Islam’s Quiet Birthday Celebration in Simunul

Islam’s Quiet Birthday Celebration in Simunul
By Red Batario with additional reporting from G Sevilla Alvarez

TUBIG INDANGAN, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi (MindaNews / 8 Nov) – Away from the glare of publicity and the pomp and pageantry of most festivals, residents of the island of Simunul and other towns in Tawi-Tawi province November 7 quietly marked Islam’s 1380 arrival here in colorful but solemn ceremonies that were both honorific and remembrance for the missionary who indelibly changed the face and shape of Mindanao.

Performing the pangalay dance in Simunul Island, Tawi-tawi during celebrations for the 632nd anniversary of the coming of Islam to the Philippines 7 November 2012. Photo: Red Batario for MindaNewsThe four pillars, also called “hags,” are all that remain of the simple wooden mosque built on the island by Sheik Karimul Makhdum whose grave is sacred shrine and beacon of faith for Muslims in the Philippines and other countries especially those in the Southeast Asian region.

People disembarking from wooden motor launches from Bongao and other parts of Tawi-Tawi were excitedly chattering about the day’s celebrations and a chance to reconnect with kith and kin, their exuberance suffused by the intensity of their faith.

Even while in the Sitio Lomboy wharf in Bongao, where the mini-exodus to the island mostly emanated, whole families, groups of teenagers, school children, athletes competing in a sports fest, employees let off from work because of the one-day holiday, wore expectant and, if the imagination is let loose, almost beatific faces.

Said Patra L. Manzur, principal of the Tubig-Indangan National High School and one of those together with other teachers who, as part of the celebration, performed an exquisite dance ethnic to Tawi-Tawi, said that she was very happy about being part of the festivities and honoring both Islam and the memory of Sheik Makhdum. But she also rues the fact that only those from the region seem to be celebrating.

It is a lament echoed by Simunul Mayor Abdel Aziz Abdurakman who said that the 2012 celebration was not mentioned at all in the news despite the national press coming at his invitation to the island. “Perhaps you in the media are not yet ready to talk about us or significant Islamic festivals like this,” he jestingly told this writer.

“So kami-kami na lang muna (So we’ll have this celebration just among us here in Tawi-Tawi),” adding that he would of course be very happy if more people would come to Simunul for Islam’s 632nd founding anniversary and other activities as well.

The mosque in Simunul, Tawi-tawi. MindaNews photo by Red Batario/CCJD

Lack of visitors from other parts of the Philippines notwithstanding, the Sama, Tausug, Badjao, Maranao, Maguindanao, Visayan, Tagalog who crowded the parade grounds of the Tubig Indangan National High School to watch the dances, performances, athletic competitions and, later in the afternoon, the speeches of politicians were seemingly immune to the changing vagaries of nature that alternated between sudden downpours and blazing sunshine.

They even stayed to watch and listen to what ARMM Regional Governor Mujiv Hataman had to say during his two-hour stay in Simunul which was that the regional government will always support the efforts of the people of Tawi-Tawi.

Hataman, who, when talking about his life as a revolutionary and its parallels with the struggles of Islam nearly choked with emotion, also handed out P32,000 “as bonus” to a group of teachers who performed a dance number.

It served as a striking counterpoint to the almost impatient clamor from the public for the resumption of local dances, especially the pangalay performed on top of an earthen jar by lithe girl of about 19.

From the festival grounds, the casual observer can see the Sheik Makhdum shrine where people are also steadily coming and going, a testament perhaps to how the spiritual and secular in Simunul can happily co-exist.

“It is like finding the balance in one’s self and in how we relate with other people. Islam, like other faiths, strives to do that. What we’ve witnessed in Simunul is an expression of faith and a celebration of life and what it means to be Muslim,” said Musa M. Aming, Chairman of the Board of the Tarbilang Foundation based in Bongao.

It was the witching hour, a time when the early darkness of night is trying to smother the day’s last strays of sunlight, that the celebrations came to an end and the exhausted but exhilarated faithful together with a sprinkling of visitors boarded the same motor launch for the trip back to Bongao.

It was also a time to think how wonderful it was to be part of something that compressed 632 years of Islamic history in the Philippines into the ephemeral embrace of just one day.  (Red Batario with additional reporting from G Sevilla Alvarez)