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.


A Lifetime Of Reclaiming Our Islamic Heritage

By Yahya Abdul Latif Figueroa

Director, Alianza Islamica

Beginnings and starting points are always difficult to determine and become obscured in the pages of bygone days. How and when movements and ideas bloom is never easy to pinpoint.  Historical studies of the same period rarely agree on key issues. Nonetheless, the following lines hope to set the record straight on an important matter and provide an accurate picture regarding the spread of Islam among Latinos and the birth of the first circle that exclusively worked among Spanish speakers in the US.

The 1960s and 70s were decades of momentous turmoil and upheaval among minority communities in the US. It was the age of reclaiming lost identities, the assertion of ethnic pride, and the rediscovery of cultural roots. It was also a time of soul-searching and the discovery of new spiritual paths and religions. Small groups of minority American blacks and Latinos turned to Islam. These were the days of the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, the Ahmadiyya, and the Ansarullah community, as well as the legion of American Muslims who embraced authentic Sunni Islam due to the influence of the late Malcolm X, rejecting Elijah Muhammad’s heretical claim to prophethood and asserting the belief in Muhammad (PBUH) as the seal of the Prophets.  Uniquely Sunni groups arose against this background giving rise to independent small communities working within their inner city neighborhoods. The most well-known were the Dar-ul-Islam Movement at Herkimer Place in Brooklyn and the Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood (MIB) in Harlem.

In 1987, a small Latino group of Muslims formed Alianza Islamica and its nucleus of members gathered and set forth a plan to incorporate and open a mosque/cultural/dawah center. During the decade of the 90s, its heyday, it had become a well-oiled machine, eventually establishing La Mezquita del Barrio, the first one of its kind we were aware of.

Alianza was born in Spanish Harlem, the very heart of the Latino community in New York City. It was no coincidence that Alianza took root in the very center of one of the oldest and most iconic Latino communities in the US.  From the very start Alianza sought to combat the social conditions faced by our people with the dynamic spiritual teachings of Islam. Based in the center of Hispanic intellectual and cultural life, Alianza was forced to participate in a bold and fresh manner.  Not only did we dialogue with other faiths but we challenged the various ideologies and social movements of the time presenting an Islamic alternative.

It was a spiritual cultural center aiming to revive and rediscover the soulful treasures of Al Andalus.  In its most successful period we served approximately 100 families, many of them single disenfranchised young people. Hundreds of other transients were touched profoundly as well. We believed that we had a special approach to Islam and that the cultural glory of Andalusia was extremely relevant to the needs of our people.  Many of our most supportive participants were non-Latinos as our center provided refuge for all seeking help. Our neighborhoods suffered from much of the dysfunction of urban life, discrimination and lack of opportunity, most often the product of discriminatory policies. Thus Alianza had a rare mission to present Islamic teachings against this very troubled background.

We sought to bring a down to earth vision of Islam, certain that this message could alleviate the problems we faced.  We offered family counseling and community support. Different courses presented the basic Islamic sciences, Fiqh, Quran and Hadith and classics of spirituality, especially those of Al Andalus. Due to the community we served, many came with troubled pasts. Alianza sought to serve this population and aid in the recovery of broken souls and families.  Wholesome companionship, brother and sisterhood distinguished our efforts.  For many, conversion to Islam had brought trauma to their families and we sought to fill that gap. We celebrated the Islamic holidays offering communal meals and joyous occasions for those with no extended families.  Conversions to Islam occurred regularly, and community life pulsed with all its customary trappings: communal prayer, weddings, and celebrations of birth and the solemnity of death. In addition, Alianza reached out to the Harlem community and participated in community affairs with their non-Muslim neighbors.

Alianza Islamica continued to function until 2005, long after 9/11, and for various reasons the center came to a halt. Many of the members recall fondly those “golden days” of our activities and long to become active once again, seeking a fresh start.

Nonetheless, Alianza is delighted by IslaminSpanish’s Centro Islamico and embraces it as an extension of our humble beginning. We hope it enhances the basic message of Alianza, as a force for the unique spiritual culture of historical Andalus and skillfully avoid the excesses and failures of many Islamic movements of our time.  We, also, hope that it forges a truly unique movement to transmit the timeless guidance of Allah, the Most High, as embodied in the paragon of books, al Qur’an, and the Sunnah of His Prophet (PBUH) among Latinos. Let us boldly proclaim our timely vision based upon our glorious past and new opportunities that are ours here in the US.

Finally, Alianza would like to acknowledge the inspirational debt owed to the early American Sunni, primarily African-American communities of New York; the Dar ul Islam Movement and the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood, as well as the foundational influence of the DC-based Islamic Party of North America in our a special mission to the Hispanic community.

A Life in American Islam 

By Faqir Ibrahim (Teacher at Alianza Islamica)

Many of us have lived a lifetime in Islam in the United States.  We are completing our sixth decade –what a spiritual adventure it has been!  With all of the assaults upon the glorious nature of our faith, false maligning and sad misreading’s by fellow Muslims world-wide I would never be anywhere else and my prayer daily is that my faith be preserved and that I die and be resurrected as I lived as a Muslim, Sunni, Sufi-


Islam is daily assaulted both by Islamophobia critics as well as deluded monsters calling themselves  Islamicts; ironically theses hating factions agree on their distorted vision of the Quran and Sharia and join hands in portraying the ugliest, cruelest distortions of our religion. But let me recall why myself and so many others have no doubt that our faith is true and enlightened, that Islam means civilization, tolerance compassion and liberation.  So to both factions of false media Islam let us assure them, you both live in a fantasy world removed from history and destined to failure.

The a historical media Islam inhabits a spot oblivious to the vicious colonial past , it denies its legacy of brutal racism first by religion and then equally violent scientific theories of white supremacy justifying the ravishing of the world.  Indeed much of the insane lashing out in the 3rd world today is the final stages of that 300 year history.  Islam has been perceived for the past few centuries as both the unity of God as well as the unity of the human race.  The Quran preaches that all human beings are from the same origin.  Its colors, tribes and languages are variations from our father Adam.  How simple to recall this shared message of The Bible and Quran yet how easily twisted into exploitive social system from which today the world shudders.  What must be stressed is that just as belief in Allah requires an act of faith, yes there are rational indications of divine maintenance of creation, none the less ultimately each person must decide whether  the call to believe in God is true or not.  No less is this the case regarding the unity of our human species.  Let us not forget that official science as well as University teachings was the ranking of mankind by race with whites on top and blacks at the lowest run g.  So it requires the strength of faith to adopt the Quran glorious teaching regarding our shared humanity.

Islam is the middle path between the extremes of Judaism and Christianity.  Perhaps the clearest example of the balanced stance of Islam was the question of Jesus.  Where the Jews on one hand out rightly rejected him and ultimately sought his condemnation and death, the Christians on the other hand went to the absurdity of declaring the Messiah to be the living God defying all of the monotheism of the bible and ancient Semitic teachings.  The middle stance of the Quran held in many of the most baffling issues of the human race.  So Jesus was a messenger in the long line of semetic prophets yet clearly not God or His son. Divorce and remarriage and countless other issues where the Quran corrected and guided to the sanest and most pervasive stance.  In each case of major issues we find that Islam miraculously took the middle path free of extremes.  Indeed Muslim history reveals that every sect of Islam was a revival of some ancient balanced position.   So for us in the west let us gladly embrace our Islamic lifetime based upon a vision of Islam that is not exclusively that of the East but rather one the Quran says is neither East nor West .

A few books related to the above article:

The mismeasure of man  Stephen Jay Gould   History of American Scientific racial theories

The King Incorporated  Neal Ascherson    A telling of some of the most brutal aspects colonialism

The Eternal Message of Muhammad, Abdul Al Rahman Azzam

“I was given a copy of the eternal message” Malcolm X   although first published in 1954 this book remains relevant and offers a broad view of Islam and modern history.

Pastor Pat Robertson

By Ibrahim A Aziz (Imam/Chaplain)) Retired

I am writing the following few lines in a spirit of reconciliation, religious understanding and good will.  The other evening I happened upon your CBN show and you once again presented your extremist views on Islam and attempted to malign my faith and falsely accuse Muslims in general, rather than the terrorists whom are despicable by all standards especially Islamic ones.  Oddly enough you praised Egyptian President Abdul Fattah Sisi and stated that President Elect Trump will take a much clearer stance than President Obama in helping Muslim Nations against extremists.  You failed to mention that President Sisi is a believing Muslim and is in the forefront of the battle against the criminal terrorists.  I am certain that President Sisi believes that his battle against the extremists is to defend both the honor of his Islamic faith as well as his country.  That he as former President Mubarak embraces the Christians of Egypt and envisioned a nation shared by all faiths based upon of the tolerance of Islam.   President Mubarak reached out to the world years before 9/11 warning of the coming storm of fury—sadly his clarion call fell on deaf ears. He had witnessed the assignation of Anwar Sadat and stressed that the same nefarious thugs would spread their terrorism around the world.  It was as he predicted the same gang whom masterminded the attack on the world trade towers and US pentagon.

You offered your mistaken position that Islam is not a religion of peace; rather you maliciously declared it a religion of war, stating that the Quran is the force behind the malignancy of the terrorists.   Strangely enough you espouse a version of terrorist Islam; you seem to also harbor with the terrorists the idea of a Christian crusade to crush Muslims.   With no knowledge of Arabic you inaccurately mistranslate Islam as submission which is only accurate if one intends submission to God and his Omnipotent will.  I am hard pressed to think that you can define Christianity as other than loving submission rather than demonic rebellion against the Lord of all Being and His most basic commandments of decency.

Arabic shares the Semitic structure of Hebrew and as is universally known the greeting of Salamu Alikum means Peace be upon you and could hardly translate as submission be upon you.  Hebrew shares a similar greeting of Peace be upon you.

I am an American Muslim of now a half century; I proudly accept my faith and defend it against the current hostile and often hateful speech which is being irresponsibly spread around by people such as yourself who should know better.

Islam shares with all religions especially the Monotheisms a glorious history and yet being practiced by fallible humans has some incidents which may not always be blameless.

Let me remind you in I hope a friendly manner that the last 3 centuries have been dominated by Europe and its culture inspired by its Christian heritage.  I will not dishonor the Churches and their teachings which Islam has always defended although of course having a different position on many of the fundamentals of current Biblical faith.

The late Father Massigon pointed out that Islam in his view, which played a large part in Vatican 2, was much closer to  Christianity than Judaism which rejected Jesus Christ and his Mother and maligned them both whereas the Quran and Muslims believe and revere  both of them.  Indeed as you must know the Virgin Mary is the only female to have an entire chapter of the Quran dedicated to her story.   To believe in Jesus Christ is as mandatory for Muslim faith as is belief in the Prophet Muhammad.  Indeed Islam shares with you the belief in the Basic Bible tales of Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, Jonah, Abraham, Joseph, John the Baptist, Solomon and King David.  Of course the Quran stresses life after death and final judgement.  The basic commandments are shared by all of us and that is why the great medieval thinkers Thomas Aquinas and Rabbi Maimonides philosophically lived in a world of Islamic Arabic thoughts and ideas.  Most historians hold that the benefits of modern science are indebted to Arabic scholarship that was passed on to Europe.  The world of Islam is so closely woven to the Bible that even until today pictures of life in the time of Jesus are taken of current Palestinian Bedouins.

I feel in good faith I should not continue to allow reckless, false denigration of the noble religion of Islam or the Glorious character of the Prophet Muhammad and his monumental accomplishments for Islam and the entire world.

I embarrassingly remind you that many of the atrocities of the past few centuries have come out of Christian lands –although I know that the religion of Jesus Christ has no accountability for these crimes.  Perhaps you have forgotten:

The inquisition against both Muslims and Jews, torture, execution and finally expulsion from all of Spain.

The transatlantic slave trade and the horror of centuries of bondage and its lingering impact.  The assault upon Africa was especially brutal due to perception of blacks as the least human of all races furthest removed from whites.  This would be shared both by Christians based upon their interpretation of the Bible, and scientific racists using pseudo-science…

The colonization and destruction of indigenous cultures worldwide, China, India, Middle East, Africa and South America.  Include in this the brutal assault upon the American Natives.

Many scholars hold that the hopeless situation of worldwide inequity between the first and developing worlds was put in place by these forces and have left a perpetual heritage of poverty and underdevelopment.

The two world wars both Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin were baptized Christians.

The Holocaust and the rise and spread of philosophical racism.

The acceptance of doctrines of “scientific” racism leading to US segregation and South African Apartheid.

The unleashing of philosophical atheism inspired by European thinkers from Christian background, Darwinism, Communism, Nazism and Atheistic Secular Humanism.

Development of modes of production that severely create permanent underclasses and widened the gap between rich and poor.  These same machines of development have unleashed ecological forces that threaten the environment.  Much of this came about by the exploitation of colonialism.

The widespread adoption of immorality as valid life styles, sexual cohabitation free of matrimony or marriage redefined in ways unimaginable to traditional cultures worldwide.

The whole sale validation of alcoholism and drug addiction.  The exploitative practice of usury which has enslaved many of the world’s poorest.

The spread of pornographic culture and its normalization and adoption of immoral codes of dress and behavior as a part of normal life.

Finally the spread of doctrines and lifestyles that seek to destroy the very the fiber of mankind as we know him/her throughout all of human history.

I am aware of many of the blessings to all of us that have also came  in these centuries—I think that they are based upon our shared Judeo-Christian-Islamic heritage.  All three of us benefited from the cultural genius of the Greeks and Romans.

So Pastor, I humbly request that you cease your propaganda war against Islam and Muslims, join in with President Sisi and the majority of Muslim nations and simple Muslims against the terrorists and see them as an aberration rather than a normal aspect of Islam.   Please cease the virulent attacks upon Islam that seek to flame the fires of mass hate and may lead some to violence.

Alianza Islamica and Andalusia, part 3

By Yahya Abdul-Latif Figueroa

Director, Alianza Islamica

In these next few lines I want to boldly assert that Alianza was truly unique as a voice of Spanish Islam and that its vision and mission must be reclaimed and built again.  I want to stress that other groups today that are attempting to monopolize a Spanish Islamic message are simply copying the failed message of some Middle Eastern patterns and that these groups are cut off from the brilliance of an Islamic message that may make a true difference in the world of today.  Finally I want to recall members of our small community whom have left this world and have returned to their Lord.

To the best of our knowledge, Alianza was the first group of Spanish speakers to have built a small, distinct Muslim group in Harlem NY with the clear vision that they wanted to build upon the understanding of Islam over the long centuries of Muslims in Spain.  We learned as we lived together as a group and strove to bring the spiritual message of our heritage to shine light upon the often very troubled conditions of life here in the US.  That meant the many issues of poverty, disease family dysfunction and attempts to raise children in the difficult situation that we had inherited from our families whom as along with the many Afro-American members and neighbors, friends and brothers and sisters was our reality.  This was an Islam of survival and growth.

Today many of our “Muslim” groups are an elitist bunch whom lives among ideas, often not very good ones, yet compassion and service of others is not high on their deluded agendas.  Often they have brought from the failed Middle Eastern version a caste approach where the pampered university crowd is placed in authority for no great reason other than the privilege they have claimed and we have too often afforded them.   Alianza was then and will revive a message of social relevance alongside our proud Islamic spiritual understanding.   We will not adopt the various failures that can only bring more of the same and even worse.

Two examples of our experiment are worth noting. Each deserves a full biography. This is simply an introduction to their lives.  Both were active supports and leaders in the activities of our small beautiful community.

Amin Madera-He was a worshiper, simple, humble and a source of inner strength for those fortunate enough to have known him.  Amin was not sophisticated or learned yet he loved Islam and was convinced that Alianza was the very place that Allah Almighty had opened the doors to Islam for him.   There were many more sophisticated and better off places throughout the city of NY, yet nowhere was as appropriate to bring  brother-sisterhood to him and to offer a loving environment that met his spiritual and communal needs.   Amin battled with disease that he had contracted in his earlier life. Alianza provided him the brotherhood and friendship needed to carry his burden.  He passed away among these same friends whom laid him to rest in Islamic fashion which was among his last great desires.   Cheerful, hopeful, trusting in the plan of our Glorious Lord he returned peacefully to his final home.

The second person from our circle I must mention was Sharif Abdul Karim, scholar and intellectual master of the old Arabic sciences and yet at home in the world of current intellectual pursuit.   Sharif was university trained and had done graduate studies at a prominent NY institution.  He was one of many African-American member supporters of our community and for years shared his great learning with us in many of the standard fields, Tafser, hadith, fiqh and his favorite Spiritual culture.  A giant in the world of ideas his brilliance was matched by his humility and lack of desire for fame and publicity-this is one of the most glaring shortcomings of many of the current leaders whom sell religion and lust  after notoriety.  Sharif had stayed at the Azhar university for a number of years and had also spent years in Mecca studying and collecting classical Arabic books.  It is no exaggeration to state that at his death he had one of the largest Arabic libraries in the country.  Sharif had mastered bringing difficult ideas and treasures of the old books to a level that the simplest soul could benefit from.

Sharif and Amin are no longer here but their legacy of profound brotherhood and spiritual greatness remain guides for us in our commitment to revive the message of Alianza Islamica of Harlem NY.