Earlier this year, when ISIS-linked groups took over the city of Marawi in the Philippines, the residents thought the conflict would only last for a few days.
Norodin Lucman, a Muslim community leader and former politician, was among one of them.
The 61-year-old, who has studied history in Egypt and Islamic law in Saudi Arabia, was inside his house when the Islamic State militants attacked the southern city and the firing began. At the time, there were some workers repairing a cellphone on Lucman’s property, so he invited them inside, probably hoping to ride out the violence.
However, little did they know, it would turn into the deadliest violence the country had ever seen and the Filipino forces would not be able to liberate the city for several months to come.
Lucman, who belongs to a family of congressmen and senators, is also the leader of a Muslim tribe known as the Maranao and served as a security advisor to former President Corazon Aquino, according to The Los Angeles Times.
As the militants began torching schools, churches and homes, a number of people who couldn’t flee the city showed up at Lucman’s doorsteps. Although Marawi is a pre-dominantly Muslim city, the extremists continued to stop people and ask them to recite the Muslim proclamation of faith – also known as Shahada. When they stopped another group of cell tower workers, who were all Christian and from nearby cities, asked them to do the same, the men failed and tried to escape. The terrorists shot one of them, but the rest were able to make it to Lucman’s property.
Both Christians and Muslims took refuge in Lucman’s home, with the number of people rising to 74 within the first couple of days. Although several of his relatives left the city and asked him to come along, the Muslim landowner refused – as somebody had to stay there to protect the guests.
“I’ll die first before you do,” he told the Christians.
It soon dawned on them that the fighting was getting worse. A few militants also showed up at Lucman’s door, though due to his status as a powerful community leader, they did not enter his home. However, once the food started running low and Lucman realized the 10-month-old baby of one of the guests might not make it, he decided to take the entire group and leave the city.
With the electricity cut off, one of the cell tower workers managed to charge the battery in Lucman’s phone so that he could call his military contacts. Apparently, army has established a camp less than two miles away from Lucman’s property, making it their fastest route to safety.
“We’re going out, by hook or by crook,” Lucman told his guests on the twelfth day of the raging conflict. “Say your prayers, I’ll say my prayers, and we’ll go. God will be with us. And if we live, thank God for that.”
He had noticed how the firing would stop between 5:30 and 6:00 am, so he chose that time to sneak everyone out of his backyard. Soon, neighbors who saw them going down the road also joined them, forming a group of 104 people, who carried white flags and kept their heads down.
The men carried children and all the women covered their heads to give themselves the appearance of Muslim families. They also shouted “Allahu akbar!” as armed militants inquired, “Who is Christian?”
The group finally arrived at a bridge where the government soldiers were waiting to lead them to safety.
As most of the Christians were not from Marawi, they soon returned home, but the Muslims were placed in camps for the internally displaced people.
Although his actions saved lives of dozens of innocent people, Lucman refuses to call himself a hero.
“I was not playing the hero. It just so happened that I was at my house in Marawi city when the fighting first broke out. I knew there were some Christians working on nearby houses as carpenters and construction workers and I told my people to bring them to my house to avoid the cross-fire,” Lucman told Al Arabiya English.
According to the Philippine military, more than 100 soldiers have died while almost 500 fighters have been killed in the battle so far. More than 350,000 people have also been displaced.
Thumbnail/Banner: Reuters, Jorge Silva/File Photo