TO douse the tension caused by the planned construction of an Islamic prayer room in the heart of Greenhills’ shopping district, an alliance of Catholic and Muslim clergy on Thursday called for a dialogue between residents of upscale subdivisions and Muslim leaders.
The Catholic-Ulama Council of the Philippines believes that a dialogue between Muslims and the non-Muslim residents of Greenhills would settle the row, which is raising fears of sectarian tension in the predominantly Christian suburb.
“Our theme would be reconciliation. The dialogue would be a good venue for those who oppose the prayer room to air their side,” said Archbishop Fernando Capalla of Davao, a convener of the council.
He acknowledged that “deep-seated ignorance and prejudice” toward Muslims is fueling the tension.
Bishop emeritus Hilario Gomez of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines said the residents of Greenhills should learn how to coexist with the Muslims in the area.
“We are living in a pluralistic world. Religious tolerance is the order of the day not only in the Philippines but in the Vatican,” Gomez explained.
Mahid Mutian, president of the Ulama League of the Philippines, said Muslim traders wouldn’t be supportive of the idea if it would deter business.
“We ourselves will talk to the Ortigas management to stop its construction if we are convinced that this is not good for the welfare of Greenhills and the country as well,” Mutian said.
Opponents of the structure, expected to be completed by year-end, claim it will look like a domed “mosque.” But the construction firm says it is merely building a car park extension to the mall, which will include a plain room assigned for worship.
At issue are the freedom of worship guaranteed by the Constitution and the fears of some residents and owners of business establishments in the area that property values could plunge.
The residents’ concerns are aired by homeowners’ associations, which claim the project could attract gangs and terrorists and have threatened to boycott and file legal action against the Greenhills Shopping Center if it goes ahead with the construction.
The three homeowners associations have issued a joint statement calling the project of closely held developer Ortigas and Co. Ltd the first step toward an “economic hara-kiri” for the area.
“Generally, in areas where Muslim mosques are placed within Christian communities, the area deteriorates and becomes a haven for lawlessness and a center of refuge for drug pushers and maybe kidnappers,” said the corporate lawyer Don Alviar, who heads one of the groups, the North Greenhills Association.
Ortigas chief operating officer Rex Drilon dismisses these concerns as unfounded.
“We’re not building a mosque. What we’re building is a four-story parking building good for 900 cars,” Drilon told Agence France-Presse.
One 200-square-meter room on the ground floor would become “a prayer room for the Muslims with four plain walls, tiled floors and air conditioning” and there were “definitely” no plans to build any domes, minarets, or other outward signs of Islam, he added.