad range of roles and necessary qualifications. Having a post graduate degree may be one of the needed qualifications.

In terms of identifying the gaps with regard to trainings, schooling, and Islamic education for these Muslim religious leaders, the study showed that our country lacks the needed institutions and social infrastructure.

The study also showed that those positions pertaining to Muslim religious leaders require an intensive training and education before the title can be given to them. As of now, most of those who hold such titles were trained and educated from the Middle East. And because of this educational background, they may have with them the cultural context of the countries where they studied Islam. Moreover, often times, they themselves encounter some disagreements like those who graduated from Egypt may have a different view on a particular verse on the Quran compared to those who graduated from Madina, Yemen, or Syria.

These Muslim religious leaders also vary in terms of the Islamic jurisprudence that they carry with them. In the Sunni traditions, we have at least four Madhabs (is a school of thought within fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence)). These Madhabs are Shafii, Hanafi, Hanbali, and Maliki. These four titles refer to the names of the four Imams. In the Shiite traditions, mostly follows the Jaafari’s school of thought.

One of the participants also raised the need for our government to appoint a Grand Mufti or a Jurisconsult. According to Atty. Suharto, this is based on the Philippine Law, PD 1083 - Code of Muslim Personal Laws, Article 164. Creation of office and appointment: (a) There shall be a Jurisconsult in Islamic law, who shall be appointed by the President of the Philippines…”

PD 1083 also provides for the qualifications of the Mufti under Article 165. Qualifications. No person shall be appointed Jurisconsult in Islamic Law unless he is a citizen of the Philippines, at least forty years of age, of good moral character and proven integrity, and an eminent scholar in the Qur'an and Hadith and in Islamic jurisprudence as well as proficient in Arabic.

The functions of the Mufti were enumerated under Article 166: The Jurisconsult shall, on the written request of any interested party, have the authority to render legal opinions, based on recognized authorities, regarding any question relating to Muslim Law. For this purpose, he may, if he deems it necessary, consult or ask for a consensus of the 'ulama.

Unfortunately, as of now, our government has not been able to appoint such person.

The initial result of the baseline study have shown the challenges we need to address with regard to helping our Muslim religious leaders perform their roles and functions in the communities.

In my rounds of talks, meetings, and conferences about preventing and countering violent extremism, the Muslim religious leaders play a vital role. It's about time we organized properly the Islamic institutions within our country today. We have to recognized the bigger role of the Muslim religious leaders.