Islam in the Philippines (2023)

I was inspired to write this article after reading some commentson another website spoutinga whole lot of nonsense about the “filthy Muslims” in Mindanao.

Reading on the web, you will often see quite a bit about how the Philippines is a “Catholic” country. Much of the negative comments originate from either lapsed Catholics, particularly expats for some reason, or Filipinos who see Catholicism as links to a none-too-kind colonial past.Nevertheless, the history of the Church of Rome and the Philippines are intertwined: nearly 400 years of dominion make it so, and there is no changing the past.

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The Philippines is highly diverse, with some provinces being culturally quite different than others. One thing that seems to define many Filipinos is the strength of their faith, whatever that faith may be. The one biggest legacy of the Catholic Church in the Philippines is perhaps the unifying force of religion: Before the Spanish, the country was largely tribal, kin and clan-based in government, except in areas that were controlled by Muslims. The Church unified all these clans, and created the first Filipinos, by name. How successful were they? Partially. As I’ve written many times, though Rebecca is Filipino, she shares very little kinship or culturewith those from Mindanao or Tagalogs, or Visayans. She considers herself Ybanag first, Ilocano second, Cagayano third, and Filipino fourth. It is solely through the strength and ties of religion that bindthat she shares any kinship with other Filipinos. She is by no means unique in these beliefs.

Indeed, the population is roughly 81% Roman Catholic, with about another 10% Protestant and other Christian denominations (Including Mormons, Iglesia ni Cristo, Seventh Day Adventists, and so on), about 3% Buddhist (mostly Tsinoy), and about 4% Muslim. There are about 1% who are Hindus or Sikhs (Indian expats, primarily), and there is also a very small percentage who still practice animist beliefs, perhaps not a religion, per se, but these beliefs pervading throughout society in general (More on this below). Only about 1% describe themselves as “atheist”. Therefore, the country could perhaps be considered predominantly Catholic, but these remaining 20% still comprise about 20 million people: And that is quite a large number of non-believers to Rome. Add in the fervent practice of these faiths, and it quickly becomes apparent why there are so many missionaries in a country that is, by far, predominantly Christian.

Officially, the constitution states that the governmentis secular in nature: You are free to practice whatever religion you so choose. How secular the government has actually been is certainly questionable, and the Church certainly holds a lot of unofficial political power, in practice if not in law. In fact, certain groups, like the Iglesia ni Cristo followers, have garnered significant political pull, by utilizing voting in unified blocs,delivering a far larger impact than their numbers would indicate at first glance.


This article, however, is about Islam in the Philippines. Islam predatesChristianity in the Philippines by nearly 200 years. Derisively referred to by the Spanish as Moros,Muslims were once the majority in the country, from Manila southwards. Though successful in establishing Christianity in Luzon and the Visayas, in 400 years of colonial rule, the Spanish were never really able to truly subjugate the Muslims in Mindanao.In fact, the Sultan of Sulu was still negotiating treaties with European powers well into the 19th century, all the way up to the Philippine Revolution. It was the US colonial administration and force that fully brought Mindanao into the fold.

The Sultans of Sulu and Jolo were the original colonial powers in the Philippines, and the local rulers were known as Datus, as they are still known in Malaysia and Indonesia to this day.It was a Datu that Legazpi defeated in Manila. It was a Datu who killed Magellan. Religion holds sway in the Philippines, dating back to the earliest written documents. Adherents to Islam, are just as fervent in their beliefs as Catholics, and, despite a real public image problem in the current world press, Muslims have been no more violent than God-fearing Christians in the past (And before anyone starts in, I refer you to the Crusades,the Inquisition, the Irish Civil War, and the abortion clinic bombings in the States, Exodus 15:3, Deuteronomy 13:6 – 13:15 (Actually, most of Deuteronomy), 2 Corinthians 6:14 & 6:15).

Though comprising only 4% of the population in the country as a whole, Muslims are by far the largest percentage of the population in Southwest Mindanao. Culturally, Muslims gave the Philippines much, from music, to dance, to language, to architecture. In many ways, Filipino Muslims are culturally similar to people in Malaysia and Indonesia, which makes perfect sense, since Islam spread from India, to all of the Malay and Javanese (Buddhism predated Islam in much of the Philippines, and that also came from Java) domains, up through the Malay archipelago, including the Philippines. That is why most Filipino Muslims are Sunni, rather than Shia, sinceIslam spread from India, rather than Persia. The language, culture, and beliefs of the Philippines, therefore, owe almost as much to Islam as to the Catholic Church.

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It is interesting to note that the animist beliefs still persist even among devout Catholics and Muslims: This is on thing that they share, even though it technically violates both Catholicism and Islam. Belief in Aswangs, Duendes, spirits in trees, and so on, are strong among many, many Filipinos. Back to the old ways, in most cases. These beliefs still persist, and many Muslims and Catholics practice a modified version of their religions, taking these beliefs into account.

Currently, there are large Muslim communities in Manila, even stretching as far North as Aparri. Though their numbers are small, Islam is gaining new adherents every day in the Philippines, and remains the fastest growing religion in the country. And, believe it or not, most Muslims are just like many Christians: Not everyone is a devout believer. Most people just want to pray, live their lives, and be left alone.

The current problems in Mindanao have been happening over centuries. The predominantly Muslim provinces are the poorest in the entire country. There is little economic opportunity there, and most governments have tried assimilation by colonization or the sword, rather than improving the lot of the average poor farmer. The troubles in Mindanao may be blamed on religious extremism, but the true cause is economic and political marginalization: People feel helpless and hopeless, giving those who wish to exploit them ameans to do so.Desperate people trying to improve their lot in life have little to lose, and everything to gain.

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So, should the average expat be afraid of Muslims, or separatists, or terrorism? The answer is “No”. I know many Muslims here, ranging in devotion from something akin to Christians who go to church only at Christmas and Easter to pretty devout Muslims who pray five times per day and observe the fasts during Ramadan. They all pretty much want to be left alone to practice their faith and not bother anyone. With a very few exceptions, you are as safe in the Philippines as you are in the United States: Perhaps even safer.

One troublesome thing I see online, however,is the general hatred towards Muslims and the utterly asinine online ramblings of a significant part of the expat community. Coming to the Philippines with that sort of attitude, even in a “Christian” country, only further marginalizes the weakest in society and makes the problem worse. With that kind of attitude, you are better off staying “home”.


How is Islam in the Philippines? ›

Islam is practiced by roughly 5% of Filipinos from a variety of ethnolinguistic groups, over half of whom live on the large southern island of Mindanao.

How much of the Philippines is Islam? ›

AffiliationNumber (2010)Percentage
United Church of Christ in the Philippines449,0280.41%
Jehovah's Witnesses410,9570.43%
10 more rows

How did Islam influence Philippines? ›

The Muslim settlers didn't just bring their religion and architecture, however—they also brought their political system, establishing a series of sultanates in the southern Philippines. The most celebrated of these rulers was the Sultan of Sulu, whose capital was Jolo.

How Muslims in the Philippines accepted the term Moro explain? ›

The 'Moro' name however, was given by the Spanish inquisitors who named the Muslims in the Philippines as such due to their geographical location of living on the moors. This title usually excludes Filipinos who have converted to Islam.

What kind of Muslims are in the Philippines? ›

The main Muslim tribes in Southern and Southeastern Mindanao are the Maranao, Maguindanao (both over 700,000), the Tausug (325,000), Samal, Yakan, Sangil and some other smaller groups as the Palawani on the western island of Palawan (10,500).

Is Philippines an Islamic state? ›

The Philippines is one of the state opponents of the militant group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), more commonly referred to by the local media as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Philippines and the Islamic State.
Date23 July 2014 – present
StatusMartial law declared in the Mindanao region until 31 December 2019.
1 more row

Why Islam is the first religion in the Philippines? ›

Islam was the first-recorded monotheistic religion in the Philippines. Islam reached the Philippines in the 14th century with the arrival of Muslim traders from the Persian Gulf, southern India, and their followers from several sultanates in the wider Malay Archipelago.

Are Filipinos very religious? ›

The Filipino people are known for their strong religious faith. Even in the midst of the most trying moments of their collective history their faith remains steadfast.

What country brought Islam to Philippines? ›

Arab and Gujarati traders and missionaries introduced Islam to the Philippines in the 14th century.

Who established Islam in the Philippines? ›

As early as 1380, an Arabian trader by the name of Karim Al Makhdum reportedly reached the Sulu Archipelago and later established Islam in the country. He established the first Muslim mosque in the Philippines in Barangay Tubig Indangan on Simunul Island in Tawi-Tawi.

What is the situation of Filipino Muslims in Mindanao? ›

The Mindanao island group is home to majority of the Filipino Muslims in the Philippines. It is where 93% of the entire Islamic population resides. Of Mindanao's 24,135,775 population, Muslims make up about 23.39% of the island's entire population with more than half of this percentage (14.30%) occupying the ARMM.

What religion is Bangsamoro? ›

While the Bangsamoro cultures are bound together by their common adherence to the Islamic faith, they maintain their distinct ethnic cultures and identities.

What do Muslims in Philippines speak? ›

Language and accessibility

While Muslims have been in the north for decades (even centuries, as history will tell) thanks to economic trade, only a few of them speak the regional lingua franca. Most of them speak Filipino as a second language.

Can Muslims have multiple wives in Philippines? ›

The Family Code states that no Muslim man may take more than one wife “unless he can deal with them with equal companionship and just treatment as enjoined by Islamic law and only in exceptional cases”. The grounds for determination of exceptional cases is not specified.

What religion is big in Philippines? ›

Christianity is the majority faith in the Philippines, making up approximately 90% of the population. The overwhelming majority are Catholic, followed by Protestant Christians including the popular Iglesia ni Cristo, independent Christian churches, and indigenous Catholic churches such as the Aglipayan Church.

Is Islam is the largest religion in the Philippines? ›

The Philippines proudly boasts to be the only Christian nation in Asia. More than 86 percent of the population is Roman Catholic, 6 percent belong to various nationalized Christian cults, and another 2 percent belong to well over 100 Protestant denominations.

Where did Islam start in the Philippines? ›

Historians ascribe the introduction of Islam to the Philippines to Tuan Masha'ika, supposedly an Arab religious leader or missionary, who landed on the island of Jolo in what is today the Province of Sulu in the southern Philippines, in the mid to late-13th century.

How many Muslims are in the Philippines? ›

Islam (5.06 percent) and Evangelicals (2.82 percent) followed.

What religion is getting weaker in the Philippines? ›

Islam in the Philippines

The religion rapidly declined as the main monotheistic religion in the Philippines when the Spanish entered the country. In present day Philippines, most of the Muslim population in the Philippines reside in the southern islands of Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan.

What was Philippines religion before Christianity? ›

Animism was widely practiced in the pre-colonial Philippines. Today, only a handful of the indigenous tribes continue to practice the old traditions.

Why are Filipino respectful? ›

The Philippines, being a dominantly Catholic country, there are traditions that had been adopted by the Filipinos. A distinct tradition in every Filipino family is to give respect to the elders. “Pagmamano” is a Filipino gesture often done by young people to the elders as a sign of respect.

What are the 3 main Islamic groups in the Philippines? ›

The Muslim-majority Philippine ethnic groups according to the Bureau on Cultural Heritage (BCH) of Bangsamoro include: Badjao. Iranun. Jama Mapun.

Where do most Muslims live in the Philippines? ›

The Mindanao island group is home to majority of the Filipino Muslims in the Philippines. It is where 93% of the entire Islamic population resides.

What is the main religion in the Philippines? ›

Christianity is the majority faith in the Philippines, making up approximately 90% of the population. The overwhelming majority are Catholic, followed by Protestant Christians including the popular Iglesia ni Cristo, independent Christian churches, and indigenous Catholic churches such as the Aglipayan Church.

Is Sharia law legal in Philippines? ›

Shari'ah or Islamic law is partially implemented in the legal system of the Philippines and is applicable only to Muslims. Shari'ah courts in the country are under the supervision of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

Is there divorce in Islam in the Philippines? ›

Rule 10.

Registration of divorces among Muslim Filipinos shall be governed by the following rules: Divorce is the formal dissolution of the marriage bond in accordance with P.D. 1083 to be granted only after the exhaustion of all possible means of reconciliation between the spouses.

Is adultery a crime in the Philippines? ›

The Philippines is one of the few countries that still considers adultery and concubinage as criminal offenses.

Who brought Islam to Philippines? ›

Arab and Gujarati traders and missionaries introduced Islam to the Philippines in the 14th century.

What language is dying in the Philippines? ›

Worse still are “moribund” languages, or those only spoken by the grandparents in a group. Other moribund or “nearly extinct” languages include Isarog Agta (five documented speakers), Ata (three), Arta (11) and Sorsogon Ayta (15).


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