We degrade what we do not understand. We call madness the things unfamiliar to us. This is how most Filipinos label Juramentado—the ritual suicide attack of the Moro people. In Tagalog culture, “Juramentado” came to mean an indiscriminate act of violence resulting from mental instability. This is an insult and reflects our lack of understanding of the history of the Muslim people in the Philippines.
The word “Juramentado” is of Spanish origin and literally means “one who takes an oath”. The origin of the word, therefore, shows us that the act of Juramentado was done by a conscious, stable mind out of obligation and honor.
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Ritual suicide attacks are found in different cultures. The Kamikaze pilots of Japan, the Berserkers of the Vikings, and the Parang Sabil of Muslim Indonesia are examples. These attacks are aimed at inflicting the greatest number of enemy casualty at the cost of one’s own life. It is a ritual because it is imbued with spiritual/religious significance. For the likes of Juramentado, Parang Sabil, and the Berserkers, those who die are believed to be transported to paradise, to the land of bliss. For the Kamikaze bombers, it is their ultimate act of service, to “lay down seven lives for the emperor”.
The act of Juramentado has been used by the Moro people, most famously by the Sultanate of Sulu, as a means to fend of foreign invaders like the Spaniards, Americans, the Japanese, as well as other Filipinos. The terror that the Juramentados inflicted on their enemies was so great, certain measures were devised if only to discourage the Moros from employing surprise attacks. What eventually ended the practice was the desecration of Juramentado corpses with pig corpses and meat—a detestable animal to Muslims—which prevented relatives and allies from retrieving the bodies and giving them a proper burial according to Islamic rites.
Juramentados are called Mag-Sabil or “those who endure the pangs of death”. Contrary to popular, ignorant belief, the candidates are properly trained and consent is asked of their families and the Sultan. The training and preparation are called Parang Sabil (Path to Paradise).
As a ritual, the Juramentado sees the Mag-Sabil performing a special oath bound by the Qur’an, a special prayer, clad in ceremonial white garments, his body is bound, usually with rattan in particular parts of his body, to minimize blood loss to maximize his damages to the enemy. The main weapon of the Juramenado is the Kris, the wave-bladed weapon of Muslim, insular Southeast Asia.
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The Mag-Sabils were considered as heroes and saints who laid down their lives in defense of their community and of Islam so that their families, friends, people can continue to live in freedom and not in captivity and oppression under foreign overlords.