This last Spring we decided to head to the Philippines for a family vacation. Going in we knew that it was a Catholic country which was really irrelevant in my mind. We have travelled to many countries where the main faith was not that of our own so going to a Non-Muslim country was a non-issue. Our vacation was 2 weeks long during which we went to 4 Islands and 6 cities. Quite the whirlwind of a trip. Before going we knew that there had been some issues with Muslims there and although that made us feel a little uneasy we decided we would just be careful. We were 3 families; 12 people (6 of which were kids). Surely we wouldn't have any trouble.
Upon arrival it was clear that this was going to be an amazing trip. Let me rave about this incredible country for a bit. I first want to point out how friendly Filipinos are. So friendly! I have never met people like that. It shouldn't have come as much of a surprise seeing I grew up with and knew many Filipino families and they were pretty amazing too! Next, everyone speaks English! What a relief! Taking the language barrier out makes travelling so much easier. You can just enjoy everything so much more. Finally, the Philippines has so much to offer. If you want beach, they have it. If you want city, they have it. If you want jungle, they have it. If you want adventure, they have it. Every island we visited was as if we had arrived in a whole new country! How wonderful is that?!
As far as being a Muslim in the Philippines, I did notice a few things:
1. Stares: Oh the stares. Stares on the beach as we rock our modest hijabs. Stares on the street as we enjoy the sights. They aren't "bad"
stares, but more curious stares. The stares were especially obvious when we visited the San Pedro Cathedral in Davao. It was as if they were surprised Muslims would want to visit a church. We love Jesus too!
2. Scary Posters: One thing that made me feel uneasy as we travelled to multiple islands in the Philippines was the large "Terrorist Watch" posters we saw quite often. And yes, they were all Muslim. If a big vinyl poster with 20 pictures and names of terrorists they are in search of as you explore the streets of Cebu doesn't make you at least a little uncomfortable then I don't know what will.
3. Muslims are Few and Far Between: At least it seems that way. The number of Muslims (obvious ones) that we saw in 2 weeks we were there could be counted on one hand. We did come across a small area in Boracay which seemed to be the "Muslim area". This area was broken down, and far from the main area of Boracay. This was the only time we saw a Masjid also. Apparently, there are a number of beautiful iconic Mosques in the Philippines but somehow none of them were in any of the cities we went to even though we choose the most commonly visited cities.
4. Whispers: Along with the stares came whispers. You could often hear people whisper something in Filipino followed by "Muslims". This was especially true with children.
In the end, I really did enjoy the Philippines. I have learnt to see past the stares, glares and whispers. I consciously choose to do that. It can be difficult when hostility is put right in your face and even more difficult to explain to my children but that's the world we live in. I will never stop wanting to travel. I will never lose the desire to see all the world has to offer. There are still too many amazing places that we haven't seen yet. We just have to be smart where, when and how we travel.
Have you been to the Philippines? How was your experience?