Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Are Muslim Filipinos Called "Moros"?

The word “Moro” singular and “Moros” plural is a vestige of the Philippines’ colonial past and is rooted with the country’s cultural and historical ties with Spain, one of the former great imperial powers of the world.

Spain’s history has its share of relationship with Islam. In just hundreds of years after the death of Prophet Muhammad, Muslim armies crossed the Iberian Peninsula to conquer Europe for Islam. Crossing the Pyrenees, they were stopped and defeated by the forces of Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The Muslims retreated into the Iberian Peninsula where they conquered and occupied much of the territories which comprised mostly of what is now Spain and Portugal. The marriage of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile enabled the Christian kingdoms to recover much of the territories occupied by the Muslims. The last Moorish or Muslim kingdom in Granada, Spain fell to the Christians in 1492.

The medieval Christian Spaniards generally called the Muslims as “Moros” or Moors in reference to the Northern African Muslim tribes that crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and conquered and occupied much of the Iberian Peninsula. The Muslims in Spain were a mixture of Moors, Berbers, Arabs and even indigenous Iberians. Spanish Christian during the Muslim era generally called a person professing the Islamic faith “Moro” irrespective of his ethnicity.

The fall of Christian areas in the Middle East, Asia Minor and parts of Southern and Eastern Europe at the hands of the Muslims made it difficult for the goods from Asia to pass through the traditional land trade routes into Europe. This made the European monarchs particularly the Kings of Spain and Portugal to find alternative trade routes to the sea thereby bypassing the land areas controlled by hostile powers. This paved the way for the Age of Exploration when European powers discovered hitherto unknown lands and claimed them for themselves.

Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese explorer in the service of the king of Spain made a voyage to reach Moluccas for its valued spices. What was significant of his voyage was that he intended to reach his destination by sailing westward instead of the usual eastward sea route.  Nearing Moluccas, he “discovered” an archipelago in 1521 which was later named as the Philippines in honor of King Philip II. The Spaniards colonized the country for over 300 years.

The Spaniards Christianized most of the inhabitants. However, the people of the Southern Philippines especially in Mindanao were not disposed of changing their Islamic faith and resisted Spanish rule. The Spaniards in the Philippines, like they did in their country, called the Muslims “Moros”. The Christians on the other hand were called “Indios”. The latter term was a misnomer because the indigenous inhabitants of the Philippines are of Malayan race and not Indians.

Spanish incursions into Muslim territories made the Moros retaliate by raiding Christian settlements in the archipelago. This conflict brought about deep seated mutual distrust and animosity between Muslim and Filipino Christians. In time, the term “Moro” was used by Christians to pejoratively refer to a Muslim. Muslims on the other hand disdained from being called of such derogatory word.                                                     
With the passage of time Filipino Muslims have become receptive of the term “Moro” to refer generally to a Filipino Muslim irrespective of his tribal group. This is apparent with the use of word “Moro” in groups such as Moro National Liberation Front, Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Bangsa Moro. Perhaps for the members of this group the word “Moro” instead of being offensive is a source of pride. It is a symbol of the Muslims’ ever struggle for their righteous aspirations with Islam as their unifying factor.

In the Philippines, in practice, the word “Moro” to refer to Muslims is confined mostly in the print and other media. Filipinos in their conversations call their brothers who profess the Islamic faith as Muslim rather than a Moro. Alternatively, they may mention a Muslim based on his tribe such as Maranao, Tausug, Yakan, and Maguindanao among others.