01/03/2023 Philippines (International Christian Concern) – Mindanao is a beautiful yet difficult land where complex religious and political issues collide to bring instability and persecution to many Christians.
Mindanao is the southernmost island region of the Philippines. Home to more than 27 million people, Mindanao has a large Muslim population, with one-quarter of locals following Islam. Islam took root here in the 13th century. Christians began arriving in large numbers to Mindanao in the 1960s and 1970s under Ferdinand Marcos’ iron regime. This led to increased tensions with local indigenous groups and established Muslim factions forming and growing. These groups began rebelling forcefully against American influence in the Philippines, Marcos’ strict rule, and the growing numbers of Christians in Mindanao. As a result, groups like the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the Muslim Independence Movement, and the New People’s Army (communist) emerged and began causing havoc, particularly against Christians since the 1960s.
Today, Christianity is the predominant faith in Mindanao. However, many Muslims continue to call for Mindanao to adopt Sharia law. Many Muslim groups push for Mindanao to leave the Philippines nation-state and join with their Muslim neighbors, Indonesia or Malaysia. Muslim extremists continue to fight running battles with the government, terrorizing local communities and targeting Christian pastors and churches.
In 2014, militant terror organizations in Mindanao, like the Abu Sayyaf Group and the Dawlah Islamiya-Maute Group, joined forces with the Islamic State (IS) from the Middle East, unleashing a new wave of terror in the region. This directly led to the terrorists seizing Marawi City in 2017 (displacing 400,000 people), the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao to be separate from the rest of Mindanao and the Philippines, and a steady program of violence against Christians.
For Christians in Mindanao today, there remains a real sense of fear as the political and religious turmoil keeps Mindanao in an unsettled state. In December 2023, IS claimed responsibility of a bombing in a Catholic service held at Marawi State University which killed four people and injured more than 50 others. This heinous bombing came after increased operations from local police and military against Muslim militant groups linked to IS.
Christians continue to face violence and harassment, with many driven out of Muslim-majority areas like Bangsamoro. As of February 2023, more than 120,000 Filipinos remain displaced because of armed conflicts and crime in Mindanao.
Additionally, Mindanao’s huge natural disaster-prone part (typhoons, earthquakes, eruptions) constantly adds another layer of severe hardship for locals. Families and communities in Mindanao live in a fragile peace; an environment of instability and insecurity, especially with the strong presence of Muslim extremist groups and ongoing political, religious, and ethnic conflicts.
ICC is identifying ways to serve and support local Christians. In December 2023, we supported local church planters working in an extremely dangerous environment in northern Mindanao. We provided Bibles for new followers of Jesus facing death threats and other challenges from family and community members and a motorbike to help the church planters navigate their mission field.
We will keep working with local Christians, develop new partnerships, and seek more opportunities to strengthen the local Mindanao church to persevere amidst this persecution.
ICC is watching the state of Christians in Mindanao closely.
Christians in the Southeast Asia region face massive obstacles with ongoing wars, the strong presence of Muslim radicals and Marxist governments, and gigantic humanitarian, political, and religious pressures. However, the situation in Mindanao has all the ingredients for heightened and harsh persecution and will, in our view, be a growing hot spot of persecution again in the near future.
To read more stories like this, sign up for ICC’s free monthly magazine.