One of the Tawi-Tawi tourist destination on my to visit list is the oldest Mosque in the Philippines. With the help of Philippine Marines in Tawi-Tawi, Dave and I were able to visit Simunul Island, home of Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque which holds the title of the oldest mosque in the country.
Located in Tubig Indangan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi, Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque is a National Historical Landmark by virtue of Republic Act 10573.
Quick History of the oldest mosque in the Philippines
In 1380, An Arabian missionary, judge and scholar Sheik Makdum reached the shores of Simunul Island in Tawi-Tawi and supervised the construction of Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque. This monumental event marked the introduction of Islam faith in the Philippines.
We were lucky to have met Haji Omar Biste, a Simunul Island local. He was so kind to share the history of the mosque.According to Haji Omar, Sheik Makdum is one among the seven brothers to come to Simunul Island in Tawi-Tawi via lumpang bassi, a vessel resembling a tub or basin. Among the seven brothers, Sheik Makhdum was the first one to come to the Philippines. He met Tawi-Tawi natives, preached Islam and established the religion. Haji added that Sheik Makhdum’s coming to the Philippines is different from Magellan. Sheik came to the Philippines without any armour. He came bringing the faith of Allah. He civilized the natives from Paganism and brought light, tranquility and morality. Sheik Makhdum built this National Landmark 200 years before Magellan set foot in the country.
Centuries-old PillarsThe original pillars which served as the foundation of Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque are well-preserved. The 638 year old Ipil hardwood pillars showcase intricate designs and strength as it survived being exposed to sun and rain. Villagers believe that the entire Simunul Island will sink once these pillars are destroyed.
According to Haji Omar, there were instances in the past that locals get small pieces from the pillars. They put these small wood pieces on their drinking water as these are believed to have healing powers. Since the community is trying to protect and preserve the pillars, they decided to completely cover the two pillars with white cloth.
Sheik Makhdum’s Tomb
Few meters behind the mosque is a burial site where Sheik Makhdum’s tomb is located. An old man was kind enough to let us go inside site. We were told that the sands on Sheik Makhdum’s tomb remain intact regardless of the weather.
Seeing the oldest mosque in the Philippines and learning more about our Islam brothers was fascinating and meaningful at the same time. Locals from kids to Hajis were very welcoming and friendly. After almost an hour in the area, we had to immediately leave for our Travel with a Purpose Project that afternoon.
Special thanks to Dave of silverbackpacker.com. Ms.Ritz of HOPE and especially to Tawi-Tawi Philippine Marines for making this Tawi-Tawi trip possible.