came to Mindanao and Sulu is a complex question that cannot be
addressed by a single and simple answer. However, it is a fact of
history that after the death of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon
him) in 623 AC6 , a general expansion of Islam ensued. Either
through missionary efforts or from military victories, the Islamic
world expanded to dominate the Middle East, North Africa, Spain,
Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. The spread continued towards the
Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia and then to Mindanao and
That Islam came to the Philippine islands with trade route in a roundabout way is generally accepted by historians. It followed the route that originated from Arabia overland through Central Asia and then overseas to India, China and thence to Southeast Asia and Africa.
However, as to which single group - traders, missionaries, crusaders, etc. - was responsible for introducing Islam in Mindanao and Sulu, the issue is still debatable. Presumably, no single operational factor is to be attributed the distinction of having spread the religion to this faraway place from the cradle of Islam. Nonetheless, after considering all the various aspects of the issue, historians seem to have agreed that the coming of Islam to Mindanao and Sulu was the result of the missionary activities of Arab traders and teachers or sufis who came along the trade routes. The participation of some Muslims from the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent is also admitted.
Be that as it may, there is yet no sufficient evidence to support the contention that Islam was introduced in Mindanao and Sulu much earlier than the closing years of the fourteenth century. But there is one piece of archaeological information that may support the theory that Islam may have arrived much earlier and that was the discovery of a tombstone on the slope of Bud Datu bearing, among other entries, the year of the death of the deceased: 710 AH7, which corresponds to 1310 AC in the Gregorian calendar. The deceased was someone bearing the name of Tuhan Muqbalu or Maqbalu. The title Tuhan, said the noted Muslim scholar Cesar Adib Majul of the University of the Philippines, implied that the dead was a chief or person of high authority.'
As in the Malayan peninsula, Indonesia and Borneo, the first to become Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu were those living in or near trading posts or along the trade routes. This is why most historians, if not all, believe that the early missionaries of Islam were traders. The more likely possibility, however, is that the introduction of Islam in this part of the globe, as pointed out earlier, may have resulted from the combined efforts of traders, teachers or sufis, although the appearance of a conscious and systematic plan of carrying out that task was evidently lacking.
In Sulu, an Arab known locally as Tuan Mashaika was credited with having founded the first Muslim community. He married a local maiden and raised his children as Muslims. Later, in 1380, another Arab, Karimul Makhdum, reverently called Sharif Awliya, arrived and converted a large number of inhabitants to Islam. Makhdum was responsible for the founding of the first mosque in the Philippines at Tubig-Indangan on Simunul Island.
In 1390, Rajah Baguinda arrived and continued the works of Makhdum. By this time, a flourishing Muslim community in Sulu evolved and by the middle of the following century the Sulu sultanate was established. The first crowned sultan was Syed Abubakar, an Arab from South Arabia, who was said to be a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Upon his ascension to the throne, Abubakar used the regnal name Sharif Hashim.
In Mindanao, Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuan, also claiming to be of Hashimite descent, is credited as being mostly instrumental in the propagation of the new faith in the island. He landed first at Malabang (now in Lanao del Sur) in the year 1515 and subsequently proceeded to Cotabato, where he firmly planted the seed of the new creed. Out of his marital union with the local maidens, the Maguindanao sultanate and Buayan sultanate came into existence. Later on, succeeding sultanates, though of lesser status and power, claimed lineage from him.
But before the coming of Sharif Kabungsuan, local genealogies or tarsilas of Maguindanao speak of a certain Sharif Awliya, also from Johore, who is said to have introduced Islam to the people of Mindanao around 1460. Some writers identify him as the same Karimul Makhdum who set foot in Jolo earlier. His story, though appearing mythical, is quite consequential when related to the question of who first came to plant the seed of Islam in Mindanao. He was averred to have come to Mindanao in the air in search of "Paradise" on the hill of Tantawan (now PC Hill or Colina Hill in Cotabato City). There on the hill he met an houri (celestial maiden), married her and they begot a daughter by the name of Paramisuli, a name reserved to the royalty. Sharif Awliya, not long after, quitted the place, leaving behind his wife and daughter. The Maguindanao genealogies continue to narrate that, soon after, another Arab, Sharif Maraja, also from Johore, arrived. He landed and stayed at a settlement called Slangan or what is now in the vicinity of the Post Office in Cotabato City and, soon afterward, married Paramisuli, the daughter of Sharif Awliya.
Another tradition, this time from Lanao, speaks of another Sharif Alawi who came possibly by way of Maguindanao to Lanao and up to the mouth of Tagoloan River in the present-day Misamis Oriental and proceeded afterwards to Bukidnon. There is scanty evidence to prove this journey especially his missionary activities in Bukidnon, where there are pockets of Muslim communities found today.
Before the advent of Islam, the people of Mindanao and Sulu were animists. There was no community ever reported orally or in writing to be monotheist. They worshipped stones, stars, moons and other inanimate objects. Diwata and anito were essential features of their belief system. Conversion to Islam was generally regarded as easy and unconstrained except in some isolated cases where clashes preceded it. With a vastly superior knowledge, usually associated with "magical powers," the newcomers easily got past the local opposition. Rendering the task much easier was the Arabian blood. running in their veins which hastened rather than hindered acceptance not only by the masses of the people but even by the old ruling classes. And with Islam came the new world outlook, power structure and the cleansing force in weeding out pagan rituals and ceremonies. It gave way to the uncompromising belief in one single Supreme Being called Allah, on the equality and brotherhood of the faithfuls, on the establishment of goodwill and prosperity to all. and revolutionized the lifestyles of the faithfuls in all spheres of existence. As proof of its persuasiveness, Islam gained new adherents who proved to be among its ablest and bravest defenders as shown in the succeeding three centuries of continuous warfare with the colonizers.
instances, global politics affected directly or indirectly the turn
of events even in faraway places. Had not the Moors been defeated
by the Spaniards in 1492. the Spaniards could not have come in 1521
and conquered the Philippines. Or had the Spaniards delayed their
coming to the Philippines for just half a century there would be no
such thing as the "only Christian country" in Asia. There could
have been an entirely different story to tell regarding the spread
of Islam in Luzon and the Visayas.
There is evidence that as early as the last years of the fifteenth century, Islam was already gaining headway in many places in the Philippines. It was carried directly from or via Sulu or Mindanao by preachers, traders or voyagers from Borneo who settled among the inhabitants of the islands. In the words of one popular writer:
... It is
hard to believe that Manila was once firmly under Muslim heel,
Muslims controlled the seat of government, the wealth and the trade
up and down the Pasig and around Bai lake and Batangas as well as
the sea lanes to Mindanao and Borneo.
The Muslims were the ruling class in Luzon, the rich traders, cultural leaders and missionaries, the ones with the knowhow and the right connections, the literacy and what's more, the right religion.
Manila, then known as Selurong, Islam had already gained ground in
Batangas, Pampanga, Cagayan, Mindoro, Palawan, Catanduanes, Bonbon,
Cebu, Oton, Laguna and other districts. Preachers of Islam, all
reportedly coming from Borneo, came to teach the natives the
rudiments of the new religion. Such Islamic practices as
circumcision, reading the Qur'an, avoidance of pork, and the use of
Muslim names were already noted among the natives of these
What is Metropolitan Manila today was formerly the bastion of Islam. Manila was ruled by Rajah Sulaiman Mahmud, jointly or assisted by Rajah Matanda, his uncle and Tondo under the rule of Rajah Lakandula. Manila was not only the commercial center but a powerful fort (cotta) was built near the mouth of the Pasig River in defense of the realm.
It was to the islamized natives of Manila that the word Moro was first applied by the Spaniards in 1570 to denote those who professed Islam. Indio first denoted the pagan natives, but was later to include even the christianized. It was only in later years, more specifically in 1578 and after, that the name Moro was generally applied to the Muslims of Mindanao and Sulu.