Friday 14 December 2018

Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Philippines

I grew up listening to Moro National Front and its fight with the government of Philippines. And today is the first time since that I have thought of writing on the life of Muslims in Philippines  and the names I have been hearing since my childhood got refreshed.

And when one talks of Muslims in the Philippines, the name of Mindanao or the commonly known as Southern Philippines comes to forth. Mindanao which is the second largest island in the Philippines, joins with the smaller islands surrounding it make up the island group of the same name. And it is here that majority of the Muslims of Philippines have their abode.

Islam is the oldest recorded monotheistic religion in the Philippines.The Muslims came to Philippines islands as far back as the 13 and 14 centuries from Indonesia and Malaysia. Muslim missionaries arrived in Tawi-Tawi in 1380. In 1457, the Sultanate of Sulu was founded, followed by the sultanates of Maguindanao and Buayan. By this time in the second of the 16th century the Spanish came to this part of the world and started colonizing these islands. The Spaniards called the Filipino Muslims as Moros, a term derived from Moors, as the Spaniards used to describe the Muslims in Morocco.  

The Muslim sultanates, while ensuring their sovereignty, reacted to the expanding Spanish domination and started conducting raids on Spanish coastal towns. It was not until the last quarter of the 19th century that the Sultanate of Sulu formally recognized Spanish suzerainty, but these areas remained loosely controlled by the Spanish as their sovereignty was limited to military stations and garrisons and pockets of civilian settlements, until they had to abandon the region as a consequence of their defeat in the Spanish–American War.

The struggle of the Muslims since then continued against the American rule. In second World War, the Japanese came and captured the islands, later to be liberated by the Allies and independence of the present day Philippines. And from then on the Moro Muslims resistance and struggle morphed into their current war for independence against the Philippine state.

The resistance of the Philippine Muslims continued against the mainland government and their movement for independence was 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. By 1980s the Moros were confined almost entirely to the southern part of the country--southern and western Mindanao, southern Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago.These hostilities between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front prompted President Ferdinand Marcos to issue a proclamation forming an Autonomous Region in the Southern Philippines. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was  officially inaugurated on November 6, 1990 in Cotabato City, which was designated as its provisional capital. From then on the ARMM and the government have been negotiating for its expansion which has seen many ups and downs since then.

While the negotiations between the government and the Muslims continued, as early as January this year, the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned another war could break out in Mindanao if legislation on Muslim autonomy collapsed.

Later in July, President Rodrigo Duterte signed a historic Bangsamoro Organic Law  to ending the Muslim rebellion in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines that had claimed about 150,000 lives since the 1970s. The restive Filipino Muslim have long battled for independence or autonomy in Mindanao, which they regard as their ancestral homeland for they have lived here for more than 500 years. The law aimed at enforcing the historic 2014 peace deal under which the Moro Islamic Liberation Front vowed to give up its quest for independence and lay down the weapons in return for self-rule.

As per the law, freedom of religion will be enshrined in a proposed law that will allow the creation of a new autonomous Muslim region in the southern part of the Philippines. The law will give state funding and local control of natural resources to a largely Muslim region on the southern island of Mindanao.

As per a 2012 estimate by the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) there were 10.7 million Muslims, or approximately 11 percent of the total population in Philippine. Most Muslims live in parts of Mindanao, Palawan, and the Sulu Archipelago – an area known as Bangsamoro or the Moro region. Most Muslim Filipinos practice Sunni Islam according to the Shafi'i school.

How is the life of Muslims in Philippines in general. Well I have to probe many sites to get to know the answer. A rather independent view by Michael Figueroa, Co-founder/Program Officer at The Reaching Astronomy to a question "What is life like for Muslims living in the Philippines?" at Quora is rather positive:
I'm not a Muslim, but I could say that they are well integrated in the Filipino society. Or I should say, they are an important part of our society. Generally, Filipino Muslims are just like any common Filipinos. They have the same rights and respect. The Philippines observe both of religion’s main occasions e.g. Christmas and Ramadan. There is a distinct number of Muslim merchants in public markets not just in Mindanao but all over the Philippines. 
It is a common sight to see Muslim Women not wearing hijab. I have a good friend who doesn't. Since the Philippines is a Christian majority country, Halal Resto are hard to find if you are in a non-Muslim region.
Overall, Filipino Muslim are in good place. They hate the Islamic terrorist in the south too.
But how do Muslims feel when they compare themselves with Christians living on the mainland. Well many feel that they are second class citizens as compared to the Christians who get more job share and privileges and preferences.  The Muslims are generally poorer and less educated than other Filipinos. In the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao the average per capita income in the 1990s was around $350, one third of the national average and less than half the Mindanao average of $800. In some Muslim neighborhoods in Zamboanga unemployment rates approach 90 percent. One elderly woman there told the Los Angeles Times, “I have 14 children and 33 grandchildren. Only four of them have jobs, and they are living abroad.

Muslim have suffered from neglect and underdevelopment. One Muslim leader told the Los Angeles Times, “Governments have promised us everything. But look around and what is the ‘everything’ they've delivered? Do you see roads? Electricity? Economic development? Factories? The everything is nothing.”

Muqtedar Khan in his report and plight of Muslims of Philippine in HuffPost writes: "Muslims of Philippines break my heart. They are beautiful, devoted and sincere, but also poor, marginalized and living directly or indirectly under the shadow of war for nearly four hundred years."

I would request Muslims of Philippine reading this post to give their feedback so as to make this post wholesome based on first hand information and account.

On a lighter note, the Moro Muslims are very festive and take part in all religious and local festivals and cultural events. The people of the Bangsamoro region, including Muslims and non-Muslims, have a culture that revolves around kulintang music, a specific type of gong music, found among both Muslim and non-Muslim groups of the Southern Philippines. Each ethnic group in ARMM also has their own distinct architectures, intangible heritage, and craft arts. A fine example of a distinct architectural style in the region is the Royal Sulu architecture which was used to make the Daru Jambangan (Palace of Flowers) in Maimbung, Sulu. 

You may like to watch a video on Crescent Feast: The food specialties of the Philippines' Moro tribes

About Tulay Mosque: It is the main mosque of the capital of Sulu province. The mosque is dominantly coastal, as the people who adhere to it are the Tausug, who call themselves as people of the sea. The mosque has four towers and one dome. The dominant colors of the mosque are white and yellow. 

Photo: Tulay Mosque (Wikipedia) | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |
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