Muslim Cultural Immersion

Growing up in the Philippines, there is a large Muslim population but we don’t really know much about them. So, I went and booked a Halal Tour and Muslim Culture Immersion for a day. The tour centered around The Golden Mosque and the Muslim Town of Quiapo.

Panorama of the ceiling of Golden Mosque

Muslim Town is located in Quaiapo. It is composed of a couple streets surrounding the mosque and madrasa. The tiny town, at the edge of Chinatown, is a world apart. It has cafes specializing in halal food from different parts of Asia. Small shops and market stalls also specialized in clothing appropriate for the mosque, prayer beads, prayer books and mats. To the right of the mosque entrance is a small market where specialized food items are on offer.

Our first stop in the tour is the Arab-Asia Café which serves Halal Food. There, we were greeted by Anne, the tour organizer, Nords Maguindanao, the Muslim Historian and Amanah, our Shariah Lawyer. First, we learned about the history of Muslims in the Philippines. The Philippines is a hodgepodge of cultures. There are big influences from Chinese, Malays and other groups. Muslims have been recorded in the Philippines since the 1300’s but it might have been earlier. Many waves of missionaries came from Arabia, Brunei and Malaysia throughout the centuries before and after the Spanish came.

Arab-Asian dishes, Muslim Town and the shops

The goal of this tour was to immerse ourselves in the culture even for a few short hours. Each participant is asked to keep an open mind. After learning about history of Islam in pre-colonial Philippines, we learned a little about Shariah Law. Since Shariah is subject to jurisprudence, the interpretation of the law is different in each country. It seems in the Philippines, women are stronger since many of the tribes are matrilocal. Some practices are formed by culture and it in through culture and constitution that the interpretation differs.

Inside the shops, learning to wear a hijab

After the sit-down lecture, we head over to the shops to see and buy what are Halal products. Halal in Arabic means “allowed.” This refers not just for food but also in clothing and cosmetics. Many cosmetics nowadays uses pork by-products and even boar hair for the brushes. Mister Nords suggests we buy Halal cosmetics because it not only supports the smaller manufacturers but also because Halal products are made with care. It uses organic materials, no animal bi-products and no animal cruelty testing. The sellers from the stores taught the ladies of the tour group how to wear a Hijab or headscarf. For those who don’t have any, they are asked to buy one. Pins and other accessories are also sold to adorn the headscarf. When we were all ready, the tour group entered the Mosque.

Manila’s Golden Mosque or Masjid al-Dahab was built with the supervision of Former First Lady Imelda Marcos in 1976 for the visiting Libyan President Muammar al-Gadaffi. Though the visit was canceled, the mosque continues to serve most of Manila’s Muslim community. Small businesses thrived around it and it was turned into a proper district complete with a friendship arch. The Mosque was very light and airy. There were stained glass windows in the light vents that filtered light into the large prayer area. The decorations, lintels, boors and other carvings are a mixture of tribal influences mainly from Maranao, Tausug and Maguindanao. In the outside façade, colorful mosaics adorned the stone walls.

Golden Mosque exterior and inside the Madrasa

The tour group visited the madrasa or school. From age four, families enroll their children to the madrasa to learn Arabic. When they learn Arabic, they learn to read the Quran. We sat in pairs and talked to the children to get to know them. They, in turn, got to know us. The children were very educated. Their dreams, especially the girls, already had dreams. One wanted to be a lawyer while the other a chef. One girl decided she wants to be a pharmacist since she came from a family of pharmacists.

After our short visit with the children, we toured the rest of the Mosque while meeting some of the Imams and the older uncles before proceeding to the market.

Exterior of Golden Mosque

The market had produce and products from Zamboanga and Lanao. A special kind of leeks were on sale. These leeks only grew in Lanao. These leeks were turned into a spicy side dish called Palapa. Palapa was eaten with many of the Maranao dishes. After our fill of shopping, we proceeded to a crowded café where they specialized in Maranao and Tausug dishes. Warning, most of the dishes are spicy including the soup. Palapa is also given to spice things up even more. Recommended dishes are Beef Rendang and Kinilaw na Fish. If you are vegetarian, the perfect dish is fried eggplant and Ginataang Langka (jackfruit in coconut milk). Don’t forget to take out dessert. They have tiny pancakes, small tea cakes and biscuits that would go well with coffee.

Food trip and market area

Our debriefing was done in Landap Café where they had Filipino, Indian, Pakistani and Arabian dishes. They also had mixed coffee, flavored teas and lattes. Best of all, this café is airconditioned.

So, notable things we’ve learned:

  • Muslim are people who practice Islam.
  • There are 13 Ethnolinguistic Bangsamoro tribes.
  • 900AD, Muslim traders were recorded to have been trading with the many islands of the Philippines. They called Phlippines “Mai.”
  • In 1300AD, Tuan Masha’ika, a religious Arab, brought the formal Islam Religion to the Philippines: Sulu and Tawi-Tawi. He established the first Mosque in Sumilon Island. To this day, the mud hut foundation still exists and is incorporated into the newer building.
  • 1500, Sultan Bolkiah saw the potential of Manila and he decided to enhance it for trade. He gave his daughter to one of the tribes leaders to marry.
  • In Sulu, Sultan Paduka journeyed to China (Mind Dynasty) with his entourage to meet with the emperor. He was treated with respect and given many gifts. Unfortunately, he died on the way home. The emperor gave him a burial mound. Some of his family remained and is still taking care of the mound.
  • The Sulu Sultanate is comprised of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Zamboanga.
  • The Greater Cotabato Kingdom is composed of Maguinadanao, Maranao Tribes and Tausug Tribes. They have Malay origins.
  • 1800, Sultan Kudarat, son of Sultan Kudarat, defended Mindanao from the invading Spanish Conquistadors. Seeing the effects of Manila and the rest of the islands, he wanted to preserve the culture of the Maranaos and Maguindanaos.
  • Lanao del Sur is the Summer Capital of Mindanao.
  • Lake Lanao is one of the oldest lakes in the world. It is 5 Million years old. It is one of 17 Ancient Lakes existing. It is the only one in South East Asia.
  • Maranao means “dwellers of the Lake.” It is said that there was a mermaid that married a human. Their children integrated into the rest of the Maranao villages. There ware families with blue eyes thus the myth is given credence.
  • Sultan and Sharif means king. It has Malay origins.
  • Rajah also means king but has Bruneian origins.
  • If you have a civil wedding in the Philippines, Shariah Law will not apply but if you do the Muslim Wedding before the Civil Wedding, Shariah Law will automatically apply.

Muslim Town in Quiapo is a historic haunt. It is a place I will definitely go to again and again. The imams were very welcoming. They said we can come and learn any time as they would like to share their culture and break barriers and stereotypes. Classes and other cultural immersion will be offered soon. As for the Tour group I have signed up with, I shall definitely join more meaningful tours in the future.

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