Simunul: An Island of Peace
TAWI-TAWI – The island town of Simunul in Tawitawi province is known as the cradle of Islam in the Philippines. This is where the Arab missionary Sheikh Karimul Makhdum first introduced Islam in the Bangsamoro more than 600 years ago. Since then, Islam spread to the rest of the country as more and more people adopted its tenets and practices.
Simunul is just 45 minutes away by ferry from Bongao, Tawi-tawi’s capital town. It has 15 villages—12 in mainland Simunul, and three on the smaller Manuk Mangkaw Island. There is more to this place than it being the birthplace of Islam in the country. The people here are the picture of peace-loving citizens whose shared culture of non-violence makes their town one of very few places in the Philippines with a zero crime rate.
A mother of two, the 28-year old Saudia Hasan Yusuf, of Doh Tong village, says the culture of peace and understanding begins at home: “Tinuturo talaga ng mga magulang sa mga anak nila ang magagandang asal—’yung pagbati ng Salam sa mga tao, ‘yung pagpapasalamat — kaya mababait mga tao dito (Parents really teach their children good values and conduct—greeting people with ‘Salam’, saying thank you),” Saudia said.
This set of shared values clearly manifests among the locals and in the unique behavior every native of Simunul comports himself or herself with. People here are generally peace-loving. Engaging in acts of violence is considered a severe transgression of their customs and traditions. Saudia noted that it is natural “for our people to avoid fights. We are a happy people.”
Hja. Jubayda Pilihan, 77, a native of Tubig Indangan, said locals avoid any form of violence. Jubayda also said they adhere to a culture of understanding and kindness.
“Away bata lang meron dito. Kung meron man ang mga matatanda, naayos agad. Kinabukasan wala na (Here, only the children fight. If the adults fight, they address the problem immediately. Tomorrow, it is over),” she said.
Jubayda added that people who live in Simunul grew up living out the community’s teachings of respect and mutual agreements that have been taught from the time of their ancestors. In its annual Sheikh Makhdum Day celebration, the locals of Simunul show all the dominant social characteristic they have as a united and happy people.
“Mga bata, matanda, dalaga o binata man yan, makikita mo talaga na tumutulong sa paghahanda. Kahit ‘yung batang maliit, tutulong yan mamulot ng mga basura (Whether they are children, the elderly, or teenagers, you will see them helping prepare for the festivities. Even the small children will help by picking up litter),” Jubayda said.
Each individual offers a hand so the entire community can better prepare for the celebration. Some locals prepare the grounds, some put up decorations, while others practice their ‘pangalay’ dances and other performances.
“Nagtutulungan kami dito para maganda talaga ang lugar namin sa selebrasyon. Kahit taga ibang barangay pumupunta dito para maayos ang lugar (We really help each other so our community will be beautiful for the celebtation. Even people from other barangays will come here to help prepare our place),” Tubig Indangannative, Hja. Halima Shalim, 65, said.
The Simunul locals are always excited to see visitors from other places who come to witness the annual celebration: “Parang hindi na kami makatulog dahil sobrang excited din kami (It’s like we can’t sleep because we are so excited),” Halima said. “Sana makapunta ang iba pang tao dito kahit tapos na ang Makhdum anniversary. Peaceful talaga dito, — walang gulo, walang away. Sana araw-araw may bisita (I wish more people can visit here even after the Makhdum anniversary. It is truly peaceful here—there is no strife, no fighting. I wish we could have visitors every day).”
Each place has good news to offer. In Simunul, the people themselves are the good news with their tradition of peace and respect, in a community that is united and happy. “Kapag bumisbisita ang mga hindi taga rito ng ilang araw lang, ayaw na nilang umalis. Gugustuhin na nilang manirahan dito (When visitors come here to stay for a few days, they usually don’t want to leave. They usually want to live here),” Halima added.