Cotabato’s Bolkiah Mosque now a tourist destination PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 19 January 2013 14:48

The multi-million riverside mosque built in Cotabato City three years ago by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei, as a gift to Muslims in Central Mindanao, has  become a venue for reconciliation of rival families, weddings and pilgrimages by sick Muslims and people seeking spiritual retreats at the backdrop of quiet and scenic surroundings.

Non-Muslim city residents as well as visitors, such as government employees from outside of Cotabato City and from Luzon and Visayas that come on official business visit the worship site, which is now regarded as one of the city’s tourist destinations.

The “Grand Mosque” was last toured Wednesday by Christian employees of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources from an administrative region outside of Region 12 and the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

There have been stories of how feuding families chanced on each other during congregational prayers at the Grand Mosque and as a consequence, immediately reconciled even without interventions by traditional leaders or clerics.

The Grand Mosque was built along the northern bank of the historic Tamontaka River, which, in the 16th century, led Spaniards upstream, to what is now Mother Barangay Tamontaka, where they constructed a garrison and a Catholic chapel.

The Tamontaka chapel, about two kilometers southeast of the Grand Mosque, is now a national historic site, being Central Mindanao’s oldest Catholic place of worship, constructed on a bastion of Muslims called Maguindanaons, or people of the “flooded plains,” and indigenous, non-Muslim ethnic Tedurays.

Cotabato City residents witnessed last week a wedding at the Grand Mosque of two members of big Moro clans, one from the ilod, or downstream area of Maguindanao, the other from the raya, or upper delta of the province.

The wedding of lawyer Datu Kirby Matalam Abdullah, 33, who hails from Pagalungan town in Maguindanao, to Rahima Usman Biruar, 31, who is of Iranun descent from Parang municipality in the same province, was reminiscent of how Maguindanaon families in ancient times arranged marriages among clans from places very far apart  to foster blood ties among them.

Abdullah is a blue-blooded Maguindanaon, whose immediate grandfathers were Datu Abdulkadir Matalam of the Bago-ingeden-Matabangen nobility, on the maternal side, and the late Hadji Abdullah Maulana, of the Safi-sa-Buayan clan.

Abdullah’s bride, on the other hand, belong to a clan that descended from families that sprung from the Shariff Mohammad Kabunsuan lineage, through the shariff’s second marriage to Potri Angin Tabo, who was the maternal ancestor of most Iranun royal families in the towns of Parang and seaside areas in nearby Lanao del Sur.

Kabunsuan was a Malay-Arab prince from Johore, a region in what is now Malaysia, who reached Mindanao in the 14th century as he escaped from persecution by Dutch colonizers and, subsequently, preached Islam in mainland Mindanao.

The Abdullah-Biruar wedding has been perceived as an event that would catalyze the unity of their clans, and usher in the reconciliation of politicians belonging to either side that are at odds with each other.

The Grand Mosque was donated by Bolkiah to local Muslim sectors through the efforts of former Maguindanao First District Rep. Didagen Dilangalen.

Ustadz Esmael Ebrahim, a commissioner of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, said Islam allows worship sites to become tourist destinations, as a way of educating non-Muslims on the intricacies of the Islamic faith.

“Non-Muslims can even be allowed to observe how Muslims pray inside mosques for them to have a better understanding of how we perform our religious rites,” Ebrahim said.

An ethnic Maguindanaon fisherman, Alaw Salik, 47, said he is convinced that the Grand Mosque is “miraculous,” based on his own experience.

“I got afflicted with a kidney disease last year. I was given antibiotics and painkillers by a government doctor. One day, I decided to visit the mosque and prayed for my recovery. Two days later, I was healed,” Salik said in the Maguindanaon vernacular.

A fish vendor, Salimah Mokindi, 40, said her 15-year-old son, Motin, got cured of his recurring skin irritations, often infected, after performing obligatory ablution rite before entering the Grand Mosque.

The Grand Mosque has also become a navigational landmark, which seafaring Maguindanaons that venture out into the southwestern side of the Moro Gulf, now use as a strategic point to determine the location of Cotabato City.

The worship site can also be seen, while on air, by passengers of commercial flights connecting Cotabato City to Manila and elsewhere in the country, owing to its proximity to the Cotabato-Maguindanao Awang airport, some five kilometers east of the Tamontaka River.