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PHILIPPINES. In 1990. the Muslim population of the Philippines comprised between five and six million, or about 8.5 percent of the country’s sixty-six million inhabitants. The vast majority of these Moros, as Philippine Muslims are called, live in the western and central parts of Mindanao island and the Sulu Archipelago. They are classified into twelve ethnolinguistic groups, the major ones being Maranao, Maguindanao, Tausug, Samal and Yakan. Agriculture and fishing are their main occupations. Some groups are noted for household industries such as brasswork and weaving as well as for trading activities. Their regions have practically no industrial base.

Philippines situated in the western Pacific Ocean. It consists of about 7,641 islands

Muslim traders and preachers visited Sulu as early as the thirteenth century. Soon after, Muslim adventurers from the Malay region followed, intent on founding principalities in Sulu and Mindanao. When the Spaniards came to the Philippines in 1565 to establish a colony and convert the inhabitants to Catholicism, they were confronted by three Muslim principalities in the south: Sulu, Maguindanao, and Buayan. The Spaniards were able to capture Manila, a principality ruled by relatives of the sultan of Brunei, with comparative ease; but they were unable to conquer the southern sultanates.

In time the conquered inhabitants, named indios by the Spaniards, came to identify themselves as Catholics as well as subjects of the Spanish monarch. But the Muslims of the south, called moros by the Spaniards (because they had the same faith as the Moors of Spain), never shared this identity. Actually, in the more than three hundred years of intermittent warfare between Spaniards and Moros, the christianized natives invariably served in the military expeditions against Muslims.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century the Spanish colonial government abandoned its previous policy of conversion for one of merely imposing sovereignty over the Moros, in order to define its southern borders against possible encroachment by other Western powers. A decline in agricultural productivity, the disruption of traditional maritime commercial activities, the ravages of continuous wars, and gradual isolation finally induced the sultans and datus (chieftains) to enter into friendly treaties with the Spanish government-a process tending toward eventual absorption into the colony. But the Philippine revolutions of 1896 and 1898, which led the Spaniards to withdraw their troops from Muslim lands to concentrate them in the north, arrested this process. Subsequent Filipino revolutionary leaders’ attempts to solicit Moro help against the Spaniards brought no tangible results, since the Muslims viewed both Spaniards and Christian Filipinos as their traditional foes.

Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States by the Treaty of Paris of 1898. American military superiority forced recalcitrant datus to accept United States sovereignty. American officials left Islam and Moro customary law untouched unless they ran counter to the U.S. Constitution. When Filipinos started to be trained in self-government preparatory to eventual independence, sultans, datus, and Muslim religious leaders petitioned American officials for exclusion from the proposed independent state. They desired to remain distinct from Christian Filipinos, staying under American protection until they could have their own separate state. When the Philippine Republic was established in 1946, the Moros found themselves included in a political structure without their consultation or consent. In 1951 a Senate committee studying the causes of an alarming breakdown of law and order in Moro regions concluded that one factor was that most Moros did not identify themselves as Filipinos or agree with the national polity.

Meanwhile, stirrings of a heightened Islamic awareness were becoming more evident. Every year hundreds joined the hajj and returned to their communities with acquired prestige and increased religious fervor. New mosques and madrasahs were being built, often with aid from outside Muslim organizations. The Egyptian government offered scholarships for Moros to study at AlAzhar University in Cairo. Some scholars transferred to other Cairo universities and the Egyptian military academy. Muslim teachers from abroad also came to teach for a few years. A new sense of pride and achievement arose among Moro youth, and a younger and better-educated local `ulama’ emerged.

At the same time, conflict was being exacerbated by several factors: the increasing and unrestrained influx of Christian settlers to Muslim traditional lands, often with government support; continued national neglect of Moro economic and educational aspirations; subtle discrimination against Muslims’ serving in top national offices; Moro leaders’ loss of political power in their former bailiwicks; and severe land conflicts between Moros and Christian settlers. These forces progressively led to an increase in armed clashes between Christian and Muslim bands; the constabulary or army usually sided with the former. Moro cries of “genocide” elicited sympathy from the Muslim world. The proclamation of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, followed by military attempts to confiscate Moro arms, led to an open revolt. The most popularly supported liberation front was the Moro National Liberation Front

(MNLF) with its military arm, the Bangsamoro Army (BMA) under the leadership of Nur Misuari, a former faculty member of the University of the Philippines. In 1977 it was given observer status in the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

Pressure from the OIC and mediation by Libya influenced the Philippine government and the MNLF to sign the Tripoli Agreement of 1976, which provided for some form of autonomy for thirteen provinces with sizable Muslim populations. But neither the autonomy granted by the Marcos regime in 1977 nor that under the administration of Corazon Aquino in 1989 have satisfied OIC expectations or MNLF demands. In early 1989 the MNLF renewed its demand for secession while seeking membership status in the OIC.

The Moro uprising, along with diplomatic pressure from Muslim countries, had nevertheless persuaded the government to grant various concessions. In 1973 Arabic was authorized as a medium of instruction in schools attended by Muslims, and the two `Ids were proclaimed legal holidays for Muslims. In 1977, a national Code of Muslim Personal Laws, with provision for a mufti, was promulgated, although not all of the shari `ah district and circuit courts provided for have yet been established. The following year, the Philippine Pilgrimage Authority was created to regulate and facilitate the annual hajj; during the 1980s these pilgrimages involved an average of two thousand pilgrims yearly. By 198o most of the top MNLF field commanders who had come to pledge their loyalty to the republic had been rewarded with political positions or economic opportunities. In 1981 a Ministry (now Office) of Islamic Affairs was created. Since 1982 there have been government efforts to upgrade the madrasah system while integrating some madrasahs into the national educational system. (Presently, there are about fifteen hundred madrasahs, but the majority do not go beyond the secondary level.) There was also an increase in state scholarships for Moro students and more appointments of qualified Muslims to top positions in the justice and Foreign Affairs departments. Socioeconomic development projects and refugee rehabilitation, albeit modest, are an ongoing process. Firm guarantees that Islam will remain unmolested, as well as a more realistic form of autonomy, may further dilute the current agitation for secession on the part of the Moro population.

[See also Islam, article on Islam in Southeast Asia and the Pacific; Moro National Liberation Front; Organization of the Islamic Conference.]


George, T. J. S. Revolt in Mindanao: The Rise of Islam in Philippine Politics. Kuala Lumpur, 1980.

Gowing, Peter Gordon. Mandate in Moroland: The American Government of Muslim Filipinos, 1899-1920. Quezon City, 1977.

Gowing, Peter Gordon. Muslim Filipinos: Heritage and Horizons. Quezon City, 1979.

Gowing, Peter Gordon, and Robert D. McAmis, eds. The Muslim Filipinos: Their History, Society, and Contemporary Problems. Manila, 1974

Jocano, F. Landa, ed. Filipino Muslims: Their Social Institutions and Cultural Achievements. Quezon City, 1983.

Kiefer, Thomas M. The Tausug: Violence and Law in a Philippine Moslem Society. New York, 1972.

Majul, Cesar Adib. Muslims in the Philippines. Quezon City, 1973. Majul, Cesar Adib. The Contemporary Muslim Movement in the Philippines. Berkeley, 1985.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/philippines/

  • writerPosted On: June 26, 2017
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