What is an Ijtema?
A few weeks before the crisis in Marawi broke out, the now-war-torn Islamic City hosted an "Ijtema" for Muslims from different parts of the world.
University of the Philippines Institute of Islamic Studies Prof. Julkipli Wadi said "Ijtema" is the Arabic word for "gathering" of the Tabligh, an apolitical group that aims to spread the teachings of Islam around the world.
"It is an Ijtema or gathering of the so-called Tabligh group. The Tabligh group is an itinerant group composed of different nationalities coming from many parts of the world, but mostly the Indian subcontinent," Wadi said in an interview on ANC's "Beyond Politics" Tuesday.
Wadi explained, the Ijtema was resuscitated in recent years in an attempt to counter the dominance of modernity.
He said the Tabligh wants bring back the pristine or pure tradition of Islam to Muslims, where those who participate are really imbued with the spiritual teachings of the faith.
Asked if the gathering last May could have been used by foreign terrorists to enter Marawi City, Wadi said the idea is "not far-fetched" since radicals cannot be easily separated from the so-called spiritual ones just by looking at them.
Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Assemblyman Zia Alonto Adiong said, Marawi City had been a "favorite" site to visit for an Ijtema since it is the sole Islamic City in the Philippines.
He admitted that during the recent gathering in Marawi City, security was not really a top priority due to the city's previous experiences of hosting the event.
"We’ve seen a lot of occasions in the past na marami na talagang pumupunta from other countries, so security-wise, it wasn’t really a problem because we already had an experience before," he said.
Over 200,000 people have fled Marawi City since clashes began on May 23 between ISIS-inspired rebels and government forces.
More than 400 people have been killed in ongoing clashes, including 337 terrorists, 85 government forces, and 39 civilians.