2015 Thesis: “Pagtuhan: The Taosug Gnosis as a Living Tradition” by Darwin J. Absari

Pagtuhan is define as ‘pangila ha Tuhan’ (recognition of God) which requires knowledge and witnessing of the object of knowledge. It is practiced, transmitted, and kept intact by Taosug Mystics known as the Mukali (literally diggers). This paper is an exposition of the philosophy, teachings, and methods of Pag-Tuhan, from an exploration of its influences from its beginnings in the 5th century, until the introduction of Islam to the communities of the Sulu archipelago and Mindanao in the 13th century, and onwards to the spiritual tradition as practiced today. Pag-Tuhan is analyzed through the lens of Ma’rifa (gnosis) in classical Islamic thought, using the model devised by Sufi masters. Taosug society is then analyzed through the lens of Pag-Tuhan, to identify the scope and effects of Pag-Tuhan through history, within practicing individuals, families, communities, and the greater society.

To form a comprehensive picture of Pag-Tuhan, the researcher, a practitioner of more than two decades, obtained primary and secondary data through the following sources:

  1. personal experience and observation
  2. interviews with Mukali guru and other practitioners
  3. field visits to the various stations (tampat) of the Makhdumin and other Sufi masters/ Mukali and interviews with their caretakers (who are usually themselves descendants of the Sufi masters and practitioners themselves)
  4. personal collection and commentary of Taosug mystical poetry (Daman) and Taosug mystical songs
  5. narrations of Taosug elders
  6. oral traditions
  7. Kitab Kamaasan (Book of the Elders) obtained from various Mukali

To relate Pag-Tuhan from within the thought and practice of other spiritual traditions, translations of classical text as well as their commentaries were also consulted.

The study reveals that Pag-Tuhan is the product of an evolution of gnosis, as it has been influenced by concepts and practices from Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism through centuries of economic and socio-political intercourse with the neighboring regions. Its greatest contributor, and the completion of its concept of gnosis, is through the knowledge brought by the Makdumin. Unlike the Indo-Malaysian Islamization, the coming of Islam to Sulu was marked by the teaching of contemplation of Allah in the 13th century through Tuan Mashaika; the teaching of Divine love, the lȃhil sambahayang (outward worship) through Karimul Makhdum; and fulfillment of the political aspects of Islam through the formation of the sultanate and the practice of the Islamic Law (shariah) through Shariful Hashim.

An analysis of Pag-Tuhan’s philosophy, teaching, and practices show that it is intimately connected to the way of the Sufis. Its emphasis on knowledge and purification as a path towards Divine Love, on inner worship and contemplation of the self, the creation of Man, the primordial covenant, and the circular path to Allah, his necessary ascent to attain closeness to God and the descent back to practice his worship in society. It is notable that Pag-Tuhan is in concordance with the models of Ma’arifa put forward by Imam Ghazali, Mawlana Rumi, and Shayk Ibn ‘Arabi.

Pag-Tuhan was presented as a complete system for the guidance of Mystics and those who wish to attain closeness to Allah. While similar on essence to Sufism, it has developed its own means of conceptualizing, presenting, and practicing Ma’arifa. Moreover, it has concepts and experiences carried over from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as particular concepts unique to Pag-Tuhan. A framework for the spiritual journey of Mukali was also presented.

In this thesis, Pag-Tuhan is identified as the essence of Taosug culture and society, the source of their knowledge, the reason for their bravery, and their hope for the future. The special characteristic of Taosug people, in their building of an empire and their capacity to defend it for more than three hundred years of colonial pressure is traced back to the strong presence of Pag-Tuhan within the social fabric.

Indeed, the practice of Pag-Tuhan is not limited by time nor space, not even by death. Many Mukali have been taught by masters such as Khidr, Shayk Abdul Qadir Al-Jilani, Shaikh Ibn ‘Arabi, the Makhdumin, and even the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and his companions. In these troubled times, Pag-Tuhan remains strong through the practices of Mukali not only in the rural interior but also of those who have integrated in formal society as professionals and public servant. Truly, the presence of the Mukali, the Manusiya Sabbunal (Real Man), from among the ranks of the Tausog, and the knowledge that they hold in the form of Pag-Tuhan, are treasures that are kept safe and pure for generations to come.

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