Mosques in the Philippines | The Hardly Seen Treasures
Mosques are the most quintessentially Islamic buildings. These are not just symbols of faith but importantly an essential part of the religious experience. And if only you take a moment to deeply look at them, you’ll soon find that these mosques in the Philippines are wonderful too.
Indeed, they may not be as lavish as the ones that we see in the Middle East. Yet they too are as strikingly stunning on its own.
I am Catholic. And as much as my interest for Spanish colonial churches, I also adore mosques. I admire its stylistic fluidity, spatial feel, silhouettes and the narratives surrounding it.
Mosques in the Philippines: Monuments of Islam
My fascination for mosques began at an early age, growing up with a Maranao grandfather in Baloi, Lanao del Norte. Lolo Dome as we called him, was my grandma’s second husband after my Christian grandfather passed away.
Over watching games of sipa-sa-manggis or making sweet dodol, he shared many stories of Islam. Among them are the pillars of faith and the importance of mosques.
The Early Mosques
The earliest mosques in the Philippines were a mix of the various influences of its time. In fact, the vernacular designs were fashioned after the hut style and pagoda style.
Masjid Datu Untung Balabaran of Taviran in Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao exemplifies this. Also, Buadi Sakayo Mosque in Marawi, once came in pagoda style, owing it to their interactions with Chinese merchants.
Sheik Karim al-Makdum Mosque in Simunul, Tawi-Tawi is the oldest known mosque in the country. Built in 1380, only its original posts survived to this day. The government inscribed it as a National Cultural Treasure.
In Lanao del Sur, the site of the earliest known mosque is in the quiet town of Taraka. While it is where the new Baab ur-Rahman stands today, it still keeps the legacy of its 16th-century origins.
Further south, Taluksangay Mosque takes the credit for the center of propagation of Islam in Western Mindanao. This mosque within the Sama Bangingi community in Zamboanga City traces its history all the way back to 1885.
Design and Function
Mosques are commonly called masjid or masgit. I remember our house in Baloi stood near a small mosque called the “ranggar”. But on Fridays, I would sometimes tag along grandpa in the central mosque.
Large bulbous domes as well as minarets characterise these big mosques.
Although the architecture of the mosque is not solely determined by Islamic doctrine, it must follow one thing — to face the Ka’aba in Mecca. Also, praying among Muslims do not need a lot of pomp. In fact, they only need a clean and quiet space to lay a prayer mat on.
Unlike stone cathedrals, it is quite hard to find age-old mosques in the Philippines today. Besides, Islam came way earlier than Christianity and along the way many changed in time. Original mosques were made of bamboo, wood and cogon. And when they were reconstructed, it followed the much familiar Middle Eastern style.
Mosques can be minimalistic or richly designed. Idolatry is taboo in Islam, thus the absence of human or animal figures anywhere. Instead, equally elaborate leaf motif called “okir” decorates many mosques in the Philippines.
In Lanao del Sur many are decked along the banks of Lake Lanao. This location by a body of water is necessary for the faithful to perform the ritual of ablution.
The truth is, tourism in Muslim-centric areas is a complex matter. Although it doesn’t come in cookie-cutter city tours, there are some efforts to bring it to the mainstream circuit. As more non-Muslims’ understanding of Islam grow, so is the appreciation for mosques.
Blushing in pink, Masjid Dimaukom in Saudi Ampatuan in Maguindanao is a colorful departure from the familiar masgit. It sprung surprises on social media and forever changed the scene in this otherwise quiet town.
Then there’s the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid in Cotabato City. Also known as the Grand Mosque, it is the biggest among all the mosques in the Philippines. Gold-plated domes adorn it and flanked by ornate minarets.
Further away in Datu Odin Sinsuat is Al-Nasser Abpi Masjid. This white-washed mosque appeals to grammers with light-and-airy curated feed. Fairly new, but now part of Maguindanao’s faith tourism circuit.
Then, in the town of Bacolod Kalawi in Lanao del Sur is a striking mosque in hues of green. Come by before sunset and watch it against the lakeside drama of the setting sun.
However in my travels, the most dramatic mosque setting is Polo-a-Barakat in Binidayan. Needless to say, this mosque isle right on Lake Lanao is stunning.
The Southernmost Trail
Nowhere you’ll find mosques in the Philippines standing in cheek-by-jowl than in Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi. With all the boats and houses on stilts in the foreground, make it like a clip from a movie scene.
Islam and Mosques Outside Mindanao
The growing population of Muslims around the country also brought many mosques outside its homeland in Mindanao. Some notable ones are Masjid al-Dahab or the Golden Mosque in Quiapo and the Blue Mosque in Taguig.
Mosques and War Memories
The 2017 war in Marawi shattered its Grand Mosque and other smaller masjids around. I was right in its ground zero months before its day of doom. And seriously, it’s a harrowing remembrance of what was once a vibrant place.
Seeking out these mosques in the Philippines makes me understand more the wisdom of Lolo Dome. Wherever I travel in its heartland, the chants of the adhan, brings me peace. And in this whimsical ecstasy of travel, mosques guarantee me a treasure trove of art, history, faith and aspirations.