This 1985 article in Islamic Horizons highlights a presentation on Latinx people in Islam at the Museo del Barrio in East Harlem. At this time, a diverse Latino-led community was beginning in the Barrio known as Alianza Islamica, which started in 1987 with a journal of the same name. The founders made claim to Islam as part of the heritage of Latinx people. By the early 1990s, members were visible members of their neighborhood, hosting Islamic classes at their Lexington Ave mosque, providing services for food insecurity and offering funeral services for Muslim HIV/AIDS victims, a novelty at the time.
It is key to remember that El Museo del Barrio was born in the late 1960s from the demands of African American and Latinx parents for representational education for their children. Museum founder Rafael Montañez Ortíz wrote: “The cultural disenfranchisement I experience as a Puerto Rican has prompted me to seek a practical alternative to the orthodox museum, which fails to meet my needs for an authentic ethnic experience. To afford me and others the opportunity to establish living connections with our own culture, I founded El Museo del Barrio.”
Published by the first iteration of the organization Alianza Islamica of the mid-80s, it was the first bi-lingual publication of its kind. The journal Alianza Islamica was a joint effort with the Bismi Rabbik Foundation in Chicago. The second iteration of Alianza Islamica as an organization, which lasted from the late 80s to the early 2000s, is the one more popularly associated with the name.
Created with the crude desktop publishing tools of the day, the newsletter Somos… was Alianza Islamica’s flagship publication. The ellipsis in the name was meant to evoke a literal journey of gradual self-revelation that would, in time, make clear who we were as Latino Muslims and our mission in El Barrio.
This presentation is a comprehensive look at resistance movements from the Sixties through to the present day. It mainly focuses on the roots of resistance and how they influenced early indigenous Muslim communities. Rahim Ocasio presented it at Darul Hijra in Northern Virginia about 2008/2009 as part of a youth program.
The video below documents a landmark event in the history of El Barrio (Spanish Harlem) and the Latino Muslim story in the United States. It was Alianza Islamica’s attempt to publicly showcase an expression of Muslim culture that was distinctly Latino and accurately reflected our contemporary cultural reality: sights, sounds, music, songs, verse, and food, the latter with an indispensable assist from our mothers. The result: a festive event novel yet familiar to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
This lecture shines a light on the problem of racism in the American Muslim community. Its primary focus is on the ways Arabs and Indo-Pakistanis discriminate against Black and Latino Muslims.
The examples cited reveal the stark reality of Muslim discrimination and the need for frank and open dialogue. As with most things noxious, prejudice festers in the dank dark. Honest discussion, public as well as private, is a must.
In that vein, it is troubling that an essential part of the speech was deleted from the video. That excised portion dealt with organizational and institutional discrimination. Some major national Muslim organizations, especially those run by first and second generation immigrants, have a history of attempting to co-opt and control Latino Muslim initiatives. These efforts betray motivations and agendas that don’t align with the best interests of Latino Muslims and the Latino people.
Racism, and it’s prurient twin, arrogance, held in opposition to Islamic standards will always be found wanting. Delusional airs of superiority betray Islamic values to the core and are anathema to civilized Islamerican society. May Allah, The Most High, protect us from this evil. Amin.