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Pamagat:  In Search of the Sharifi Heritage. Understanding the Significance of the Sharifi

Isinulat ni Prof. Yusuf Morales, Senior Fellow sa  Institute for Comparative and Advanced Studies (Icas Phils)



In order to attain a proper perspective about Islam’s coming to the Philippines, it is first of all important to view this fact as part of the general spread of Islam in Malay lands, more specifically, in the Malay Peninsula, and in the Indonesian and Philippine Archipelagos. Had it been completed, the Islamization of the Philippines would have constituted the end process, the last chapter, of the Islamization of the Malay peoples. But as is well known, history was to take an unexpected turn with the coming of the Spaniards with the Sword and the Cross.

The coming of Islam to the Philippines was a function of Philippine participation in the international trade which, during the ninth century, extended from Morocco to China – a trade practically controlled by Muslim merchants of diverse nationalities but principally Arabs. However, Muslim came before Islamization. Muslims for a long time had come and gone in Southeast Asia without effecting any conversion.

Actually the introduction and expansion of Islam was of necessity the result of many factors; and to present a single or simple hypothesis is to risk misleading conclusions. But some facts are at hand, and it is possible to present a fairly consistent and credible explanation about Islam’ s advent and spread in the southern islands of the Philippine Archipelago.

In 878 A.D., on account of an anti-foreign policy in China and a rebellion in the Celestial Empire, hundreds of Muslims were massacred in South China, and hundreds of those who survived flocked to the ports of the Malay Peninsula. Blocked from returning to China, these traders began to engage in a local trade in southeast Asia.

They gradually came to learn about new products. When, by the tenth century, Muslim merchants were allowed once again to return to China, they did not abandon the traffic in these new products or the use of the new routs since the trade with the Malay peoples was profitable. It was a trade, too, in which the Malays began to participate intimately – especially the port chiefs. Scholars generally believe that Muslim merchants made Borneo known to the Chinese during the tenth century.

Since Borneo is close to the Philippines it can be presumed that Muslims traders had begun to know Sulu at least by that time, if not earlier. In any case, there is evidence that Arab ships, or rather, ships captained by Arabs, had reached China from some island in the Philippines during the tenth century.

One of the more reliable “tarsilas” (genealogical accounts) of Sulu narrates how a certain Tuan Masha’ika arrived at Jolo island in the area of Maimbung and married a daughter of the ruling family. He came at a time, according to the account, when the people were still worshipping stones and other inanimate objects.

That his origin is associated with extraordinary events only implies that he represented and old and highly developed culture. That he was a Muslim is evidenced by the typically Muslim names of most of his children.

It is also known that the term “Masha’ika” is one of the plural forms of the word “Shaikh” and was used to denote descendants of saintly people in South Arabia to distinguish them from the Sharifs or Sayids who were descendants of the Prophet Muhammad.

Significantly, this tarsila account indicates that the descendants of Tuan Masha’ika began to move northward on the Island of Jolo. That they were people of note, or had prestige, can be inferred by existing accounts about them as well as by the assertion that they were also descendants of a female member of the local ruling family or aristocracy. But what is important in this particular account is that it asserts the existence of Muslims in Sulu who married into the local population.

On Bud Dato, a few miles from Jolo town, there is a tomb that has been looked after for more than six hundred years. Without going into details, the tombstone reveals that the deceased was foreign Muslim who died away from his land of origin.

The date is 710 A.H. or 1310 A.D. By the nature of the care given to the grave and tombstone, and because the tombstone seems to have been imported or constructed in Sulu by Muslims, it can be inferred that by the end of the thirteenth century or at the beginning of the fourteenth century there was already a settlement or colony of foreign Muslims in Jolo island. I would like to speculate that this is the time of the coming of Tuan Masha’ika, although I am not suggesting that the Tuan and the deceased foreign Muslim were one and the same.

The “tarsilas” tell about the coming of a certain Makhdum Karim who on account of his saintly qualities was also called Tuan Sharif Awliya, this last term being used for holy men. He is said to have traveled extensively and effected conversions.

Najeeb Saleeby, a student of Sulu history and the scholar who first published some of the most important “tarsilas”, wrote that the Makhdum must have come in the second half or possibly around the middle of the fourteenth century.

And this calculation tallies well with the date usually given for the coming of other makhdumin to java and Balambangan. These makhdumin were probably Sufis with missionary aims. As is well known, the Sufis, (that is, Muslims with certain mystical inclinations and belonging to brotherhoods) had come to the Indonesian Archipelago at around this time to spread Islam, having fled when Baghdad fell to the Mongols in the last half of the thirteenth century.

It is not really correct to say that Makhdum Karim was the first man who introduced Islam to Sulu. What probably happened was that he reinforced Islam among the foreign Muslim, or their descendants, and with their help and support and the use of their settlement as a base, he was able to effect conversions among the surrounding local and older population.

Islam must have seen by now fairly well spread among the population around Buansa as evidenced by the narration that when baguinda (prince) coming from Sumatra landed with his courtiers and warriors, the local opposition against him was weakened when some Muslims (among them the grandchildren of Tuan Masha’ika) came to his support.

This was at the end of the 14th or early in the 15th century – the date is not certain. Another version has it that the religious men of both factions, that is, the Buansa party and the party of the baguinda, promoted him as ruler in Buansa – his acceptability to the datus of Buansa being induced by the fact that the Sumatran prince was a Muslim. In any case, the coming of the baguinda with learned men in Islam must have contributed to the increasing consciousness of Islam among the people of Jolo, especially those in the area around Buansa.

After this time, Islam must have been deep among the datus and chiefs of Jolo in that they were willing to accept as their Sultan a foreign Muslim known as the Sharif-ul-Hashim. This Muslim, purportedly an Arab, did not come and impose Islam or a Sultanate among the People. Rather, by the time of his arrival the datus and mass of the people had become sufficiently sophisticated in their Islamic knowledge and had developed a high enough level of Islamic consciousness that they readily accepted the political institutions required by orthodoxy.

The Sharif-ul-Hashim is calculated to have arrived in Buansa around the middle of the fifteenth century. Let me emphasize that this sharif is an historical figure and not the figment of Tausug imagination. His beautiful tomb still exists on one of the slopes of Mount Tumantangis, the tallest mountain in Jolo. All his titles are inscribed on his tomb for anyone who cares to go up there and read them.

It is significant that one of his titles is Maulana, suggesting that he was a guide and teacher. Actually, the conversion of the interior or mountain tribes in Jolo, the Buranuns, is credited to him. In effect, this mean that the coastal peoples of Sulu and the mountain peoples, the later possibly older in the island than he coastal folk, came to share the same faith and submit themselves to one political and spiritual head. As is well known, the sultans of Sulu have all claimed descent from his sharif, called the first sultan.

To summarized the introduction and spread of Islam in Sulu, around the beginning of the fourteenth century or possible earlier there was already a colony or settlement of foreign Muslims on the island of Jolo. They were likely traders who married local girls and died and were buried in Jolo, not without having left descendants. After the middle of the fourteenth century, Muslim missionaries appeared to effect conversions in Malay lands.

They were probably Sufis and their teachings were infused with mystical overtones. Around the turn of the fourteenth century, Muslims from other Malay lands came to establish a principality. By the middle of the fifteenth century, Islam must have been quite widespread, making the local chiefs and people receptive to the adoption of Islamic political institutions, more specifically that of the sultanate. The fact is, he coming of Islam and its expansion in Sulu represent in a miniature form what happened in other parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.


Peter G. Gowing and Robert d. McAmis, THE MUSLIM FILIPINOS Their History, Society and Contemporary Problems, Solidaridad Publish Hose (1974), Manila, pp. 1-11


Arrival of Islam

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.

SOURCE: History of the Muslims in the Philippines “A NATION UNDER ENDLESS TYRANNY” 2nd Edition, By Salah Jubair

The history of Sulu: by Najeeb M. Saleeby.
Saleeby, Najeeb M. (Najeeb Mitry), b. 1870., Ethnological Survey for Philippine Islands
Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1908.
Scan Pages available here:

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