Christ calls, Asians respond

Lent series 2023


A love of music leads Filipino Muslim to Catholic faith

By Joseph Peter Calleja

March 15, 2023 03:16 AM

In the journey ahead as a Catholic, Faitha says she is 'more than assured by the love and support of her family'

Fatiha, (front), dances in a cultural show in school when they were living in Mindanao

Fatiha, (front), dances in a cultural show in school when they were living in Mindanao. (Photo: supplied)

As a Muslim woman in the Philippines, Fatiha Maturan had never imagined going to a church.

The 38-year-old was accustomed to seeing her younger brother, Haroun, regularly accompanying his Catholic friends to a local parish in Imus, a city in Cavite province.

One day in 2017 her brother told her to bring some food for him and his friends at Holy Trinity Parish in their locality.

At the parish church, she found her brother with the choir practicing and Fatiha soon recognized the familiar tune.

The song in the local Tagalong language was I Will Not Forget You composed by Jesuit composer and theologian Father Manoling Francisco.

At that moment she did not realize the melancholic and meditative song was based on Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby on her breast and have no compassion for the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”

The tune captivated her and Fatiha began humming it as she waited. Choir master Mang Pedring noticed her doing it and invited her to join them in singing the song.

“But I am a Muslim. Can I sing here,” she asked Pedring, who gave her a welcome nod.

Since then, every Saturday afternoon, she began attending the choir practice sessions “just to listen.”

Fatiha and Haroun’s family were among some 500,000 people displaced from Sulu province in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, because of violence.

Thousands like them fled Sulu because of violence after former Philippine president, Joseph Estrada, in 2000 declared an “all-out war” against the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

Fatiha and her brother said they were in elementary school when they left Sulu. Their father shuttered his motorcycle shop. “We packed our things in a hurry and left,” Fatiha told UCA News.

The family boarded a military vessel to Luzon. They ended up settling in Cavite province on the advice of some Muslim friends who said it was a better place to start a new business than the busy capital, Manila.

Their father, Cesar Maturan, who is now 61, relocated his motorcycle business from Sulu to Cavite.

Fatiha says it was here that her brother began to be drawn to Catholicism.

As she herself began to attend choir practice regularly, Fatiha discovered beautiful tunes that for her encapsulated the Filipino spirit.

“The songs spoke about my experience. They tell us how God continues to care for his people in all circumstances and how each of us — Catholic or Muslim — is answerable to each other,” Fatiha explains.

It amazes her that some of her childhood songs were Christian, although she sang them without realizing their meaning.

Fatiha recalls listening and memorizing the songs from the television, especially from a drama series that she’d really liked because of its background music.

Soon choir singing had become an experience that she couldn’t put aside. Since January 2019, every Saturday, she stands in front of a microphone to sing.

“I remember when I first sang in the choir during a Catholic burial. I had to dress as if I were a Catholic,” she recalls.

The choir members did more than sing. They also ate out together and taught songs to kids in a slum.

“They would rehearse songs together but despite knowing I was a Muslim, they didn’t force me to become a Catholic,” Fatiha told UCA News.

She said her brother Haroun became a Catholic attracted by the homilies of Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, who also comes from Imus.

She was drawn to “less cerebral matters” such as music that brought her “peace and consolation.”

Fatiha is preparing to receive the Sacraments of initiation — Baptism, Eucharist and Confirmation — during this year’s Easter Vigil.

In the journey ahead as a Catholic, Faitha said she is “more than assured by the love and support of her family” and God’s love, reflected in the songs that she will continue to sing in the choir.

Her life has been a living testimony to what Father Manoling Francisco said while celebrating the 27th-anniversary concert of the Jesuit Music Ministry in 2022.

“Our music resonates God’s abiding presence and faithful love to all peoples, in any political situation — and that’s the message of our song — God’s faithful love is for all.”

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