Islam in the Philippines

By: Wadja K. Esmula

Writen by: Muhiddin Batara Mutia


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.





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