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Philippines

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Philippines

    The Republic of the Philippines consists of a group of islands located in the Pacific Ocean. Unlike other parts of Southeast Asia, this nation is predominantly Roman Catholic, the result of 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. Moros, as Philippine Muslims are called, make up 5 percent of the population. They are concentrated in the southern part of the Philippines, either on the large island of Mindanao or on one of the small islands that make up the Sulu Archipelago. The relationship between the Christian-controlled government and the Muslim community has often been contentious, and some militant groups continue an armed struggle for regional independence and the creation of an Islamic state.

    North Versus South.

    Muslims from Brunei introduced Islam to Mindanao and the Sulu islands during the 1400s. By the mid-1500s, the Muslim community had established two sultanates that incorporated some of the native groups in the area. The spread of Islam was interrupted by the arrival of the Spanish in 1565 . They established a colony and converted most of the people in the northern part of the Philippines to Christianity. But the Spanish were unable to convert the Muslims in the south, whom they called moros because they shared the faith of the Moors, the descendants of the Arab conquerors of Spain.

    During 300 years of colonial rule, numerous wars erupted between the Spanish and the Moros. By the mid-1800s, the colonial government abandoned its mission to convert the Muslims and worked to gain political control of the southern islands. The destruction caused by continuous fighting and declining agricultural output, among other factors, led Moro leaders to sign a peace treaty with Spain. Eventually, the southern islands would have become part of the colony. The process halted, however, when Christian Filipino rebel forces staged a series of revolts against the foreign rulers in the late 1890s. Meanwhile, Spain was engaged in a war with the United States regarding the independence of Cuba. As part of the Treaty of Paris ( 1898 ), Spain ceded control of the Philippines to the United States. Although American officials forced the Moros to accept their political authority, they did not attempt to change religious practices or customary laws unless they violated the U.S. Constitution.

    When the United States began to train Filipinos for self-government, Muslim religious leaders asked to be excluded from the proposed independent nation. They wanted to maintain their separation from Christian Filipinos and remain under American protection until they could establish a separate Muslim state. When the United States granted independence to the Philippines in 1946 , however, the Moro regions were included in the new republic. This political arrangement caused considerable displeasure among the Moro population.

    Islam became more important than ever to the Moros. Every year, hundreds of Philippine Muslims performed the hajj and returned with renewed religious zeal. New mosques and madrasahs (religious schools) opened in the southern islands. At the same time, large numbers of Christian Filipinos immigrated to the south and settled in traditional Muslim areas, often with the support of the government. The government had neglected the economic and educational concerns of the Moros and continued to discriminate against them, which led to armed clashes between Christian and Muslim groups. Some Moros involved in the conflict wanted only to preserve their Islamic identity and way of life. Others supported the formation of a separate Muslim nation.

    Gains and Losses.

    In 1972 President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in the Philippines and used force to disarm the Moros, an act that led to open revolt. One of the most popular groups in the resistance movement was the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), which called for the establishment of an independent Muslim republic.

    With the support of Libya and other members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the MNLF escalated the war from 1973 to 1976 . In 1976 the Philippine government signed an agreement giving autonomy to the Filipino provinces with large Muslim populations. Although the government failed to carry out some provisions of the agreement, it did grant certain concessions to the Moros. For example, schools attended by Muslims were authorized to instruct their students in Arabic, and the government created a Ministry of Islamic Affairs. Scholarships for Moro students and appointments of qualified Muslims to top government positions increased.

    Despite these changes, some Moro groups continued to demand the withdrawal of the Muslim provinces from the Philippines. During the 1980s, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was established to maintain the struggle for Moro independence and the formation of an Islamic state. When the Marcos government collapsed in 1986 , the army left the Muslim region to combat communist rebels, only to be replaced by other government fighters who brought a reign of destruction. The MILF eventually signed a cease-fire agreement with the government. Nevertheless, more radical groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf , continue the armed struggle for an independent Islamic state. See also International Meetings and Organizations; Southeast Asia.

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