“Stories from the Intersection of Latinx & Muslim”

Saturday, May 13, 2017, 7pm at City Lore – 56 East 1st Street, NYC

Latinx Muslims are emerging as the country’s fastest growing demographic of Muslims. But they have had a long and rich history, especially in New York City. Tonight we hear about that history and current story. Join us for conversations with: Rahim Ocasio, one of the co-founders of the Alianza Islámica in el Barrio, on the remarkable and obscure history of the largest and most influential Latino Muslim organization in U.S. history; Rahim’s daughter Sultana Ocasio, who will speak about growing up Latina and Muslim; Rhynna M. Santos, founder of the Bronx Women’s Photo Collective, who will share work from her project “A Transcendent Calling: Latina Muslim Portraiture”; and Vilma Santos, on her participation in the portraiture project. You can find more info at: http://citylore.org/event/stories-from-the-intersection-of-latinx-muslim/

What legacy do I leave

Recently, I pared the Islamic section of an old cemetery.  My father is there. It is a beautiful peaceful place with hundreds maybe thousands of Muslim tombstones. Some simple, others ornate yet each one has a quick synopsis of a life. They all have a few Qura’n versus, some have a crescent and star, and others display “Please pray fatiha.”  As I made my rounds as close to death as we may get while still alive, I wondered how can I be proud of my sins and many shortcomings after being guided.  I will take advice of Islam and hide them and pray as my Lord will slightly cover them up here as he will do it again at judgement time.

How can I squeeze in what stood out in this Islamic life? Should I put the books I’ve read, the friendships, the marriages, some good some failed, the heartbreaks, the failures, or accomplishments. Student of history, defender of Latino heritage, and amateur musician. What in a few lines will sum up what I want future people to pass by and say that’s great well for right now I am a draft open to change.  I came to Islam in my youth seeking spiritual enlightenment and fuller social justice and racial ethnic equality.  I embraced Sunnism and never swerved from it although the times were wicked and misguided with countless cults. I never left my Sunni path realizing that true Sunnism included mainline Sufism.  I knew that the great masters of the inner path with at their lead Abdul-Qadir Jilani and all of the other Sunni leaders true.

I tried to protect and help Muslims and all decent people. I know that I was a grave sinner but I knew even more that I have a greater Lord almighty who over looks and forgives again and again.  I wish I had organized my time here better if I could do it again I would have memorized the Quran. I would have spent more time in Mecca and Medina. I would have been more tolerant and kinder but tougher on myself less on others. Well as you see I already need seven or eight stones and the inscriptions are very expensive they charge by the letter.  In a nutshell I would say that at the end of the day, I believed in all of this stuff hereafter, resurrection, Heaven, and Hell. I firmly believed the Lord of everything in the revealed book on creation and angels, the devil and that the ancient teachings of the old and new testaments and their confirmation in the Quran are the deepest truths of my life that it takes a lifetime to go through all of this. Fads come and go. Ideologies and cults are a dime a dozen but our religious foundation is the deepest part of us. Yes, I do believe all this and now just got to hold on and get ready to make this same cemetery my home until end of the world.

A final thought I want on my stone is that a former ghetto dweller had the audacity to think yes I knew more and was more correct than all the big shot philosophers and silly scholars who couldn’t put this story together, who failed to recognize the prophet hood of Muhammad and truth of the Quran that for all their brilliance they were trapped in word games and chasing after cheap thrills and whatever that it was God who put this truth into our confused heads and do.  We should treasure it and gratefully hold on each day.  Last note to our Muslim crowds today beware of the fame seekers, the glory hunters, the poster crowd. Although it really is to myself maybe I’m a little jealous today everyone is celebrating the work of the genius Imam Alghazali rightfully so. We had a terrible translation of the same book 40 years ago as kids. We would try to figure out what the great imam was getting at but one of the main trusts of his work was to avoid fame and glory, that the worst thing you can do is to profit by religion for worldly purposes.  We figured that out from our beat up cheap copies. Ironically Imam Ghazali taught Sufi Islam to get away from the world.  Today his teachings are being used for the opposite purpose.  Well as I said I’m preaching for myself, and it looks like I’ve filled a couple of full sections of the cemetery with my tombstones. Final note, most of my family – two sisters, mother, and father – all accepted Islam from the worst example possible, me which proves the greatness of God almighty.  Oh don’t forget the next generation is waiting for you to come and go…

By Yahya Figueroa

Alternative Views

By Yahya Figueroa

Strangely our brothers and sisters following the Salafi model love photos and publicity although many of the same minhaj believe photos to be haram, such as pictures of women with exposed faces.  I think it speaks to our confusion that these same ladies embrace modest dressing yet their behavior desires to be heard and mixed gender company does not seem to fit into their overall very strict interpretation.

Let  us frankly state the obvious. We are in America. Our history, cultural background and approach to life are very different than the model that is being selectively chosen for us.

I am uncomfortable with I feel to be a list for fame and recognition among the stars in this current movement.

Perhaps it is generational.

There is a push toward conversion fatwa but what happens when these people enter Islam?

Where is basic support, encouragement, and follow up? To the best of my knowledge there is none. It truly is as a current political phrase had it – all talk no action.

What of Muslim elderly or prisoners or poor homeless etc? No plan, no care.

So again I am challenging my current Muslim activists. Less fame and glory. More care for the weak and needy among our people and people in general regardless of caste color or creed.

Back on the Driver’s Seat

By Yahya Figueroa

Intellectual fads and cultural truism are very hard to detect. These false trends often have a grain of truth but the final product is distorted truths and fabulous falsehoods. The larger society has in so many ways lost its mind morally and intellectually.

Our minority groups are usually in the rear but here they have seemingly joined full scale adopting the lies of our time.

What happened to the most basic shared truths of the Bible and Quran? Ideas of monotheism against  paganism, ancient and modern, the belief in revealed truths such as the sanctity of life and final judgement with accountability for our deeds or the revealed truth of the same origin of all of the human race.

The condemnation of theft cheating immorality and yes shared notions of family marriage and a basic sense of normal, it seems these most simple basic beliefs are outdated.

Too often when we approach religion we wonder into hair splitting and debates of the most arcane types as the world seems to implode around us.

We watch helplessly as our families dissolve our communities and are up in arms against each other.

I challenge myself today by asking what is it that is so important in what I believe. How does it make a difference for me and others? Does my life have a mission, a core value that is worth calling to or am I just making a lot of noise?

Some of us have now spent an entire life within western Islam. We lived from humble beginnings, sweet innocent days of spiritual searching with revolutionary desire to change the worst parts of our society then we watched in horror as the worst aspects of the third world were brought here to our land.

Amazingly, we have allowed the late comers to reduce us to silence. Yes, people who came here to escape the horror of their failed lands are now the captains of this ship with the same foolish notions and collapsed plans.

Let us reclaim those days of joyous Islamic spirituality and yes, confront the self-appointed leaders who fail to notice their legacy of failure.

Spiritual searching and social activism are a powerful combination whose time has come again.


Alianza Islamica – Oasis in El Barrio

By Jorge “Fabel” Pabon aka Brother Shukriy

As salaamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu,

Alianza Islamica helped form the Muslim I am today. After embracing Islam in August of 1989, I began to mosque hop (going from one mosque to another) in an effort to find my rightful place in an Islamic community. My journey began with visits to Masjid Taqwa Wa Jihad in the Bronx, Masjid Malcolm Shabazz in Harlem, the Islamic Center on 72nd and on 96th street and the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem. I also visited several mosques in Brooklyn in search of a spiritual home base and family. I was a new shahada and was soaking in tons of information regarding the deen of Islam. I read many books, viewed a fair amount of videos and spoke to many Muslims in regards to the faith. I was gradually becoming more acquainted with my new spiritual undertaking. At this point, the majority of my influences were African-American Muslims. Transitioning from a somewhat reckless pre-Muslim aggressive lifestyle in the streets of NYC, I was finally on my way towards a path of peace and purpose.

Still in search of a spiritual home, I started to spend more time learning principles of Islam at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood. The Imam at M.I.B., Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, was facilitating several Islamic courses at the masjid. These courses helped me to understand certain concepts in Islam. I would attend the courses after I got out of work in the evenings. One particular day in 1992, I was done with work and decided to eat at a Dominican owned restaurant on 105th street and Lexington Ave. Once I was done with my dinner I started walking uptown on Lexington Ave. Two blocks into my walk, between 107th & 108th street, I saw a storefront with a sign that read ALIANZA ISLAMICA INC. I was absolutely amazed that I had never seen this place. I cased it from outside, looking through the storefront window. I couldn’t believe my eyes! There seemed to be Puerto Rican Muslims inside the center. At this point, I only knew Puerto Ricans who were part of the 5% Nation and members of Dr. York’s Ansaaru Allah Community, both of which I studied from prior to embracing Islam. Finally, I wanted to go inside and further investigate so I knocked on the door wearing my Universal Zulu Nation patches/colors and a Puerto Rican flag on the front of my jacket. I was warmly greeted and politely asked to enter. It seemed as if I walked into an oasis in the middle of El Barrio! I immediately felt a sense of commonality and belonging. I had no idea that Alianza Islamica existed and had been formulating since the 1970s. This was all new to me. After breaking bread with some of the brothers in English, Spanish & Spanglish, I felt I found my new Muslim family.

My visits to Alianza Islamica intensified as I started taking Islamic courses and getting involved with their social services and various aspects of their mission. The courses were very educational and helped me to understand my identity as a Nuyorican (New Yorker of Puerto Rican decent) Muslim. This was very important as I found that many reverts were becoming Arabized. They felt they had to adopt Arab culture and dress – confusing one culture (of many) with the religion hence losing their cultural identity. Alianza Islamica introduced me to the studies of the Moors in Spain (Andalusia). Immediately I began to connect our cultural dots and gained an understanding of our deeper Islamic inheritance while maintaining my Nuyorican identity. As a member of the Universal Zulu Nation, I was already involved in social justice and community activism. Alianza Islamica also served the community in many ways. It was a natural progression for me to help them in these efforts. I was pleased to see the multitude of services they provided for the community (for both Muslims and non-Muslims) including: Islamic studies, spiritual counseling, family counseling, GED programs, self-defense courses, sewing courses, HIV support and awareness, Puerto Rican studies, nutrition courses, survival courses, support for battered women, security services, neighborhood watch (taking a stance against the neighborhood drug dealers), Millati Islami services, administering shahadas, marriages, akikas, jenazahs, Eid celebrations, community events and the list goes on & on. Considering the limited space in the facilities, there was an unbelievable amount of activity going on. Alianza Islamica was a force to be reckoned with.

I quickly started to assume responsibilities within the ranks at Alianza Islamica. As an artist, I assisted with making signs, designs, banners, etc.  As a dancer and entertainer, I helped with some of the talent and certain activities at our Eid celebrations. I also began to video tape and document some of our activities. Eventually, I became a member of Alianza Islamica’s planning committee and ashura. We planned our weekly events which included fundraising operations, community activities, building strategies, etc. I was honored to serve in this capacity and did all I could to support our cause.

My wife and I were married at Alianza Islamica. Several of my close friends took their shahada (embraced Islam) there. It was a safe haven for us. The space was always vibrant and full of activity. Babies were born and brothers & sisters passed/transitioned. The cycles of life were in motion and revolved around our humble Islamic Center and Masjid. We were/are family in many regards. Although we don’t have a physical space at the moment, Alianza Islamica lives in each of the members that continue to hold our mission close to their hearts. We made history by becoming the first Spanish-Speaking Islamic Center and Mosque in Spanish Harlem. We continue to do so. May Allah (swt) guide and protect us throughout our journey and service to our communities.

I’d like to thank the leadership within Alianza Islamica for all they taught me. In particular, Hajj Yahya Figueroa Abdul-Latif, Muhammad Ibn Americo Mendez, Abdullahi Rodriguez, Rahim Ocasio, Amin Madera, Ibrahim Gonzalez, Shayk Ali Laraki and Sister Maryum. I pray that Allah is pleased with their efforts and helps us preserve our history for generations to come.