Predominantly Muslim provinces in the Philippines
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Predominantly Muslim provinces in the Philippines

by Jillian CariolaPublished: July 16, 2015Updated: September 29, 2015

Have a look at the unique characteristics of Philippine provinces where majority of the people are Muslims.


According to an estimate from the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos in 2012, there are around 11,000,000 Muslim Filipinos in the country, comprising approximately 11% of the Philippine population. Although Metro Manila and SOCCSKSARGEN both have large Muslim communities (numbering about 1.1 and 2.1 million, respectively), the region with the greatest proportion of Muslim population is the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), where about 3 million Muslim Filipinos reside or 95% of the region’s total population.

The only region with its own de facto government, ARMM is composed of five provinces: Basilan (except its capital Isabela City), Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi. ARMM’s recognized regional center is Cotabato City.

Here are a few basic facts about the geography, livelihood, and tourism of these provinces.

Located south of the Zamboanga Peninsula, Basilan is the largest and northernmost of the major islands of the Sulu Archipelago. The province is 65% Muslim, and is home to two predominantly Muslim ethnic groups: the Yakans and the Tausugs. A third-class province, Basilan’s economy mainly relies on agriculture, and its major products include coconut, rubber, coffee, rice, and cassava. Some of its most famous tourist sites are the Santa Isabel Cathedral, the Calvario Peak, the Panigayan fishing village, the Sumagdang Beach, and the waterfalls of the Kumalarang River.

Lanao del Sur
Lanao del Sur is surrounded by Lanao del Norte, Bukidnon, Maguindanao, and Cotabato; Marawi City is its capital. Ninety-one percent of its population practices Islam, and the majority of its people belong to the Maranao ethnic group. Lanao del Sur is home to the Lanao Lake, the largest lake in Mindanao, as well as the Islamic Center of the Philippines, the country’s largest dome.

The province of Maguindanao, its capital being Shariff Aguak, is surrounded by Lanao del Sur, Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat. Sixty-four percent of the province’s population is Muslim, a great majority of which belongs to the Maguindanao ethnic group. Some of the attractions the province is most famous for are the Bongo diving spot—a marine sanctuary in Parang—and the Benolen hot spring. The province also boasts various caves and waterfalls. Its main products include coconut, corn, mango, and rice, and the province is also known for wood carving, basket weaving, and malong weaving.

Sulu is an archipelago province located between Basilan and Tawi-Tawi; its capital is Jolo. Ninety-seven percent of Sulu’s population is Muslim, and the majority belongs to the Tausug ethno-linguistic group. Agriculture is the main driver of the province’s economy, although it is also known for making boats, bladed weapons, and bronze and brassware.

The Philippines’ southernmost province, Tawi-Tawi shares maritime borders with Malaysia and Indonesia. Ninety-six percent of its population is Muslim, the majority from the Sama ethno-linguistic group. The main livelihood of the province involves agriculture, fishing, and agar-agar farming.

Tawi-Tawi is home to the oldest mosque in the Philippines, the Sheik Makdum Mosque. It is also where you’ll find Sitangkai, dubbed the “Venice of the Philippines,” where houses stand on stilts and boats are the main mode of transportation.

Cotabato City
Although Cotabato City is outside the ARMM jurisdiction and is actually part of SOCCSKSARGEN, it is considered the regional capital of ARMM. The majority of the city’s residents are Maguindanaoan at 61%, and 70% of the city’s inhabitants are Muslims.

Although the city’s economy declined during the 1970s, it is rapidly recovering. It is now a thriving tourist destination, and its most popular attraction is the Rio Grande de Mindanao, the country’s second largest river system where water sports and boat racing are held regularly. Other places of interest include the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid—the country’s largest mosque, which reportedly cost $48 million to build—and the Kutawato Caves.

Aside from the provinces in the ARMM region, other locations with large Muslim communities are North Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga City, Palawan, South Cotabato, and the Davao provinces.


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