Meaningful Travels PH began with tours in Banawe and Batad, where they would bring people to meet the Indigenous tribes up in the Cordillera mountains, because these villages managed to keep their identity intact. The goal was to make real connections, learning about their problems, and bringing home an insight that can be planted into an action one day. Later on, the founder of Meaningful Travels PH Ann Marie Cunanan realized that there was another community within Metro Manila whose voices need to be heard as well: The Muslim Community in Quiapo.
In Manila, when we hear Muslim, we think of tiangge: DVD, fake bags and pearls. Personally, I’m thankful for the Muslims for all the long weekends in August because of Ramadan. Finally, we remember the violence in the south and in other parts of the world. However, the Muslim Filipinos are so much more than any of these stereotypes.
People think Quiapo is magulo and dangerous. My own dad told me to be careful, instructing both the driver and my yaya to stay in the area until I finished the tour. Similarly, the leaders of the Muslim community in Manila are wary of outsiders like us, fearing that we may be here to convert their children. However, Quiapo is actually very peaceful because everyone knows everyone, and people like Ann Marie help bridge the gap between us and them through the trust she has gained through the years. The exclusive places we went to and the kind of experiences we got cannot be DIY-ed. With that said, I highly recommend this eye-opening, 5-hour immersion tour for only PHP 1,500 per person.
8:30 AM – Call Time
9:30 AM – Briefing over Halal Breakfast
10:30 AM – Madrasa Visit
11:30 AM – Golden Mosque Visit
12:00 PM – Market Visit
12:30 PM – Halal Lunch
1:30 PM – Debriefing
2:00 PM – Finish
Guidelines and Reminders
1.Wear respectful, modest and decent clothes.
- For women: No short sleeves and low necklines. All blouses, shirts and tops must cover the skin until the wrist area. Bring a headscarf or turban to cover the hair. (There are ready-to-wear head covers sold outside the Mosque for PHP 100 to PHP 350.)
- For men: Men can wear short sleeves shirts. No shorts.
- For both: No shorts. Wear long dresses, skirts, trousers or pants that will cover down to the ankles.
2. Women who are on their menstrual period (heavy flow) cannot enter the mosque.
3. No painted nails. Wear gloves and socks if you have painted nails.
4. Bring gifts for the Madrasa school kids and teachers: pencils, art materials, bags or notebooks and/or, hygiene kits.
5. Bring bottled water and a small towel with you to stay cool. Food will be provided.
How did Quiapo come to be Mulsim Town? Much like the Chinese in Binondo, the Muslims were kicked out of Intramuros when the Spanish took over, and the prior got pushed into Quiapo.
The meeting place was at the Asian Arab Cafe aka Landap Cafe along Gunao Street in Quiapo. We had some lemon tea and teh tarik with our parathas while going over a brief history of Islam and Muslim Filipino culture. (Address: 334 Gunao, Quiapo, Manila, 1001 Metro Manila, Philippines.)
About the Founder of Meaningful Travels PH
Originating from Davao, the founder of Meaningful Travels PH Ann Marie Cunanan (aka “Nak Nak”) is no stranger to the Muslim Filipino culture. She started the Muslim Community in Manila so that people can immerse and learn about the Muslim plight in the Philippines.
Meaningful Travels PH is a Social Tourism that’s all abut connecting people and giving back to the community at the same time. Nurtured with an Atenean education, Ann Marie went through the immersion program that all undergraduate students had to undergo in their senior year in Ateneo de Manila University. She also did some volunteer work helping out with organizing some of the immersion programs.
After she graduated from college, Ann Marie found herself in a corporate job, describing her life as “High Heels, Fake Lashes and High Pay”. She was living the high life, but a part of her was yearning to do more, so she took a break to study social entrepreneurship in Australia on scholarship, where she met Amanah. Ann Marie returned to the Philippines in 2014 to teach in university and do some consultancy work. It was difficult trying to get used to a lower salary coming from a high paying job, but she managed to start something worthwhile: Meaningful Travels PH. She went full time with it in 2017.
Meaningful Travels isn’t a sight-seeing tour; it’s an immersion where people can make real connections and contribute to something good. As tourists, we just take: pictures, memories, food, etc. Ann Marie believes in giving something to the communities we visit in exchange for what we take, not because they’re poor but just to make them happy. The goal isn’t to change the entire world but to make micro-changes, doing whatever we can in our own little way. Meaningful Travels PH also has partnerships or co-ops for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
History of Islam in the Philippines
Ann Marie met Amanah Bursan Lao, a Shari’ah counselor-at-law, in Australia while they were both studying there. As a Shari’ah lawyer, she gives a legal perspective on the Muslim context. However, she was filling in for a guy called “Nords” who normally covers the segment on the History of Islam in the Philippines.
Did you know that Philippines was once predominantly Muslim? Arab traders brought Islam through the port of Sulu, the closest island to Malaysia, which was already friendly with the Moros. Philippines used to be an Islamic kingdom until the Spanish came to evangelize the Filipinos, pushing the Muslims to the north and south. For instance, the Macapagal clan are descendants of the Rajah Sulayman from the 1500’s.
We have a risk of losing the Filipino pre-colonial narrative because our ancestors used to practice oral tradition, i.e. history was written and recited in song. We started writing our history when the Spanish came, but there is very little written on pre-colonial history. One of the older myths that survived the coming of Islam and Christianity talked about how the Maranao tribe or “people of the lake” came about: A royal prince once married a mermaid living in Lake Lanao. This explains why there is something “radiant” about the Maranao people; it comes from their mystical side. Amanah herself is of the Maranao tribe, one of the 13 prominent tribes in pre-colonial Philippines.
Amanah also pointed out how the introduction of Islam itself posed a risk of diluting the pre-Islamic or pagan Filipino culture. Islam isn’t just a religion; it also carries with it the Arab culture, though they are not mutually exclusive. For example, the Maranao and the Tausug tribes had their own cultures before Islam. Women and men used to be equal, but now women are beneath men because of the Arabic influences. In fact, in Arabic culture, goats are more valuable than women, even though men and women are said to be equal in the Quran.
Shari’ah or Islam Law
Amanah then moved on to her own subject matter: Shari’ah. Shari’ah means “law” in Arabic, and refers to Islamic Law which is based on the Quran and governs the Muslims. Usul Al-Fiqh is the methodology of studying the law and Fiqh or Juris Prudence is the result of the study of the law, which is realized in the Code of Muslim Personal Law of the Philippines (CMPL).
Why is there a special law for Muslims? It’s because traditional court doesn’t have any appreciation for disputes stemming from Muslim belief and Arabic culture. The usual topics include marriage, polygamy, and succession.
Fun Fact 1: In Islam, polygamy is allowed but there are conditions that must be satisfied. A Muslim man can’t just take on a 2nd wife out of desire; it has to be born of a need, like taking on widows and her children.
Fun Fact 2: When it comes to Shari’ah Law versus National Law, the law of the land prevails. If you don’t want your husband to marry another woman, marry under the civil law so that the national law, which is against bigamy, will be on your side.
One good way to understand the Muslim Filipino culture is to observe the impact of a religion-based law on society. Religious text is often misconstrued and integrated into culture. For example, by law, Muslim women can marry as early as 9 or when they get their menstrual period. In the Quran, the Prophet Mohammed took on a child as a wife to take care of her, but he started treating her like a wife until she came of age. Some early Islam societies took this out of context and reduced the marrying age for women, allowing men to deflower young girls at the tender age of 9.
Culturally, marriage is seen as a way to escape poverty, either for the daughter and/or her parents through dowry. The 2017 Marawi Siege that created a lot of orphans and caused poverty probably made a lot of young wives as well. However, this is being practiced less nowadays because the Maranao have begun to see education as another or even better way to escape poverty.
Amanah proceeded to discuss the complexities surrounding the socio-political dynamics within the community. Muslim Filipinos today still employ the Datu system, which causes political friction in the Muslim communities both in Manila and in Mindanao. If you truly wanted to understand the state of the Muslim Filipino community in a much larger context, you have to factor in Shari’ah.
The Shari’ah in Philippines is slowly changing for the better and for the worse, depending on where you’re standing. On the positive side, there are advancements in terms of support from the Philippine government. There may not be a Muslim justice in the Supreme Court, but there is now a Muslim High Court in Manila, as well as a board exam for Shari’ah law. People used to fly to Marawi, Zamboanga or somewhere down south to settle disputes.
On the negative side, the rights of the Muslim Filipinos are challenged by the dissonance in Islam law among countries stemming from the subjective interpretation of the Quran and to cultural differences. There are talks of adopting stricter Shari’ah laws from Arab countries like Saudi and Dubai, which threaten the rights of women. (Muslim women in the Philippines have enjoyed empowerment and certain rights that Muslim women from other countries don’t.) Imagine the implication on punishment as well.
After the overview on Islam, we crossed the street to get to the store selling Muslim garb. We had to cover up before visiting the Madrasa and the Mosque. The store clerk assisted all the ladies who brought their own head scarves, while I bought a hijab for myself for PHP 250. For the men, on the other hand, it’s optional to wear a white hat called tutob but only after they put on the haj over their body.
Islam has a huge influence on fashion, that something optional eventually became permanent. It turns out that a hijab is a choice. You only need to cover your hair when you pray or enter the mosque. Meanwhile, the abaya is just a cloak to cover the body with. However, if you think that Arab women are boring underneath all that garb, think again. As it turns out, they spend so much on vanity and lingerie to compensate for their mundane exterior.
Madrasa or Islam Education
We walked over to the Madrasa, which is similar to the Christian Sunday bible school. It’s a weekend activity where the kids are taught the Quran all day long. Depending on their age bracket, their lessons span from reading and writing in Arabic to reading and interpreting passages from the Quran. A crash course on the basic tenets of Islam would have enriched my experience by making their situation a bit more relatable.
We spent about an hour conversing with the kids aged 6 to 11 years old. Some groups taught their kids the sign language. It was impressive how the little girls managed to memorize the entire alphabet very quickly. Another group played games. Meanwhile, my group was assigned to the boys who were either naturally reticent, shy in front of strangers–or in front of the opposite sex–or simply wanted to continue running around outside.
Afterwards, we handed out some of the stuff we brought: art materials, snacks, chocolate, etc. Their faces lit up as soon as they saw the sweets!
It would have been nice to talk to the older kids, too. I’m sure they have a lot of stories to share.
Quiapo Golden Mosque
Our next step was the Golden Mosque which stuck out like a sore thumb. It’s required to pray at least 5 times a day at certain hours. We were there just before 12 PM in time to witness their noontime prayer. Some of the more devoted Muslims actually camp out at the mosque all day, taking naps between prayers.
Quiapo Halal Market
We stopped by the public market where they sold Halal food ingredients, and some popular Maranao delicacies like the Pinatayong Isda (Grilled Fish Inasal). I was tempted to buy some Marawi ground coffee, but maybe another time!
Ann Marie showed us the Palapa, a kind of red spicy paste that the Maranao use on everything. We had some of it for lunch at Babu Restaurant with our ginataang langka and kilawin. I obviously struggled eating with my hands. What’s new?
For dessert, we had some dodol that Ann Marie had bought from the market earlier, a kind of black sticky rice like suman that the Maranao like. She also made us try biyaki or cassava and corn steamed in banana leaf. Meanwhile, Amanah brought over a hand of bananas and some really ripe papaya!
Overall, I liked the holistic approach that Meaningful Travels PH took on.
It’s a one-of-a-kind tour available only through people that the community trusts like Ann Marie and Amanah. The exclusive access to the school, the mosque and the people are what makes Meaningful Travel PH’s immersion program unique.
I’ve only seen Muslims from other countries in TV shows and movies, so I found it interesting to encounter the culture and cuisine of Muslim Filipinos. I hope that more people would come to appreciate them one day, and that the influx of social tourism would help grow the community market, give birth to more Halal restaurants (Food Trip!) and dispel the stigma that most Muslims have had to carry on their shoulders because of the terrible acts of a few.
Personally, I love my corporate job but I also want to give back. While it’s still unclear what I have to do, I envision doing something at a grander scale. I want to leave a much greater impact that echoes for generations. For me, it’s not enough to just give people happiness for a day; our efforts should be directed towards something more sustainable. Maybe I’ll realize my true calling later on in life, but I must start somewhere which is why one of my 2019 resolutions is for the blog to focus on more meaningful things like health and well-being and social tourism. My journey to self discovery begins this year.
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