During my visit to Sulu with fellow travel blogger Gay Mitra-Emami of www.pinaytraveljunkie.com, we had the privilege of touring Masjid Tulay (Tulay Central Mosque) in Jolo town. Generally not open to non-Muslims, we had special permission to explore the inside of the mosque thanks to our military guide who befriended the local imam. The most prominent landmark in Jolo town – whether viewed from the plane or the boat to Marungas Island – this grand place of worship pierces a skyline of iron-roofed houses and rickety shanties with its four minarets. At dawn, it is a particularly wondrous sight when seen from out at sea, as the morning mist shrouds the town with the mountains behind.
With a capacity of more than 5,000 people, Masjid Tulay is the largest mosque in the province of Sulu, where 90% of the population is Muslim. Established in 1884, the original mosque was destroyed in 1974 at the height of the war between government forces and separatist group, Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). In 2001, the present-day Masjid Tulay was rebuilt using $2 million donation from the Sheik Zayed Al-Nahayan Foundation in the United Arab Emirates.
Leaving our footwear at the front steps, we entered the empty musallah or prayer hall and admired the bare and spacious interior. There was no one else besides a lone worshipper facing the qiblah wall. We then climbed a stairwell to the right which spiraled up one of the minarets to the rooftop. Under the midday sun, I peered over the ledge to enjoy the impressive (and unique) views of Jolo town and the nearby islands of Hadji Panglima Tahil. Brightly colored tricycles and rickshaws clogged the narrow streets of the Chinese Pier and frenetic public market. It was an amazing sight; the town was so much more alive and busy from up there. Masjid Tulay was the grandest mosque I’ve seen in the Philippines, next to Sultan Hadji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid in Cotabato City. Our special tour of the most important mosques in the country was definitely one of the highlights of my five-day exploration of Sulu province.
Special thanks to the Philippine Marine Corps for providing our tours, security and accommodations during our five-day visit to Sulu province, especially to the 2nd, 6th and 9th battalions stationed in Talipao, Patikul and Indanan, respectively.
Due to socio-political unrest, armed conflict and kidnappings in some areas in Sulu, all travelers are required to seek the assistance from the provincial tourism office beforehand for their safety and security. Exploring the province safely and responsibly entails being escorted by the military. For more information, contact provincial tourism officer, Ms. Jainab Abdulmajid at +63 9175929225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO GET THERE
Philippine Airlines flies three times a week to Jolo from Zamboanga City. Flight time is only 35 minutes. Visit www.philippineairlines.com. Alternatively, Aleson Shipping Lines runs ten-hour overnight ferry trips also from Zamboanga City. Tricycles are the popular means of transportation around the commercial center of Jolo.