Month: August 2012

The History of the Muslim in the Philippines

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The Philippine Muslims was once a dominant group in the country. They have 500 years political history, so far the longest political experience compared to other groups in the whole Philippines. Their culture is a blend of Islam and adat. Adat is the sum of both pre-Islamic culture and the philosophical interpretation of the Muslims on the teachings of Islam. It is itself the lasting contribution of the Philippine Muslims to the country’s national body politic. However, to know the Muslim history, one should understand the role of Islam in bringing about historical development. It is this Islam that actually produced heroic resistance against western colonialism. The Philippine Muslims today became known as cultural communities owing to their culture surviving foreign hegemonism to this day.

       The history of the Philippine Muslims is part of  the backbone of the historical development of the whole country. Filipino historians like Dr. Renato Constantino asserted that no Philippine history can be complete without a study of Muslim development (1990:29).

       The Philippines has two lines of historical development. The first line, which is the older, came to develop in Mindanao and Sulu. And this refers to the Muslim line of historical development . Had not this line of historical development been disturbed by western colonialism, Islam might have charted the entire destiny of the Philippine nationhood.   External factors swept into the country and brought the second line. The Hispanized Filipinos were central to the development of this second line. This is the product of the great historical experiences of the Filipino people under western rule.


       Mindanao and Sulu are the original homeland of the Philippine Muslims. These areas are now the third political subdivision of the Philippines. They are located at the southern part of the country, and lie around hundred miles north of equator. The areas occupy a strategic position at the center of shipping line between the Far East and the Malayan world. They are situated north of Sulawise and to the west is the state of Sabah. Mindanao and Sulu has a total land area of 102,000 square kilometers. It is a fertile region and known to be rich in agricultural plantation, marine and mineral resources. As reported, more than half of the country’s rain forest are found in Mindanao. While its agricultural crops include rice, corn, root crops, vegetables, cassava and fruits. Marine products like seaweed production, fish as well as gas and oil are dominant in the Sulu sea. Fifty nine percent of tuna and sardines are largely taken from the Sulu sea. Mainland Mindanao has substantial mineral deposits. Zamboanga del Sur has gold, silver, lead, zinc deposit; Davao oriental has chromite reserves; marble deposits for Davao del Norte and  oil deposit in South Cotabato. These huge resources of the southern islands have made Mindanao the land of promise.

       However, the main concentration of the Philippine Muslim population is confined largely to the western side of Mindanao down to the Sulu Archipelago. In mainland Mindanao, the Muslims are dominant only in Lanao and Maguindanao provinces. While the rest of the Muslim populations are scattered in nearby provinces such as Zamboanga peninsula, North Cotabato, Sultan Qudarat, South Cotabato, Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur and Sarangani island. In the Sulu Archipelago, the Muslims are all dominant in three island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.

The Muslim Etnic Groups

       Ethnic is an Italian term for nation. An ethnic community may be defined as tribal group which has its own language, hold in common a set of tradition different from others whom they are in contact. It has its own territory from which its ethnic identity is derived, and thus becomes a uniting factor for group cohesion. The Muslim ethnic groups in Mindanao and Sulu are linked by both ideological and geographical factors.

       The Muslims in the south are also culturally linked to Muslim countries in Southeast Asia such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Patani of southern Thailand. They are composed of eleven ethnic groups. Each group has its own language but only a few controls a political unit like a province or municipalities. Some groups speak one language with three variations like the Maranao, Iranun and Maguindanaon. The Sama people have one language with many variation such as the dialect of the Jama Mapun, and the Bangingi.

       1. The Maranao. Literally, Maranao means people of the lake. Their homeland is called Lanao which means lake. Their oldest settlement started around here, and up to this day, highly populated communities still dot the lake. Their language is similar to Maguindanaon and Iranun. One shall be confused as to which of them owns the mother tongue since the Maranao and Iranun can understand 60% of the Maguindanaon language. At any rate , these groups live in proximity. Continuous contact allows them to develop or share a common practice including language.

       The Maranao are concentrated in Lanao area. They occupy the most strategic place in Mindanao owing to their access to Iligan bay in the north and Illana bay in the south. During the colonial period, they fought against the Spaniards, usually under the flag of the Maguindanao sultanate. Like other Muslim ethnic tribes, the Maranao are brave and have offered sacrifice in defense of their homeland and Islam. Throughout the colonial period, Lanao was united as one province of the Maguindanao sultanate. Seeing the importance of Lanao, the American colonial government in Manila encouraged landless Filipinos to migrate to Mindanao. Most settlers targeted Lanao as their final destination. After about 50 years, the Filipino settlers became established in the area north of Lanao. This eventually led to the division of Lanao into Del Norte and Del Sur beginning 1960s.

       Lanao is a land rich in literature. Darangan is an example of this. The existence of darangan attests to the level of civilization that the Maranao have achieved at one point.

       Potential resources like lake and agricultural land are more than enough to support to make the goal of darangan into reality. The lake in the heart of Lanao Del Sur is the biggest lake in the Philippines. It is so far the current source of energy supply – at least supplying around 80% power grid of the whole Mindanao.

       The Mindanao State University is located at Lanao’s capital, Marawi City.  Most leaders in Mindanao are in fact products of the MSU.  Sixty percent of its best professors are Christians Filipinos.

       Maranao society is a closed society. The entire municipalities of Lanao Del Sur, particularly at the vicinity of the lake are off limits to outsiders. The lifestyle of the people are in their traditional attire, the malong and the abaya. This is the only place in the Philippines whose lifestyle is not affected with the western trend. The Maranao contact to the outside comes through Iligan City and Malabang. Iligan City is 40 minutes ride from Marawi City. Malabang a coastal town of Lanao Del Sur requires more than one hour to reach. Under a long range plan of Christian movement in Mindanao, the Christians would penetrate the heart of Lanao from three areas – from Iligan in the north, Malabang in the south and Wao from the east. They in fact controlled these areas for long time already.

       2. The Maguindanao. Originally, Maguindanaon is the name of the family or dynasty which came to rule almost the whole island of Mindanao, particularly the former Cotabato. It later refers to the Muslim people who live in the Pulangi valley which sprawls the Southwestern part of Mindanao. It is for this reason, the Maguindanaon are called people of the plain. They accepted Islam at the last quarter of 15th century. Total Islamization of the whole Pulangi area succeeded only with the arrival of Sharif Kabungsuan a prince from Johore who came to Mindanao after the fall of Malacca and nearby areas to Dutch colonialists in 1511.

       The greatest contribution of the Maguindanao to civilization in Southeast Asia were the sultanates of Maguindanao and Buayan. These sultanates rose almost simultaneously after the arrival of Sharif kabungsuan who founded the first sultanate in Mindanao. During its heyday, the sultanate of Maguindanao did bring the whole mainland of Mindanao under its control. It became the instrument of the Muslims in Mindanao in thwarting the western colonialism.

       The Cotabato had been the seat of the Maguindanao sultanate. This is the ancestral land of the Maguindanao including the hill tribes such as the Tiruray, Tasaday and Subanun. Because of its wide valley, Cotabato area has ever since the rice ganary of the country. The colonialists had ever since been attracted to the fertile land of Cotabato. Many times, the Spaniards made Cotabato as capital of Mindanao during their military occupation. This colonial plan, however succeeded only during the American period. It was able to organize the first Filipino settlement in 1912.

       The Maguindanao are the hardest hit of the Filipino settlement. Their political power diminished after long period of fighting and resisting colonialism and Christianization, particularly at the beginning of the 20th century. The Maguindanao fought alone without foreign support during this period.  However, by 1970s, three-fourth of their homeland were lost to Filipino settlers, mostly Ilongo and Cebuano. The Manila government created in the area the five provinces of Maguindanao, Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Qudarat and Sarangani.

       3. The Iranun. These people have inhabited the area bordering between Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao province. They claimed to be the origin of these two ethnic groups. The language of the Maranao and Maguindanao is strongly rooted in the Iranun tongue. The Iranun may perhaps be the mother language and the rest are just a mere dialects. For several centuries, the Iranun formed part of the Maguindanao sultanate. Their culture received much influence from the Maguindanao rather than the Maranao. There was a case in the past the seat of the Maguindanao sultanate was situated at Lamitan and Malabang that were the strongholds of the Iranun society. They fought the western invaders under the flag of the Maguindanao sultanate. The Iranun were excellent in maritime activity. They used to ply the route connecting the Sulu sea, Moro gulf to Celebes sea, and raided  the Spanish held territories along the way.

       The Iranun have also attained a degree of social organization comparable to the Maguindanao or the Tausug. This is evidenced by the datu system of leadership where a single leadership is recognized. An Iranun datu, like a sultan, wielded central power over his people. On account of their small population, the Iranuns have been overpowered by their neighbor and prevented them from having their own sultanate. Yet ethnic consciousness has been strong as the Iranun continued to preserve their own ways of life and even to chart their own political destiny. Like other Muslim groups, the Iranuns are also advanced in the field of education. They actively participate in local development; their professionals have managed to occupy key positions in the government, run their own business entities and Islamic institutions like masjid and madrasa.

       4. The Tausug. Prof. Muhammad Nasser Matli argued that the term Tausug is a slang word and originated from two words: tau (people) and ma-isug (brave). Therefore, Tausug means brave people.

       Before the coming of Islam, the Tausug had already established a central government. When Islam came, Tausug leaders accepted Islam. They did not resist. As soon as they became Muslims they made themselves models by infusing Islamic values and politics to the government. The result was the spread of justice in the land. Seeing the beauty of Muslim leadership, the entire natives finally accepted Islam. The peaceful triumph of Islam in Sulu in the middle of the 13th century led to the Islamization of local politics. This was the process that brought about the establishment of the Sulu sultanate in 1450. Many Tausug leaders were sent outside Sulu to further strengthen the Sulu sultanate influence. This was the origin of the growth of Tausug communities in Tawi-Tawi, Palawan, Basilan, Zamboanga, and Sabah. Up to this period, these places are still the favorite destination of Tausug migrants who have been displaced by the wars and conflicts between the Muslims and the Philippine government.

       5. The Yakan. The term Yakan is a mispronunciation of the word yakal by the Spaniards. While the term Basilan has originated from two words basi (iron) and balani (magnate). In the ancient time Basilan was thickly covered by the yakal trees. Foreign people often mistook the name of the yakal trees as the native identity. During colonial period the Spaniards branded the inhabitants of Basilan as Yakan, and became carried up to the present.

       Like other Muslim provinces, Basilan has been the target of Christian penetration since the Spanish era. Her rich resources like timber and fertile agricultural land as well as her geographical proximity to Zamboanga City has made her vulnerable to present capitalist exploitation and Christian domination. There have been already a number of municipalities where the Filipino settlers have the upper hand. Isabela, Maluso, Lamitan and other communities have an overwhelming Christian population. And their population growth and community expansion are kept on continuing. Vast tract of lands which are strategic are mostly owned by the Filipino settlers. There are many areas where the Yakans become minoritized, and further displaced from their own lands. In the areas where they are already minoritized the Yakans are exposed to marginalization. In politics, there are many instances in the past, top leadership fell into the hands of the outside people.

       The culture of the Yakans is similar to the Tausugs. Its inner foundation lies on the spirit of martabat. For the outer side, religious institution like masjid and madrasa, artifacts and the vast number of Yakan professionals, ulema, politicians and fighters reinforced further the strength of the Yakan culture. These two foundations are firmly planted in the heart of the Yakans. This is their real strength. The challenge of the Yakans today is to steer their young generation to assert their rights and develop confidence in their both material and non-material culture.

       6. The Sama. The Sama identity derived from the term sama-sama which means togetherness or collective effort. The Sama people are highly dispersed and scattered in the Sulu Archipelago. They are geographically diversified owing to their exposure to maritime activities and fishing. There are five sub-clusters that make up the Sama people. Helping each other  is recognized as norm of the Sama people.  Included in the Sama group are the Badjao known as the sea-gypsies of Sulu Archipelago and Celebes sea. The Badjao people call themselves Sama Laut. In Malaysia, they are called Orang Laut. All these descriptions point to them as being boat people. They always move from one island to another, living in their small boat for weeks or even months without mooring or coming to town to buy their needs. The Badjao do not establish a permanent community like the Arab and the Cossacks in central Asia. They have not able to develop a political institution that can advance their collective interest of their society. Their social organization do not approach even the level of a clan, in a sense, because they have no recognized community leader. Their social structure is leveled. Rich people or elitism is completely absent in Badjao society. All of them belong to the poor strata. Family structure is the only factor that makes the Badjao society possible. Roles and duties are allocated to every member from the parents down to their children, from the adult to the young ones. The father acts as leader; the mother is responsible for cooking; children collect fire woods in the coastal areas, and helps gather sea food and fetch water.  As observed, the whole Badjao family constitutes also the economic unit, which means, all of them have to work together (sama-sama) for their survival.

       Poverty and backwardness are the two basic factors that keeps every Badjao family from sending their children to school. Children are needed at home or must accompany their parents in search of their daily sustenance. This is the reason the Badjao society suffers a high illiteracy rate. Less than one percent can read the Qur’an or Roman alphabet. Their present condition has deteriorated. They are highly exposed to the oppression of Tausug warlords. They are often exploited in some economic activities. Minimal reward or compensation are given for their labor, and low price for their commodities, like lobsters and fish.

       The Sama people who inhabited Tawi-Tawi are called by their place of residence. Thus, there is the Sama Balimbing, Sama Simunul or Sama Sibutu. These groups claim to be the origin of all Sama sub-groups scattered throughout the Sulu Archipelago. They inhabited most major islands of Tawi-Tawi. While in the mainland the Sama concentration is confined to Balimbing and Sapa-Sapa. These people have a high level of literacy rate compared to other Sama sub-group. Almost every Sama barangay in the mainland has a public school. Higher institutional learning is also available such as the MSU-Tawi-Tawi and the Tawi-Tawi Regional Agricultural College (TRAC). Most top government positions are held by Sama. Like the Tausugs, the Sama are exposed to almost all fields of discipline and it is common to find them in national agencies occupying key positions.

       The Sama Bangingi are also considered major group within the Sama tribe. Their dialect is just a variation of the Sama language. Geographical distance being separated from other Sama groups by seas has caused the variation of their dialect from their mother tongue. But, generally all Sama people understand each other. The Bangingi have a well-developed social organization comparable to the Tausugs. Back to the sultanate period each Bangingi community had its own panglima and maharajah as the highest and influential people in their society. The tip of Zamboanga peninsula, Pilas and Tungkil island were once dominated and ruled by the Bangingi leaders. They had four strong Kuta at Zamboanga before the Spaniards occupied it. The latter took several weeks before they were able to dislodge the Bangingi from their strongholds. The Bangingi were good sailors. They were the first group in this country to reach Bengal bay and explore the Indian ocean. They discovered the connection of Sulu sea , the straits of Malacca and the Indian ocean. Most of the sultanate expeditions to Visayas and Luzon were commanded by the Bangingi warriors.

       The Bangingi unlike the Badjao are highly exposed to the Filipino society and its institution. Majority of them has studied in the Filipino school, and managed to occupy key positions in the government. Unfortunately, they failed to build their own institutions like school, political parties and businesses that are capable of effecting social changes in the society. There are only individual initiatives. The Bangingi remain far from collective social progress.

       Jama Mapun are another Sama sub-group. They call their dialect as pullun mapun which is part of the Sama language. The term mapun stands for west. They call themselves as Jama Mapun because they are situated at the distant west of Sulu. They are concentrated largely at the Turtle island, Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi an island municipality located at the border adjacent to Sabah. They are also found in southern Palawan. Like the Bangingi, the Jama Mapun adopted permanent settlement, hence they have a clear-cut social organization where the panglima is recognized as top community leader. During the Sulu sultanate period, Jama Mapun used to be of a military strategic importance to the sultanate. It used to be the sultanate’s launching base to secure the unquestioning loyalty of the panglima of Sabah and Palawan.

       The whole Cagayan de Tawi-Tawi is recognized as local government unit, a municipality under the province of Tawi-Tawi. With this the Jama Mapun have been subjected to central control from Manila since the days of the Philippine Commonwealth government in 1936. Government school and agencies were put up there and placed under the control of the local people. The island is seen as strategic place for the AFP forward force, because it is situated in the middle of  the Sulu sea and South China sea, and adjacent to Sabah. The government built  airports, which the military can use for advance troop movements in the Sulu sea.

       7. The Sangil. The  Sangil came from Sangihe an archipelago sprawling the Celebes sea just south of the Mindanao sea. Their migration to Sarangani province and to the coastal areas of Davao del Sur and South Cotabato was ahead of the coming of Islam to Southeast Asia. They embraced Islam later as a result of their continuous contact with their motherland, which became Islamized, as well as with the emerging Muslim communities in Maguindanao and Sulu in the 14th century.

       The Sangil speak a language similar to Bahasa, and in the Philippines, to Tausug. They also evolved their own social organization associated with central leadership, which enabled them to wage battle against the Dutch and Spanish colonialism. There were many instances the Sangil allied themselves to the Maguindanao sultanate. They used to contribute war paraws, fighters and arms in major expeditions to Spanish held-territories. The Sangil  have also high political and Islamic consciousness. They are active in their struggle for self-determination as part of their strategy to have their culture and social institutions preserved and developed further. They succeeded at last. In 1992, the Sarangani province was born intended to contain the clamor of the Sangil.

       8. The Kaagan. The Kaagan inhabited mostly Davao areas. They became Muslims as a result of contact with the Maguindanao sultanate, and later strengthened with the arrival of some Tausug groups who helped to organize the Kaagan society. No wonder  the Kaagan language has many bahasa sug root words. With the departure of the Tausug and Maguindanao influences at the height of the Filipinization process. Most of them have been marginalized and were helpless to improve their society because their social organization did not improve as those in Lanao and Sulu.

       9. The Kolibugan. The term kolibugan is a Sama word which means “half-breed”. Originally, they are part of the Subanun tribe, an indigenous people inhabiting the interior of the Zamboanga peninsula. Their neighbors, particularly the Sama Bangingi and the Tausugs called these Islamized Subanun as Kolibugan because their culture has been altered by their Muslim neighbors and for years there has been  intermarriage with other groups that produced new generations, hence they are called Kolibugan. These people still speak the Subanun language and retain the Subanun type of social organization, which is limited to clan orientation with less political inclination. Today, the term Kolibugan is applied to all Subanun who moved to coastal areas and intermarried with the Muslims, and finally embraced Islam.

       10. The Palawan. The early Muslim inhabitants in mainland Palawan were the Panimusan. These people became Muslims as a result of close contact with the Sulu Sultanate. Many Tausug during the sultanate period came to Palawan in order to introduce Islam to the local people.  The Muslim concentration is mostly in the southern part of Palawan such as Batarasa, Rizal, Quezon, Brooke’s Point and Espanola. In these municipalities the Muslims are likely dominant and hold political power. Isolated Muslim communities are also found in Narra, Roxas, Taytay and Aborlan.

       Since the collapse of the Sulu sultanate, contact between the Palawani and the Tausugs was almost lost. They have been isolated to each other as there is no direct trade or cultural link between the two people.

       11. The Molbog. The Molbog are mainly confined in the Balabac islands located at the southern tip of Palawan. They received Islamic influence and later embraced Islam from Brunei Muslim missionaries. The propagation of Islam was active during the 15th century when Muslim principalities rose from the eastern side of the Malay peninsula and Borneo. At this period, the Brunei sultanate was expanding its influence to the Philippines and Palawan is not far from Brunei. The Sulu sultanate also helped to strengthen Islam among the Molbog.

Historical Gap

       Historical gap is a period between two or more events keeping the new generation detached from the old ones. The new generation can no longer determine the culture of the past, and eventually may chart its own course different from their predecessors. This is the case with the two periods of the Bangsamoro history: the sultanate era, the US colonial period up to the present. The US era in the Philippines brought historical gap distancing the sultanate era from the present. The culture of the people underwent transformation in 50 years time under US rule. 50 years thereafter, the people developed a new culture which is no longer the same orientation as what was then. The conventional approach to this problem of historical gap is the reliance of the historians on the study of artifacts, the root of civilization, and the life of the leaders in order to move their mind centuries back.

       By nature, jihad requires collective action or sufficient participation from the Muslims preferably to be led by the government under a righteous imam. This is the meaning of jihad to be known as fardhu kifaya. There must be a group of Muslims if not the entire masses who shall carry out the jihad fi sabilillah. Failure to carry jihad will make the whole community or state in a state of sin. But if there is a section of Muslim population that rises up for jihad, the entire Muslims become free from sin. Jihad becomes fardhu ‘ayn or individual obligation when the enemy sets a camp for about 300 kilometers from the population center of the Muslims. This is the opinion of Imam Shafie. Clearly, jihad is the main factor that kept the Bangsamoro society in the face of western onslaught. Jihad as fardhu ‘ayn sustains the continuity of the jihad up to the present.

Islam in the Philippines

       The rise of Islamic political institutions in Southeast Asia in the early 15th century is viewed as the culmination of Islamization after about 200 years when the Arabs   introduced Islam direct to the masses. This political development was a turning point in the history of the people because it revealed two important things: the formation of the Muslim nationalism and the birth of the first Muslim society in this country. Islam for this matter changed the political course of Mindanao and Sulu from the feudalistic as well as from colonialistic. The survival of Islam as ideological force in the south is an indication that their political course remained  in the Islamic orbit.

       Sulu was the first Muslim community in the south to establish a centralized government, the Sultanate of Sulu in 1450. The introduction of this sultanate implies that the indigenous institution became Islamized. This sultanate was a superstructure imposed   without destroying the old foundation. This was one of the reasons that made the Sulu Sultanate strong. Hashim Abubakar was the founder and the first sultan of the Sulu sultanate. His father was an Arab from Hadramaut; his mother was a princess from Johore. According to the Tausug salsila, Abubakar belongs to a sharif lineage, which is one of the descendants of Nabi Muhammad (S,.A.W.). The term sharif is a title of nobility. When Abubakar rose to power, he assumed five titles affixed to his name, thus his official name runs as follows: paduka, mawlana, mahasiri, sharif sultan Hashim Abubakar.

       The Sulu sultanate is multi-ethnic. At the height of its power in the early part of the 18th century, its territory encompassed the whole Zamboanga peninsula, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Palawan and Sabah. On the same period, the sultanate began to intensify its foreign relations with neighboring Muslim principalities in Brunei, Makassar, Manila, Cebu (before Spanish era), Maguindanao, Buayan and Batavia including China. This foreign relations of the Sulu sultanate involved trade, mutual friendship and military alliance. The sultanate had in fact dispatched ambassadors to different places and also received ambassadors from other countries.

       Dr. Majul describes the history of the Sulu sultanate as had been one of war. Since 1578 up to the 1927, the Sulu sultanate was at the forefront of the struggle for freedom and national liberation. It was able to survive two major colonial waves: the Spanish and the US colonialism. Despite its political decline in the beginning of the 19th century, the Sulu sultanate maintained her status as independent sultanate from 1450 to 1936.

       The spread of Islam to Mindanao between 1450 and 1500 was part of the political goal of the Sulu sultanate. A Maranao oral report revealed that the first Tausug preachers reached the Lanao lake before the arrival of foreign Muslim missionaries, possibly the Malay preachers. This report is sufficient to establish the fact the Muslim settlements had gradually thrived in the Illana bay up to the lake area and the Pulangi valley. People from these areas were already used to come to Jolo for trade as well as for Islamic learning. It is for this account that  Sulu became  known in history as the center of Islamic learning in this country.

       The full Islamization of the west coast of Mindanao was accelerated with the arrival of Muhammad Sharif Kabungsuwan. Like Abubakar, the first sultan of Sulu, Sharif Kabungsuwan is also an Arab and a descendant of Nabi Muhammad (S.A.W.). His Malay sounding name attests  his forefathers had settled long time in Johore. Kabungsuwan and his followers arrived Malabang in 1515. He was accompanied by large group of Sama people who according to Dr. Kurais, a Sama scholar Kabungsuwan had passed by Tawi-Tawi and picked up some Sama people to accompany him in his journey to Mindanao. This means that the coming of Kabungsuwan to Mindanao was not accidental. It was the Sama people who guided him to Mindanao. During this period, inter-island contact was already in place. Both the Sama and the Iranun had already explored the many sea routes in the Sulu archipelago.

       It was not long after his arrival that Sharif kabungsuwan established the Sultanate of Maguindanao, possibly in 1516. The rise of this sultanate is almost similar to that of Sulu, should be viewed as the culmination of Islamization in Mindanao. It was actually a political necessity. Clearly, the sultanate was adopted as an instrument to consolidate the emerging Muslim communities.

       The first seat of the political power of Maguindanao was Slangan and Maguindanao. Originally, these areas were the bastions of Iranun political activities. When the sultanate passed into the Maguindanao family and dynasty, the seat of power was moved to Pulangi valley. The term Maguindanao actually referred to a family. It was the royal family with which Sharif Kabungsuwan was linked through affinity. Since Maguindanao family became a symbol of Muslim power in Mindanao, their name became the official designation of Muslims throughout the Pulangi valley.

       In the upper Pulangi valley the ruling datus were the Buayan family. Because of their influence, the whole areas were called Buayan. The political institution of the Buayans became Islamized as a result of the marriage of the Buayan prince to the daughter of Sultan Sharif Muhammad Kabungsuwan. After the death of Kabungsuwan, the Buayan family founded the Sultanate of Buayan as independent entity from the Maguindanao sultanate. The existence of two sultanates in mainland Mindanao strengthened Islam but often the source of friction between the Buayan group and the Maguindanao. In lull times, these sultanates fought each other for political supremacy over Mindanao. They also fought together against their common enemy in the face of foreign aggression.

       One of the best Maguindanao rulers was Rajah Buisan who was the leading commander during the third stage of the Moro wars. He was remembered for his famous speech at Dulag, Leyte where he delivered his message inspiring the datus of Leyte to rise against the Spaniards. In his battle against the Spaniards, he aligned himself with Rajah Sirungan the ruler of the Buayan sultanate. Both leaders had for several times joined forces in their expedition to the north. The Buayan leaders managed to gain supremacy in the Pulangi valley only after the death of Rajah Buisan. The latter was succeeded by his son Sultan Qudarat. During his ascension to power, Qudarat was too young. It was for this reason the Maguindanao sultanate became overwhelmed. It took more than ten years for Sultan Qudarat to build his political power over the whole of Mindanao. He is remembered for his political prowess in uniting the two sultanates and the rest of the people in Mindanao under his strong leadership. Sultan Qudarat is also remembered for his famous speech challenging the Maranao datus to oppose the Spanish encroachment in Lanao lake.

       The political hold of the Maguindanao sultanate over Mindanao however did not last long. Dynastic quarrels often broke out among the Muslim leaders. In the later part of the 18th century, the Maguindanao sultanate loosened its hold upon the Buayan (Majul, 1997:31). Its steady decline continued up to the arrival of the American colonialists in 1900. This decline created a vacuum of leadership and finally led to the rise of small principalities in Mindanao, while others proclaimed their own sultanates as in the case of the 18 royal houses in Lanao area. The rise of Lanao royal houses in the face of  the decline of the Maguindanao sultanate signaled the disintegration and break-up of asabiyah (tribal solidarity) among the Muslims in mainland Mindanao.

       The current continued political assertion of the Maranao people should beviewed from the political development on the part of their society, which began to evolve as a political institution towards the later part of the 18th century. This development did not move further.The struggle of Amai Pakpak, a great Maranao fighter, was short-lived. While building his own political clout, he suffered defeat in the hands of the Spanish invading forces in March 10, 1895. His dream of  a strong political organization was not realized and was further arrested with the introduction of US imperialism in 1900. Although the Lanao royal houses still exist, they are no longer viewed as political force of the society.

Muslims’ Contribution to National Struggle

       The Muslim resistance in the Philippines is viewed as an extension of the crusade, only the fight was no longer between the Europeans and the Arabs but between the Spaniards and the Moros. Dr. Cesar Adib Majul described this resistance as the Moro wars. In his analysis Majul divided the Moro wars into six stages. The first phase of this war began with the arrival of Legaspi who led the invasion of Muslim settlement in Manila under Rajah Sulayman in 1571. It ended with the invasion of Brunei in order to destroy its sphere of influence in the northern part of the Philippines, and also to isolate the Sulu sultanate in the south. Before the hostilities began, the Spanish general Francisco de Sande sent a letter first to the Brunei sultan. The important part of the letter was that the Brunei sultanate has to stop the sending of Muslim missionaries to any place in the Philippines. This letter could be a concrete evidence revealing the bottom line of the Spanish colonialism – Christianization and imperial conquest of the whole Southeast Asia.

       With the Spanish victory in Luzon and also in the Brunei expedition, the Spaniards moved to the second phase of their colonial ambition – the need to make vassals of the chiefs of Sulu and Maguindanao. In June 1578, the Spaniards explored the Sulu Archipelago and even threatened to attack Sulu. They did not however stay for long, and withdrew after a compromise negotiation was reached with the Sulu leaders. From here, the Spaniards proceeded to Maguindanao but failed to establish contact with the Muslim leaders. The following year the Spaniards under Capt. Gabriel de Rivera conducted another military mission to the Cotabato area. Their main intentions were to make the Muslims pay tribute; induce them not to allow foreign missionaries; inform the Maguindanao about the Spanish victory in Brunei, gather information about the Muslims and their strength and to know the relationship between the Maguindanao and the Ternatans and other people in Indonesia.

       Since this second expedition, the Spaniards had been focusing their goal on the conquest of Mindanao and Sulu. After eleven years, in 1591 the Spaniards went through with their military expedition to Maguindanao the seat of Muslim power in Mindanao. They assumed that once Mindanao is toppled it would be easier to extend their influence to Sulu and Brunei. The Spaniards, however, found a fierce armed Muslim resistance. It took them five years to finally establish military garrison at Tampakan in 1596. But this too was short-lived. The Maguindanao applied more armed pressure by carrying out a series of offensives against the Spanish fort at Tampakan. Seeing the Muslims had the political power to oppose, the Spaniards abandoned Tampakan in 1597 and repositioned themselves at La Caldera in Zamboanga peninsula.

       In the third stage of the Moro war, the Muslims changed their military strategy from defensive to offensive. They now brought the war to the enemy’s territory. In 1599, Datu Salikula and Datu Sirungan the chiefs of Maguindanao and Buayan respectively launched a joint force attacking a major Spanish base in central Visayas. They were able to mobilize 3,000 warriors with 50 paraws. In 1602, another offensive was carried out by the Muslims and this was so far the biggest offensive ever organized. The Muslims gathered 145 paraws – 50 vessels manned by the Ternatans, Sangil and Tagolanda; 60 by the Maguindanao and 35 by the Yakans of Basilan. These forces were commanded by Datu Buisan, the successor of Datu Salikula, and Datu Sirungan. Because the Spaniards were too weak to attack Maguindanao, they instead attacked the Sulu sultanate. They thought that Sulu was easy to defeat. They laid siege to  Jolo for three months but the sultanate forces were able to repulse them.

       When the news reached the Maguindanao on October 29, 1603, Rajah Buisan together with his allies from Sangil and Ternate led another invasion of Central Visayas. They invaded Dulag, Leyte a place where Rajah Buisan delivered his historic speech calling the Leyte Datus to fight the Spaniards. Aware of the political implication of Buisan’s speech as well as the continuous surge of Muslim raids in Visayas, the Spaniards opted for good relationship. They sent a special envoy for peace negotiations. This peaceful overture of the Spaniards led to the signing of peace treaty on September 8, 1605. This treaty, however, did not hold for long because of the Spanish invasion of Ternate in April 1608. The Maguindanao chief construed this action as violation of the treaty. He ordered, therefore, the resumption of military raid of Spanish garrison in Central Visayas. This in turn forced the Spaniards to sign another peace treaty in March 1609. This treaty put the war to rest for at least 25 years.

       The war resumed between the Spaniards and the Muslims in 1627 but by this time the war was now with the Sulu sultanate. This was triggered by a  maltreatment suffered by   Sulu envoy, Datu Ache. On his way home from Manila,  his ships were intercepted by the Spaniards, and all of them were brought back to Manila and humiliated. This incident  angered the sultanate leadership. Rajah Bungsu the sultan of Sulu led 2,000 warriors, and attacked the Spanish base and ship yard in Camarines Sur and Central Visayas.

       In 1628, the Spaniards retaliated against this Sulu attack. They organized an expedition composed of 200 Spanish officers and 1,600 native allies. They were able to defeat the Sulu forces, but withdrew immediately for fear of a counter-attack. Despite this setback, the Sulu sultanate still managed to send another expedition in 1629. By this time the Sulu forces were now commanded by Datu Ache. They attacked the Spanish settlements in Camarines, Samar, Leyte and Bohol. The Spaniards, likewise, invaded Sulu again in March 17, 1630. They almost doubled their forces from 1,600 to 2,500. But at the time they landed in Sulu, the sultanate forces were slready highly prepared for battle. In the ensuing war, the Spanish commander Lorenzo de Olaso was wounded, which prompted his forces to withdraw. The following year 1631, the Sulu warriors launched another invasion aimed at Leyte, the seat of Spanish power in Visayas.

       In Maguindanao, Sultan Qudarat continued to consolidate his power throughout Mindanao in preparation for new invasions. The Buayan and the Sangil leaders were brought under his control. He also established contact with the Sulu sultante. In order to concretize this contact, Sultan Qudarat made a marriage alliance by marrying the daughter of Rajah Bungsu, the sultan of Sulu in 1632. This paved the political alliance between the two sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu.  These two sultanates mustered a coordinated military attack and joint invasion of Central Visayas. Their first joint invasion was in 1634 when they mobilized 1,500 warriors who landed at Dapitan, Leyte and Bohol.

       The challenge now before the Spanish colonial regime in Manila was how to stop the Muslim invasion of its held-territories. After drawing lessons on the military behavior of the Muslims, the Spaniards changed their approach by establishing a forward force at the enemy’s territory so that the war’s trend could be reversed. This was the focus of the fourth stage of the Moro wars. The Spaniards captured Zamboanga and established a military base on April 6, 1635. This lasted for 29 years until the Sulu warriors drove them out of their stronghold. This was so far one of the greatest achievements of Rajah Bungsu, the sultan of Sulu at this period.

       This Spanish base at Zamboanga became the lunching pad for attacking Muslim settlements as well as the sultanate’s capital of Jolo and Lamitan in the Maguindanao area. Lamitan the seat of the Maguindanao sultanate was captured by the Spaniards on March 13, 1637. Qudarat’s forces of about 2,000 suffered defeat and was forced to move to the interior. Seventy-two Muslims were decapitated and the Spaniards put their heads on spikes for display (Majul, 1996:135). The Spaniards did this to instill fear. But two years later,  in 1639, Sultan Qudarat re-established his forces and held his court at Pulangi. In Sulu, the Spanish attack continued until Jolo, the sultanate capital fell after a three-month battle in January 1, 1638. This was the period when the Spaniards occupied Jolo and the sultanate court was moved to Dungun, Tawi-Tawi. The sultanate reorganized its forces and even secured the support of the Dutch in Batavia, Indonesia. On March 25, 1644, Rajah Bungsu dispatched his son, Pangiran Salikala for this purpose. Having prepared the logistics, the sultanate ordered a final offensive against the Spaniards with the Dutch navy which bombarded the Spanish garrison at Jolo. After about a year of military confrontation, the Spaniards opted to stop the war and signed a peace treaty and evacuated all their forces from  Zamboanga to Manila because of an   impending Chinese attack of Manila.

       The 5th stage of the Moro war commenced in 1718 when the Spaniards reoccupied Zamboanga. A huge military base known as Fort Pillar was built, and thus provoked the Sultanate of Sulu. Immediate reprisal was made but this failed to dislodge the Spaniards. The Sulu sultanate under Sultan Badar-uddin asked the support of Maguindanao sultanate and the Dutch at Batavia. Sultan Badar-uddin sent his Datu Bandahara and the Nakhuda to Batavia in order to appeal for military assistance as well as to strengthen the relationship which was established in 1644. Finally, the Sulu sultanate and the Maguindanao sultanate agreed to field 104 paraws with combined force of 3,000 warriors who made a new offensive on Zamboanga at the end of December 1720. This offensive however did not succeed. But, the Sulu sultanate was still firm in its struggle to push out the Spaniards from Zamboanga. Both powers adopted a mixed policy of diplomacy and military. This showed that neither of them can be easily extinguished. It was through exchanges of envoys, despite the existence of war, that a peace treaty was signed in December 11, 1726 between the Sulu sultanate and the Spanish colonial government in Manila.

       Duringt this period, the Sulu sultanate expanded its foreign relations to China. Sultan Badar-uddin sent ambassador to China in 1717; and again in 1733. The objective of China policy is to inform the Chinese leaders about the long war between Sulu and Manila. The sultanate wanted to enlist the military support of the Chinese government. It probably secured some help. The peace treaty deteriorated when Sultan Badar-uddin attempted to capture Zamboanga in December 6, 1734 while some Sulu warriors attacked Taytay in northern Palawan. In response, the Spaniards invaded Jolo in 1735 and drove out the sultanate court for second time, which then transferred to Dungun, Tawi-Tawi. The war came to stop when the two powers signed another peace treaty in February 1, 1737.

       While the power of the Sulu sultanate and Maguindanao approached a steady decline, the military power of the Spaniards grew faster when the steam boat was introduced to the Spanish naval force. The Muslim fleets were no longer a match with the Spanish modern fleets. The Spaniards had already foreseen a major invasion when the right time comes.They assured themselves that the final conquest of Mindanao and Sulu is just a matter of time.

       The 6th stage of the Moro war is the Spaniards’ dream of Mindanao conquest. It commenced with the 1851 Spanish invasion of Sulu and ended towards the end of the Spanish rule in the Philippines. As a matter of strategy the Sulu sultanate under Sultan Pulalun upon realizing the invulnerability of the Spanish forces, negotiated a peace treaty with the enemy. The treaty was signed in April 30, 1851. But just like other treaties in the past, this treaty failed to hold peace for long. The Spaniards had   already calculated that the sultanates of Mindanao and Sulu were weak to resist the Spanish conquest. In Manila, the Catholic hierarchy intensified its propaganda to win the support of  the people about the possible war  in the south. Roman Martinez Vigil a Spanish priest wrote the theory of a just war. He exhorted the war against Jolo as a just war, a holy war in the name of Christianity. Rich people and Chinese capitalists in Manila responded enthusiastically to this call. They were able to raise P 20 million for the Spaniards.

       Anchored on a just war principle, the Spaniards organized 9,000 troops led by Governor-General Jose Malcampo. These troops were sent to Sulu accompanied with hundreds of priests and sisters. They secured 11 transports, 11 gunboats, and 10 steamboats. They landed at Jolo in February 21, 1876. Aware of the Spaniards grand design, the Sulu Sultan Jamalul Azam assembled his military leaders for discussion on how to contain if not frustrate the Spanish invasion. The sultan proclaimed the jihad and ordered the use of the concept of parrang sabil as last recourse. The wise plan of the sultan was proven correct and effective. The sultanate managed to negotiate another treaty in July 22, 1878, thus saved his people from further destruction.

       At the Mindanao front, the Spaniards were already successful in destroying the power of the Maguindanao sultanate. The Maranao, Iranun and other ethnic groups began to wield their respective powers independently. These people launched their own wars separately. They parted from each other  to the extent that the Maranao put up their own sultanate since the Maguindanao sultanate could no longer exercise a central rule over Mindanao. For centuries these Maranao people were overshadowed by the Maguindanao. They fought wars against Spain under the flag of Maguindanao sultanate or sometime under Sulu sultanate as in the case of the Iranun. One of the best wars led by the Maranao was the heroic stand of Datu Amai Pakpak in defense of Marawi in 1891 and 1895. Generally, all Muslim ethnic groups in Mindanao and Sulu supported the war against colonialism. They were the people behind the survival of the two sultanates of Sulu and Maguindanao in the face of foreign aggression.

       The Moro war actually did not end with the destruction of the Spanish colonialism in the Philippines. The Spaniards left but the American colonial forces came in and continued the same colonial goals under the pretext of civilizing the natives. Since the orientation of the Moro war is the same as that of the Spanish time, the Moro-American war should be viewed as the 7th stage of the Moro war. In Sulu despite the declining power of the Sulu sultanate, the Tausug warriors who opposed the continued presence of another white colonialists, waged a series of battles against the Americans. Panglima Imam Hassan who held the post of district commander from Luuk, Sulu under the Sulu sultanate was the first Tausug leader to defy the sultan’s order to work with the Americans for common good. He could not be convinced with the overall mission of the US colonialism in the country. As an Imam, Panglima Hassan looked at the presence of the US forces a threat to Islam and the Muslim society. He instead proceeded with his military plan leading his 3,000 warriors who fought the American forces in Jolo in early November 1903. Armed only with kris and some rifles, these Tausug warriors attacked the enemy’s garrison which was equipped with modern weapons. After a week of siege,   the enemy were finally able to break their lines and forced the panglima’s followers to withdraw.

       Despite his defeat, Hassan’s military action won wider sympathy from the masses. He toured the island of Sulu promoting his cause inspiring the local leaders to resist the US colonialism. Within a short period Hassan’s propaganda bore a positive effect upon the Muslim masses. The Americans were portrayed as the enemy of Islam; that they came to the Muslim land in order to continue the unfinished goal of the Spanish colonialism. More so, the Muslims became apprehensive when the US forces hoisted their flag in major centers and  further required the Muslims to fly the US flag in their ships. At the same time, they  introduced  a new land system in order to facilitate the collection of land taxes from the Muslims. These policies invited antagonism from the people.

       In January 1906, three prominent Tausug leaders took a bold opposition to the American policies and their occupation of the Muslim land. These were Imam Sahirun, Ma’as Abdullatif, and Panglima Sawadjaan. These leaders assembled their 1,000 followers and put up their camp at Bud Dahu about six kilometers from Jolo, the capital of Sulu. From here a small group was organized and sent to raid military outposts and villages that tended to support the enemy. The Americans became apprehensive that the growing opposition of the Tausug might go out of hand. At first, they sent civilian negotiators to convince the defiant  leaders to surrender to the US colonial government. The negotiators attempted several time to convey the message of the Americans officials but the defying leaders stood firmly with their stand of non-recognition of the US colonial government. The Americans therefore decided to take Bud Dahu by force.

       On March 6, 1906, Gen. Leonard Wood the governor of the Moro province, ordered the assault of Bud Dahu. His forces were composed of 790 men and divided into three groups; each group was charged to attack from only three narrow passages leading to the camp of the Muslims. Using high powered guns, the US army stormed the Muslim strongholds with mortar throughout the afternoon and gradually took a closer move in the evening. The Muslims armed only with kris used an indigenous approach of warfare by using   logs rolled off from the top intended to hit the advancing US troops who tried to approach the narrow passage from the slopes of the mountain. From the Muslim accounts, a great number of US forces were killed as the logs fell down one after the other from the mountain tops. The US army, however, succeeded in getting to the mountain top. In the early morning of March 7, 1906, the US army fired upon the Muslim camps at close range. The Muslims rushed in and fought decisively in the open field. Only six survived who managed to retreat and report the news of what transpired in the so called battle of Bud Dahu.

       The cause of the Bud Dahu heroes did not end, however with their martyrdom. Just months from the Bud Dahu battle, Ma’as Jikiri led a small group in attacking the American military outposts. He fought for about three years until his martyrdom during the fight against the US army in 1909. Ma’as Jikiri’s heroic stand inspired his countrymen up to the present. He was the only Tausug leader who in the course of war never retreated or ran away before the enemy even when outnumbered or overwhelmed. Even the American army commended his valor. Ma’as Jikiri is the only foreign enemy of the Americans whose statue now stands at the Washington museum.

       The spirit of the war never subsided. It continued to unleash nationalistic fervor until another major battle erupted – the battle of Bud Bagsak in 1913. Bud Bagsak is a medium sized mountain and located about 50 kilometers east of Jolo. This battle was led by Panglima Amil the leader of the 500 forces that holed up at Bud Bagsak. The war began in June 9 and ended in June 14, 1913. All  Muslim warriors met their martyrdom in the five day battle against the well-equipped US army. Their defeat marked the end of organized Muslim resistance during the first 10 years of the US colonialism in the Philippines. The so called episode of “kris versus krag” came virtually to an end. There were a few more minor battles, but never again did the Moros place a formidable force in the field against the Americans. The Muslims fought a grand fight at Bud Bagsak against superior weapons (Hurley,1985:30). This decline paved the way for the signing of the Kiram-Carpenter Agreement in August 20, 1915 where the sovereignty of the Sulu sultanate was  taken over by the US colonial government. The collapse of the Sulu sultanate, in turn, led to the integration of Mindanao and Sulu into the colonial politics. Since then, the opposition of the Muslims in Mindanao and Sulu shifted from armed confrontation to peaceful movement in the form of protest and demonstration. It took about 14 years for the Tausug fighters led by Laksamana Usab to carry out armed fighting when they fought the US army at the Bud Langkuwasan adjacent to Bud Bagsak in 1927. Usab was appointed laksamana (runner) by the Sulu sultan. He parted ways with the sultan because he did not want the US policy in the Muslim land. He took the leadership for fighting the US colonialism. He called a summit meeting of Tausug leaders at Likup, Indanan, Sulu in early 1927. In the meeting, all leaders agreed to contribute fighters who come from different parts of Sulu and its islands. Usab’s struggle culminated with the battle of Bud Langkuwasan where most of his forces including himself embraced martyrdom.

Muslim Legacy

       Just like other Muslim nations in Southeast Asia, national identity of the Philippine Muslims was shaped by Islam and further developed in the course of their heroic struggle against western colonialism. Right after the first encounter with foreign aggressors in 1570 at Manila, the Philippine Muslims won a distinct honor as “Moro”, an identity put forward by the aggressors after the Moors of Spain. They were called Moros only on account of their Islamic ideology and their culture being similar to the Moors who conquered Spain for 785 years. To the Spaniards, the term Moro would also mean Muslim. Since then, the Muslims in this country have been identified in Southeast Asia and across the Muslim world as the Bangsamoro people. This identity is officially recognized by the Organization of Islamic Countries. This is the reference by which the historians and government legislators recognized the official designation of the Muslims in the country and is now enshrined in the Muslim Organic Act of 1989.

       The history of the Bangsamoro people is no doubt ranked as the first line of historical development of the Philippines. The Muslims’ sultanate institution, the religious legacy of Islam and the Muslim adat have nurtured the doctrine of Bangsamoro nationalism. The cohesiveness of the 11 Muslim groups under the spirit of Islamic brotherhood is a living reality of Bangsamoro nationalism. This should form part of the Philippines’ political foundation. It is within this context by which the struggle of the Bangsamoro people finds a just treatment in Philippine history.


Author : Hannbal Bara is an Associate Professor V at the Mindanao State University-Sulu where he also serves as Dean of its Graduate School. He is an ExeCom member of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Philippines.

Source : National Commission for Culture and The Arts, Philippines

Etiquette of Eid

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ketupat raya

Eid means recurring happiness or festivity. There are two such Eid in Islam. The first is called Eid Al-Fitr (the Festival of Fast Breaking). It falls on the first day of Shawwaal, the tenth month of the Muslim year, following the month of Ramadan in which the Holy Quran was revealed and which is the month of fasting.

Ghusl (taking a bath)

One of the manners of Eid is to take a bath before going out to the prayer. It is reported in a saheeh report in Al-Muwatta’ and elsewhere that ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Umar used to take a bath on the day of Al-Fitr before coming to the prayer-place. (Al-Muwatta’ 428)

It was reported that Saeed ibn Jubayr said: “Three things are sunnah on Eid: to walk (to the prayer-place), to take a bath and to eat before coming out.” This is what Sa’eed ibn Jubayr said, and he may have learned this from some of the Sahaabah.

Al-Nawawi (may Allah have mercy on him) mentioned that the scholars were agreed that it is mustahabb to take a bath before the Eid prayer. The reason why it is mustahabb to take a bath before Friday prayer and other public gatherings also applies in the case of Eid, only more so.

Eating before coming out

One should not come out to the prayer-place on Eid Al-Fitr before eating some dates, because of the hadeeth narrated by Al-Bukhaari from Anas ibn Maalik who said: “The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) would not go out on the morning of Eid Al-Fitr until he had eaten some dates… and he would eat an odd number.” (Al-Bukhaari, 953)

It is mustahabb to eat before coming out because this confirms that we are not allowed to fast on this day, and demonstrates that the fast is now over. Ibn Hajar (may Allah have mercy on him) explained that this is to prevent people extending the fast and it also means obeying the commandment of Allah. (Fath, 2/446). If a person does not have any dates, he can eat anything permissible for breakfast. On Eid Al-Adha, on the other hand, it is mustahabb not to eat until after the prayer, when one should eat from the meat of one’s sacrifice.

Takbeer on the day of Eid

This is one of the greatest sunnahs of this day, because of the words of Allah (interpretation of the meaning): “… (He [Allah] wants that you) must complete the same number (of days), and that you must magnify Allah (say Takbeer – ‘Allahu Akbar’) for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him.” [Al-Baqarah 2:185]

Al-Waleed ibn Muslim said: “I asked Al-Oozaa’i and Maalik ibn Anas about saying Takbeer aloud on Eid. They said, ‘Yes, ‘Abd-Allah ibn ‘Umar used to say it aloud on the day of Fitr until the imam came out.'” Abu ‘Abd Al-Rahmaan Al-Salami said: “On Eid Al-Fitr they would say it louder than on Eid Al-Adha.” Wakee’ said, “ie, the takbeer.” (Irwaa’, 3/122).

Al-Daaraqutni and others reported that when Ibn ‘Umar came out on Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, he would strive hard in making Takbeer until he reached the prayer-place, then he would continue making Takbeer until the imam came. Ibn Abi Shaybah reported with a saheeh isnaad that Al-Zuhri said: “The people used to make Takbeer on Eid when they came out of their houses until they reached the prayer-place and until the imam came out. When the imam came out, they fell silent, until the imam said Takbeer, then they said Takbeer.” (Irwaa’, 2/121).

The practice of making Takbeer from home to the prayer-place, and until the imam comes in, was well-known among the salaf and was reported by a number of authors such as Ibn Abi Shaybah, ‘Abd al-Razzaaq and Al-Firyaabi in his book Ahkaam al-‘Eidayn from a group of the salaf. An example of this is the report that Naafi’ ibn Jubayr used to make Takbeer and wondered why people did not do so.

He would say to people, “Why do you not make Takbeer?” Ibn Shihaab Al-Zuhri said, “The people used to make Takbeer from the time they left their homes until the imam came in.” The time for making Takbeer on Eid Al-Fitr starts from the night of Eid until the time when the imam comes in to lead the prayer.

The wording of the Takbeer

Ibn Abi Shaybah reported in Al-Musannaf that Ibn Mas’ood (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say Takbeer on the days of Tashreeq as follows: “Allahu akbar, Allaahu akbar, laa ilaaha ill-Allah, wa Allaahu akbar, Allahu akbar wa Lillaahi’l-hamd (Allah is Most Great… there is no god but Allah, Allah is Most Great, and to Allah be praise).” Ibn Abi Shaybah reported it elsewhere with the same isnaad, but with the phrase “Allahu akbar” repeated three times.

Al-Muhaamili also reported that Ibn Mas’ood used to say: “Allahu akbaru kabeeran, Allahu akbaru kabeeran, Allahu akbar wa ajall, Allahu akbar wa Lillaahi’l-hamd (Allah is Most Great of All, Allah is Most Great of all, Allah is most Great and Most Glorious, and to Allah be praise).” (Al-Irwaa ‘, 3/126).

Congratulating one another

People may exchange congratulations and good greetings on Eid, no matter what form the words take. For example they may say to one another, “Taqabbal Allahu minnaa wa minkum (May Allaah accept [the fast and worship] from us and from you” or “Eid Mubarak” and other similar permissible greetings.

Jubayr ibn Nufayr said: “At the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), when people met one another on the day of Eid, they would say, ‘Taqabbal Allaahu minnaa wa minka (May Allaah accept from us and from you).'” (Ibn Hajar. Its isnaad is hasan. Fath, 2/446).

The practice of exchanging greetings was well-known at the time of the Sahaabah and scholars such as Imam Ahmad and others allowed it. There are reports which indicate that it is permissible to congratulate people on special occasions. The Sahaabah used to congratulate one another when something good happened, such as when Allah accepted a person’s repentance and so on.

There is no doubt that congratulating others in this way is one of the noblest kinds of good manners and one of the highest social qualities among Muslims. At the very least, one can return Eid greetings when they are given to you, and remain silent if nothing is said, as Imaam Ahmad (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “If someone congratulates me, I return the greeting, but I do not initiate it.”

By Shaikh Al-Munajjid

Source :

The art of giving: Zakat during Ramadan

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One of the most important principles of Islam is that all things belong to Allah, and that wealth is therefore held by human beings in trust. Therefore, our possessions are purified by setting aside a proportion for those in need.

Zakat – also known as zakah – is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and serves principally as the welfare contribution to poor and deprived individuals. The payment of zakat is obligatory for every sane and mature Muslim whenever there is an economic activity resulting in the net increase in their wealth.

Zakat not only purifies the property of the contributor but also purifies his heart from selfishness and greed. It also purifies the heart of the recipient from envy and jealousy, from hatred and uneasiness and it fosters instead goodwill and warm wishes for the contributors.

Paying zakat compulsory, and the Qur’an states that those who pay zakat are in the “brotherhood of faith”.

How is zakat distributed?

Zakat is distributed amongst eight categories of people. The Qur’an states that:

“Zakat is for the poor, and the needy and those who are employed to administer and collect it, and the new converts, and for those who are in bondage, and in debt and service of the cause of Allah, and for the wayfarers, a duty ordained by Allah, and Allah is the All-Knowing, the Wise.”

How to calculate zakat:

It is an obligation to pay 2.5 per cent of the wealth you have made after a full lunar year. Farmers who own their own land and harvest their own crops are required to pay 5 or 10 per cent of their harvest’s worth, depending on the type of irrigation.

Do I pay zakat on my house and car?

No, as long as you have one house. If you have a second house for investment purposes, this is “zakatable”. You should pay 2.5 per cent of the total saved from the house, excluding what is spent on maintenance or insurance. The same applies for cars. If you are renting a car to someone, this is considered a business entity, therefore also zakatable.

What about businesses?

It is advised that if a businessman earns a certain amount from his business, whatever he saves after taking care of his family’s needs and his business expenses, he pays zakat of 2.5 per cent. Secondly, a businessman has to pay zakat on the commodities in his store. This would require evaluating the purchasing power of the commodity and then paying 2.5 per cent of this amount.

The importance of zakat during Ramadan:

Most Muslims prefer to give their zakat in Ramadan because there are more rewards for doing so, but it is not necessary.

However, it is obligatory to pay Zakat Al Fitr, which is for fasting Muslims to give food or money on behalf of fasting people. The food or money is equal to one day’s meals for one person. The head of the family pays this amount on behalf of each person in the family.

If he is responsible for his parents, then he has to pay Zakat Al Fitr for them too.

Dental Health and the Miswak

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“Good dental health is more than the absence of disease or tooth decay in your mouth,” says David Kennedy, DDS and author of How to Save Your Teeth (Kennedy, pg.3). “It is an integral part of your well being. People with exceptionally healthy bodies usually have healthy teeth and gums.” Teeth are also a blessing from Allah. It is said that, “If the eyes are a window to the soul then the mouth is the doorway to the body” (Stay, p.5).

Teeth play an important function in the digestive process. They are important in helping people to speak and in upholding one’s facial structure. Without teeth, nobody would be able to say anything comprehendible, if at all. Without teeth you would have to swallow your food without being able to chew it first, which is unhealthy for the digestive system.

However, despite their important functions, teeth are the least cared for part of the body. But, cleaning one’s teeth does not have to be complicated. Eating unprocessed food and staying away from sugary sweets are simple keys to good dental health.

Caries, or dental decay, is the most common disease affecting the teeth. People eating large amounts of processed foods or sweets and then forgetting – or not wanting – to brush their teeth afterwards, end up causing easily avoidable decaying of the teeth. While chewing food, small pieces tend to become stuck to the surface the teeth, as well as in between them. Leaving those pieces there for a long period of time causes the food to go bad, which in turn attracts bacteria that dig holes in the teeth. Most people do not realize the damage that is being done until the tooth is already decayed and must be pulled out by a dentist.

In addition, poor dental health also leads to bad breath and many other diseases, including malocclusion, periodontal diseases or even oral cancer.

David Kennedy documents that the devastating effects of sweet-rich diets were documented as early as 1938. In many industrialized countries, dental decay is becoming less common due to renewed awareness and efforts towards dental health. However, in the developing world, where previously many people were free of dental decay, it is becoming increasingly common (Kennedy, pg. 10).

Dr. Weston Price, a dentist, set out on a world expedition to discover why, as a general rule, societies untouched by modern civilization had excellent teeth, whereas civilized societies had comparatively poor teeth. He compiled a photographic record of his travels and concluded that diet – not poor brushing habits, was the culprit (Kennedy, p.2). However, proper care of the teeth was the second most influential factor in people with healthy teeth.

According to researchers, the people with the best teeth are not those who have the fanciest sonic toothbrushes – but those who use their toothbrushes regularly and after each snack and meal. In fact, ancient cultures and developing nations lacked the technology to create such machines for the teeth, yet there have always been reliable ways to clean them.

American Indians used fresh bark from the prickly ash tree to clean their teeth. The sap from this tree kills bacteria. Mojave Desert Indians used twigs from the cresote bush and rural villagers in India used the neem tree.

Muslims use what is called a miswak. A miswak, or siwak, is a small stick with which the teeth are rubbed and cleaned. The end is shaped into a brush through biting or chewing, which serve to separate the fibers and release the healing herbal powers of the twig. Some advantages of the miswak are that is does not require toothpaste, water or a special area to use it, and may be easily carried in one’s purse or pocket. It is also disposable and biodegradable – therefore, it is the ultimate environmentally safe toothbrush. Some people even believe it works better than a toothbrush.

Nevertheless, a more compelling reason to use the miswak is that it is Sunnah to do so. Abu Hurairah reported that Prophet Mohammad (saws) said,

“Were it not that I might overburden believers, I would have ordered them to use the miswak at every prayer” (Imam Muslim, Vol. 1).

According to researchers it is this regular cleaning of the teeth, along with a proper diet, that makes the difference between healthy and unhealthy teeth.

Keeping your teeth clean is as important Islamically as it is medically. It is as difficult to envision speaking to Allah (through prayer) with bad breath and dirty teeth as it is to envision speaking to a friend when you are suffering from bad breath and dirty teeth.

The Prophet himself (saws), used to use the miswak before every prayer (Sahih Muslim, Vol.1).

Modern science suggests we would do well to follow his example.

Rashid al-Ghannushi–Leader of Ennahda Party

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Rashid Al- Ghannushi is one of the most influential leaders among Muslim activists and intellectuals in Tunisia and the rest of the world who represents a moderate and progressive strand in Arab Islamist politics. His eventful life presents an example for all especially for the youth.

Shaikh Rashid Al-Ghannushi was born at al-Hama, in the Qabis province of southern Tunisia in 1941.After successful completion of primary and secondary education, he achieved the certificate of attainment degree, equivalent to the Baccalaureate degree from the University of Zaytuna in 1962. In 1964, he got admission in school of agriculture at Cairo University but left for Syria without completion his course due to the eviction of Tunisians from Egypt by Gamal Abdel Nasser and completed his graduation from University of Damascus in Philosophy in 1968. In the meantime, Dr. Rashid joined the European Socialist Party, but later entered an Islamic life and established an Islamic party.

After graduation, he spent a year at Sorbonne in France before returning to Tunisia and worked within a group called “Call Reporting And Advocacy Group” and founded an organization with other Tunisians to reform the Tunisian society based on Islamic Shariah.

Furthermore, his professional life was begun as a professor of Philosophy in Tunisia in 1969. In addition to his profession, this scholar tried to sermonize Islamic beliefs through lectures in classroom as well as mosque and writing articles in newspaper (Sabah-Morning), Magazine (The knowledge) and books.

Inspiring by the real spirit of Islam, he established an Islamic movement called “al-ittijah al-islami” or Islamic Tendency Movement in Manouba in 1979 which was renamed Hizb al-Nahda (or Hizb Ennahda) in 1989 or called as the Renaissance Party and began its activities without publicizing formally till 1981. Rashid proclaimed the news of newly founded party in 1981 through a press conference when the Tunisian Ruler Al- Borguiba gave the political freedom.

This Movement became much popular within few months because of its Islam loving, pacifist and patriotic mood as it called for a “reconstruction of economic life on a more equitable basis, the end of single-party politics and the acceptance of political pluralism and democracy. He also published a magazine called “Al-Ma’refah” to shield his ideals.However, an ideological conflict occurred between the government and Al-Ghannushi in the same year. As a result, by the end of July, Al-Ghannushi with his followers was arrested, sentenced to eleven years in prison in Bizerte, and were agonized. He was released in 1984 due to a large number of people including religious and secular community demonstrated for his release. But again arrested in 1987 and let out in 1988 after one year imprisonment. He moved to Europe as a political exile, and lived there from the early 1990s to the early 2011 and has returned home from London on 30 January in 2011 after 22 years in exile following the ousting of President Ben Ali earlier this month. In 1993 Britain granted him political asylum.In 1984, he obtained certificates of proficiency in search of the Faculty of Shariah and continued his doctoral thesis on the topic “public freedoms in the Islamic state” but could not finalize the doctorate degree due to the imprisonment.

In fact, Rashid Al-Ghannushi was determined to reform the Tunisian society and culture according to the light of Islamic Shariah consistent with the home culture. To insure social justice, equity and equality, he accentuated on worker’s rights, unionism, and women’s rights including women’s education, participation, respect, choice of home and marriage, political participation, ownership of property, and freedoms to follow Shariah and finally the democratic rights of general people.Women responded positively as they returned to Islam by expelling the western superficial liberation of women. Because Before the emergence of the Islamist movement, woman found herself in an unstable and decaying society whose “liberation” was purely superficial: nudity, eroticism, leaching the house and the intermingling of the sexes. But Islamists present the respectful position of women in the society and implemented that through participation in their organization.Al-Ghannushi is the author of many books on social, religious and philosophical issues, some of his important writings are : Islamic movements and Palestine, Public freedoms in the Islamic state, We and the West (jointly),From the experience of the Islamic Movement in Tunisia, So when Ibn Taymiyya,Rapprochement in the secular and civil society, The Islamic movement and the issue of change, The Palestinian issue crossroads between paths, Women between the Quran and the reality of Muslims, Citizenship rights in the Islamic state, The difference right , the duty to unity , The movement of Imam Khomeini and revival of Islam’s life.

Some of his books were translated into other languages including English, French, Turkish and Persian and have published in Egypt, Iran, Tunisia, Turkey, and Algeria.

He visited many countries including UK, Iran, Sudan, Lebanon etc.Finally, it can be said that, Rashid Al- Ghannushi faces different types of obstacles but could not bow down to the injustice. This is why some researchers submitted their doctorate studying on his thoughts called Azzam Tamimi (political thought of Ghannouchi). The life of Al- Ghannushi is the great source of learning for

Etiquette of fasting

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In addition to what has already been discussed of the behaviours that are desirable for a fasting person, there are also several etiquettes that are desirable for the fasting person to observe.

Eating suhoor

Suhoor is the early morning meal eaten before dawn comes. It is desirable to have this meal, even if it is just some water, or a few dates, though the person may eat whatever they wish.  Suhoor should be delayed until later in the night, until near dawn as it helps to give a person strength for the day’s fast ahead.

The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Take (the meal of) suhoor because there is blessing in it.” (Hadith – Buhkari & Muslim)

“Suhoor is blessed food, aand it involves being different from the People of the Book (Christians and Jews). What a good suhoor for the believer is dates.” (Hadith – Abu Dawood)

Breaking the fast as soon as the sun sets

It is desirable to break the fast as soon as a person thinks that the sun has set. The name of the meal that is eaten at this time is called Iftaar.

The Prophet (PBUH) said: “The people will be fine so long as they do not delay iftaar.”(Hadith – Bukhari)

The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Once night comes from there and the day disappears from there, and the sun has set, the fasting person should break his fast.” (Hadith – Bukhari)

The Prophet (pbuh) would not pray maghrib (sunset) prayer until he had broken his fast, even if it was with just a sip of water.

Breaking the fast with dates

It is desirable to follow the practice of the Prophet, by breaking the fast with a few sips of water and some dates (preferably an odd number), or something similar if dates are not available.

Anas said: “The Prophet (PBUH) used to break his fast with fresh dates before praying; if fresh dates were not available, he would eat (dried) dates; if dried dates were not available, he would have a few sips of water.” (Hadith – al-Tirmidhi)

Reciting the du’aa’ after breaking the fast

Once the fasting person has broken the fast, they should recite the du’aa’ (supplication) for breaking fast:

Ibn ‘Umar stated that when the Prophet (PBUH) broke his fast, would say: “Dhahaba al-zama’u, wa’btallat al-‘urooqu, wa thabat al-ajru, insha Allah”  (Thirst is gone, veins are flowing again, and the reward is certain, if Allah wills).” (Hadith – Abu Dawood)

Note: there are other du’aa’ that some Muslims recite just before breaking the fast, or just after, however, the above du’aa’ is the only one that has been authenticated and the others have not been proven to be attributed to the Prophet (PBUH) and should therefore be avoided.

Not eating too much

The fasting person should avoid being a glutton during the night, and eat and drink only enough to satisfy the hunger and thirst.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The son of Adam fills no worse vessel than his stomach.” (Hadith – al-Tirmidhi)

A person should eat to live not live to eat. Food should be enjoyed in moderation, during Ramadaan and at other times. Overeating causes laziness and may make the Muslim lethargic so that they do not pray Taraaweeh prayers and undertake other kinds of beneficial worship during the night in Ramadaan.

Feeding a fasting person

There is great blessing in providing a fasting person with food with which to break their fast. This is one of the reasons why Muslims go to extra lengths to invite other families to share dinner with them during Ramadaan and to give food to the poor Muslims.

The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Whoever gives food to a fasting person with which to break his fast, will have a reward equal to his, without it detracting in the slightest from the reward of the fasting person.” (Hadith – al-Tirmidhi)

Islamic Revival in Syria Is Led by Women

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August 29, 2006

DAMASCUS, Syria — Enas al-Kaldi stops in the hallway of her Islamic school for girls and coaxes her 6-year-old schoolmate through a short recitation from the Koran.

“It’s true that they don’t understand what they are memorizing at this age, but we believe that the understanding comes when the Koran becomes part of you,” Ms. Kaldi, 16, said proudly.

In other corners of Damascus, women who identify one another by the distinctive way they tie their head scarves gather for meetings of an exclusive and secret Islamic women’s society known as the Qubaisiate.

At those meetings, participants say, they are tutored further in the faith and are even taught how to influence some of their well-connected fathers and husbands to accept a greater presence of Islam in public life.

These are the two faces of an Islamic revival for women in Syria, one that could add up to a potent challenge to this determinedly secular state. Though government officials vociferously deny it, Syria is becoming increasingly religious and its national identity is weakening. If Islam replaces that identity, it may undermine the unity of a society that is ruled by a Muslim religious minority, the Alawites, and includes many religious groups.

Syrian officials, who had front-row seats as Hezbollah dragged Lebanon into war, are painfully aware of the myriad ways that state authority can be undermined by increasingly powerful, and appealing, religious groups. Though Syria’s government supports Hezbollah, it has been taking steps to ensure that the phenomenon it helped to build in Lebanon does not come to haunt it at home.

In the past, said Muhammad al-Habash, a Syrian lawmaker who is also a Muslim cleric, “we were told that we had to leave Islam behind to find our futures.”

“But these days,” he said, “if you ask most people in Syria about their history, they will tell you, ‘My history is Islamic history.’ The younger generation are all reading the Koran.”

Women are in the vanguard. Though men across the Islamic world usually interpret Scripture and lead prayers, Syria, virtually alone in the Arab world, is seeing the resurrection of a centuries-old tradition of sheikhas, or women who are religious scholars. The growth of girls’ madrasas has outpaced those for boys, religious teachers here say.

There are no official statistics about precisely how many of the country’s 700 madrasas are for girls. But according to a survey of Islamic education in Syria published by the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, there are about 80 such madrasas in Damascus alone, serving more than 75,000 women and girls, and about half are affiliated with the Qubaisiate (pronounced koo-BAY-see-AHT).

For many years any kind of religious piety was viewed here with skepticism. But while men suspected of Islamist activity are frequently interrogated and jailed, subjecting women to such treatment would cause a public outcry that the government cannot risk. Women have taken advantage of their relatively greater freedom to form Islamic groups, becoming a deeply rooted and potentially subversive force to spread stricter and more conservative Islamic practices in their families and communities.

Since intelligence agents still monitor private gatherings that involve discussion of Islam, groups like the Qubaisiate often meet clandestinely, sometimes with women guarding the door to deter interlopers.

The group is named for its founder, a charismatic Syrian sheikha, Munira al-Qubaisi.

A wealthy woman in her 50’s living in Damascus, who has attended Qubaisiate meetings and who asked that her name not be used because she feared punishment, provided a rough description of the activities.

A girl thought to be serious about her faith may be invited by a relative or a school friend to go to a meeting, the woman said. There, a sheikha sits on a raised platform, addresses the assembled women on religious subjects and takes questions.

Qubaisiate members, the woman said, tie their head scarves so there is a puff of fabric under the chin, like a wattle. As girls and women progress in their study of Islam and gain stature within the group, the color of their scarves changes. New members wear white ones, usually with long khaki colored coats, she said. Later they graduate to wearing navy blue scarves with a navy coat. At the final stage the sheikha may grant them permission to cover themselves completely in black.

Hadeel, a Syrian woman in her early 20’s who asked to be identified only by her first name, described how her best childhood friend had become one of the Qubaisi “sisterhood” and encouraged her to follow suit.

“Rasha would call and say, ‘Today we’re going shopping,’ and that would be a secret code meaning that there was a lesson at 7:30,” Hadeel said. “I went three times, and it was amazing. They had all this expensive food, just for teenage girls, before the lesson. And they had fancy Mercedes cars to take you back home afterward.”

Hadeel said she had at first been astonished by the way the Qubaisiate, ostensibly a women’s prayer group, seemed to single out the daughters of wealthy and influential families and girls who were seen as potential leaders.

“They care about getting girls with big names, the powerful families,” Hadeel said. “In my case, they wanted me because I was a good student.”

Women speaking about the group asked that their names not be used because the group is technically illegal, though it seems the authorities are increasingly turning a blind eye.

“To be asked to join the Qubaisiate is very prestigious,” said Maan Abdul Salam, a women’s rights campaigner.

Mr. Abdul Salam explained that such secret Islamic prayer groups recruited women differently, depending on their social position. “They teach poor women how to humble themselves in front of their husbands and how to pray, but they’re teaching upper-class women how to influence politics,” he said.

The Islamic school where Ms. Kaldi, the 16-year-old tutor, studies has no overt political agenda. But it is a place where devotion to Islam, and an exploration of women’s place in it, flourishes.

The school, at the Zahra mosque in a western suburb of Damascus, is a cheerful, cozy place, with soft Oriental carpets layered underfoot and scores of little girls running around in their socks. Ms. Kaldi spends summers, vacations and some afternoons there, studying and helping younger children to memorize the Koran. Her work tutoring has made her an important figure in this world; many of the younger girls greet her shyly as they pass.

The school accepts girls as young as 5, who begin memorizing the Koran from the back, where the shortest verses are found. The youngest girls are being taught with the aid of hand gestures, games and treats.

The atmosphere is relaxed. The children share candy and snacks as they study, and the room hums with the sound of high-pitched voices reciting in unison. Several girls, preparing for the tests that will allow them to progress to higher-level classes, swing one-handed around the smooth columns that support the roof of the mosque, dreamily murmuring verses aloud to themselves.

After girls in the Zahra school have committed the Koran to memory, they are taught to recite the holy book with the prescribed rhythm and cadences, a process called tajweed, which usually takes at least several years of devoted study. Along the way they are taught the principles of Koranic reasoning.

It is this art of Koranic reasoning, Ms. Kaldi and her friends say, that most sets them apart from previous generations of Syrian Muslim women.

Fatima Ghayeh, 16, an aspiring graphic designer and Ms. Kaldi’s best friend, said she believed that “the older generation,” by which she meant women now in their late 20’s and their 30’s, too often allowed their fathers and husbands to dictate their faith to them.

They came of age before the Islamic revivalist movement that has swept Syria, she explained, and as a result many of them do not feel an intellectual ownership of Islamic teaching in the way that their younger sisters do.

“The older girls were told, ‘This is Islam, and so you should do this,’ ” Ms. Ghayeh said. “They feel that they can’t really ask questions.

“It’s because 10 years ago Syria was really closed, and there weren’t so many Islamic schools. But society has really changed. Today girls are saying, ‘We want to do something with Islam, and for Islam.’ We’re more active, and we ask questions.”

Ms. Ghayeh and Ms. Kaldi each remember with emotion the day, early in President Bashar al-Assad’s tenure, when he changed the law to allow the wearing of Islamic head scarves in public schools, a practice that was forbidden under his father, Hafez al-Assad. The current president, who took office in 2000, also reduced the hours that students must spend each week in classes where the ruling Baath Party’s ideology is taught, and began allowing soldiers to pray in mosques.

Those changes have been popular among Sunnis, who make up 70 percent of the country’s population, but they carry political risks for a government that has long been allergic to public displays of religious fervor.

The government has been eager to demonstrate in recent years, through changes like these and increasing references to Syria’s Islamic heritage in official speeches, that it does not fear Islam as such.

During the weeks of war between Israel and Hezbollah, the government frequently used references to the Islamic cause and to the “Lebanese resistance,” as Hezbollah is called in the Syrian state-controlled news media, to play to the feelings of Syrians and consolidate its support. But it is still deeply anxious about Islamic groups acting outside the apparatus of the state, and the threat that they may lose to state control.

The girls at the madrasa say that by plunging more deeply into their faith, they learn to understand their rights within Islam.

In upper-level courses at the Zahra school, the girls debate questions like whether a woman has the right to vote differently from her husband. The question is moot in Syria, one classmate joked, because President Assad inevitably wins elections by a miraculous 99 percent, just as his father did before him.

When the occasion arises, they say, they are able to reason from the Koran on an equal footing with men.

“People mistake tradition for religion,” Ms. Kaldi said. “Men are always saying, ‘Women can’t do that because of religion,’ when in fact it is only tradition. It’s important for us to study so that we will know the difference.”