Citation for Salafiyah in the Philippines

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Adiong, Nassef Manabilang . "Salafiyah in the Philippines." In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Nov 29, 2021. <>.


Adiong, Nassef Manabilang . "Salafiyah in the Philippines." In Oxford Islamic Studies Online. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed Nov 29, 2021).

Salafiyah in the Philippines

Salafīyah, widely misunderstood in both the Western and Muslim worlds, is a complex term denoting various conceptualizations especially when its philosophy is applied to practice. Salafis are not directly Wahhābis, especially the version espoused by al-Afghānī and ʿAbduh (Ali, 2016). Generally, it refers to someone or some group of people who devoutly emulate (sometimes confidently mimic) the first three Muslim generations (known as al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ) in all of their lifeworld system, including beliefs, acts, norms, and ritual performances. Their aim is to purify Islam and cleanse its creed from unwanted and deviant alien influences accorded for over a millennium of corrupt Muslim societies (Al-Atawneh, 2010), particularly found in some theological interpretations of Māturīdīyah, Ashʿarī, and Muʿtazilah, excessive taqlīd (imitation) to past jurists, hermeneutics of Muslim philosophers, heretical Ṣūfī practices, and their ultimate enemy: the apostate Shia Muslims.

Salafis hold extremely to their belief in the oneness of God (tawḥīd al-uluhiyya) and that Muslims who stray from this sacred belief (e.g., veneration of Ṣūfī saints or Shia imams) are considered shirk (polytheists) and kufr (disbelievers). They interpret the Qurʾān and sunnah literally. For instance, faith by heart alone is not enough to be a Muslim; it must exemplify with correct rituals and practices based from their reading of the prophet’s sunnah and ḥadīth. They also believe in the absoluteness of Sharīʿah that must be applied in all sociopolitical systems of the entire ummah (community). Without the application of Sharīʿah (predominantly Ḥanbalī law), the entire society constitutes sinful unbelievers.

Middle Eastern Salafism in general, and the Saudi orthodoxy in particular, had entered the religious psyche of Filipino Muslims in the 1960s, carried by what many consider to be the massive material wealth of petro-dollars. The Middle Eastern Wahhābī version of Salafism in the Philippines appeared through scholarships offered to young men to study in their countries, funding the creation of Salafī mosques, madāris, and organizations, and supplying arms to Jihadi-Salafis (e.g., the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, Abu Sayyaf Group, and several others). With the rise of such Saudi- or Middle Eastern–educated Filipino Muslims, traditional practices, norms, and folklores began to disappear. Customs such as commemorating the birth of the Prophet, musical expressions in singing and dancing, use of colorful traditional dress codes (e.g., women’s right not to wear Arab-styled ḥijāb), use of traditional linguistics on Islamic holidays, use of prayer beads, saying of more than eleven prostrations in the tarāwīḥ prayers, and many others are being practiced less. Instead, influences such as Arabized (predominantly Saudi-styled) dress codes (e.g., the mandatory of wearing ḥijāb, niqāb, or burqa for women), culture, and lifestyle are considered to be manifestations of pure and true Islam (Lauzière, 2016).

The sanctity of familial community is disturbed by friction between traditional syncretic Islam (union of Moro’s long-held customs and culture with Islam) and modernist Wahhābī–Salafī Islam and there is a gap between old-age traditional Muslims, characterized by inter-civilizational and multicultural linkages, and that of exclusivist young-age Middle Eastern–trained Muslims, who describe a world of black and white (i.e., pure Muslims versus other Muslims and non-Muslims). This dichotomous worldview is exacerbated by Moro grievances with historical injustices and socioeconomic and political disenfranchisement from imperial Manila (Riviere, 2016). Due to poverty, lack of education, conflicts, insurgencies, political anomie, rido or clan wars, among other things, the Moro peoples are susceptible to frequent Wahhābī–Salafī hypnosis by material wealth, particularly from Gulf countries and privately rich Arab individuals or organizations.

The Salafī Filipino Muslims can be divided into two categories: the Silent-Salafis and the Jihadi-Salafis. The first category refers to adherents who are not politically vocal in the public sphere and uses proselytizing tools (e.g., the dawah movement) in various small communities to spread their ideology. It could be in the form of media (e.g., Mensahe TV based in Davao City; education (Almaarif Educational Center Inc. in Baguio City, private madāris, state-regulated madrasah, toril or boarding schools, various Markaz learning centers); the Balik Islam movement made up generally of Filipino Christian converts to the Islamic faith that started between the 1980s and 1990s (most are overseas workers in the Middle East who had contacts with Wahhābī cells and received Salafī educational materials); higher education such as Islamic Studies programs at the University of the Philippines and Mindanao State University (beneficiaries of Saudi donations of Salafī educational materials); and non-governmental organizations such as the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and the Muslim World League.

Some representative groups include Daʿwatus-Salafiyyah Philippines, Salafi Media Philippines, and Nida-ul Islam Foundation Inc., based in Zamboanga City. The Daʿwatus-Salafiyyah Philippines, mainly comprised of Tausugs, have publicly presented their identity in some of the following tenets of their beliefs: oneness of God with other forms considered polytheism; love of the Prophet’s Companions and family; love of the People of Ḥadīth and all salaf; and despising of theological and philosophical knowledge systems because they are viewed as the cause of Muslims’ fragmentation; non-acceptance of any books on fiqh (jurisprudence), on tafsīr (Qurʾānic commentaries), or historical academic books; shirk, apostasy, and that non-practicing Muslims are great sinners punishable by expulsion; politics is congruently part of Islam and they are mutually inclusive.

An antecedent to the second category of Salafī Filipino Muslims is the unique locally based Balik Islam movement. Its members do not want to be called “converts”; they instead prefer to be called “returnees” or “reverts” to Islam. They believe that the original religion of the Philippines is Islam, and that their Christian identity is a product of historical accident over which they had no control (Lacar, 2001). The Rajah Sulayman Movement (RSM) is one of the extreme Balik Islam groups, founded by Hilarion Santos III (aka Ahmed or Lakay), which wanted to impose Sharīʿah and eliminate Philippine secular laws.

The RSM is an example of a Salafī Jihadist group whose aim is to wage continuous violent jihad until they achieve a pure Islamic society. Jihadi-Salafis, mostly influenced by the writings of Sayyid Quṭb, promoted war against apostate rulers and saw this actuation as a divine obligation. The founder of the RSM has no formal training in Islamic studies. He was an overseas worker in Saudi Arabia who converted to Islam in 1992 and returned a year later to the Philippines in order to propagate his version of Islam. This is a similar method and approach used by Filipino Muslims and converts who, upon return to their country and local communities, immediately joined several dawah movements. These self-proclaimed Islamic intellectuals, who received some favorable response from Muslim communities, have no formal scholarly training in Islamic education.

Another Jihadi-Salafi exemplar is Aburajak Janjalani, the founder of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), who went to Saudi Arabia in 1981 to study Islamic jurisprudence and immersed himself in jihadī thinking and literature (Ramakrishna, 2018). After coming back to the Philippines, he recruited similarly minded Salafī individuals who had studied in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and Libya to form the ASG and to advance its desire to counter Moro National Liberation Front (MILF) hegemony and imperial Manila’s Christian secularism. It is worthy to note that most of the Salafī educational institutions in the country (e.g., Darul Imam Shafii) are well-funded by Saudi-based organizations including, surprisingly, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) (Abuza, 2003). The extent of financing networks commenced during the Afghan war, where more than a thousand of Filipino Muslims sent by the MILF were trained and indoctrinated (Mendoza, 2010). It is no wonder that the recent bombings in Mindanao and the Marawi crisis are manifestations of an increasing number of adherents to the Jihadi-Salafi version of Islam (Kumar, 2018).

Despite the incompatibility between Middle Eastern Islam and Southeast Asian Islam, it was the poor economic conditions and conflicts in Muslim-dominated regions of the Philippines that laid for the groundwork for a speedy conversion of Filipino Muslims to Wahhābī Salafīyah. Thus, the link between Middle Eastern Salafism, particularly of Saudi orthodoxy is the strongest Salafī representation in the country.


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