OPINION: Commemorating 637 years of Islam in the Philippines

Photo by Edd Gumban/philstar.com

By Amir Mawallil/abs-cbn.com – November 7 marked the celebration of Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Day. It is remembered for the arrival of Islam in what is now the Philippine archipelago via Tawi-Tawi is as historical as, say, the celebration of the first Holy Mass in Limasawa island on March 31, 1521, just two weeks after Portugese explorer Ferdinand Magellan saw the coast of Samar.

Tawi-Tawi is now known as the “Cradle of Islam” in the Philippines. This is where Arab trader and missionary Sheikh Karimul Makhdum set foot in our archipelago and introduced Islam to us 637 years ago, in the year 1380. It is, essentially, the beginning of the Bangsamoro narrative.

Sheikh Makhdum’s arrival in Simunul island resulted in the Islamization of the province and the spread of Islam through Mindanao as well as many parts of the country—including Luzon and the Visayas—before western colonizers took political and religious control of most of the Philippine archipelago’s wealth of islands.
Our people are taught the historical facts and details about the arrival and spread of Catholicism in the Philippines, but not as much about the arrival and spread of Islam here. It is good to see that changing, beginning with the place where the seeds of Islam were first planted.
This commemoration upholds the historical fact that Islam was already practiced in the Philippine archipelago before Catholic Christianity. That much-neglected part of our history is now getting the recognition it merits. There is, after all, more to the Philippines than the arrival of Christianity, significant as that event is in our history.

This important part of the Moro narrative must be woven into the nation’s narratives of history and awareness of it on a national level will go a long way toward greater understanding of the Moro in the context of our nation—and vice versa. This, too, is a tool for peace and goodwill among people of faith. This knowledge must be brought to the national consciousness, for it, too, is a piece of this nation’s soul.

This story is an integral part of the Moro narrative—and it is good to share it with all our compatriots, be they Moro or not. Various activities were undertaken by the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and the local government units under ARMM in Tawi-Tawi, both to celebrate this historic event and to provide greater meaning and color to this historic day. May this promising seed planted just days ago bear good fruit.
Let’s talk a bit about Sheikh Makhdum: When he arrived in Sulu, the sheikh was a man of trade who sought economic opportunities. For all that, it was the faith he carried with him that endured across the centuries in what has grown into our nation.

Trader that he was, Sheikh Makhdum was first a man of his faith: His life and the celebration of it is a reminder that, as Muslims, it is part of our da’wah, our duty to preach our faith, to bring Islam with us wherever we may be, whatever we may do.

This is what it means to be Muslim: We are raised and taught to live by the tenets of our faith. Our actions must speak as much about our faith in Allah and our heartfelt desire for peace as our words do. Both word and action must be in accord, at peace with each other, if you will.

It is part of every Muslim’s calling to be living examples of the truth of our faith—whether or not we are in the company of our ummah (community).
The story of Sheikh Makhdum’s life is a very clear example of this—one that is even more important now that there are people who pretend to be Muslims and who take such unholy pride in the lies they spread that blacken the perception of our faith by people of other faiths.

The celebration is not rooted in just the archive of Moro history in the Philippines: Sheikh Makhdum’s efforts to introduce Islam in this part of the world has been recognized by historians and religious leaders in Southeast Asia.

These historians across the region have documented the religious accomplishments of Sheikh Makhdum in the Philippines—including the construction of the first mosque in the Philippines in 1380 at Tubig Indangan, Simunul. That mosque still stands and has been named in his honor.

The commemoration of Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Day goes beyond the arrival of a man. It encompasses the arrival of Islam at our shores. This day 637 years ago marked the beginning of our relationship with our fellow Muslims around the world. More importantly, it marked the beginning of Moros’ relationship with Allah.

Despite our differences and our life choices as individual citizens of this country, we share a steadfast belief in one God, one who is made manifest in our actions as Muslims and as Moros who take pride not only in our identity but in our faith. This is a narrative that gives Moros another strong link with the rest of our people and, if only because of that, we have great cause to celebrate this historic day.

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