By KC Santos
MANILA CITY, METRO MANILA – On my random trips to Quiapo, I always make it a point to visit and write about a place or delicacy often overlooked by tourists. Fortunately, I got to experience the best of both during my first visit to the Masjid al-Dahab Mosque.
More popularly known as the Golden Mosque, the gigantic structure serves as the center of Islamic activity in Metro Manila.
Ordered built in 1976 by former First Lady Imelda Marcos, especially for the first visit of (now former) Libyan strongman Muammar al-Gaddafi, the mosque now stands not only as an urban Mecca for the growing Muslim community in Manila but also as one of the most under-appreciated structures to be found in the city.
One can see the sudden change of scenery from the entry point in Bautista Street. From stalls that sell pirated DVDs, halal restaurants and stores selling all sorts of signaled one’s close proximity to the mosque.
The long stretch of make-shift food stalls extend through the entrance of the mosque where I was welcomed by Safrollah Macaindig, one of the volunteer guards staying in the mosque.
In his two years of guarding the mosque, Safrollah eventually learned and was permitted by his superiors to do tour guiding on the side as his voluntary means to educate people, especially tourists, about the Islamic faith.
“We welcome everyone to take part and experience how we express our strong faith and share how really, were just like any other community out there,” said the Maguindanao native, who sees his volunteer work as a ticket to work abroad in the future.
“In Muslim culture, our worth is often judged by brothers and sisters in faith based on our devotion to virtues like selflessness and kindness. Especially in the kind of image often associated with Muslims, we need to pray more and more that this will soon pass,” said Safrollah, who is happy to see tourists, especially Christians, come in for a visit.
The mosque is just as beautiful at night as it is by day. It’s highly characterized by colonnades and arches and an onion shaped dome that was accented by Islamic geometric wall patterns called okir.
The structure is sectioned into two parts to divide the males from the females. Inside, there is minimal furniture or ornaments, only a vast space of gleaming marble, punctuated by the sound of devotees praying in chorus.
I went there in middle of the Ramadan sacrifice, and Safrollah explained to me why they need to pray five times a day even after the month of fasting. They only get to eat at dawn and dusk so when I visited the place at around six o’clock in the evening, I spotted them enjoying their food and sharing gallons of water right outside the mosque.
My timing was impeccable as the muezzin called in the people for prayer from the minaret. Safrollah said a traditional purification ritual called wudu, or washing the hands, face, forearms and feet, must first be done before entering the mosque barefoot.
All personal or professional obligations must be stopped in time for prayers. Those visiting the mosque for the first time (like myself) are encouraged to wear religious clothing or head gear called combong as a sign of reverence to Allah on their next visits.
For Ramadan, the mosque is open from 4a.m. Until midnight. Safrollah said a visit is enriched when tourists also check out local delicacies synonymous to the cultures of Muslim tribes like Tausugs, Badjaos, Samals, Maguindanaons who populate the surrounding areas of the mosque.
Huge skewered smoked yellowfin tuna are sold for 130 pesos each. Stalls selling these are all over this community. Dried traditional fruits like figs are sold here along with the signature Maranaw siding called palapa at very affordable prices.
My crash course on Islam ended with a souvenir from Safrollah, which was a sign that the community welcomes my second (and impending) visit. Truly, I have never met such a warm and happy community who taught me a lot about sharing one’s faith.
How to get to the Golden Mosque:
From the LRT Carriedo Station, tricycles or pedicabs can take you straight to Globo de Oro Street for 20 pesos.
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