Posts Tagged With: Muslims in the Philippines

Jawi Manuscripts and National Muslim Narrative


MINDAVIEWS > MARGINALIA: Jawi manuscripts and national Muslim narrative

Mansoor L. Limba on October 22, 2016

(A modified transcript of 20-minute presentation of the paper “Jawi Documents in Mindanao: Their Significance in Shaping National Muslim Narrative” at the 2016 Philippine National Historical Society’s National Conference, Almont Resort Hotel, Butuan City, October 20, 2016.)

Salamun ‘alaykum and good afternoon to all of you!

Before laying down my paper’s Statement of the Problem, let me first make some introductory remarks about the Jawi script and its manuscripts as well as its state of affairs through the years. I shall also clarify the operational meaning of “narrative” as it is used in “national Muslim narrative” in the paper. After stating the Statement of the Problem, I shall make some arguments and finally make a conclusion.


“Jawi” is an Arabic relative noun which literally means “that which pertains to Java (Indonesia).” It is actually a catch-all term for the entire Malay world. In other words, it means “that which pertains to the entire Malay world; Jawi script means Malay script. Why not “Javi” (from the word “Java”) instead of “Jawi”? The simple reason is that there is no letter “v” in Arabic. (That’s why the Arabs would say “batatas” for “patatas” (potato);, and “babaya” for “papaya”.)

As part of Islamic legacy to the region, Jawi script is an Arabic-based one adapted by Southeast Asian Muslims, including the Muslims in the Philippines. In Mindanao and Sulu, the script had been used predominantly by Muslim ethno-linguistic groups such as the Tausug, Maguindanaon, Maranao, Iranun, Sama’, Yakan, and Sangil, among others, for putting into writing their languages.

Linguistically, Jawi manuscripts are of two types: Batang-a Arab (literally, ‘Arabic letter’) and Kirim. Batang-a Arab is the kind of Jawi that refers to the Arabic script used in any type of document, while Kirim refers to a written text of local dialect literature that uses the Arabic-based script.

The Jawi was used to record both non-religious and religious literary materials. Non-religious literature includes epic, stories, short love poems, love fest, sayings, drama, puzzles and riddles, rhymes, and literature for children. Religious literature includes dekir/dhikr (incantations), khutbah (sermons), Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), explicatory statements about Islam, du‘a (supplications), religious songs, and kisa (Islamic stories), among others.

Jawi through the years

What happened to the Jawi script and manuscripts through the years?

Since the Philippine independence after the Second World War, there had been a decrease in the use of Jawi script due to the upsurge in the nationwide promotion and use of the English language in the formal educational system. This has been exacerbated further since the 1970s due to increase in the influence of strict interpretation of Islam that denounces many local Muslim beliefs and practices, and brought by local Muslim graduates from Middle Eastern universities.

No doubt, the coming of this new set of Muslim scholars has created tension between their tendency to homogenize the interpretation and practice of Islam, and the local Muslim populace’s inclination to cling to the indigenous practices of their religion, as also reflected several times in Thomas McKenna’s Muslim Rulers and Rebels: Everyday Politics and Armed Separatism in the Southern Philippines (2002).

You may add to this state of affairs the fact that there have been no extensive studies about the Jawi ever made in the country. An exception to this, to my knowledge, is the study series made of Dr. Samuel K. Tan, the most known of which are Surat Sug in two volumes and The Surat Maguindanao, and the journal articles by a Japanese scholar, Prof. Midori Kawashima, about the Jawi in the Ranao region.

Statement of the problem

This paper argues that the preservation and promotion of the Jawi script and documents can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative.


By “narrative” here we mean some kind of retelling, often in words, of something that happened (a story). It is not the story itself but rather the telling of the story. A story is just a sequence of events while narrative is the recounting of those events, perhaps leaving some occurrences out as they are from some perspective insignificant, and perhaps emphasizing others.  In short, narrative is a point of view on a story. In this paper, it is limited to the Muslims’ narrative of their story or stories of themselves and the narrative of their story or stories of others.

Shaping Muslim narrative

Going back to the Statement of the Problem, it is humbly argued that the preservation and promotion of the Jawi can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative in three fundamental ways: (1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles, (2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices, and (3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies.

(1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles: In Jawi khutbahs, dhikr and other religious documents, there is a clear affirmation of an understanding of Islamic principles (for example, tawhid  or Islamic monotheism) which is integrative of indigenous cultural elements, as embodied in the pandita figure and rituals. (Pandita is etymologically Sanskrit for “learned” and “knowledgeable” and it refers to the Muslim traditional spiritual guide.)

(2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices: Jawi epics and stories would introduce us to indigenous dresses such as malung (female lower-body dress) and tubaw (male headgear) as well as the kanduli (traditional food offering) which have been tolerated and even accommodated as native expression of Muslim code of attire and charity-giving, respectively.

(3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies: Among the most famous Islamic stories (kisa) is Beraparangan Muhammad ‘Ali Hanafiyyah, which is a local rendition of a popular kisa known as Hikayat Muhammad al-Hanafiyyah to Muslims in many parts of Southeast Asia. Found in different versions in the region, it is a narration of martyrdom of Amir Husayn, the second grandson of Prophet Muhammad. As the epic story graphically touches on such themes as the identity of combatants and non-combatants, rules of engagement in war, and giving water not only to the enemies but even to their riding animals, it illustriously depicts an epitome of Muslim chivalry.


As the conclusion, let me give the following observations: First, there has been insufficient study being conducted on the Jawi script and documents in Mindanao, much less any move to preserve and promote the same. Secondly, due to this lack of attention, they run the risk of being relegated to the dustbin of oblivion and extinction. Thirdly, the preservation and promotion of the Jawi script and documents can contribute to shaping national Muslim narrative in three fundamental ways: (1) a culturally integrative understanding of Islamic principles, (2) tolerance of diverse Muslim practices, and (3) emulation of chivalry in dealing with perceived enemies – something which is quite remote from terrorist acts associated with some violent groups in the country.

Thank you!

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Presidentiables’ Peace Policy in Mindanao


MAKATI CITY (26 April) – Attended by all the five presidential candidates, the third and last leg of the presidential debate series was held last Sunday at the Phinma University of Pangasinan in Dagupan City.

Following a town hall meeting format, the five presidential bets were asked questions from sectoral representatives whom the Commission on Elections (Comelec) media partner, ABS-CBN, flew in from different provinces. The issues raised by the selected sectoral representatives were Metro traffic and public transport, job security, health, foreign policy, basic public education, oversees Filipino workers (OFWs), and peace in Mindanao.

When asked by the concerned sectoral representative, Amina, who is an evacuee and divorcee with five children from Datu Piang, Maguindanao, on how they could put an end to conflicts in Mindanao, the presidentiables identified different causes of the conflicts, and offered corresponding solutions.


It was Sen. Miriam Defenso-Santiago’s turn to give the first answer, thus:

Una, we will dismantle the private armies. Merong private army na kaiba pa sa Armed Forces of the Philippines. Yan nanggagaling sa isang pulitiko diyan na maraming perang ninakaw sa gobyerno kaya, kaya niya magbuo ng isang army. At tapos itong army na ito, hindi na madisiplina dahil sinasabi nila nagtutulong naman daw sila sa gobyerno. Kaya yun ang unang-unang tutukan diyan sa iba na yan. Pangalawa, to stop the internecine conflict in Mindanao, we have to adapt their customary or traditional law into our Western style model of justice – of the justice system. For example, maganda naman yung mga ugali ng Tausog kaya ginawa namay municipal ordinance ng isang – ng isang bayan. Pagkatapos, meron silang sharia court, so maganda rin ang mga base. Kaya sa dalawang paraan na ito, maaaring magkamagkaka – magkatagumpay na tayo sa wakas at mahinto na ang giyera or terrorism sa Mindanao.”

Santiago identified (1) militarism of private armies and (2) conflict of laws (between the Philippine (Western) law and the Muslim customary or traditional law) as the cause of “the internecine conflict in Mindanao,” and in order to stop it, she is determined “to dismantle private armies” and “to adapt their customary and traditional laws into our Western style model of the justice system”.

By pinning her hope in these two solutions to put an end to “giyera (war) and terrorism,” the lady doctor of laws regrettably lumps together under the rubric of ‘terrorism’ all the diverse types of conflicts in Mindanao, whereas the main issue here is sovereignty-based; it is an issue of decolonization recognized in public international law; it is an issue of the inalienable right to self-determination of once a free nation or nations. This is apart from the other conflicts which are ideological in nature (such as with the armed leftists in the Philippines), terrorism in nature, or police cases of criminality and family feud. Moreover, the conflict of laws is just secondary in nature in comparison to the universal right to self-determination.


The administration and Liberal Party candidate Manuel Roxas II replied in this way:

Para kay Aling Amina, alam ko po ang inyong sitwasyon. Nakwento din po sa akin ni Ina Ambolodto, isang tulad mo, laki sa pagiging bakwit doon sa Maguindanao ang kanyang istorya kung saan talagang nawalan ng pag-asa. Kaya natin isinulong yung Comprehinsive Agreement on Bangsamuro, para magkaroon na nga ng kapayapaan. Alam natin, kung walang development, walang kapayapaan. Pero kung wala namang kapayapaan, wala ding progreso at development. Kaya’t dalawang – dalawang kilos po ito. Sa isang bahin, yung ating gobyerno, sinusulong ang usapin para sa kapayapaan sa lahat ng mga sektor lalung-lalo na sa MILF doon sa Mindanao. At sa kabilang sektor naman, sa kabilang bahin, yung development, yung imprastraktura. Yung imprastraktura na naparating natin sa Mindanao ngayon ay doble sa nakaraang limang taon kumpara sa lahat ng imprastraktura na naparating doon noong nakaraang labing-dalawang taon noong nakaraang dalawang pangulo. Ganun ang pagtingin natin sa Mindanao. Ito, may konkreto tayong ginawa. Ginawa natin yung Comprehensive Agreement, isinulong natin ang BBL. Sa kasawiang palad, hindi ito naipasa sa Senado at sa Kongreso. Pag ako po ay naging pangulo, isusulong ko po yan. Dahil peace without progress hindi mangyayari, pero progress without peace ay hindi rin mangyayari. Dapat panahon na na maisakatuparan ang pangako ng Mindanao.”

As can be gleaned from Roxas’ formula, “Alam natin, kung walang development, walang kapayapaan,” the cause of the conflict is simply underdevelopment, and the solution to this, accordingly, is two-pronged: advancement of peace to attain development, and pushing for development in order to achieve peace.


Incumbent Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte offered the following reaction:

“The war in Mindanao runs deep. You know, this may sound funny to you but when Magellan landed in Leyte, Islam was already planted firmly in Mindanao because they belong to a different (sultanate). Ang makakaintindi lang yong Sabah papuntang Malaysia. But you know, the conquerors and the Americans and the Spaniards, kinuha nila ang Mindanao which was already Islam. Kaya yong pumunta yong mga sundalo ng Espanyol pati Amerikano, giyera talaga. We have to talk and we have to correct the historical injustice. I tell you as a Mayor of the City of Davao… there will be no peace. There can never be a federal government until we talk to the NPAs which has been fighting us, I know, ‘70s estudyante na ako. Ngayon, 70 years old na ako. You know, it has to be a development but you have to make the peace there bago ka makagalaw. Pag hindi mo nakausap ‘to in peace talks, everything will fail. I would like to tell you and I’m telling now to the Republic of the Philippines, nothing will appease the Muslims, the Moro people, if you do not give them the BBL…”

From this reaction, Duterte identified the root of the conflict in Mindanao deep down in history, and for him, the solution is to correct the historical injustices by enacting into law the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which is the latest agreed upon legal instrument for expressing and exercising the right to self-determination of the concerned people.


Vice President Jejomar Binay addressed the question in this manner:

Alam po ninyo, Aling Amina, ako ho ay sanay na sanay makipag-usap. Bago ho ako napunta sa gobyerno, nakikipag-usap ako dun sa mga manggagawa at saka sa kanilang pinagta-trabahuan. Nung naging mayor po ako, yung mga hostage problems, nagkakaroon po ako ng resultang maganda. Ipagpapatuloy ko po, Aling Amina, katulad ng bawat Pilipino na tayo ho ay magkaroon ng talagang katahimikang, ah, na matagalan. Lasting peace, yun nga po ang sabi. Sa akin, sa aking palagay, yan hong lasting peace na yan eh makakamit kung mahaharap po natin ang problema ng kahirapan na naglipana po don sa inyong lugar. Yan po ang pinagmulan kung bakit ho meron hong gustong umalis, ito ho ay gumagamit ng dahas para ibagsak ang pamahalaan. Pero, ang puno’t dulo po nyan ay yung kahirapan. Sa aking pamumuno, aangat at aangat ang buhay po dun sa inyong lugar sa Mindanao, at yan ho ang magiging pangunahing dahilan kung paano ho tayo magkakaroon ng lasting peace sa inyong lugar. Oh, yun po ang aking pangako ho sa inyo. At nakatitiyak kayo, kasi ako ho aksyon agad, ginagawa ko, ha. I make decisions. As a leader, I am decisive. Mangyayari po yan.

From his answer above, it can be inferred that the Vice President simplistically pinpointed poverty as the problem, and accordingly, the sought-after lasting peace can be attained by addressing the problem of poverty.


Sen. Grace Poe responded to the query in this fashion:

“Amina, bilang isang babae, naiintindihan kita. Ang mga lalake, pasan siguro nila ang armas, pero pasan natin ang mundo sa ating balikat pag may gyera. Sapagkat tayo ang naiiwan para bantayan ang ating pamilya. Sa Mindanao, kapayapaan ay napakahalaga. Pero… doon sa mga terorista na nananakit o pumapatay, hindi natin dapat sila pagbigyan kung ayaw nilang makipagbalikan, makipag-usapan sa gobyerno. All-out war sa mga nagbabanta sa atin, pero dapat all-out development rin. Sa Maguindanao, wala pa yata kayong provincial hospital. Isa yan sa pangangailangan natin. Importante rin na pangalagaan natin ang imprastraktura sapagkat kung konektado kayo sa isa’t isa, mas madaling mababantayan ang mga teritoryo natin sa Mindanao. Ngayon, may problema, hindi lamang sa Pilipinas kundi sa Malaysia. Kung hindi ako nagkakamali, binara na nila yung border na hindi makakapunta doon ang ating mga kapatid sa Tawi-Tawi para mag-trade or barter. Kailangan magkaroon tayo ng bilateral talks para talagang sugpuin ang terorista sapagkat nawawala ng trabaho ang ating mga kababayan. Kung ako maging pangulo, ipagpapatuloy ko ang usapin kapaya – pang kapayapaan pero dapat kasama ang lahat. At hindi tayo dapat namimili ng iilang grupo lamang.”

As can be deduced from her offered solution of “all-out war” for those who refuse to negotiate with the government, as well as “all-out development” in the form of health services, infrastructure and trading opportunities, the cause of the conflict could be categorized as lack of social services.


In sum, the presidentiables’ peace policy in Mindanao can be given as follows:

Santiago: to dismantle private armies and adapt Muslim customary and traditional laws into the Philippine western style model of the justice system.

Roxas: to advance peace for development, as well as development for peace.

Duterte: to correct historical injustices.

Binay: to address the problem of poverty.

Poe: to provide social services.

The decision is yours, dear readers, which of these policies to buy comes the reckoning day.


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Dwindling Power, or Lack of Political Will?


MAKATI CITY (MindaNews/22 April) – Attending “Titayan: Bridging for Peace” Symposium-Workshop which formally kicked off yesterday in Ateneo de Davao University, Davao City, is yet another good opportunity to extensively discuss inclusive political transitions in the Bangsamoro at this critical moment of national leadership transition.

Culled from the Maguindanaon, Maranao and Iranun word for ‘bridge’ (titayan), the symposium-workshop is jointly organized by Friends of Peace and Ateneo de Davao University’s Al Qalam Institute for Islamic Identities and Dialogue in Southeast Asia and University Community Engagement and Advocacy Council (UCEAC), and it was formally opened by Fr. Joel Tabora, SJ, president of the host university.

In his 25-minute keynote address, Cardinal Orlando Quevedo, OMI, the Archbishop of Cotabato and Lead Convenor of Friends of Peace, passionately shared his personal understanding of the ‘apparent failure’ of the BBL, gains of the peace process, doable steps in the future, and most importantly, his personal vision of peace.

In the Panel Session 1 about the protection and implementation of peace agreements during political transitions even without legislation, Dr. Chetan Kumar of India and currently the Advisor on Peacebuilding for the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator in the country, gave his 20-minute presentation on global experiences of conserving peace agreements during political transitions, and it was followed by another presentation on good practices and lessons learned in ‘grounding’ peacebuilding in Mindanao by Prof. Rufa Cagoco-Guiam of Mindanao State University – Gen. Santos City Campus.

One thing worthy of reaction was the point raised after the first panel session by a political negotiations advisor and former chief negotiator of the GRP that one of the challenges facing the current peace process is the dwindling of the chief executive’s power in the existing more open democratic space and in the information age wherein every domestic issue has international repercussions due to the social media.

Accordingly, one of the theses of the peace process in the Philippines is its reliance on the power of the chief executive – the power of the President – to deliver and implement a peace agreement, and his thesis is that compared to the governments of Marcos and Cory, there is the gradual decay or the gradual lessening of the power of the chief executive if gleaned from the government-sponsored legislation.

In reaction to this, first of all, the government advisor preferred not to mention that the same chief executive was the chief agent – real or perceived – in unprecedentedly pressuring an ombudsman to resign, impeaching a chief justice, and putting the then incumbent senate president and other senators behind bars.

Second, as astutely pointed out by the first panelist, Dr. Kumar, the very same forces and elements that have allegedly been weakening the chief executive’s power could also be utilized by him or his government to wield more power and leverage, and demonstrate his sincerity and political will to push forward the peace process.

Third, has the power of the chief executive really dwindled to such a point that he could no longer certify the BBL draft submitted to the Congress as ‘urgent’ as he is supposed to do?

Given these three points, we cannot help but ask, “Is it indeed dwindling of the chief executive’s power, or sheer lack of political will and sincerity?”

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Mansoor L. Limba, PhD in International Relations, is a writer, educator, blogger, and translator (from Persian into English and Filipino) with tens of written and translation works to his credit on such subjects as international politics, history, political philosophy, Islamic finance, jurisprudence (fiqh), theology (‘ilm al-kalam), Qur’anic sciences and exegesis (tafsir), hadith, ethics, and mysticism. He can be reached at, or and]


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