Visit to the Oldest Mosque in the Philippines: Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque in Tawi-Tawi

One of the Tawi-Tawi tourist destination on my to visit list is the oldest Mosque in the Philippines. With the help of Philippine Marines in Tawi-Tawi, Dave and I were able to visit Simunul Island, home of Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque which holds the title of the oldest mosque in the country.


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Located in Tubig Indangan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi, Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque is a National Historical Landmark by virtue of Republic Act 10573.

Quick History of the oldest mosque in the Philippines

In 1380, An Arabian missionary, judge and scholar Sheik Makdum reached the shores of Simunul Island in Tawi-Tawi and supervised the construction of Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque. This monumental event marked the introduction of Islam faith in the Philippines.

We were lucky to have met Haji Omar Biste, a Simunul Island local. He was so kind to share the history of the mosque.

With Haji Omar Baste
Left to Right: Dave ( Haji Omar Biste, me posing on one of the original pillars of the mosque
According to Haji Omar, Sheik Makdum is one among the seven brothers to come to Simunul Island in Tawi-Tawi via lumpang bassi, a vessel resembling a tub or basin. Among the seven brothers, Sheik Makhdum was the first one to come to the Philippines. He met Tawi-Tawi natives, preached Islam and established the religion. Haji added that Sheik Makhdum’s coming to the Philippines is different from Magellan. Sheik came to the Philippines without any armour. He came bringing the faith of Allah.  He civilized the natives from Paganism and brought light, tranquility and morality. Sheik Makhdum built this National Landmark 200 years before Magellan set foot in the country.

Centuries-old Pillars

Inside Sheik Makhdum Mosque
Inside Sheik Makhdum Mosque
The original pillars which served as the foundation of Sheikh Karim-ul Makhdum Mosque are well-preserved. The 638 year old Ipil hardwood pillars showcase intricate designs and strength as it survived being exposed to sun and rain. Villagers believe that the entire Simunul Island will sink once these pillars are destroyed.

According to Haji Omar, there were instances in the past that locals get small pieces from the pillars. They put these small wood pieces on their drinking water as these are believed to have healing powers. Since the community is trying to protect and preserve the pillars,  they decided to completely cover the two pillars with white cloth.

Sheik Makhdum’s Tomb

Few meters behind the mosque is a burial site where Sheik Makhdum’s tomb is located. An old man was kind enough to let us go inside site. We were told that the sands on Sheik Makhdum’s tomb remain intact regardless of the weather.

Seeing the oldest mosque in the Philippines and learning more about our Islam brothers was fascinating and meaningful at the same time. Locals from kids to Hajis were very welcoming and friendly. After almost an hour in the area, we had to immediately leave for our Travel with a Purpose Project that afternoon.

Special thanks to Dave of Ms.Ritz of HOPE and especially to Tawi-Tawi Philippine Marines for making this Tawi-Tawi trip possible.



How my Tawi Tawi Trip was Made Possible

Tawi Tawi Philippine Marine Escorts

Tawi-Tawi is one among the provinces in my to visit list this year. Visiting the southernmost frontier of the Philippines; enjoying its unspoiled white sand beaches; visiting the country’s very first and oldest mosque and seeing the indigenous Badjao tribe on their houses in stilts would be an ultimate travel experience. I started googling about the province and discovered that Tawi Tawi celebrates its annual Kamahardikaan Festival during the last week of September. I then decided that the last week of September is the right time to visit Tawi Tawi.

Getting to Tawi-Tawi


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Unknown to many, Tawi Tawi is very accessible if you are coming from Manila or Zamboanga.  However, there are no longer direct flights to Tawi-Tawi from Manila via the budget airline Cebu Pacific Air. Being a budget traveler, I could not afford to book flights to Tawi-Tawi. Getting there requires two flights (Manila to Zamboanga flight then Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi). And another two flights back to Manila (Tawi-Tawi to Zamboanga and Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi). Come Cebu Pacific seat sale, I immediately booked flights that will get me to Tawi-Tawi just right for the Kamahardikaan Festival. I only spent 2,800 Pesos for four flights (Manila to Zamboanga, Zamboanga to Tawi-Tawi and vice versa). I saved a lot compared to booking on regular rates which could cost around 10,000 Pesos.

Travel with A Purpose Project in Tawi Tawi

Travel with a Purpose in Tawi Tawi
Travel with a Purpose in Tawi Tawi. Thank you to Dave, Hope Inc. and the Philippine Marines of Tawi-Tawi.

A month before my Tawi-Tawi trip, I travelled with my girlfriend to Islas de Gigantes in Iloilo. It was Islas when I started my Travel with a Purpose Project. My sole mission is to randomly give gifts to the locals. I started putting up fundraising accounts via various fundraising sites like gogetfunding and fundmytravel. Despite of not getting any donations, we pushed with the plan and just bought 2,000 Peso worth of toys and goodies in Roxas City before visiting Islas de Gigantes.

After our trip to the beautiful Gigantes Islas and after the successful  gift giving, I published some photos on my social media accounts. It was on one of my Instagram post where a fellow Travel Blogger, Dave of asked me when will be my Travel with a Pupose Project in Tawi Tawi. I said I’ll be visiting Tawi Tawi during the Kamahardikaan festival. He did not hesitate to join. He immediately booked his tickets and helped me raise funds for the gift giving in Tawi-Tawi. Dave also introduced me to the founder of HOPE Incorporated, a non-profit organization whose tag is Helping Others Passionately Everywhere. I partnered with Silverbackpacker and HOPE Incorporated to make the Travel with a Purpose in Tawi-Tawi possible.

Festival No More

A week before our trip, I tried to get in touch with Ms.Marikit, Tawi Tawi tourism officer to ask for their suggested itinerary. I received a sad news that the Kamahardikaan festival. It will be held in Mapun, an island which is a 16 hour ferry ride away from the Tawi Tawi center- Bongao. She also advised that everyone from the tourism will be in Mapun for the festival. I started to lose hope as I really wanted to take part of the festival. Me and Dave will only be in Tawi-Tawi for 2 days and 2 nights. We are pressed of time and going to Mapun will not be possible.

I decided that I’ll go with the plan and will still visit Tawi-Tawi. Witnessing and taking part of the festival would be plus but not necessary. And besides Tawi Tawi is my 2016 ultimate travel destination.

Safety and Security

Tawi Tawi Philippine Marine Escorts
With our security during our 2 days and 2 nights stay in Tawi-Tawi. Thank you Philippine Marines!

When I booked my flight in March, I was aware of the situation in the ARMM specifically the Sulu. The province is known as the battleground between the Philippine military and the terror group Abu Sayaff. Tawi Tawi being near to Sulu did not bother me as there have been a couple of travel bloggers who stepped on the province. All of them were able to tour the province safely and securely. Though there are only a few information about travelling and touring Tawi Tawi, I still did my research. With all the available articles and videos about touring Tawi Tawi, I concluded that it is safe to visit the province.

I also prepared for my Tawi Tawi tour by growing my beard and mustache and tried to be under the sun as much as possible to get my skin tan. I know that I’ll blend in with the locals and will not look of high value.

Come September, encounters of the military with the Abu Sayaff were all over the news. Since we do not have contacts from the Tawi Tawi tourism office as the entire team will be in Mapun. I have to admit that I started to feel worried because I’ll be traveling with Dave, a foreigner who is likely a target of  the terror group.  Not until Ritz, the founder of HOPE Incorporated informed me that she will be coordinating with the Philippine Marines for our security during our visit in Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi.




Travel with a Purpose Project

Travel with a Purpose: Gift Giving in Tawi-Tawi

I was born and grew up in Manila and is used to the city life. Coming from a middle class family,  my parents raised us feeling that we had more than enough when we were growing up. I should say that from childhood up to this day, I have been living comfortably.  When I started solo travelling in 2015, my only goal was to experience and explore my beautiful home country – The Philippines.  For every province that I visited, I have seen new places, gained new friends, experience various cultures and learned new things. I always return home with memories that will last for a lifetime.

During my travels, I could not help but compare what I have in Manila realizing how blessed I am for having things that I often take for granted (having a job, a comfortable home, even food on my plate).  It was February of this year, during my first solo travel in Mindanao, where I decided that I need to help (even in my own little and simplest ways) any local/s in the province that I am visiting. Then there comes the idea of “Travel With a Purpose Project”.  My goal was not just to experience and explore my home country but to reach out and do something. Give back to the province I am visiting by helping and bringing smiles to the locals.

Completed Travel with a Purpose Projects

To date, I have completed 2 Travel with a Purpose Projects. One in Visayas and the second was in Mindanao.

  • Islas de Gigantes, Iloilo – August 2016
  • Tawi-Tawi – September 2016


Travel with a Purpose: Gift Giving in Tawi-Tawi
Second Travel with a Purpose: Gift Giving in Tawi-Tawi (in partnership with, HOPE Inc., Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi Philippine Marines)

Travel with a Purpose Partners

I have also worked with the following individuals and groups that made my Travel with a Pupose Projects possible:

  • Jen Montebon
  • HOPE Inc.
  • Dave of
  • Zamboanga and Tawi-Tawi Philippine Marines
  • and of course kind-hearted indivuduals who donated to the projects (Car Gumapon, Aurora Vivero and to a group who requested to remain anonymous)

If you want to take part by donating or joining my future Travel with a Purpose projects, please feel free drop a mail at [email protected].

*Next Travel with a Purpose – Camiguin 

Thank you.

Ed, One Armed Wanderer