Mindanao, and adjacent islands in the southern Philippines, long has been an area of tension and instability. The region is home to the country’s Muslim minority population, which, for generations, has harbored aspirations for genuine autonomy from the Christian-dominated government in Manila. Well before the country achieved independence, the Muslims struggled against the Spanish conquistadors who introduced Christianity and Catholicism and ruled the Philippines from the mid-sixteenth century until they were defeated by the United States in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The Spanish called the Muslims “Moros” because they considered them to resemble their enemies from home, the Moors of North Africa. As one scholar notes: “The Spaniards and the Moros were in an almost continuous state of battle, raid, and counter-raid for more than 300 years.” 1 In the end, the Spanish were never able to conquer the Moros or integrate them fully into the emerging Philippine nation.
The situation improved little during the American colonial period. Muslim resistance persisted, as American notions of government and justice were perceived as direct threats to Islamic custom and tradition. At the same time, policies were effected that promoted a migration to