Late 1200s

In areas of the island of Jolo, such as Maimbung, lived a people who came to be known in faint historical recollection as “Buranun” — a word whose etymology remains unclear. The word could have been a reference to bud, mountain; hence, people of the mountains, budanun, or interior. A man named Sipad was one chief of this population, as was his father before him, who was also named Sipad. Father and son Sipad, and presumably their forebears, were animists, although at least one scholar points out that “Sipad” likely derives from the Hindu Sri Pada. Hence, while the Sipads’ community was animist — understood the anima of rock formations and tombs — Indianization was taking place in Sulu at this time. The “Tagimahas” mentioned in the Sulu tarsila (genealogy) are Sama speakers from the nearby island that came to be known as Basilan. These Sama speakers were to self-identify, in time, as the Yakan. In the 13th C, these Tagimahas were, clearly, already experienced travelers. Of the “Baklayas,” the current scholarship speculates after the root –laya referring to seafaring. Both the references to these Baklayas and to Bajau (“from Juhur” as it is written) cite Sama speakers who have populated many parts of island Southeast Asia.


A mystic arrived in Jolo, and he is recalled in the succeeding centuries by the term Mashā′ikha, from the Arabic mashā′ikh, “an intelligent or pious man.” Little is known about the origins and early biography of Tuan Mashā′ikha, who acquired the Malay honorific Tuan (Sir) in the recollections, which invariably note that he was Muslim “who came from foreign lands” at the head of a fleet of sea-borne traders. His figure was, in time, also absorbed into local mythology: that he sprung from bamboo, regarded as a prophet, and thus accorded respect. That mythology is understood by anthropologists as belonging to the larger Austronesian mythic tradition, which, for the first time, absorbed Islam in the area of Maimbung where the mystic lived and married a local, the younger Sipad’s daughter.


Tuan Mashā′ikha passed away and was buried on Bud (Mount) Dajo near Jolo, with the still-existing tomb inscribed Tuan Maqbālū. The mystic became the origin point of Philippine Islamic genealogies that, in time, were written and given the name tarsila — instead of orally transmitted, following the enduring practice of most animism-based cultures of the Philippines. The interred foreigner with an Arabic name, who married the local chief’s daughter who had a Hindu honorific designation, Idda Indira Suga, marks a juncture in Sulu history when Sama, Tausug, South Asian (Hindu), Arabic, and Chinese peoples encountered each other and forged personal and politico-economic relationships. The mystic is known to have fathered three children with Idda Indira Suga, all with the Arabic first names Hakim, Pam and ‘Aisha; and all accorded the honorific Tuan. Hakim is known to have had five children, and it is through this lineage that Islam’s beginnings in the Philippines is reckoned. Tuan Mashā′ikha married another woman, unidentified in the records, and had one offspring named Moumin.


“Sulus” — a combination of Sama and Tausug speakers using Sama navigational prowess — may have attacked a place called “Poni” or “Poli,” today’s Brunei. While Islam arrived early in Poni (a Chinese Muslim tombstone dated 1264 was erected there) and the earliest Sultan of Brunei took office in 1363, this place of 10,000 people were vassals to the Madjapahit rulers of Java in the mid-14th C and were thus absorbing Hindu belief. The Poli residents had much in common with their attackers from Sulu, who were also taking in the currents of Indianization; and who also, within the same few decades, witnessed the arrival of Muslim preachers. After the sack, in 1371, Poli was reported to have declined significantly. Poli’s recovery early in the following 15th C was assisted by its turn to China for protection against Madjapahit. Similarly, the Sulu people, as well as people sailing directly from Butuan, sent embassies to China to create alliances. The leader of Maynilad, today’s Manila, then an animist chiefdom absorbing both Buddhism and Hinduism, also sent an embassy to the Ming Court in 1373. It is a measure of the fluidity of belief within the region that a considerable time later, in 1514, a Portuguese chronicler reported that the ruler of Brunei was “still a pagan,” while in the following year, 1515, another Western chronicler said that this ruler had recently become Muslim.


The Islamic scholar and judge Karim ul’ Makhdum arrived in Tawi-Tawi from Malacca. Most versions of the enduring story of his arrival sets Mecca as his origin, and today’s Johore as the immediately proximate point of departure. He was a trader among many, and a Sufi missionary. One of his missionary activities among the Sama-speaking locals, he built a mosque in Tubig-Indanan in Simunul Island, Tawi-Tawi. The posts of this mosque exist today, and they mark the site of the first mosque constructed in the Philippine archipelago. From reliable records, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines set 1380 as the year of the establishment of the mosque. Karim ul’ Makhdum traveled to other islands of the Tawi-Tawi group, proselytizing, and is understood to have commenced a descent line in Tapul Island. He is also part of the oral history of the first era of Islamization of the Philippines in the other islands he may have visited: Lugus (where he is known as Abdurraman); Jolo (where a grave named to a Mohadum Aminullah Al-Nikad is thought by some to be Makhdum’s); and Siasi. He died in Tawi-Tawi or Sulu but his grave is unrecorded.


An aristocrat using the Sanskrit honorific rajah, named Baguinda, preached Islam in the Sulu Archipelago towards the end of the 14th C. His foray was part of a larger movement to what is now Malaysia of the Minangkabau people of Sumatra, a matrilineal language group that embraced Islam in the earlier part of this century. The Minangkabau did not proceed to populate Sulu and Mindanao — as they did Malaysia, forming foundation of the dominant Malaysian ethnicity — but through the Muslim proselytizer, Rajah Baguinda, impacted the course of the history of the Philippines. The willing recipients of Islamic instruction appears to have been the new arrivals to Sulu, the Tausug-speaking people; while the older population of Sama speakers unevenly accepted the new monotheistic religion. It was thus that the Tausug ascended to high status in the succeeding centuries, having assumed the identity of a world religion.