Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas letters from Muslims

Peace, Kapayapaan, Kalinaw, Kalinong, Salam, Shalom, to you this Christmas.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive letters from Muslims working in Saudi Arabia reacting positively to last week’s column piece, ``The Christmas Story in the Koran’’ (12/22/05).

First, I’d like to say that the Inquirer stylebook spells the name of the Muslims’ Holy Book as ``Koran’’ so the few times in the past that I wrote ``Qur’an’’ I always got a call from the proofreading department informing me that the spelling will changed. I again got a call regarding my title.

At first I was a bit hesitant to run the account on Mary’s pregnancy and the events that led to Jesus’ birth as narrated in the Koran. Was my copy of the Koran an accepted translation? I presumed that like the Bible that comes in different translations, the Koran also has many translations. My pocketsize copy is by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House and published in the US. Its title is ``The Koran’’ I got it from Powerbooks for only P125.75. The Bible isn’t as cheap.

Honestly, I was charmed by the account on Mary giving birth beside the trunk of a date palm. Famished and in pain, Mary heard a voice telling her to shake the tree, whereupon ripe dates fell on her. Dates are a good post-partum repast, I suppose. I thought, we have always associated Christmas with castanas (chestnuts). Why don’t we switch to dates?

I really prefer dates. Some of the best I’ve tasted were preserved ones that were still on the twig. They came from Tunisia. Dates, I was told, are a popular food item for Muslims at the end of Ramadan.

Now, if we go by the ripening of the dates and their falling on Mary, this would mean that Jesus was not born during a winter month but in the summer in that part of the world. Not that the exact date and time matters much now.

Anyway, here are some of the letters.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Christmas story in the Qur’an

The Christmas story is not only told in the bible of the Christians, it is also in the Qur’an of the Muslims. I went over the Qur’an which is not familiar terrain for me, I also browsed through an Islamic website where I found interesting stuff.

In the Qur’an one will find an account of Mary’s own birth, the Annunciation and later, the Nativity and Jesus’ public life. Mary is mentioned in the Qur’an 34 times. But before Jesus’ birth is the story about the miraculous conception and birth of John the Baptist, the precursor of the Messiah that was to come.

The Qur’an says that Mary was the daughter of the wife of Imran. When Imran’s wife was pregnant, she made a vow that she would offer her child to be raised and serve at the Temple. She thought she would give birth to a son, but when she delivered, the child turned out be a girl. The mother was disappointed.

She named the child Mary which meant servant. Mary’s father Imran had died before she was born, so her mother brought her to the temple to be reared by the priests. Zakariyya (John the Baptist’s father?) was one of them. Unable to decide who would have the privilege of having custody of Mary, the priests drew lots. Zakariyya’s name was drawn and he became Mary’s guardian.

When Mary reached the age of puberty, Zakariyya saw to it she was protected from the eyes of men. Mary worshipped Allah in a special partition where nobody could enter except Zakariyya. Whenever Zakariyya came in he always found her with food.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The milkman of Talavera

Guyito, the Inquirer’s carabao mascot, would be happy to know that his fellow ruminants have transformed the town of Talavera in Nueva Ecija into a land flowing with milk and milk products. Thanks to the dream and the daring of entrepreneur Danilo V. Fausto, carabao’s milk is now making a healthy comeback and finding a niche in the market.

Another thing to moo about is fresh cow’s milk produced by small farmers’ cooperatives also finding its way into cafĂ© society and boldly competing with imported milk that isn’t fresh at all.

Fausto’s ``Dare to Dream: A Filipino Entrepreneur’s Tale of Success in Dairy Farming’’ was launched last Monday at UP’s Balay Kalinaw with believers in the Philippine dairy industry in attendance. It was a small but happy affair. National Dairy Authority chief Salvacion Bulatao gave a national situationer while a nervous little farmer named Ka Henry whom Fausto brought along almost stole the thunder and received a standing ovation with his carabao success tale. But that is getting ahead of the story. People went home smiling and sporting white moustaches.

You might have seen in some malls the dainty DVF Dairy Farm’s ``Gatas ng Kalabaw’’ stalls that sell chilled fresh carabao’s milk in sealed bottles, plain or fruit- and pandan-flavored, as well as pastillas de leche and kesong puti. The promdi in you takes a second look and you wonder if this is for real. Carabao’s milk braving the mainstream?

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Oikocredit, small change, big impact

You must have seen a 20-peso bill with a circular doodle with three arrows coming out of it. You must have wondered whether that was someone’s way of venting his ire on the state of the Philippine currency. But when you looked closer, you must have read the words below that whorl--``UN Year of Microcredit 2005, Sustainable Microfinance Services for the Filipino Entrepreneurial Poor’’.

With a big bang, the 2005 UN Year of Microcredit ended last week with the so-called ``Filipino entrepreneurial poor’’, composed mostly of mothers, bannering the theme, ``Tinig ng Mga Nanay, Ating Ipatnubay'' (Let the mothers' voices be our guide). Microfinance beneficiaries, enterprising mothers mostly, from different parts of the country attended the gathering in Quezon City and showed off what has become of the ``small change’’ entrusted them. The delegation from Negros even brought in masscara dancers to provide color.

Oikocredit and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines organized the event that capped the International Year of Microcredit.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

The missing face of AIDS

Today is World AIDS Awareness Day.

Somewhere in today’s Inquirer I’ve written something on the Unicef campaign to help children affected by HIV-AIDS. ``Affected by’’ means these children have parents(persons) living with HIV-AIDS (PLH) or are themselves infected.

By the way, you don’t say PWA (persons with AIDS) anymore. You say PLH. So much for being politically correct.

Children, Unicef says, are the missing face of AIDS. According to the Lunduyan Foundation’s study on Filipino children affected by AIDS, silence, sad to say, best describes the children’s situation. Their parents’ hesitancy to be forthright about the disease is one of the reasons why their children’s plight is not being addressed.

After reading the results of the study I wanted to meet and interview a family affected by HIV-AIDS but I was told that there is a great deal of hesitancy on the part of the families. In fact, out 373 identified children, only 95 were allowed by their parents to participate in the study.

But these children are not totally faceless or voiceless. Some stories in the study gave a face and a voice to the otherwise silent world.