9 things to do in Quiapo’s Muslim Town
Once known as Manila’s “Old Downtown,” Quiapo is a place of stark contrasts: East and West, foreign and local, original and fake, modern and traditional, religion and superstition, mosques and churches.
Filipino Catholics famously celebrate their devotion to the Black Nazarene, but perhaps you’re not aware that just across Quiapo Church, thousands of Muslims live a life of sacrifice, fasting, and prayer in a less-heard-about Muslim town.
Before the Spanish arrived in Manila to make it the country’s capital, the Muslims owned the city. Rajah Sulayman was the last ruler of the Kingdom of Maynila. He died fighting the Spaniards in 1575, the year when Spanish colonization began in the Philippines. The Muslims were Manila’s pioneer settlers. Now, they are reduced to only a fraction of the city’s population.
When Moro tribes in Mindanao were displaced due to anti-Marcos insurgencies in the 60s, they fled to Manila and sought shelters in Quiapo, as though foreigners in the land they once owned.
On one side of Quezon Boulevard, the Quiapo Church is illuminated by prayer candles and the wide LED screen in front of it. All roads seem to lead to the church, as most signboards from jeepneys have its name, signifying it as an important landmark in Manila.
But on the other side of Quezon Boulevard, past the art deco-inspired Times Theater, a thriving Muslim town sits between the streets of Arlegui and Globo de Oro. Unlike the church, the Golden Mosque is hidden deep within Quiapo, surrounded by shanties and rubbish-covered streets.
To discover and learn more about the rich culture of Filipino Muslims, consider doing the following activities when you visit Muslim Town:
Refresh your palate with exotic halal foods (and try the halal burgers and fries)
Halal restaurants offering affordable dishes can be found side by side in Quiapo, in karinderya, turo-turo, and even air-conditioned restaurants.
Some of the dishes you should try are bakas (grilled tuna), atay ng manok na may parpar, adobong atay ng kalabaw, and coconut-milk dishes such as udang (shrimp), pesuwanan karabaw (carabao meat), and inaluban na tilapia.
In Elizonde St., you can find the Pamanganan House of Malaysian Halal Foods. Established in 2009, its unique fusion of intercultural Muslim cuisine with influences from Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, and even Thai and Korean flavors, has attracted important persons such as business leaders, foreign diplomats, and politicians. Over the years, even non-Muslims have dined here.
Yusoph Mando, the owner of Pamanganan, said that one sure way to present Islamic culture to non-Muslims is through food.
“You might be asking, ‘of all places, why in Quiapo?’ Because Muslims are here. I have no choice but to help correct the misconception of the non-Muslims toward the Muslims. As a concerned Filipino and as a concerned Muslim citizen, dapat may role kang gagampanan sa paglatag ng pundasyon sa tamang katuruan ng Islam.”
The most challenging part for a halal restaurant like Pamananan is how to acquire certified halal ingredients in a community where residents don’t care what halal is.
Mando only outsources certified halal spices from Malaysia. They are shipped to Zamboanga and delivered directly to his kitchen. For his meat, he only gets it from an animal farm in Nueva Ecija.
“[If eating haram foods is only] for personal consumption, I am answerable to my Lord. But to call people to eat at my restaurant if it’s not halal, I am answerable for that. I want to cater to the needs of the Muslim community. I want to offer something new about halal cuisine, in nature and in spirit,” Mando said.
But if you want to try halal cuisine but still eat food you’re familiar with, go to Moud Halal Restaurant in Globo de Oro St. They offer our favorite Western foods like burger, fries, and spaghetti that are certified halal. Also try Moud’s roasted chicken sprinkled with authentic Muslim spices.
Buy authentic Maranao herbs and spices
Influenced by Malaysian and Indian flavors, the majority of Maranao dishes use turmeric, curry, sibujing paste, and coconut milk, giving way to rich and milky dishes with a hint of spice. From grocery stores, buy palapa na sibuyas, palapa na niyog, kalawag (ginger powder), curry powder, turmeric powder, and tobacco nganga.
Check out colorful Muslim fashion
Staying true to halal and their vow of purity, Muslims wear conservative garments since they believe that the human body is a sacred dwelling.
They wear a mukna, a dress worn for praying in the mosque; abaya, long and flowy casual garments; Indian dresses, usually worn by high-profile Muslim women; kumbong , a head scarf for concealing the hair, neck, and nape; and niqab, a head covering that only shows the eyes.
Malong, a one-piece garment with intricate oriental designs, is worn either by either men or women by wrapping it around their bodies. Men wear kimon, loose knee-length slacks, when entering the mosque. Muslims pray on a sajadan, a carpet bearing geometric or floral designs.
Read the Quran
If we really want to fully understand the concepts of Islam, what more fitting way to do it than read the sacred book that explains it all: the Quran. Traditionally, the Quran is written in Arabic, but now you can easily find English or Tagalog translations of the holy writings.
See how tobacco is processed the old-fashioned way
One good way to discover a place is by roaming its streets. Just in front of the Golden Mosque, an old man was busy twisting and applying oil to sun-dried tobacco leaves with his bare hands. He sells traditional tobacco cigarettes or tobacco nganga, an ancient medicinal gum, commonly used by elderlies. Despite the abundance of modern cigarettes and medicine, some old people prefer to smoke and chew tobacco.
Step into a mall of DVDs
Cheap, pirated DVDs? Let’s not be hypocrites. In this age of Torrent-savvy millennials, one could hardly resist a freshly released episode from How To Get Away with Murder or Suits without downloading it for free. Pirated DVDs may be “old school,” but in Muslim Town, you’ll go crazy over the tremendous amount of DVDs sold there. From the looks of it, it’s still a booming industry. Of course, you’ll be tempted to check these out. But we’re not really encouraging you to buy from these stalls as police raids happen from time to time. Go at your own risk.
Enter the Golden Mosque
As the highlight of your trip to Muslim Town, visit the largest mosque in the metro: the Manila Golden Mosque and Cultural Center, located at Globe de Oro St.
This architectural landmark was built in 1976 under the supervision of former First Lady Imelda Marcos. Rumor has it that the mosque was built to impress Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi, who previously claimed that he would never visit Manila because it didn’t have a mosque. But his supposed visit never happened.
However, it accommodated Muslims from Mindanao who were displaced by anti-Marcos uprisings.
Then and now, it is the center of Islam in Manila. It can accommodate up to 3,000 worshippers. On a Friday noon, the mosque is jam-packed as Muslims hold the Jumuah, or congregational prayer, on Muslims’ holy day. (This coincides with the Catholics’ Quiapo Day, hence the crazy traffic.) The community also gathers here to discuss social issues and settle disputes.
The mosque boasts of intricate okir designs and a golden dome topped by a crescent moon. It used to have a minaret, or the tower in which the crier announces the start of prayer, but it was demolished because of rusting.
Inside the mosque are spacious marble floors, low columns, and arched windows that let natural light strike its yellow walls. The Golden Mosque is open to the public, even to non-Muslims, 24 hours a day. Just make sure that you strictly follow the dress code.
Hop from Quiapo to Taguig’s Muslim Town with just PHP 50
Quiapo’s Muslim Town is not the only one of its kind in Manila. There’s also a bustling Muslim town in Maharlika Village in Taguig City. If you want to check out the place, an FX ride from Quiapo’s Muslim Town will bring you directly to Maharlika Village. For only PHP 50, you can extend your cultural trip. But prepare for the long queue that awaits you.
Explore by foot and be down for whatever
Going on a street tour is a great way of understanding the rich culture of Filipino Muslims. If we just widen our perspectives, we’ll realize that Islam is truly a religion of peace. We often hear Muslims saying assalamu alaykum in casual conversations, which actually translates to “peace be unto you.”
Just like in Quiapo, where the Church and the Golden Mosque are on opposite sides of the road, respect for one religion is a two-way street. These are emblems of two different religions, proof that Christians and Muslims have peacefully coexisted for years. And as the Bangsamoro Basic Law awaits passage, it’s time that Filipinos, regardless of religious beliefs, learn to accept diversity.
The arch of Quiapo’s Muslim Town says Ahlan Wasahlan, which means “welcome” in the Arabic language. All the welcome signs are ready-they’re just waiting for us to knock on their doorstep.
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