In historic visit to Islamic City of Marawi in Philippines, His Highness the Aga Khan vehemently rejected notion that modern education diminishes sharpness and deepness of our faith


Marawi, in the Phillipines island of Mindanao (which is commonly referred to as Southern Phillipines), has been home to a colorful culture where objects made by brassware makers, drum carvers and weavers have attracted hundreds of visitors to the town. Predominantly Muslim, the city was in 1980 named as the Islamic City of Marawi.

map of philippines
Map of Philippines. Mindanao Island (Southern Philippines, circled blue), with the location of Mawari in Mindanao denoted in orange. Map: University of Texas. Mindanao/Marawi notations are Barakah’s.

Marawi has a commanding view of the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Lano, the second largest and deepest in the Philippines. Thus, the people of the region, who are regarded as among the most devout of Muslims are often referred to as Maranaos or the People of the Lake. For generations, Christians and Muslims co-existed peacefully in Marawi.

Wikipedia notes that in May 2017, the city of approximately 202,000 was largely taken over by militants affiliated with supporters of ISIS that included the Maute Group composed of former Moro Islamic Liberation Front guerrillas and foreign fighters led by Omar Maute, the alleged founder of a Dawlah Islamiya. The Philippines Government declared martial law in all of Mindanao and sent  troops into Marawi. A 5-month battle ensued and the government troops quelled the insurgency. 

Logo designating Marawi as an Islamic City. Photo: Wikipedia, Fair use.

The Guardian reported in a piece on May 22, 2018 that “A year after conflict started, residents of the ‘Islamic capital’ of the Philippines don’t know when or if they will be able to return home. The green Bato Ali mosque is a heartbreaking reminder of the fierce battles the military fought to stop supporters of Islamic State (Isis) from carving out a caliphate in the Philippines. Some neighbouring buildings fared far worse. Here, the walls of multi-storey houses have been destroyed, exposing rooms inside. There, a three-storey building tilts to one side. Rusting vehicles sit idle on every street.” [1] 

A later report in the Voice of America suggested that life in Marawi is returning to normal. It states that “Students freely go to classes at the wooded Mindanao State University campus and sit outside classroom buildings chatting with classmates afterward. In town, except for a cordoned-off tract of the city destroyed by the war, merchants sell bananas from roadside shops and tend to small farms.” [2]

The Aga Khan Museum in Marawi

aga-khan- museum of islamic arts marawi mindano 2
Aga Khan Museum in Marawi, Mindanao, Philippines. Photo: CulureEd Philippines. More photos, see notes below.

Interestingly, Marawi is home to The Aga Khan Museum of Islamic Arts, which to our knowledge survived the ravages of the conflict.

It began as a one room museum in 1962 at the State University of Mindanao with the efforts of Dr. Mamitua D. Saber. The visionary scholar also established the sociology and anthropology departments in the university which contributed to the development of cultural infrastructures in Mindanao.

On 24 November 1963,  on the occasion of the University’s as well as the Museum’s first anniversary, His Highness the Aga Khan went to Marawi to address local leaders and the student body of the Mindanao State University.

The Aga Khan made a donation for the museum to be housed in a new building, and the museum was renamed the Aga Khan Museum for Islamic Arts. It was inaugurated in the new building on March 23, 1969. The objective of the new Aga Khan Museum for Islamic Arts was to help gather and bind antique items on local arts of the entire region, and to benefit to scholars and researchers of Muslim Filipinos culture.

The Aga Khan Museum became one of the major tourist attractions of Marawi and Lanao del Sur.  [3, and for photos, see 4].

The following are excerpts from the speech made by the Aga Khan on the occasion of his visit in 1963. [5]

Muslim students urged by Aga Khan to vigorously regain their rightful position amongst the intellectual elite 

1963 aga khan mindanao universitym21190
His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at the First Anniversary Celebration of Mindanao State University where His Highness was the Chief Guest. Photo: AKDN/H. Merchant.


Having done my primary and secondary education in Switzerland and then gone to University in America, I have had perhaps a unique occasion to compare the standards of education of the Western world with those of the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

As a result I am now deeply convinced that man’s position in society, wherever he may be, will depend less and less upon his cultural or family heritage and more and more on the power and development of his mind.

In every Society I have seen, it is the intellectual elite which is capturing the outstanding offices, the most interesting work, the best situations. The trend is, in fact, bound to be the case, so long as the world population continues to increase and we are forced to deeper and deeper specialization.

The great Omayyad and Abbaside Khalifates were created through the spread of the message of Islam and the conquering power of the Muslim armies, but once the waves of conquest were over, once the Muslim religion had spread from Arabia westwards to Southern France and eastwards to China, there arose the problem of organizing and running the State.

If this state had been weak internally, I submit that it would have been rapidly overthrown. On the contrary, it lived for centuries.

What was the power, what were the centres of force which provided the Khalifates with the material to govern? From whence came the unifying force which allowed these immense empires to weld together peoples of different languages, ethnic origins and cultures.

The Khalifates drew administrative machinery from some of the greatest centres of learning which have ever existed. The Universities in Damascus and Baghdad, and later those of Cairo, Tehran Cordova and Istanbul were centres of learning unparalleled anywhere else. Even in those days, once the brute force of the armies had been withdrawn, it was the power of the intellectual elite which took over and governed, ran and maintained the State.

During the two Khalifates, the Muslim Universities were producing the best scholars, doctors, astronomers and philosophers.

Today where are we?

Have we institutions of learning which can compare with the Sorbonne, Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, M.I.T.?

Throughout my journeys I have been deeply pained to see the lack of initiative which my brother Muslims have shown in educational matters.

In some circles there may have been a fear that modern education would tend to lessen the sharpness and deepness of our Faith. I am afraid that I must reject this with vehemence.

God has given us the miracle of life with all its attributes: the extraordinary manifestations of sunrise and sunset, of sickness and recovery, of birth and death, but surely if He has given us the means with which to remove ourselves from this world so as to go to other parts of the Universe, we can but accept as further manifestations the creation and destruction of stars, the birth and death of atomic particles, the flighting new sound and light waves.

I am afraid that the torch of intellectual discovery, the attraction of the unknown, the desire for intellectual self-protection have left us.

I fully realize that one needs today tools with which to extend the realms of man’s knowledge.

Here you have at your disposal a tool which is being fashioned into an instrument for self-perfection. But it must never be thought, I submit, that this tool is or will become perfect.

It will take all the vigilance of the founders, the faculty and the students to see that your standards are continually raised, that your instrument for learning is continually ameliorated so as to render you greater service at less cost in time and energy.

I hope that those students who came to this University, and that those students who will leave it for further studies, will approach their work with sharp vengeance – vengeance for the torpor and indifference of the past; vengeance for having temporarily lost their rightful position amongst the intellectual elite of the country.

We must, I suggest, use every opening available to us to make good the time and learning which we have lost, no matter if we turn to institutions steeped in foreign cultures so long as it is for our own improvement and in the process we do not lose our own identity. Not so long ago, after all, these cultures were turning to us.

Let us, therefore, put our backs to the wheel and show the state in which we live that we are determined to become first class citizens, nay leaders, not for the futile glory of leadership but to help this country become a better place in which to live and ensure that, even if we cannot reap the fruit of our labour, our children will be born to brighter horizons.

Date posted: January 23, 2019.

This website has an excellent array of thoughtful articles and beautiful photos of Mawlana Hazar Imam. Don’t leave the website before checking out Barakah’s Table of Contents.



[3] (Link response is  slow, with frequent connection time outs; use google to translate)
[4] See photos of Aga Khan Museum and its artifacts at
[5] Presidential Address at the First Anniversary of Mindanao University, IIS website, November 24, 1963, Manilla, Philippines.

NOTE: By far the best as well as the most comprehensive and organized collection of speeches of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, can be found at

Also an insightful reflection by Gemma Cruz Araneta on the  Aga Khan’s visit and a good write up on weavers in Mindanao at:


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