Food, Music, Southeast Asia


Since Eid’l Fitr will already be on June 15, allow me to share with you this article on our Muslim brothers and sisters.


Southeast Asia is known as both the “Malay Archipelago” and the “Muslim Archipelago.” It is known as such because some Southeast Asian countries, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Brunei all practice Islam. However, in the Philippines, the Islam communities are concentrated more in Mindanao, specifically in the southernmost provinces, such as Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte, Lanao del Sur, Sultan Kudarat, Sulu, and Basilan.

The spread of Islam in Asia was rooted from trading. Through the Silk Road, valuable goods, such as spices, were traded between China and Arabia. China had the most developed civilization during the time of Prophet Muhammad. Through this trade, Muslim traders who went to China adopted their Chinese names.


During the Spanish civilization, the Spaniards made a conclusion that the Philippines did not have civilization so they had to spread Christianity throughout the country and enslave the so-called “indios.” However, the manner of how Christianity was spread in the Philippines was too bloody since it dealt with a series of battles  (through cross and swords) between the Filipinos and Spaniards. Islam was rather spread in a peaceful way since it was not just spread through a series of trading businesses. A Sultanate was also formed, which was solely governed by the locals. This signified that the Philippines already had civilization, even before the Spaniards came.

The southernmost part of the Philippines was one of the areas which was not colonized by the Spaniards. According to the crusade theory, the Spaniards attempted to colonize such area but the Muslims were able to resist colonization, not only because of the Sultanate’s existence. The Muslims fought against the Spaniards because of patriotism or love for the homeland. This signified that nationalism did not only exist in the late 1800s during the time of Emilio Aguinaldo.

Because of the Muslims’ resistance from the Spaniards, they were tagged as the Moors, or “Los Moros” in Spanish, who were dismissed as savages and ignorants. This is the reason why most Muslims are still discriminated here in the Philippines. There was even a time that an all-out war was declared in Muslim Mindanao in the year 2000, which was rather unjust and discriminatory. The 9/11 bombing of the World Trade Center New York in the year 2001 was blamed on Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, which was a terrorist group from the Middle East. History repeated itself in 2017 when a war happened in Marawi City, which did not only kill thousands of Muslims. Many civilians were also killed during the war. Also, several wars involving the ISIS happened during the early to mid-2010s in European countries such as the United Kingdom and France, which also killed thousands of civilians. While these bombings often involved Muslims and Muslim countries, it is unjust to generalize that Muslims are terrorists. However, based on the past discussions, these terrorism happen because some Muslims tend to misquote the teachings from the Qur’an. In effect, the ISIS abused the use of teachings from the Qur’an to their political advantage and at the expense of the lives of fellow Muslims.


Islam is often misconceived as a new religion established by Prophet Muhammad while Christianity existed earlier than Islam. However, both religions were rooted from the time of Abraham. While the Christians have Jesus Christ as a human representation of God, the Islams have Allah, which proved that both Christianity and Islam are monotheistic. Other teachings found in both Muslim and Christianity are love, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. Muslims do not discriminate against people, no matter what religion they belong to. As a result, atheists are not misjudged and discriminated against.

The origin of Islam is spread through oral tradition. Oral traditions may either be in the form of songs, poems, tarsilas, and khutbah. Tarsilas are genealogical accounts where the person’s Muslim roots are traced while khutbahs are religious sermons.

While Islam is mainly a patriarchal religion, people are discouraged to humiliate women, whether in a verbal manner or through other means. People responsible for doing so may be killed. Shame or “hiya” is another principle in Islam. An Islam may be invited for a meal but he/she has to be requested for three times before he/she accepts the offer.


The Islamic civilization made a lot of major contributions in the academe. Computer science and information technology, which often dealt with algorithms, were rooted in algebra, which was commonly used during the Islam civilization. Modern medicine was rooted from Abyssinia, while the concept of surgery was written by Muslim scholars.

While Western classical and popular art cultures remain dominant, Muslim art cultures are alive, especially in the Philippines and Indonesia. Both the Philippines and Indonesia associate gong music with Muslim cultures, with Indonesia having the Javanese Gamelan and the Philippines having the Kulintang. While Christianity had the tendency to acculturate indigenous art cultures, Muslims mix their cultures with the existing culture of the indigenous people so no culture is watered down by the Muslims. While Christians frown upon elaborated art in emphasizing the virtue of simplicity, Islamic art is rather colorful and elaborate. Most of the Islamic art is seen on wooden frames of kulintangs, agungs, and gandingans, as well as on Islamic clothing. Most of the clothing worn by the Muslims are adorned with sequins, especially hijabs worn by women. The wearing of hijabs is often misconceived as Arab clothing. However, it was rather stated in the Qur’an that “private parts” should be covered, which included the ladies’ hair.

In terms of food, the Muslims only eat food which are considered “Halal,” which do not include pork. While pork is considered dirty for them, it is also unhealthy due to high fat and bad cholesterol content. Through this practice, they are not only able to practice their faith. They also ensure that everything they eat is beneficial for their health.


In the modern-day Philippines, Muslims are often stereotyped as dealers of pirated copies of movie DVDs in Quiapo and budget malls. However, Muslims are more than just DVD dealers. In Muslim communities, such as the Muslim town in Quiapo, they sell various merchandise, such as Muslim clothing (e.g., hijab) and food. The bazaar area in Greenhills Shopping Center is even dominated by the Muslims who do not only sell clothing. They also sell accessories made of real pearls (mostly from their hometowns in Southern Mindanao) and precious stones.


Even in modern times, most of the Muslims still experience discrimination, not only in mainstream media. They sometimes fail to gain access to public transportation, because of how the mainstream media manipulated most of the Filipino citizens. How will be able to end discrimination against the Muslims? Aside from the regular peace talks, the change may start with the business sector, like what the management of Greenhills Shopping Center did. In NAIA Terminal 3, there are facilities specially made for Muslims, such as prayer rooms and water closets equipped with foot basins for washing. As for the existing Moro problem in Southern Philippines, solidarity concerts may be held where various types of music are performed. Apart from solidarity concerts, Open Kulintang jam sessions may be held where non-Muslims may join in the instrument playing activity.



This article was originally submitted for my SEA 30 class. This was published with minor revisions.


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