Reporters on the Job

Meeting at the mall: The key to today's story on the links between militant Filipino converts to Islam and terrorist acts, was talking to an Islamic convert, says correspondent Simon Montlake. So when he met a Muslim activist contact in Manila, he asked her for suggestions.

"She immediately thought of Joey Ledesma and promised to put us in touch," says Simon. "My source had got to know Ledesma last year during a controversy over building a mosque for traders at Greenhills shopping mall in a posh Christian area of Manila. Ledesma had successfully defended the rights of the Muslim worshipers and the mosque was built. I wrote a story for the Monitor last year on the mall mosque, but didn't meet Ledesma at the time.

This time, when Ledesma agreed to meet Simon, the venue was Starbucks at Greenhills mall. Ledesma is a regular at the new mosque, which is close to his family home in the gated community where some voices had opposed the mosque. "I was pleased to hear that the mosque had been open for several months and nothing had sullied the peaceful atmosphere, confounding the doomsayers," says Simon.

But Ledesma told Simon that he is wrestling with his own family's disapproval of his faith, and his conversion appears to have cost him his marriage. He seemed particularly upset about his wife's insistence on keeping their only son away from the mosque.

"It's hard to overstate the strongly Christian flavor of Philippine daily life, or the massive prejudice against Muslims," Simon says. "During my taxi ride to Greenhills, my driver was listening to a live sermon from a Roman Catholic church, and I wondered what he would make of my reporting assignment, let alone the idea of 'returning' Filipinos to Islam."

Amelia Newcomb
Deputy world editor

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