Put ‘Middle East’ and ‘Philippines’ in a sentence and the usual knee-jerk thought is ‘Aha – the introduction of Islam to the islands in 1380″ or, sadly “Oh-oh, ISIS terrorists in Marawi” and certainly “Muslim”. In fact, there was a flood of people migrating from the Middle East to the Philippines in the 19th century, especially from the Turkish-administered Ottoman Empire, Christian and Jew , bringing with them entrepreneurship and adding to the cultural life of the country. Plus at least one who played a role in efforts to seek Philippine independence from the Spanish and is regarded as the founder of American business in Manila.In his paper, Middle Eastern Migrants in the Philippines: Entrepreneurs and Cultural Brokers, (1), Professor William Gervaise Clarnce-Smith of SOAS says:
“Middle Easterners have made a significant contribution to the history of the Philippines, and yet scholars have ignored them. This contrasts with the substantial literature on Chinese and Japanese immigration into the islands, and some scattered research on South Asian, European and North American communities. Despite their small numbers, Middle Easterners have left their own particular mark on the Philippines and, thus, deserve to be rescued from obscurity.”
Najib Tannun Hashim is a particularly interesting example of a Middle Eastern immigrant given his connection with the struggle for Philippine Independence from the Spanish, possible friendship with Jose Rizal, his playing the Great Game for Dewey after the Battle of Manila Bay, his business interests like the still-remember Manila Grand Opera House, and his domestic tribulations, the latter often covered in law students textbooks.
Hadhrami Arab Muslim influences were largely confined to the Southern Philippines while Jewish, Christian and Druze middle-easterners predominated in Manila. Most were in search of business opportunities and had first gone to the United States from Ottoman-controlled Syria and Lebanon. The opening up of the Philippines from the beginning of the 19th century created such opportunities.
So it was that Damascus-born Najib ‘N.T.’ and his elder brother Sa’id Tannun Hashim, converts to Protestantism from the Greek Orthodox church and now US citizens, stepped onto the wharf at the port of Manila in 1892 with suitcases filled with watches and jewellery, to make their fortunes, which they proceeded to do during three moves of location.
Sa’id later moved to Japan. He was of different mettle to Najib – he denounced an unidentified person to Spanish diplomats for smuggling arms to Philippine revolutionaries. However, the diplomats considered him a rogue and ignored him (2).
He later returned to the Philippines and effectively became invisible, little more is known of him.Early in the American period a third brother, Aziz, also moved to Manila after running a jewellery business in Canada. One of the Hashim brothers appears to have been connected with Sayyid Wajih al-Kilani, a Palestinian who proclaimed himself shaykh al-Islam and was expelled from the Philippines by Governor-General Harrison in 1914.
An August 1923 Amerrican Chamber of Commerce Journal describes Najib as “… The real pioneer of American commercial establishments in the Philippines.” (2)
- Clarence-Smith, William. (2004). Middle Eastern Migrants in the Philippines: Entrepreneurs and Cultural Brokers. Asian Journal of Social Science. 32. 425-457.
- Clarence-Smith, personal correspondence.
- The American Chamber of Commerce Journal, August 1923, Manila, Philippines, 47-48
- US Patent US1565444A