My friends and I have done a Manila tour in the past but it only consisted of a couple of stops such as the National Museum, Paco Park, Rizal Park, and Intramuros. In fact, most of the time when we have foreigners coming to visit, we just bring them over to Intramuros given that it’s a good place to learn history. But when “Quiapo” is mentioned, the thing that always pops into my head is that the area is “off limits”, as well as multiple reminders from people who tell me: “Be careful,” Don’t go there.” In fact, on my way there my very kind Grab driver even gave me his phone number and said, “Ma’am, ingat po kayo. And if there’s anything you need, please call me. Babalikan ko kayo agad kasi ako naghatid.”
I guess the stigma around Quiapo really is bad, but you know what? While I was there I learned so much, underneath the rumours and warnings – it was fine, and people there are actually quite kind. Quiapo is also home to a sizeable Muslim community, also known as Muslim Town Quiapo, and visiting said community was my purpose for heading to Quiapo in the first place, courtesy of Meaningful Travels PH.
Meaningful Travels PH has a tagline, “explore, immerse, and connect”. And they do just that! It mixes in the wonderful experience of traveling with education and a genuine connection with the locals. Aside from providing tourism in the area, they also want visitors to get to know the communities to a more in-depth extent which can’t be accomplished via the use of online guides and DIY, also using the profits from the tours to help bring in some income to the people. They’ve provided many excellent tours all over the Philippines, but the one I went on specifically is a Muslim Community Immersion.
Muslims are a big part of the Philippines, the second largest religious demographic apart from Christians. But my knowledge on them is limited to only their selling of jewelry and DVDs, not really much else – which is quite sad. So, of course I wasn’t going to pass up a wonderful and informative opportunity to learn more about the Muslim community like this.
First Part: Meeting at Landap Cafe
The day began with the group meeting at Landap Café. I got there early because I was worried about the traffic, and I knew that it was much better to be early than to be late. I quickly met Ammanah. Our first activity was getting to know each other, so we got to know the 3 core members: Nak from Meaningful Travels, Ammanah, a Shari’ah lawyer who helped the tour push through, and Nords who knows a lot about the history.
Nak is from Mindanao but she feels like not a lot of people know about the Muslim community, religion, and culture – so she wanted to change that. She also wanted to change and challenge the view that Quiapo is a scary and dangerous place where nobody should go. In addition to the informative nature of the tour, the additional tourism encourages the Kapitan of the barangay to keep the area tidy and organized. They noted how in the past, the streets weren’t as nice as they are now – but when I visited, it was quite clean!
After the hosts of the tour introduced themselves, we also had an ice breaker with all of the participants.
First Stop: History over Coffee and Paratha
Nords knew a lot about Muslim history! It was very interesting and eye-opening seeing the origins of their culture and practices today. I would tell you more, but I’ll leave you to discover all of that during the tour. But just so you get a glimpse to how educational his little lecture was – I learned so much that I hadn’t known before.
2nd Activity: Ammanah talked about Shari’ah Law
Amanah opened our eyes to the ins and outs of the Shari’ah Law which is followed by individuals who practice Islam. Many of the laws are derived from their Holy Book, The Quran. Some of their laws differ from the national laws we have set in place in the country. For example, polygamy is illegal under civil law but it is allowed under Shari’ah. While there isn’t much of a presence of Islamic law in Metro Manila, it’s very prevalent in Mindanao particularly in ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) and the islands surrounding it. In fact, many Muslims who would wish to settle disputes under Shari’ah Law fly out to the courts in ARMM to receive a verdict. Lately, however, Muslims living in Luzon no longer need to fly out due to the establishment of a Muslim High Court in Manila. This was all really interesting since understanding Shari’ah is an important factor in understanding how Muslim society works and functions as a general whole – and it was really in-depth, given that Amanah is a Shari’ah lawyer herself.
After the lesson on Islamic Law, Amanah taught us some simple phrases to say to the kids we would meet at our next stop, the Madrasa, so we could understand and converse with them a little.
3rd activity: Enter the Madrasa and interact with the children
Madrasa is the Arabic word which stands for any school or educational institution. We went to the local Madrasa to visit the kids there, who were all primarily studying about Islam and their holy book. The real madrasa actually burned down 3 years ago, so they are accepting donations to build it up again. They have a temporary madrasa near the convent where the children learn about Islam, and read and write Arabic passages from the Quran.
We interacted with the kids who were all elementary school-aged. We asked them about their lives, their dreams, as well as some facts about them. They are a bit shy, being kids, but if you talk to them they will respond.
4th Activity: Visit the Mosque
Our fourth stop was the Quiapo Golden Mosque – it’s architecture definitely stands out among all the buildings and houses in the area! You can identify it by the moon and star symbol icon (an Islamic symbol) atop the dome or qubba. It is required for Muslims to pray at least 5 times a day facing in the direction of the holiest city in Islam, Mecca. It was originally constructed in 1976 for President Gaddafi of Libya to pray during his visit. Although the trip was cancelled, the mosque remains an important structure to this day.
5th Activity: Check out the shops
We also checked out the shops where they sold Islam and halal fashion, as well as some imported makeup and vanity products. You’ll find lots of different fashion stores since being modestly dressed is an important facet when it comes to Islam, particularly women – so if you want to buy a hijab or headcover for yourself, it’s the perfect opportunity. We also passed by the market to check out the scallions.
6th Activity: Halal food
What is halal and halal food?
Muslims are known to not consume pork, but that’s not the only thing that Halal food encompasses. Halal is a term which refers to what is allowed in Islamic law, not necessarily limited to just food. Halal food, however, includes making sure that all animals killed for their meat are slain in a painless and ethical manner – preferably with a clean slice to the throat. Food which contain blood, as well as alcohol and other intoxicants are also banned under halal.
I absolutely loved the food – I especially enjoyed the palapa which is a spicy appetizer dish originating from Maranao. I wanted to shop even more and purchase some spices but unfortunately I was going to be commuting to an event right after. Some of the other food we tried were kinilaw (raw fish cooked through acids), ginataang langka, beef soup (can be spicy – but I loved it), and of course some rice.
You can eat with your hands. We chatted and talked, asking some more questions about Muslim culture and community.
Halal is also practiced in tourism – in fact, there is an entire growing industry dedicated to it. Muslims visit halal locations and book at hotels which do not serve alcoholic beverages, and also practice the separation of men and women when it comes to swimming pools, bathrooms, and spa facilities. It can also be practiced in flights – some halal airlines and planes do not serve alcoholic beverages and pork on board. Some halal tour companies in the industry also practice the announcement of prayers throughout the day.
In Islamic banking under the Shari’ah law, charging interest and investing in products and business which do not practice halal is strictly prohibited.
Because the culture and practices of the Muslim community differs from others, it helps to be informed about the do’s and the don’ts when it comes ensuring responsible and respectful tourism in the area.
1. What to wear
- Women should preferably be wearing modest clothing such as a dress which covers the ankles and the wrists. Wearing a hijab or head cover is also required when going inside the mosque.
- Bring a scarf for your head. You can also choose to purchase one in the fashion stalls there – the cost ranges from PHP 200 to 350.
2. You cannot enter the mosque if you’re on your period. This is because Islamic beliefs consider women who are undergoing menstruation as impure to enter the holy place.
3. Bring cash – The stalls and kiosks littered around the vicinity do not accept credit cards.
How to book and how much
You can book your very own 5-hour Muslim Immersion Tour with Meaningful Travels PH starting 2019 for the rate of PHP1500/person by contacting them via the following channels:
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Phone number: (+63) 0905-559-9040
I learned so much about the Muslim community on this trip. I loved the food especially – I would really love to go back and check out the spices and other dishes. But seriously, I’m really glad to have had an excursion like this. It opens your eyes to the different, diverse communities that exist within the Philippines which the majority of us don’t bother to get to know or educate ourselves about. Muslims in the country, and around the world, are so much more than DVD and jewellery vendors.
Other things to do around the area after the tour:
- Nakpil House
- Museum of Fine Arts
- National Museum
- Quiapo Church