Mindanao Muslims seek gov’t help to preserve 634-year-old mosque in Tawi-Tawi
SIMUNUL, Tawi-Tawi, Philippines—Through the help of residents here, the Sheikh Karimul Makhdum mosque, the oldest historical and religious landmark in the country, was able to survive the elements for more than 600 years.
Muhulis Bayo, 56 and president of the Sheikh Karimul Makhdum Foundation, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that since the mosque was built, there were only two government efforts that “sincerely tried to protect and preserve” the historical site – in 1980 during the Marcos government and recently when Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao Mujiv Hataman ordered the release of P1 million for rehabilitation works.
In 2011, Maguindanao Representative Simeon Datumanong passed House resolution 1105 pushing to declare the shrine as a national heritage. In May 2013, President Aquino signed into law Republic Act 10573, declaring the Sheikh Karimal Makhdum mosque in Tubig Indangan, Simunul town as the site of one of the oldest existing Muslim houses of prayer in the Philippines and as a national historical landmark of the country.
But villagers here fear that whatever remains of the mosque would be lost if the national government does not intervene to help in its preservation.
Ajam Marinita Abduljafar, 75, said the remaining parts of the mosque have been gradually diminishing.
“What we have now are these four pillars or posts, some forgotten graveyards and old stones,” she said.
Abduljafar said she grew up witnessing how the mosque was — “with coconut thatch as roof, big posts as foundation.”
“During our time, everything was made of wood and light materials. It was during the Marcos administration when the mosque became concrete, but the big posts were salvaged and protected with clothes and glass,” she said.
“They have been giving importance to old buildings and houses in Luzon and Visayas. Those (houses and buildings) were built in 1700 and 1800, ours dates back 1300 yet it seems government is too slow,” Abduljafar’s lamented.
Sherhaina Paslangan, a school teacher of Bakong Elementary School here, said residents of Tubig Indangan and nearby villages “give whatever amount we have to help preserve the mosque.”
Those who do not have money, they volunteer in the repair works, according to Paslangan.
As a teacher, Paslangan said she made sure that her students knew the history of the mosque.
The mosque was built by Sheikh Karimul Makhdum, an Arab missionary who set foot in Simunul in 1380.
Simunul Mayor Nazif Ahmad Abdurahman said Makhdum built the mosque “almost 200 years before the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan in Cebu in 1521.”
What remains of the original mosque are its four pillars made from Ipil hardwood or Intsia Bijuga — which is known for being naturally termite-resistant.
The pillars survived 634 years of being exposed to the sun, salt water and rain.
“What we did before was to cover it with glass but the National Historical Commission advised us to remove the glass because it will accumulate moisture,” Bayo said.
Except for one, the pillars are now covered with white cloth. Islam believers embrace the exposed pillar as they pray.
Makhdum was buried in a site near the mosque. But his tomb is also facing disintegration as residents have started erecting houses, kitchens and even toilets.
Hataman confirmed to the Philippine Daily Inquirer that P1 million was released for the rehabilitation of the mosque. He said the foundation requested for a P10 million for rehabilitation and restoration, “but it is still under review.”
“And through the ARMM’s Regional Legislative Assembly, a board was created to manage the Makhdum mosque to ensure its utmost protection and preserve whatever is existing,” he added.
Bayo said the National Historical Commission has earmarked P15 million for preservation and a construction of a new mosque.
“The old mosque is now a museum. It will be untouched and everything is preserved. Another mosque just near the shrine and tomb will be erected,” Bayo said.
Bayo, however, said the construction of a new mosque would depend on the budget release.
In the meantime, he said, “the Commission advised us to continue with the way how we preserve the mosque.”