Islam’s mean face in The Philippines

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ December 20th, 2010. Updated on September 22nd, 2014. Published in: Travel blog » Discover World Culture » Philippines.
The Qur'an from the Philippines

Is Islam in The Philippines different from anywhere else?

Islam in The Philippines is slightly different to Islam elsewhere … same as any other religion really …

Islam makes world headlines every other day with many a negative headline. Then again so does the Catholic church. One headlines with terrorism, the other with child abuse. And, in both cases its the minority that’s giving rise to many of these negative stories.

No, this not your typical holiday season article, but then again, maybe it shouldn’t be. Moreover where I’ve been living the last few months has been noted by the UN as more dangerous than Afghanistan, Iraq or Zimbabwe. Not sure about Julian Assange’s front room, but I’m guessing yes to that one too these days.

Here by choice, but not for much longer. Here’s a different perspective on a world in turmoil at this time of year.

When was the last time peace and goodwill, that religion preaches about, made world headlines?

I’ve written before that my religion is a little bit of everything. I’ve traveled in countries that are Islamic, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Voodoo, and all manner of minority religions & beliefs. And, all manner of mixes. I’ve never had an issue with any.

What I like about Islam

I really like Islamic architecture. There’s rarely a mosque in the world I would not want to photograph. The most beautiful so far has

Badshai Mosque in Pakistan

Badshahi Mosque in Pakistan, a magnificent example of Islamic architecture (click to enlarge)

been Badshahi in Lahore Pakistan.

I enjoy listening to the call to prayer. The most amazing call to prayer so far has been in Morocco. The call comes in, as it has for centuries, across the landscape before you. Swallows fly in the morning, or evening, breeze. A sign that life is waking up, or going to rest.

I can’t help but be impressed at witnessing hundreds or thousands of people all bowing and praying at the same time. It’s nothing to do with what they believe, it is simply; an impressive sight.

I enjoy the history of Islam as I do most other religions. Some of the oldest texts today are religious. Some of the greatest mysteries today are religious.

And, the religion?

Nope, not interested. Yes, I will respect all religions, but no I will not side with any. There’s been too much bloodshed over thousands of years to even tweak my interest in a full on devotion to any religion these days.

The difference in Islam across the world on my travels

As with many religions, I’ve noticed Islam differ in nearly every culture. And, again no. I am not going to go in-depth here and start dividing things up into Sunni or Shiite etc. This is just the basics.

  • Morocco was devout, and accepting of all people.
  • Turkey similar, but it is very relaxed as alcohol and many other restrictions are becoming very common place.
  • Iran was strict, but more from a government enforced point of view. The people themselves still hold onto old views, but are very welcoming and trusting.
  • Pakistan was again very strict, but once more, war can do a strange things to a land and a people. I was welcomed in and there were never any questions.
  • On the border with Afghanistan I sat with long bearded men and AK-47’s and talked about Alexander The Great. We lifted up Russian mortar shells, and expired land mines then looked at new American munitions arriving before us.
  • In West Africa I was invited into mosques so many times by friends that I was even given an Islamic nickname. Then, the fighting began …

Islam vs Christianity in my travels

In Nigeria it is 50% Islam 50% Christian. Both work together every day. Between person to person, there was no conflict. Then add in the extremists, poverty, boredom, politics, low education and … unholy war breaks out.

JOS is a wonderful small town on a cool plateau where I’ve stayed on many an occasion. At least once every two years bloodshed breaks out and Christians fight with Muslims and many die.

Not just die. But slaughtered to death.

Women are raped. Children stolen. And, people are hacked to death with machetes and burned in tires via the most barbaric of ways.

In The Philippines most of the population is Catholic. In Mindanao, there is a minority Islamic population. History tells of Arab traders coming into Asia, through Malaysia up into Indonesia, and into the southern tip of The Philippines.

A mosque in The Philippines

A mosque in The Philippines

And yes, once again there is conflict here too.

Islam in The Philippines

I’ve written before about the conflict in Mindanao, so I will not go into it again. I will however write about what I have experienced as a traveler in this region in regards to Islam.

The Muslims I have met here in open markets have been friendly, fun to bargain with, and I’ve never had an issue. I do however, take issue with other people whispering their issues into my ear whenever there is a muslim around.

A segregated religion

“We are not sitting out, the Muslims are out there.”

“The big car, it belongs to the Muslim.”

“Don’t go down that street, it’s full of Muslims.”

“Don’t travel there, it’s full of Muslims.”

And, so on it goes. I’ve never heard so many people condemn, warn and speak badly about people of Islamic faith as what happens in Mindanao.

Truth be told .. maybe they are right?

When I tell them it is not true, they point to the facts. The Muslim has the big car, there are Islamic neighborhoods, and yes people do sit in groups together.

I have seen Muslim arrogance and wealth in Mindanao, but no more so than any other person of another faith in the rest of The Philippines.

Islam’s mean face in The Philippines

I’d be pretty unsociable too if I knew everyone was talking about me and pointing blame on me. I’d probably want to sit with others like me just to get away from it all.

Mix that in with politics, money and the want for autonomy and you have a hot bed of fiery emotions that just won’t go away.

Face to face with yet another Islam

I decided one day to walk into a mosque in Mindanao. The first day I was stopped by a hotel receptionist who made such a fuss about my safety I promised that I would not go, that day. Instead, I went the next.

The mosque itself was run down. I kept my camera in its bag until I could meet with someone. The prayer area had a few people sleeping there. And, a few others talking.

I was watched like a hawk as I prowled around looking for an office. Finally seeing that none was occupied, I went over to the prayer area and waved at the men having a meeting.

Talking shop

A group of men came over and our conversation about who why what and where began.

“Are you journalist?”

Was the number one question that kept being repeated. Considering not so far from here 50+ journalists were killed last year. I aired on the negative. I was shown around, but kept close and looked up and down as if they did not know what to do with me.

We visited the various offices and the conversation never left the subject of me. Until …

“You need to leave before it’s too late …”

The man spoke in a hushed and favored voice.

“It’s dangerous for you here, not everyone think the same.”

And, so my guided tour had led me out to the street. Where I was given a list of precautions of never coming back, and not to travel any further here. The reason, they don’t understand. And, you are nothing more than a dollar sign.

The link between Christian and Islamic differences in The Philippines

Much like my article about Christianity and Catholicism causing problems in the history of The Philippines, the answer I believe comes from a lack of education, and of course, the fight for power that will ultimately deliver the speculated education for their people.

Preach all day about what you have been taught, but if you cannot understand the reasoning for it, then the trouble starts. No matter the religion.

Education is not all about memorizing quotes

The key words this man spoke were:

“not everyone think the same.”

This to me is the cause of many a religious conflict. None of us think the same. But if we are following a moral, religious, or political law. Then surely in this instance, we should be. At least in terms of moral values.

Key differences I’ve noticed with religion in regions of the world

Three translations inside of the Qu'ran

Three translations inside of a Qur’an, another reason why there are so many interpretations in the world then?

The closer you get to its most centralized following, the more it comes across as a way of life. The further outreaches of religion seem to be more about a cause.

The latter are often problem areas too.

I can walk down a street in Iran or Pakistan and enter a mosque with a camera and no one will object (permissions aside). If I did the same in West Africa or The Philippines, I am all of a sudden breaking every rule there is.

Strangely, the same happened with the Buddhist temple in Davao. Lot’s of rules and different interpretations than in Tibet, Nepal, or even China.

On the flip side of things. The Armenian church in Iran, seemed to cast its own rules that differ from other churches in Europe when I was traveling there.

So, from my experience over the past 6 years of travel in these regions, there is indeed a trend.

Islam in The Philippines is no different to any other isolated religion

So that’s my conclusion to Islam in the Philippines. It’s in a remote area. It’s dominated by another religious population. It’s far from its central institution, yet near another dominating Islamic nations (Indonesia / Malaysia).

Like many other religions this seems to cause a fracturing from a way of life; to becoming a cause.

The sad thing is that Islam, Christianity and most other religions all basically teach the same thing. Yet, somehow since the beginning of religion it’s led to unholy conflict, prejudice, hate and death.

Why speak ill will of someone who believes the same thing you do?

Mix in politics, and you are doomed. Separate politics and follow the basic principles of your religion; and, there’s hope.

So far in the history of humanity we have failed to get this right.

Sitting and waiting

This holiday season many countries are on high alert for terrorists. We will watch the news as a disaster occurs somewhere on our overheating blue planet.

We are paranoid, we avoid thinking of what’s happening out there via one-sided new sources; we close our doors and lock them tight.

I see a man collecting garbage on the street. I don’t care about his religion. I just know he is hungry …

Hotel search at the Longest Way Home

Planning on booking a hotel room in The Philippines?

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I recommend you try my own hotel search for The Philippines.


Coming Soon:

Just before the 25th  – My top 3 best  & worst list of foods in The Philippines – a lighter topic!

Then …

My last journal entry from The Philippines … where is the best place to spend it …

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21 Great responses to Islam’s mean face in The Philippines

  1. ciki says:

    the believe in God, in what ever form is a good thing. Once “religion” comes into place, it means there are ppl involved. And once ppl are involved, it is very easy to get a warped sense of what was once a good, pure thing. Tolerance is key. otherwise its back to the dark ages. Great post! (How long did it take you to write it?!! wow)

  2. Stuart says:

    Eye opening. I’d be interested to see you in Jerusalem. No one liked to talk about religious topics like this a few years ago. Now these issues might knock some heads together

  3. It is great to be a traveler and to be able to walk the tight rope between cultures and religions — teetering from one side to another is an education like you could never receive any way else, just be careful not to fall.

    The lines of culture are often thick, and it was great to hear this story that shows both sides of this line.

    We seem to have this pluralism =right view in the West that does not abide in most other places in the world. People seem to like having their own distinct and separate groups — perhaps this is why we created religions.

    • I actually think religion came about from many things. But, its main modus operandi has been control. It took over from Kings and empires; and is being taken over itself by politics and corporations today.

  4. Ted Nelson says:

    Having lived in so many countries you bring an interesting perspective to this issue. Thank you for sharing.

  5. sealdi says:

    Growing up in Iligan City, I had a lot of Muslim classmates studying in a Catholic school, but as kids we didn’t even notice any differences between us, except when they don’t join the masses. It’s the adults whom we learn it from. Most of the families in Iligan are migrants from other provinces. As a result there are always misconceptions and discrimination because of lack of knowledge and understanding about each other’s culture! Some neighborhoods do not want any Muslim neighbors, or even discriminate towards Maranao food (which is actually a bit spicy and delicious). Ignorance begets discrimination and discrimination begets hate.

  6. it makes me so sad that people all around the world can’t get along. i know that it is real, that people have true beliefs, but the hatred and whispers drive me crazy. what an incredible article.

  7. Juno says:

    Wow. What an insightful post! Wow. It’s really truly amazing you know and experienced all the differences. That’s why we call we are student of the planet earth.
    I only experienced in Malaysia, and I quite liked it. People were generous, and it was mild. Not so extreme.
    Thumbs up!

  8. LeslieTravel says:

    Thought-provoking post. I’m sure you’ll get some interesting comments, especially with the controversial headline!

  9. Anna's World says:

    Great insight! Can’t get enough of how you explore the world!

  10. Thanks for this post, it was very enlightening. I am an African American and also consider myself a Christian, but like you, I don’t identify much with any one religion, but respect them all. This respect is merely respect for people and what they believe in. Most often I say that I am a spiritual person who believe in one God, as opposed to being a Christian. However, I was married to a Sunni muslin here in the US, and he was from Tanzania. The dynamics is really hard and our marriage didn’t last, even though it had nothing to do with religion or spiritual beliefs, more to do with the difference in our values. I had the opportunity to learn more about the Muslin faith and I found it quite interesting.

  11. Abdelrahman says:

    respect your point of view , Im Muslim and so convinced with its high values which encourage us to respect and tolerate the others, unfortunately and as you said, some minority doing the opposite! Their main source is the poverty and illiteracy which are wide spread in the Islamic countries !

  12. Liquid Druid says:

    I’m not sure that you completely understood, but those Filipino Muslims were not dissuading you from entering the mosque out of some misinterpreted religious value.

    They were actually doing you a favor because kidnapping foreigners is pretty common in areas of Mindanao with significant Muslim populations. By showing up in the mosque, you were presenting yourself as a target. (It’s a given fact that Muslim kidnap gangs live alongside the local population.) That’s what they meant when they said you would be “seen as a dollar sign”.

    Had you been kidnapped, you would have ended up being a costly inconvenience to both the government, who would have to monitor your situation and possibly launch rescue efforts; and the ordinary law-abiding Muslims who would have had to bear the brunt of renewed hostility from the non-Muslims because of the acts of a few bad apples.

    It’s a nice thing to be able to tour the world and try to “find your home”. (A lot of people in the world are simply stuck with what they have.) But it’s also important not to be an inconvenience – or worse, a nuisance – in the places you go to.

    • I completely understood what was going on. The area in Mindanao was a safe area no where near kidnapping risk areas. As a matter of fact I lived one street away from the mosque. There was next to no risk of me going into that mosque other than sending “journalistic” alarm bells off in certain peoples minds.

      I’ve been in far worse places and predicaments. The most important thing to come about from the visit were that others in the area learned about it and started asking questions as to why they should fear walking along the same street too. These would be everyday Filipinos. The one’s whose government does little for them when they are kidnapped or more often than not simply killed in other areas of Mindanao. Again, look at the date of this post and remember the mass journalist killing. The outcome of which … well. Not much really happened to the perpetrators did it?

      There is nothing to fear but fear itself. In this case it was simply a community in fear of a Mosque and overzealous news reporting.

      Lastly, “A lot of people in the world are simply stuck with what they have” – that’s a choice for people who “think” they can’t do better. The reality is the majority of the people in the world who are born into a place they don’t like try their damnedest to get out of it. Something a large proportion of the Philippines tries. Why? Because they want a better life. There’s nothing wrong with that in the least.