Arabs in the Philippines

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Filipinos with Arab background
Regions with significant populations
Mindanao · Metro Manila · Visayas
Arabic · Filipino · English · other languages of the Philippines
Sunni Islam · Greek Orthodox Christianity · Catholicism · Others
Related ethnic groups
Arab diaspora

Filpinos with Arab background comprise around 31,000 of the national population.[1]


Arab traders have been visiting Philippines for nearly 2000 years for trade purposes, and traded extensively with local Malayan chiefs, datos and Rajahs that had various Rajahnates in the region. Arab and Persian traders passed by the Philippines, on their way to Guangzhou, China. These early Arab traders followed the pre-Islamic religions of Arabian Christianity, Paganism and Sabeanism. After the advent of Islam, in 1380, Karim ul’ Makhdum, the first Islamic missionary to reach the Sulu Archipelago, brought Islam to what is now the Philippines, first arriving in Jolo. Subsequent visits of Arab Muslim missionaries strengthened the Islamic faith in the Philippines, concentrating in the south and reaching as far north as Manila. Starting with the conquest of Malaysia by the Portuguese and Indonesia by the Dutch, the Philippines began to receive a number of Malaysian-Arab refugees including several Malaysian princes and displaced court advisors. Soon, vast sultanates were established overlapping the existing indigenous Filipino barangay (village) governing system and Indianized royalty. The two largest were the Sultanate of Maguindanao, which loosely governed most of southern Mindanao and the Sultanate of Sulu, which included Basilan, Jolo, and parts of Borneo. Several other smaller but famous sultanates were also established such as the sultanate of Lanao in Mindanao, which was later conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century. The ties between the sultanates in Mindanao remained economically and culturally close to Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia until the end of the 19th century when the sultanates were weakened by the Spanish and later the American militaries.

According to the Syrian Consulate in Makati, the first Orthodox Christians on the islands were Syrian and Lebanese merchants and sailors, who arrived in Manila after the city was opened to international trade.[2] Many of the Lebanese sailors married local women and their descendants have since become Philippine citizens, including the owners of a famous pizzeria in Manila.[2]

In recent times, the first wave of Arabs to arrive to the Philippines were refugees from their war-torn nations, such as Lebanon which was under civil war in the 1980s, and Arab nations involved with the Gulf War in 1991. Other Arabs are entrepreneurs who intend to set up businesses.


Present-day Arab Filipino families include the Bediri (Tawi-Tawi), Usman Bin Husaifan from Hadramaut (Sulu Province) Abubakar (Sulu), Bajunaid (Maguindanao) and Samanodi (Samanodi, and not Samanoden, descended from Samannud, Egypt) of Jolo, Lanao, Cotabato and Maguindanao. In the early 1900s, Tuan Guru - Muhammad Ali Samanodi, arrived in the Philippines. He taught Islam in the provinces of Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao. He married Dayang dayang Sitti Saguira Ladjabassal Maulana, a descendant of the Kirams of the Sulu Sultanate. They had as children Datu Salih L. Samanodi, Datu Usman L. Samanodi and dayang dayang Sitti Jane Samanodi- Maulana. One of their grandchildren is Putli Suharni C. Samanodi (daughter of Salih Samanodi) who married former ARMM Governor Datu Zacaria A. Candao, descendant of Datu Pulalon Taup, Rajahmuda of Simuay and member of the Maguindanao Sultanate. Tuan Guru Samanodi also married Hadja Sitti Zubaida Yacob (descendant of Zamboanga Sibugay Sultanate). His other wives were Halima and Zainab both of Maranao descent.

Former ARMM Speaker Ismael "Pochong" Abubakar is Bediri from his maternal side and Abubakar from his paternal side. Former MSU Gensan Chancellor Moner Bajunaid is of Arab descent (Bajunaid of Yemen from his paternal side and Masmudi of Tunisia from his maternal side).

The Ampatuans of Maguindanao, descended from an Arab preacher named Shariff Saydona Mustapha who hails from Mecca in Saudi Arabia and a nephew of Shariff Muhammad Kabunsuan, the first Sultan of Maguindanao. He married a Maguindanaoan woman and had a son. The Masukats and Buisan clan all descended from Saydona Mustafa.

The Mastura clan, meanwhile descended from Shariff Kabunsuan, an Arab-Malay prince from Johore.

The Solimans of Cotabato City are among the Arab pioneers and migrated to the then town of Cotabato to start a new life. First coming to the Philippines through Bacolod City, then Kidapawan in North Cotabato and finally to Cotabato City. He settled in Cotabato City and became a prominent businessman.

Jack Jacob Ayid Soliman-Yacoub Ayid Nesheiwat (January 21, 1903- October 25, 1971) was born in Al-Salt, Jordan. He used to own a bazaar and barber shop in Magallanes Street in Cotabato City. He was a respected figure among the city's vast Muslim community. The Nesheiwat family of Al-Salt to which the Soliman family descended from are among the oldest family in Jordan and can be traced back as early as 14th century. The Nesheiwats still exist in Al-Salt, which was recently declared a protected area by Queen Rania of Jordan.

Jack Soliman had three wives (Lourdes Veniarta of Bacolod City and Grecilda Grecia of Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat) of whom he had six children. The eldest being Charito Soliman Bueno, a respected Academian and Professor of Notre Dame University (June 19, 1941- September 26, 2006 ) married to Damaso Bueno Sr. and had four children namely Damaso Jr., Ma. Donna, Jack Thomas and Emmanuel. Then followed by Dr. Joseph Ayid Soliman, a neurosurgeon married to Dr. Ella Sutton Soliman, based in Baltimore, Maryland, United States and had three children: Jack Joseph, Pamela and Michael. Nelson Ayid Soliman (May 25, 1952 – April 30, 2010) a retired banker of Philippine National Bank, married to Sylvia Garcing a daughter of one of Cotabato City's pioneer Vicente Garcing of Victorias, Negros, and had three children namely Jacquelyn, Jack Vincent and Judah. Meriam Soliman Anino, a Chemical engineer married to Dr.Rolando Anino had three children, namely Lovelyn Grace, Jack Rollan and Rolando Jr. Jack Soliman Jr., a Mariner and Gamal Soliman, married to Janet Flores with four boys: Jack Kristopher, Jhan Paulo, Jian Gamalliel and Jairo Anjello. The Solimans of today have left Cotabato for good.

Bagis (Yemen) of Zamboanga: Mac mod (Yemen) of Cotabato and General Santos. Palestinian wives of noted Islamic scholars from the Pasigan family of Maguindanao and Davao.

Also of Arab descent in Mindanao are the following families:

  • Cozbari (Syrian)
  • Nesheiwat (Soliman family)


In the Visayas, the Caram family of Iloilo, the Deen and Jureidini families from Cebu are of Arab descent.

The historian Cesar Adib Majul was the son of a Greek Orthodox Christian immigrant from Syria. He became a prominent historian on the Muslim Moro people and the history of Islam in the Philippines and wrote many books about Moros and Islam. He converted to Islam during adulthood.

Of Lebanese origin are the Nasser and Borgaily (Aburjaily) families of Davao City and the Ysmael family of New Manila. From Tuguegarao, Cagayan Valley are the Abrahams whose original family name was "Fakhri" (changed by the American authorities) who are blood relations of the Maronite Catholic Saint Charbel from Lebanon.

The Christian Arab American Dr. Najeeb Mitry Saleeby, who was born in Ottoman Lebanon in 1870, emigrated to America served as a medic in the American army and was sent to the Philippines where he became superintendent of schools in the Moro Province. He co-owned a house with the Lebanese Maronite immigrant John Awad (Juan Awad) in Davao in Mindanao, but unlike Awad, Saleeby does not appear to have stayed in the Philippines and instead returned to America as he has no descendants in the Philippines. Dr. Saleeby became a historian on the Moro people and their Sultanates after learning their languages and wrote several books on their history. Saleeby died in 1935.

The forebear of the Awad family of Davao is the Lebanese Maronite Christian John Awad (Juan Awad), who hailed from the Beqaa Valley. In the 1880s, Awad converted some Muslims around Davao to Christianity.

Some movie and TV celebrities are also of Arab descent. Among them are Carlos Agassi (real name: Amir Carlos Damaso Vahidi Agassi; Iranian), Charlie Davao (real name: Carlos Wahib Valdez Davao; Jordanian from maternal grandmother's side), Dawn Zulueta (real name: Rachel Marie Salman Taleon; Palestinian from maternal grandfather's side),[3] Kuh Ledesma (of Lebanese lineage), Ana Roces (real name: Marinella Adad; Lebanese),[4] Uma Khouny (Israeli Arab), Yasmien Kurdi (Lebanese) and Jessy Mendiola (real name: Jessica Mendiola Tawile; Lebanese).

See also[edit]


  • Clarence-Smith, William Gervase. 2004. "Middle Eastern Migrants in the Philippines: Entrepreneurs and Cultural Brokers". Asian Journal of Social Science 32 (3). BRILL: 425–57.