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Islam in the Philippines

Islam in the Philippines



Islam is one of the oldest organized religions to be established in the Philippines. Islam reached the islands in the 14th century with the arrival of Indian, Malay and Javanese merchants, and Arab missionaries from various sultanates in the Malay Archipelago, although the spread of Islam in the Philippines is due to the strength of Muslim India. India brought Islam to Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia and Indonesia, and in turn the latter two brought Islam to the Philippines. Muslims form 5% of the Philippine population, while the rest of the general population are mostly Roman Catholic (84%) and Protestant (8%).


In 1380, Karim ul' Makhdum, the first Islamic missionary to reach the Sulu Archipelago and Jolo, brought Islam to what is now the Philippines. The Sheik Karimal Makdum Mosque was the first mosque established in the Philippines on Simunul. Subsequent visits by Arab Muslim missionaries from the now Islamicized Malaysia and Indonesia, helped strengthen the Islamic faith in the Philippines, mostly in the south but as far north as Manila. Vast sultanates were established, comprised of the Sultanate of Maguindanao and the Sultanate of Sulu. Since the first people who established themselves as sultans in various parts of the Malay ArchipelagoMalaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines—were usually of Arab descent, most people of royal lineage claim Arab descent, some going as far as claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad himself.

The world resurgence of Islam after World War II gave Muslims in the Philippines a stronger sense of unity as a religious community than they had in the past. Since the early 1970s, the number of Muslim teachers visiting the country and Filipino Muslims traveling abroad—either on the Hajj or on scholarships—has increased to unprecedented levels. As a result, Muslims have built many new mosques and religious schools, where students (male and female) learn the basic rituals and principles of Islam and learn to read the Qur'an in Arabic. A number of Muslim institutions of higher learning, such as the Jamiatul Philippine al-Islamia in Marawi, also offer advanced courses in Islamic studies.

The periods following the demise of the Prophet Muhammad - led to the expansion of Islam to Europe, Africa, and Southeast Asia. In Southeast Asia, Islam was promulgated by three methods: by Muslim traders in the course of peaceful trade; by preachers and holy men who set out from India and Arabia specifically to convert idolaters and animist and increase the knowledge of the faithful; and by war waged against heathen states.

Trading served as a strong factors in spreading Islam in Southeast Asia, with Muslim merchants interested not only in the commercial aspects of life, but in the spiritual as well, providing Islamic knowledge to the uniformed through religious missions.

It was in North Sumatra that the trade route from India and the west reached the archipelago, and Islam first obtained a firm footing in Southeast Asia. Malacca , the main trading center of the area in the 15th century, became the great stronghold of the faith, from where it spread out. In the 10th century, Islam's influence intensified and reached as far as ancient Malaysia. This in turn would affect its growth in what would become The Philippines.

The strength of the Sulu sultanate in the early 14th was enhanced by Malay leaders who helped the natives in political, economic, and religious developments. Among others, Rajah Baguinda, a Sumatrans prince, came to the Philippines in 1390 with a group of men, all learned in Islam. They settled in Buwansa, which became the first capital of the sultanate of Sulu, and Abubakhar his son-in-law became the first sultan.

The early missionaries who came to the Philippines were guided by Islamic principles of no religious compulsion, thus the gradual and liberal promulgation of Islam. Known as Mukhdumin, these missionaries did not mean to conquer the territories or exploit its inhabitants but to teach, and guide people to the right path.

Paramount among them was Rajah Baguinda, followed by his son-in-law Sharieful Hashim, who served as the first sultan of Sulu. Afterestablishing a community and assuming leadership doctrines on tawhid(Monotheism) to eradicate polytheism, animism and idolatry.

Islam gives the Philippines Muslim their life meaning and direction. The concept of monotheism does not only enlighten them on the absolute oneness of God, but emphasizes to them the quality of an Ummah(Islamic Nation) described by the Holy Qur'an, as a single nation (21:92) characterized by a fraternal bond binding all its members together. It accentuates the brotherhood of man and the kinship of Muslim. Their adherence to the Islamic faith changed the destiny of their fragmented society to a Bangsa Tungga (Single Nation), the Islamic Ummah. This Cesar Majul explains thus: "It becomes clearly demonstrated that what gave the Muslims in the Philippines their cohesion and sense of community was Islam. It was Islam that institutionalized their loyalty to their Sultans, gave them a system of writing, sanctioned their attempts to resist alien rule, and gave a religious character to their patriotism."

Two century before the coming of Western colonizers to the Philippines, the Muslim enjoyed full independence, and had a well-organized government, the sultanate, which attained various achievements at the height of its power. The sultan served as both political and religious leaders, protector and defender of Islam, following the Islamic political system of no separation between church and state. As a religious leader, the sultan was called Zillullah fil-ard, shadow of God in earth, based on the Islamic political point a view that man, particularly a leader, is the vice0regent of God.

With the coming of the Spaniards and the Americans, the Bangsa Islam declined. Both colonial powers incorporated the independent Bangsa Islam into the Philippines state, reducing the power of the sultan, especially during the American regime.

The Muslim courageously resisted the Spanish conquistadors, but it cost them in terms of socioeconomic development, which remained almost at zero level because of the constant wars. While the natives of the Visayas and Luzon easily succumbed to the Spaniards, the Muslim continued to defend their Bangsa, tau, iban, agama (Nation, People, and Religion).

Spain resorted to massive propaganda to win the war, one weapon of which was religious nationalism. Its religious introduced Christianity as the only true religion , with Islam therefore "a false religion". This outraged the Muslim, who became more determined to fight, thus the resistance in the name of jihad (holy war) with the battle cry: Kamatay sampay kamaharhikaan (Death until victory is Achieved).

Another type of propaganda the Spaniards used was name-calling. Instead of calling the Islamic people of Mindanao Muslims, they named them Moros, with negative connotations of being pirates, juramentados, repulsive, sinister, and the like.

Incredibly, Muslims in the Philippines intermittently apply the term Moro as the rallying point for unification of the different linguistic communities that profess Islam. The idea is to consolidate those different tribes into one body or nation that would formulate a common stand against any force that tried to subjugate and exploit their country, people, and natural resources.

From Spanish colonization up to the American regime and the present, the Moros have remained faithful to Islam. Whenever they feel that external presences and exploitation are hanging over their heads, their only alternative is to develop the internal factor, religious consciousness. Islam, which preaches Jihad when there is imminent danger of religious proselytization and colonization, has made them stand firm to defend their faith. This deepening Islamic awareness has become the mobilizing factor that fuses the different Moro tribes into bangsa tunggal (a single nation) as part of the Islamic universal concept of ummah Islamiah, the main tenet of which is the brotherhood of Muslim all over the world. Thus the problem of one Bangsa is the quandary of all the Ummah.

When other Muslim states come to their rescue, it is not a matter of intervention in sovereignty and territorial integrity, but a religious duty.

The Muslims in the Philippines can be key factors in the establishment of a cordial relationship, better understanding and an esprit de corps with the Muslim world. The Filipino Muslims' existence as part of the Muslim ummah is not in the context of a minority, but in that of a far reaching spread of citizenry who dwell in a single nation and have an unshakable affinity, the Islamic brotherhood (ukhywwah Islamayah), comparable to an edifice in which each part of the structure reinforces all others.

Islam is one of the oldest organized religions to be established in the Philippines. Its origins in the country may be dated back to as early as the 15th century, with the arrival of Arab and Malay muslim traders who converted some of the native inhabitants of the islands. Muslims in the country form 5 percent of the national population.

The Philippine territory was under Islamic rule when the Spaniards arrived and colonized it. Magellan was killed by a Muslim chieftain. Manila (May nilad )was originally Islamic until Miguel López de Legazpi conquered it. Intramoros means Among the moors. The Filipino word moro comes from the Spanish word for the inhabitants of Morroco. A tenacious Islamic legacy is the custom to circumsize('tuli'). When the Spaniards arrived, circumsicion was justified as being Christian. Being uncircumsized is considered shameful in Filipino society.

In the early 1990s, Filipino Muslims were firmly rooted in their Islamic faith. Every year many went on the hajj (pilgrimage) to the holy city of Mecca; on return men would be addressed by the honoritic "hajj" and women the honorific "hajji". In most Muslim communities, there was at least one mosque from which the muezzin called the faithful to prayer five times a day. Those who responded to the call to public prayer removed their shoes before entering the mosque, aligned themselves in straight rows before the minrab (niche), and offered prayers in the direction of Mecca. An imam, or prayer leader, led the recitation in Arabic verses from the Quran, following the practices of the Sunni sect of Islam common to most of the Muslim world. It was sometimes said that the Moros often neglected to perform the ritual prayer and did not strictly abide by the fast (no food or drink in daylight hours) during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, or perform the duty of almsgiving. They did, however, scrupulously observe other rituals and practices and celebrate great festivals of Islam such as the end of Ramadan; Muhammad's birthday; the night of his ascension to heaven; and the start of the Muslim New Year, the first day of the month of Muharram.

Islam in the Philippines has absorbed indigenous elements, much as has Catholicism. Moros thus make offerings to spirits (diwatas), malevolent or benign, believing that such spirits can and will have an effect on one's health, family, and crops. They also include pre-Islamic customs in ceremonies marking rites of passage--birth, marriage, and death. Moros share the essentials of Islam, but specific practices vary from one Moro group to another. Although Muslim Filipino women are required to stay at the back of the mosque for prayers (out of the sight of men), they are much freer in daily life than are women in many other Islamic societies.

Because of the world resurgence of Islam since World War II, Muslims in the Philippines have a stronger sense of their unity as a religious community than they had in the past. Since the early 1970s, more Muslim teachers have visited the nation and more Philippine Muslims have gone abroad--either on the hajj or on scholarships--to Islamic centers than ever before. They have returned revitalized in their faith and determined to strengthen the ties of their fellow Moros with the international Islamic community. As a result, Muslims have built many new mosques and religious schools, where students (male and female) learn the basic rituals and principles of Islam and learn to read the Quran in Arabic. A number of Muslim institutions of higher learning, such as the Jamiatul Philippine al-Islamia in Marawi, also offer advanced courses in Islamic studies.

Divisions along generational lines have emerged among Moros since the 1960s. Many young Muslims, dissatisfied with the old leaders, asserted that datu and sultans were unnecessary in modern Islamic society. Among themselves, these young reformers were divided between moderates, working within the system for their political goals, and militants, engaging in guerrilla-style warfare. To some degree, the government managed to isolate the militants, but Muslim reformers, whether moderates or militants, were united in their strong religious adherence. This bond was significant, because the Moros felt threatened by the continued expansion of Christians into southern Mindanao and by the prolonged presence of Philippine army troops in their homeland.

Muslims, about 5 percent of the total population, were the most significant minority in the Philippines. Although undifferentiated racially from other Filipinos, in the 1990s they remained outside the mainstream of national life, set apart by their religion and way of life. In the 1970s, in reaction to consolidation of central government power under martial law, which began in 1972, the Muslim Filipino, or Moro population increasingly identified with the worldwide Islamic community, particularly in Malaysia, Indonesia, Libya, and Middle Eastern countries. Longstanding economic grievances stemming from years of governmental neglect and from resentment of popular prejudice against them contributed to the roots of Muslim insurgency.

Moros were confined almost entirely to the southern part of the country--southern and western Mindanao, southern Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago. Ten subgroups could be identified on the basis of language. Three of these groups made up the great majority of Moros. They were the Maguindanaos of North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Maguindanao provinces; the Maranaos of the two Lanao provinces; and the Tausugs, principally from Jolo Island. Smaller groups were the Samals and Bajaus, principally of the Sulu Archipelago; the Yakans of Zamboanga del Sur Province; the Ilanons and Sangirs of Southern Mindanao Region; the Melabugnans of southern Palawan; and the Jama Mapuns of the tiny Cagayan Islands.

Muslim Filipinos traditionally have not been a closely knit or even allied group. They were fiercely proud of their separate identities, and conflict between them was endemic for centuries. In addition to being divided by different languages and political structures, the separate groups also differed in their degree of Islamic orthodoxy. For example, the Tausugs, the first group to adopt Islam, criticized the more recently Islamicized Yakan and Bajau peoples for being less zealous in observing Islamic tenets and practices. Internal differences among Moros in the 1980s, however, were outweighed by commonalities of historical experience vis-à-vis non-Muslims and by shared cultural, social, and legal traditions.

The traditional structure of Moro society focused on a sultan who was both a secular and a religious leader and whose authority was sanctioned by the Quran. The datu were communal leaders who measured power not by their holdings in landed wealth but by the numbers of their followers. In return for tribute and labor, the datu provided aid in emergencies and advocacy in disputes with followers of another chief. Thus, through his agama (court--actually an informal dispute-settling session), a datu became basic to the smooth function of Moro society. He was a powerful authority figure who might have as many as four wives and who might enslave other Muslims in raids on their villages or in debt bondage. He might also demand revenge (maratabat) for the death of a follower or upon injury to his pride or honor.

The datu continued to play a central role in Moro society in the 1980s. In many parts of Muslim Mindanao, they still administered the sharia (sacred Islamic law) through the agama. They could no longer expand their circle of followers by raiding other villages, but they achieved the same end by accumulating wealth and then using it to provide aid, employment, and protection for less fortunate neighbors. Datu support was essential for government programs in a Muslim barangay. Although a datu in modern times rarely had more than one wife, polygamy was permitted so long as his wealth was sufficient to provide for more than one. Moro society was still basically hierarchical and familial, at least in rural areas.

The national government policies instituted immediately after independence in 1946 abolished the Bureau for Non-Christian Tribes used by the United States to deal with minorities and encouraged migration of Filipinos from densely settled areas such as Central Luzon to the "open" frontier of Mindanao. By the l950s, hundreds of thousands of Ilongos, Ilocanos, Tagalogs, and others were settling in North Cotabato and South Cotabato and Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur provinces, where their influx inflamed Moro hostility. The crux of the problem lay in land disputes. Christian migrants to the Cotabatos, for example, complained that they bought land from one Muslim only to have his relatives refuse to recognize the sale and demand more money. Muslims claimed that Christians would title land through government agencies unknown to Muslim residents, for whom land titling was a new institution. Distrust and resentment spread to the public school system, regarded by most Muslims as an agency for the propagation of Christian teachings. By 1970, a terrorist organization of Christians called the Ilagas (Rats) began operating in the Cotabatos, and Muslim armed bands, called Blackshirts, appeared in response. The same thing happened in the Lanaos, where the Muslim Barracudas began fighting the Ilagas. Philippine army troops sent in to restore peace and order were accused by Muslims of siding with the Christians. When martial law was declared in 1972, Muslim Mindanao was in turmoil.

The Philippine government discovered shortly after independence that there was a need for some kind of specialized agency to deal with the Muslim minority and so set up the Commission for National Integration in 1957, which was later replaced by the Office of Muslim Affairs and Cultural Communities. Filipino nationalists envisioned a united country in which Christians and Muslims would be offered economic advantages and the Muslims would be assimilated into the dominant culture. They would simply be Filipinos who had their own mode of worship and who refused to eat pork. This vision, less than ideal to many Christians, was generally rejected by Muslims who feared that it was a euphemistic equivalent of assimilation. Concessions were made to Muslim religion and customs. Muslims were exempted from Philippine laws prohibiting polygamy and divorce, and in 1977 the government attempted to codify Muslim law on personal relationships and to harmonize Muslim customary law with Philippine law. A significant break from past practice was the 1990 establishment of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, which gave Muslims in the region control over some aspects of government, but not over national security and foreign affairs.

There were social factors in the early 1990s that militated against the cultural autonomy sought by Muslim leaders. Industrial development and increased migration outside the region brought new educational demands and new roles for women. These changes in turn led to greater assimilation and, in some cases, even intermarriage. Nevertheless, Muslims and Christians generally remained distinct societies often at odds with one another.


Bangsamoro is the name of the area claimed by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines. The MILF seeks to establish an independent Islamic state in the southern Philippines. Bangsamoro covers the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Cotabato, South Cotabato. Davao del Sur, Sarangani, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi. It also includes the southern portion of the province of Palawan.

The term Bangsamoro also refers to the Filipino Muslim people, in general. These include the Tausug and the Maguindanaoans.

The term Bangsamoro comes from the Malay word bangsa, meaning nation or people, and the Spanish word moro, from the older Spanish word Moor, the Reconquista-period term for Arabs or Muslims.

Moro Rebellion

The Moro Rebellion was the second phase of the Philippine-American War, following the so-called Philippine Insurrection phase. After the capture of Philippine patriot Emilio Aguinaldo and the surrender of the majority of Philippine forces on Luzon, many regions remained beyond the control of the American forces. In spite of the announcement of President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 that the Philippines had been subdued, sporadic fighting continued in many areas.

The southern area of the Philippine Islands continued to resist strenuously. With great difficulty, American forces gained control over the remainder of the Philippine Islands, particularly the moslem (Moro) island centered on Mindanao. The Moro Rebellion did not abate until 1913, when the American government promised the eventual independence of the country.

Modern Muslim inhabitants of the southern Philippines see the Moro Rebellion as one phase of a continuing struggle against outside influences, the Spanish, the Americans, and the central government of the Philippines.



Circumcision is practiced throughout the Philippines due to the influence of Islam. A strong Islamic legacy has been left behind in the custom to circumcise (pagtutuli or, simply tuli, in Filipino) young boys. (Note: Circumcision is not mentioned in the Koran, but is mentioned in Hadith and considered an important Sunnah.) When the Spaniards arrived, circumcision was justified as being Christian. To this day, being uncircumcised is stigmatized in Philippine society. Even to non-Muslim Filipinos, it is considered effeminate to be uncircumcised (Filipino: supot), and one isn't considered a "full man" unless he is circumcised.[citation needed]


Every year, many Filipino Muslims go on a pilgrimage (hajj) to the holy city of Mecca; upon returning men are bestowed with the honorific title "hajji" and women the honorific "hajja". In most Muslim communities, there is at least one mosque from which the muezzin call the faithful to prayer five times a day. Those who respond to the call to public prayer follow Muslim custom in removing their shoes before entering the Mosque, aligning themselves in straight rows before the minbar (niche), and offering prayers in the direction of Mecca. An Imam, or prayer leader, leads the recitation in Arabic verses from the Qur'an, following the practices of the Sunni sect of Islam common to most of the world.

Moros, who comprise most of the Muslim population in Mindanao, are observant regarding performing the ritual prayer and have strictly abided by the fast (no food or drink in daylight hours) during Ramadan, or performed the duty of almsgiving[citation needed]. They also observe other rituals and practices and celebrate Islamic festivals such as the end of Ramadan (Eid ul-Fitr); Muhammad's birthday; the night of his ascension to heaven; and the start of the Muslim New Year, the first day of the month of Muharram.

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