PEACETALK: The different Islamic schools of thought in the Philippines

(Disclaimer: The author wishes to highlight the fact that there are many manifestations of how Islam is understood and practiced as a way of life. However, unlike the Christians who cannot pray together under one prayer leader or minister except in cases of ecumenical worship services, Muslims of different schools of thought can pray under one Imam, regardless of madhab, Manhaj or school of thought. This article seeks only to show the different schools of thought in the Philippines based on observations, interviews and researches conducted by the author. Further information can be gathered from reputable books written as well as from online resources)


Contrary to positions established and pronounced by many scholars and thinkers, Islam is a mosaic not a monolith. Mosaic in the sense that there are many schools of thought in Islam and not one singular thread of understanding. This is manifested by the Prophet Muhammad’s saying “Differences in opinion among my Ummah is a mercy.”

The Amman Message (Arabic: رسالة عمان‎‎) is a statement calling for tolerance and unity in the Muslim world that was issued on 9 November 2004 (27th of Ramadan 1425 AH) by King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan. Subsequently, a three-point ruling was issued by 200 Islamic scholars from over 50 countries, focusing on issues of defining who is a Muslim, excommunication from Islam (takfir) and principles related to delivering religious edicts (fatāwa). It recognized the diversity of schools of thought in Islam as well as emphasized that there should be mercy and tolerance among the different schools of thought.

In the Philippines, this diversity of the schools of thought can be observed, as there are several schools of thought of Islam in the Philippines which can be described as follows:

  1. Classical Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaah (ASWJ) – this arrived during the early stages of Islam in Southeast Asia, brought through travelling merchants this was often interspersed with Sufism. Adherents are required to follow one school of law (madhab) as a guidance in their legal and daily affairs. Generally, in Southeast Asia, most adherents of ASWJ follow the Shafii school of law.  Examples are the Sabeil al-Muhtadien and Darul Makhdumin Madrasah located in Zamboanga, Basilan Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
  2. Sufism- arrived during the early stages of Islam in Southeast Asia, brought through travelling merchants this was often interspersed with classical ASWJ. Representative of this was the makhdumins (the first missionaries of Islam in the Philippines). Examples are the Darul Abdulqadir Jilani Dergah in Talon Talon and the Maharlika Blue Mosque community.
  3. Shiism- the first Shias to arrive together with the Sufis were originally Ismailis and Keysaniyas (earlier offshoots of Shiism) who eventually blended with the orthodox (ASWJ) Muslims, later day Shias came during the late 1970’s during the triumph of the Islamic revolution in Iran. Examples are the Masjid Imam Mahdi in Suterville and the Masjid Karbala In Marawi City.
  4. Indigenous Islam- also refered to as Ilmu kamaasan /Ilmu kamatoahan/Ilmu sa Matoah Ilmu Minatoah (knowledge of the elders,) is an indigenized amalgamation of Islam from the preceding schools of thought and local cultural customs, this is actually contextualized and simplified according to how the elders have understood Islam and the process of Islamization of the communities. These are normally communities that are located in far rural areas.
  5. Salafi Manhaj. The Salafi Manhaj owes to the term Salaf-as-saleh, originally a school of thought coming from the Hanbali Madhab, its methodology was further developed by Muhammad ibn abdulwahab and by later scholars in Saudi Arabia. This school of thought (manhaj) presupposes that they are following the early followers of Islam (Salaaf as-Saleh). This is the current predominant school of thought in the Gulf cooperating countries (GCC). They are also considered to be part of the Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaah community. The difference is that classical ASWJ can be Sufis and Sufis can be classical ASWJ, while Salafis cannot be Sufis and vice versa. There are other notable characteristics that can be found in other articles. This school of thought is notable for active propagation and conversion of people to Islam (Balik Islam phenomenon), marked intolerance for interfaith, and intrafaith engagements and intolerance for Muslims following other schools of thought. Examples of these groups are the Mahad Moro, Mahad Salamat and Mahad Quran wal hadith (all in Zamboanga city), Mercy foundation (In Manila and Davao) Al-Maarif Educational Center in Baguio. Due to widespread support from Saudi Arabia as well as returning overseas contract workers, this is slowly overtaking the ASWJ community in terms of numbers and communities influenced, including the Regional Darul Ifta of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao.
  6. Jamaat tabligh – the Jamaat tabligh is a movement that started in South Asia aiming to revitalize Muslims’ practice of Islam, more like a revivalist movement. Politically neutral and tolerant, they are characterized by Khuruj (regular traveling from one mosque to another) to call people back to the mosque and pray. The most moderate, apolitical and pacifist among the different Muslim groups. The are found in many mosques, most prominent is the Jamaat of Ustad Mahdi Batua of Quiapo Golden Mosque and in Echague. They are well known for their practice of Khuruj (going from one mosque to another to call people to pray) and the Juhur Ijtimah, an annual gathering of members worldwide.
  7. Nurculuk or the Resale Noor Movement- the Nurculuk or the Resale Noor Movement is an Islamic Movement that calls people back to Islam. The basis of unity of this group is the multi-volume compilation of articles and books called Resale Noor (epistle of light) which is a voluminous commentary on the Quran and Hadith by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th Said Nursi’s main theme in his works is answering modern man’s major crisis – the absence of certainty of Faith. The Resale Noor is a monumental work that aims to address this. Said Nursi says that all suffering in the world is because of three things, ignorance, poverty and misunderstanding. In his opinion this can be healed by knowledge, service and understanding others. This is elucidated in his magnum opus as a guide to Muslims. This group is active in many parts of the country and has trained many educators. Notable among them is the Risale Nur Institute in Cagayan de Oro City and their dershanes in different cities in the Philippines. They are also responsible for publishing many Islamic books for use in elementary, high schools and college subjects, tested in ARMM during the term of ARMM CHED Regional Secretary Norma Sharief
  8. Hizmet or the Fethullah Gullen Movement, founded by Turkish scholar Fethulah Gullen, their principles actually come from the Resale Noor, except that in the present political context, the Hizmet movement has been listed as a terrorist organization by the Turkish Government. However, it is important to note that the Hizmet movement focuses on the principles of service to Humanity (Hizmet) and Dialogue and cooperation as a mechanism of understanding others. They are well known to have established several schools in the Philippines that is considered world standard in Science and mathematics education.
  9. The Ahmadiyah. Considered by Most Muslim groups as heretics and non-Muslims, Ahmadis (as they call themselves) believe in the major tenets of Islam with the exception that they believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, is the last prophet and the promised Mahdi/messiah, of which Majority of Muslim sects disagree due to the concept of the finality of Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him). This community consists of expatriates and predominatly Badjaos who are normally in the lowest social strata in Moro society.

It is important to note with the exception of the Shia and the Ahmadiyyah community, all other groups consider themselves Sunni with relative minor differences in approaching their understanding of Islam. With the exception of the Ahmadiyyah, all of the other groups are recognized by the Amman Message as Muslims due to the proximity of their major tenets of belief. Both Shiahs and Ahmadiyyahs have experienced harassment, persecution and acts of violence at times resulting to death from Salafi adherents in several cases and instances.

The Presidential Decree 1083 also known as the Code of Muslim Personal Law in the Philippines promulgated by President Marcos in 1972 emphasizes recognizes the Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaah (ASWJ) and recognizes that the madhab practiced by Muslims in the Philippines is the Shafii Madhab which is the predominant school of thought and madhab practiced in Southeast Asia.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. PeaceTalk is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her views on peace in Mindanao. Prof. Yusof Roque Morales is The currently Commissioner representing Muslim Minorities (Sama Tribe) at the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and a member of the Board of Advisers of Al-Qalam Institute for Muslim Identities, Ateneo de Davao University. He is also a Consultant for Muslim and IP concerns of the Social Development Council, Ateneo De Zamboanga University and adviser to the Indigenous Peoples Council of Leaders of Zamboanga city and of Salaam Ateneo de Manila University.  He is currently a visiting lecture in several service academies and schools in the uniformed services of the Philippines)


The Amman Message, the Royal Aaal Bayt Institute of Jordan,  9 November 2004

“al-Azhar Verdict on the Shia”. From . . Archived from the original on 13 June 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-05. Accessed 16 June 2017 accessed 16 June 2017

Gullen Movement Accessed 16 June 2017

History of the Ahmadiyya Community”. Human Rights Watch. 2005.  accessed 16 June 2017

Meaning of the Salafi Manhaj.  accessed 16 June 2017

Sejarah dan Budayah Syiah Di Asia Tenggarah (History of Shiahs in Southeast asia), ed Dicky Sofjan, publ ICRS,Universitas Gadjah Madah, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, 2013

“Tableeghi Jamaat: all that you know and don’t”. Khalid Hasan (13 August 2006).Daily Times. Retrieved 21 January 2010

Who is Bediuzzaman Said Nursi? Hayrat Vakfi (the First religious foundation)  accessed 16 June 2017