Arabs in the Philippines

Filipinos with Arab background
Total population
Estimated 2% of population have partial Arab ancestry[1]
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

According to Philippine ambassador to Jordan, Junever M. Mahilum-West, in 2016 an estimated 2 percent of the population of the Philippines, about 2.2 million people, could claim partial Arab ancestry.[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. 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.

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.


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.


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),[2] Kuh Ledesma (of Lebanese lineage), Ana Roces (real name: Marinella Adad; Lebanese),[3] Uma Khouny (Israeli Arab), Yasmien Kurdi (Lebanese), Jessy Mendiola (real name: Jessica Mendiola Tawile; Lebanese), Gazini Ganados (real name: Gazini Christiana Jordi Acopiado Ganados; Palestinian), Mona Louise Rey (real name Mona Al-Alawi; Bahraini) and her older sister Ivana Alawi, and Zeinab Harake (Lebanese).

See also


  • 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. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23654532.

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