History of Saints in the Philippines

Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu Ya Sayyidi Sheikh Nazim.

I am from sibutu island in the Philippines. Islam was brought to the Philippines by a Sheikh named Karim-ul Makhdum. He was an arab who according to some sources originated from Mecca. There was also a band of 7 brothers who rode a ship made of iron (this is amazing because they lived during the medieval ages) and brought Islam here in the Philippines too. They were saints. They performed miracles.

According to some sources they were descendants of Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. Some even say that Sheikh Makhdum is the leader of those brothers and He was also from Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jilani. Sheikh Makhdum used to walk on water, fly, save drowning people. He was a great man. He is now buried in Sibutu. There is a tree beside his grave, a coconut tree. When the coconuts on this tree fall, it doesn’t touch the grave of Sheikh Makhdum, it only falls to the ground around His grave.

He built the first mosque here in the Philippines. He came here at the year 1380. He is a sufi. I want to know Sayyidi what can you say about Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum? Sayyidi please pray for me and all of the people. We love you Sayyidi.


wa `alaykum salam,

May Allah Almighty reward your manners, and forgive mine.

“My Saints are under My domes; no one knows them except me.” The knowledge you seek belongs to the Unseen; you should direct your search to that realm!

Because of this, it is very difficult to approach the history of such a personality, and what little may be understood has been related through the efforts of Dr. Cesar Adib Majul, who I had the good fortune to meet but a few years before his passing. Still, some comments may not be out of place in connection with the appearance of Shaykh Karim al-Makhdum, may Allah sanctify his secret.

To begin with, it is not likely that Islam was brought to the Philippines at such a late date; much more likely, as Dr. Majul has explained, is that upheavals in Guangzhou brought about the arrival of Muslims to the Philippines some five centuries earlier. Since these earliest Muslims in the Philippines would have had a connection to Guangzhou, it is important to remember that this city is the site of a maqam belonging to the emissary of the Holy Prophet to China, Sayyidina Sa`d bin Abi Waqqas – peace be upon them. There is, therefore, a continuity between the expansion of Islam to China and its reaching to the Philippines.

The arrival of the Makhdum heralded a new opening, namely the establishing of Sufi and royal lineages throughout Southeast Asia. Since you mention the Meccan origin claimed for the saint, it is interesting to note that not long before his arrival, the Kazaruni Sufi order had established its authority over sea travel between the central Islamic lands and the Far East, offering safety on the seas by means of the barakah of the founder of this order.

Karim al-Makhdum has been associated with the founding of Malacca; likewise remarkable is the possibility, mentioned by Dr. Majul, that he was the father of Sunan Gunung Jati, one of the renowned “Nine Saints” (Wali Songo) in Indonesia. Be that as it may, it is surely significant that the history of these Nine Saints belongs to nearly the same period, and that some of them at least may be linked to Chinese Islam.

It is apparently not known to which order the Makhdum was affiliated. No doubt the accounts of his wondrous powers may be compared to the heroic stories of the Ghawth al-`Azam that are told throughout Southeast Asia; but given the Meccan origin claimed for him, and the possible family bond, the Sajarah Banten should be considered. According to this source, when Sunan Gunung Jati and his son are in the Hijaz, the son receives initiation into the Naqshbandi order. May Allah sanctify all their secrets!

Indeed, Naqshbandi masters in Arabia would exert a profound influence in the Far East in succeeding centuries, and not only in Indonesia. Ibrahim al-Kurani and his successors – may Allah sanctify their secrets – had authority in multiple orders, but they figure prominently in Naqshbandi lines of transmission that became dominant in China; and it is important to observe that one of the greatest saints in the history of Indonesia – `Abdur-Ra’uf al-Sinkili, may Allah sanctify his secret – likewise took his authority from al-Kurani, even though he is remembered as a master of the Shattari order.

These remarks lead to another no less remarkable observation. In the teachings of the Naqshbandi-Haqqani order, the names of 7 chief companions of the Sahib az-Zaman are known, peace be upon them all, although these names might better be termed “titles.” Among these titles, one appears more like a name: `Abdu-Ra’uf al-Yamani. Given that this great saint of the time of the Mahdi and of Jesus – peace be upon them all – is understood to have authority over China specifically, as well as the fact that the Shattari master who has this very name studied also in the Yemen, it is worth remarking that the bonds between Arabia, China, and Southeast Asia through the Naqshbandi order do not belong solely to the past.

Mahmoud Shelton

About Ustadh Mahmoud Shelton

Mahmoud Shelton studied at the University of Edinburgh before taking a degree in Medieval Studies at Stanford University. Shelton is the author of Alchemy in Middle Earth: The Significance of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, The Balance of George Lucas' Star Wars, and numerous articles. He is also a contributor to The Royal Book of Spiritual Chivalry and The Sufi Science of Self-Realization. Contributions by Mahmoud Shelton * Chivalry of the Night and Day * Alchemy in Middle Earth * contributor, The Royal Book of Spiritual Chivalry
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