Category: Comparison Essay
Islam in Philippines and Indonesia


Islam in the Philippines and Indonesia differs from the religious traditions of other countries with an extremist mood of society. Muslims living in South-East Asia demonstrate tolerance towards other religions and do not strictly follow the requirements of Islam. The differences among the Muslims in Southeast Asia and the Middle East are conditioned by social, cultural, and economic conditions. Different perceptions of the Islamic religion and its adaptation to the local culture divide these countries. Islam plays an important historical and economic role in the development of the Philippines and Indonesia, but each of these countries has the opposite perception of the Muslim faith.

Historical Background

Islam is not the dominant faith of the Philippines. It was imported to the country by Arabian merchants in 1210 and partly allocated on the particular island in the form of two sultanates. Indonesia faced Islam in the same century. Islam expansion was rapid and ubiquitous for Indonesia. The stimulus for Islam popularity in the Philippines was a desire of the inhabitants to save cultural identity, while an imperceptible penetration of Islam in the social environment of Indonesia was caused by economic conditions.

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The Spaniards invaded the Philippines in the 16th century and found Muslim state formations on Mindanao Island with the established hierarchy and relatively developed social organization. The Spaniards attempted to subjugate the Muslims and impose Christianity in an offensive manner. This treatment of the Spaniards only strengthened the basic role of Islam as the main ideology facilitating the repulsion to the colonial conquests. However, the Spaniards split the population into the Christianized Filipinos, north-located inhabitants, and the Muslims inhabiting the south of the Philippines.

Muslim religion of Indonesia was not spread by wars, but it started due to the contribution of the merchants, too. The first Muslim merchants who arrived in Indonesia did not intend to spread Islam in comparison to the intentions of the foreigners to capture the Mindanao. Muslim merchants were simply engaged in trade operations. The residing population of old Indonesia worshiped idols.

The next stage of Islam reformation in the Philippines’ history dealt with the arrival of the Americans in the late 19th century. They committed resettlement of the Christians in Mindanao, where they exploited natural resources of the island. Later, foreign companies also gradually penetrated the country and captured large territories. As a result, the Muslims lost control over their prior lands. This process continued even after the attainment of independence by the Philippines.

The Muslim population of Mindanao defended their religious identity from the visiting business representatives. Prolonged negotiations and offers initiated by the country's government led to the fact that an ultimate peace agreement on the establishment of the autonomous Muslim Mindanao was signed in 1996 and brokered by Indonesia. The President of the Philippines and a chairman of the island's leading organization discussed the planned measures for further development of the Mindanao. The government of the Muslim island has developed the Islamic education system based on the Koran’s precepts and has used Arabic to support interethnic communication with other Filipinos.

A true economic explanation of Islam introduction connects namely with trade as a decisive factor of influence on the development of Islam in Indonesia. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, one of the main sources of income of Malay Archipelago was trade. In order to increase the benefits and income level, local rulers were interested in the involvement of the greater number of Muslim merchants in the ports. Furthermore, Islam adoption has raised the prestige of the rulers in the opinion of local citizens as a ruler of the country has become God’s shadow in accordance with the Islam canons. Another reason for Islam adoption was the striving of coastal principalities to grow due to international trade. Easy acceptance of the Prophet religion by the Indonesians meant the right to obtain additional preferences and quotas in trade with Indian and Arab merchants.

The Muslims are about 5% of the common population of the Philippines and live mainly in the south. It should be noted that the relations between the representatives of Islam, Catholicism, and Christianity are strained due to the historic past. In addition, the desire of the Muslims to return certain forms of statehood intensifies this confrontation.

The Muslims are about 5% of the common population of the Philippines and live mainly in the south. It should be noted that the relations between the representatives of Islam, Catholicism, and Christianity are strained due to the historic past. In addition, the desire of the Muslims to return certain forms of statehood intensifies this confrontation.

In spite of the historical evidence of Islam adoption by the Indonesians, the fact remains that Islam became the leading religion in the country that is geographically located in the place distant from the centers of the Muslim religion origin. Particularly, the Southeast Asia where Indonesia is located has religious roots in Hindu and Buddhist civilizations. Modern Indonesia remains the world's leader by the number of the Muslim population. Approximately 250 million residents of the country are the followers of Islam.

After the comparison of the historical roots of the emergence and spread of Islam in the Philippines and Indonesia, it can be concluded that the common factors having contributed to Islam development in these societies are linked to the economy. Different socio-cultural, natural, and economic conditions of these countries were submitted to the outside influences. Although the Philippines already had Islamic beginnings before the arrival of foreign merchants, Indonesia was also accustomed to Islam in the same manner. The first and second historical examples demonstrate that Islam was firmly established in both countries. When this religion was tried to be eradicated in the Philippines, Indonesia adopted new religious norms to stimulate economic growth. However, the autonomous island of the Philippines also had the opportunity for development promotion on the basis of the religious views distinguished from the common part of the country's population.

Peculiarities of Islam Perception

The main peculiarity of Islamization of Indonesia is multiethnicity. Over 350 nationalities located in Indonesia are loyal to Islam. They bind and supplement it with the ethical features inherent to specific living conditions. Digestion of religious knowledge by each ethnic group of Indonesia was not conducted by simple copying only but the creative review of the religious traditions and their adaption to the historical experience and specific conditions of the region. The Indonesians never imitate the Koran provisions. For example, Islam of the Western Indonesians absorbed the law heritage; Java’s Islam faced the Hindu and Buddhist legacy; Muslim religion of Sulawesi assimilated local animistic beliefs and worship. Furthermore, Islam’s penetration in various regions of modern Indonesia differed by depth.

The historical path of the Philippines led to the confrontation of the representatives of Islam and other religions, namely Christianity. This opposition concerns the ethnic issue associated with the nation’s formation. Modern Muslims of Mindanao do not concern the Philippines as the country of their origin due to the difference in religious adherence.

Islamic population of the Philippines continued to struggle for their cultural identity and authenticity of religion. Therefore, Islam became the symbol and source of energy for the defense of their ethical positions and thus acquired an important value of the historical heritage, which inextricably involves significant efforts of their ancestors to win independence and peace for the people and their Muslim religion. Their attitude to Islamic is steady and respective. Therefore, they retain the traditions and views of Islam according to the values and provisions of the Koran.

Perception of the Koran by the Indonesians has brought spiritual focus, devotion, honesty, and respect for authorities to the ideological system of the Indonesians. In turn, creative review of the Muslim traditions by indigenous Indonesians enriched the Middle Eastern culture with the elements of religious and spiritual traditions of the Indonesian community. These elements include the high tolerance to religions, harmonious love of nature, respect of ancestors, and a heightened sense of social community. These qualities are highly appreciated by traditional Islam. The Muslim faith was organically intertwined in the authentic culture of Indonesians. Islam has become an internal element of the social system of Indonesia.

Islam is supported by the existence of Muslim schools in the Philippines. However, this positive fact for the Islamic population is accompanied by the study of the English and Philippine languages for the integration of the Muslims into the Philippines’ community. The educational system of the country is directed at assimilation of the national identity of the citizens. The rebellious features of Mindanao have become increasingly stronger over the years. This obstacle incites religious and ethnic conflicts. The existence of extremist groups equates them with the peaceful Muslims in the opinions of the rest of Filipinos. The confessional question is still accompanied by a belligerent approach.

Nevertheless, Islam is one of the main factors that differ from the views of Muslims and Catholics in the Philippines. Faith is an important value for the Muslims defending it for several centuries. Social and military events of the island affect the residents of the Islamic faith. This self-contained part of the Philippines’ population is already used to binding social and political events of the country and its autonomy to the Muslim ethnic features. It is important to note that the Muslims of Mindanao try to attract the attention of the world to the Muslim community and support national identity and Islamic adherence of the inhabitants of the island. The Philippines do not share the Islamic views of their autonomy. In comparison with Mindanao, Indonesia properly included Islam in the set of cultural values. For the society of Philippine Mindanao, Islam is a native and typical religion of their ancestors and national pride, while Indonesian Islam is the acquired religion which has become an arsenal of better communication of the nation with the outside environment and an opportunity to obtain socio-economic benefits.

Islam Tangibles and Local Expansion

Indonesia is the archipelago with thousands of mosques. Indonesian mosques have a variety of sizes and shapes. They demonstrate amazing beauty and various colors. One of the unique structures dedicated to the Islamic religion is the Istiqlal Mosque. It is located in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Istiqlal Mosque has the largest size in Southeast Asia. Moreover, this kind of Islamic tangibles is the third largest mosque in the world.

One of the oldest buildings of Islamic architecture and Muslim culture is the cathedral mosque of Demak established in the 15th century. It is located on the island of Java. Sumatra’s mosques have a characteristic three-tiered roof as the evidence of folk architecture. Kalimantan Mosque accommodates approximately 5,000 individuals. One of the most extraordinary mosques in the world locates in the state of Malang. This building combines Indonesian, Indian, Turkish and Chinese style of Islamic architecture. Indonesia has another famous mosque of Raya. It has survived during the massive tsunami in 2004 that damaged the entire Banda Aceh, one of the Indonesian cities.

It should be noted that mixed cultural features the Muslim tradition are inherent even to the material values of Islam in Indonesia. The multicultural society of the country has brought their ethnic traditions to Islam. In contrast to the Philippines, where Islam is associated with the rebellious Muslim Mindanao, Indonesia promotes Islam in a specific religious manner.

The Philippines also have their cultural heritage associated with Islam. For example, Manila, the Philippine capital, includes the region that is populated mostly by the Islamic followers. This part of the capital has the Golden mosque as one of the main mosques in the Philippine. The preaching in the mosques is carried out in the state language. Parishioners have Indian, African or Arab origin.

Although the Muslims of the Philippines, especially the residents of the capital, speak different languages and belong to different nationalities, they have special and official language understandable by all citizens. Now, these people are a minority among the Christian country. They appeared for Manila’s society as the migrants from the south of the Philippines. Nevertheless, these people strive to maintain the stable condition of the Muslim mosques.

Mindanao is the concentration of the Muslim culture among all the Philippines. The largest city of the island is Davao City. The influence and presence of the Muslims in Davao are weak. The city has mosques and Islamic centers, but they are located throughout the Philippines. The Samal Island neighboring Davao is the historical location of the religious Muslim people. Commonly, the Islam presence here is not perceptibly than in other major cities of the Philippines. Herein, the country has more similarities with Indonesia contained various tangibles and valuable establishments of the Muslin culture.

Filipino Muslims demonstrate deep Islamic adherence mostly in the province. Centered and large cities with the developed infrastructure and expanded economic connections are not so focused on the compliance to the Islam rules as a local community due to the long-term interdependence from the foreign business partners with distinguishing religion devotion.

Muslim provinces are reputed as unsafe due to continuing insurgent groups. Such outside authentic communities demonstrate deeper and more diligent devotion to Islam. These tendencies do not inherent to the Indonesian provinces as the religion characteristics of this society combine Islam and original traditions of the cultural behavior.

Certain tangibles of the Islamic religion are manifested in the cultural environment of Indonesia and the Philippines in a different manner. If the Indonesian Islam is supported by many residents through the prism of their ethnic origin, the social stratification of the Philippines due to religion difficulties is the cause of the uneven perception of the Islamic faith throughout the country. Deeper foundations of Islam are determined in the locations less exposed to outside influences and foreign religions. These specific circumstances form the peculiarities of the Philippines and Indonesia. However, the Philippines pay much more attention to the maintenance of Christianity.


Different historical circumstances and the peculiarities of growth of the Philippines and Indonesia affected the present status of Islam in these countries. A conceptual value of religion for the Muslims from these countries is determined by the role of this religion for the development of the particular society. The Philippines and Indonesia have different perceptions and attitudes towards Islam, but each country undoubtedly confirms the value of Islam at the modern stages of the communities' development.

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