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Honouring a national hero.

Summary: In Rizal Park in the Philippines' capital of Manila stands the mausoleum and monument of one of the least likely national heroes one could imagine. South America has its Simon Bolivar and Central America has the figure of Che Guevara to inspire feelings of national pride. Similar in some ways to Egypt's Moustafa Kamel, though, the people of the Philippines have a very gentle man, an educated writer and poet, as the one who inspired their revolution against the Spanish, which eventually led to freedom.

An international design competition had been held from 1905-1907 and the monument was eventually unveiled on December 30, 1913, the seventeenth anniversary of Rizal's death. Guarded day and night by the soldiers known as the Kabalyeros de Rizal (Knights of Rizal), the Rizal monument consists of an obelisk bearing a bronze sculpture of the Philippine patriot, standing upon a pedestal in which his remains are interred. The monument is eighteen metres high and the base has a width of twelve metres.

On its base are written these words: "To the memory of Jose Rizal, patriot and martyr, executed at Bagumbayan Field, December 30, 1896, this monument is dedicated by the people of the Philippine Islands".

About one hundred metres away is the very spot where Rizal was executed and there are a number of life-size statues representing his final moments.

Jose Rizal was born in 1861 to a wealthy family living in Calamba, Laguna, and he was the seventh of eleven children. He gained a Bachelor of Arts from the Ateneo Municipal de Manila, and when he learned that his mother was going blind he decided to study medicine at the University of Santo Tomas. After Manila and without the knowledge of his parents, Rizal went on to gain a licentiate in medicine from the Universidad Central de Madrid and doctorates from the universities of Paris and Heidelberg. At the age of twenty five he used the newly invented ophthalmoscope to operate on his mother's eyes.

When he returned to Manila in 1892, Rizal formed La Liga Filipina, a civic movement calling for freedom of assembly and speech and equal rights before the law for all the people in the Philippines. Naturally, these reforms were not welcomed by the authorities and he was declared an enemy of the state and in July 1892 was deported to Dapitan on the peninsula of Mindanao. Even in this forced exile from Manila, though, he built a school and a hospital and provided a water supply system for the people. His ideas were not just talk, but had effects on the lives of real people. He encouraged the students to plant thousands of trees to improve the local economy.

As well as being a doctor of medicine and a man of letters, Rizal was a poet, essayist and novelist, writing many of the works that inspired the people of the Philippines to overthrow the Spanish colonial power. He was able to converse in twenty-two languages.

To list all of his achievements in a few words is impossible.

Rizal believed that peaceful methods were the way to achieve social reform and he urged social justice for all. "Why independence," he said, "if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?"

The Philippine Revolution started on August 26, 1896. From November 3 of that year, until his execution on 30th December, Rizal was imprisoned. His ideas were considered too great a threat to the power of Spain. The date of his execution, "Rizal Day", is now celebrated as a national holiday.

Monuments are easy build, and there are other monuments to Jose Rizal throughout the world, including Madrid, where he lived for some years, but it is the feelings which inspired those monuments that is the important thing. You will find a marble bust of Rizal in any Philippine embassy in the world, but the pride in which the embassy staff will talk of their national hero is what inspires. On any given Sunday in Manila you will find families out for a walk, paying their respects to Rizal as they enjoy their day of rest, showing by their very freedom to do so that his life's work bore fruit.

Muslims read in the holy Qur'an"

"O Mankind! We created you from a single soul, male and female,

And We made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.

Verily, the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is the

Greatest of you in piety. Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware." 49:13

Like many of the surrounding nations, the people of the Philippines are of Malay origin. Before the Spanish occupation of their islands most of the people were Muslim. Now a country where eighty per cent of the population is Roman Catholic, the Philippines still has around nine million Muslims, about ten per cent of the total.

The world is now a very small place and we have come to understand that when people get to know one another there is much they can learn.

"There are no tyrants where there are no slaves," Rizal once famously wrote. In another place, and in words quite appropriate to Egypt today, he said: "The glory of saving a country is not for him who has contributed to its ruin." Egypt now has different men at the helm. As Egypt looks forward to new days where freedom, dignity and social justice are available to all, people like the Philippine patriot and martyr, Jose Rizal, have something to teach us all.

Those young people who initiated the January Revolution in Egypt can learn from Rizal that education is the key to any social change. If anyone wants to change his country for the better, if he has the ability he must do his utmost to educate himself.

By getting to know others who are different to us, we learn that all men and women have the same dreams at heart. Inshallah, Jose Rizal can inspire the people of Egypt, too, to forget the days of tyranny and look forward to a future of prosperity and peace.

British Muslim writer, Idris Tawfiq, teaches at Al-Azhar University. The author of nine books about Islam, he divides his time between Egypt and the UK as a speaker, writer and broadcaster. You can visit his website at and join him on Facebook at Idris Tawfiq Page

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Oct 2, 2012
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