Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam

Author: Isaac Domoroso

Reviewer: Lorna Q. Israel
International Studies Department
Miriam College
September 2016

Islam’s cosmology provides a mental scape in which strangers ultimately become familiar, regardless of distance or place. Muslims are kinfolk preordained. Such a worldview positions a central point flanked by borders whose shared faith pulls and unites them towards that center. Isaac Donoso attempts to show how Islam’s Western border (Iberian Spain) and its Eastern counterpart (Philippines) encountered each other as “strangers.” In that encounter, Muslims in the Philippines became a stranger in the eyes of one historically and culturally familiar with Islam.

Using the Qur’anic spatial model of the world, and tracking its factual equivalence in historical and cartographic sources as well as ajā’ib (tales of marvels), Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam presents a world destined for Islamization. In such a world, Mecca stood as the center with a cosmographical mandate to reach the Western and Eastern edges (13). Donoso’s interpretive scheme follows the logic of a center that draws the Western and Eastern borders back to their Islamic origin.

Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam is divided into four parts. Chapter 1 orients readers to Islam’s spatial and geographical conception of the world as the theoretical center of analysis. Orbiting that center are the four cardinal directions (east, west, north, south) where foreignness dissolves into the shared and familiar–for everyone was a Muslim “regardless of where they live on Earth” (13).

Chapter 2 shows how Islam benefited from Arab’s cultural practice of power: lineage rather than territorial dominion. It provided Islam a spatial “global kinship network” where ‘lineage solidarity’ was lifelong and lasting than territorial ownership (77). Under the supposed global kinship network, the arrival of Alexander the Great in Asia became a Qur’anic tale that grants him the status of Islam’s defender and Asia’s first “Islamizator” (210). It makes Alexander the mythical ancestor of Asia’s Muslims. This myth became a fact; the sultans of Sulu traced their lineage to Iskandar/Alexander the Great (142).

Interrupting the Islamic cosmographical whole was the ascent of the modern era characterized by the rise of European Christian nations. It serves as a backdrop to Chapter 4, which foregrounds their Islamic beginnings in the Mediterranean. Donoso does not want readers to forget such beginnings. Spain, together with Portugal, were formerly Al-Andalusians that comprised the Iberian Muslims. They underwent an “ethnohistorical process” from being Iberian Muslims in an Islamic state, which they retained under a Christian state, to Muslims converted to Christianity (180). In short, regardless of their Christian selves, the Iberian/Al-Andalusians were thoroughly Muslims. So absolute is the Muslim identity that contemporary readers find convenience in associating Moro with Muslim. In Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam, calling them Moros is to alienate them. This is crucial to Donoso’s analysis because he understands these Andalusians as “missing” that arrived in the Philippines.

Spain ascribed Mauros/Moros to the Andalusians to wipe-out their Iberian-ness (199) using Mauritania, the ancient Roman’s designation of North Africa whose dynasties ruled the Andalusians (198). In a semantic stroke, they lost their nation and ethnic identity, but acquired a new one. In the mental scape of Christian Spain, the Muslim Iberian/Andalusians were Africans.
Their ‘African-ness’ converted them to savages and uncivilized, thus qualifying them for expulsion. In Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam theirs is a world of the ‘missing Andalusians.’

For Donoso, the ‘missing Andalusians’ is what is missing in attempts to explain the reasons for the hostility between Spanish colonial authorities and the Muslims. He rejects the standard explanations because they exhibit a “medieval mentality” that views such conflict as part of an eternal war against Islam or a battle for political authority between the Sultan and the Spanish King (202). Such mentality reduces the complexity and extensive cultural, religious, diplomatic, and economic developments that took place within a span of three centuries of contact. Donoso does not elaborate on this complexity, but hints at its historiographical importance if considered and coming up with a reductive analysis if ignored.

Arguably, the ‘missing Andalusians’ is an overlooked case. By the time readers reach the final page, they will realize that Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam is a build-up towards that case. Simply stated, Spain’s attribution of Mauros Asiea/Asian Moros to Muslim is the point where the Islamic Far West ‘reached the Islamic Far East’ (204).

Donoso leaves it to the readers to ponder an underlying paradox: this Andalusian would render its Muslim fellow the ‘stranger other’ (199) that qualifies them as ‘enemies’ to be eliminated by war (201). Donoso downplays the Christian character of this Andalusian precisely to drive home this point. This Christian-Andalusian deployed the ‘sword’ to Muslims, and ‘words’ for the non-Muslims. Words, of course, can operate like a sword. They produce linguistic scars that might erupt in claims for an authentic identity.

Words matter is the implicit message of this volume. They become foundational to one’s ethnic identity, which takes its designation from being “named” as such (187). They make things known as much as they make them unknown. Thus, when the Islamic Far West arrived in the Islamic Far West, they thought that Muslims there were the same as those in the West—enemies and strangers.

Islamic Far East: Ethnogenesis of Philippine Islam makes us reexamine, not only the historical and cultural representation of Muslims, but also our own representation of them within it. For we might just making a myth into a fact. Better yet, why not invent a new myth that would dispel the strange and alien Muslim in and out of us? This volume seems to have planted a genesis.