Reclaiming our Heritage, part 2

By Yahya Abdul-Latif Figueroa

Director, Alianza Islamica

Reclaiming heritage lends itself to the false impression of dwelling on the past. The next few lines are about the future flowing from the past. Hopefully a reopening to a humble beginning that accomplished a number of great starts yet confronted many challenges and now must map a way forward that can build on that past and hopefully sidestep the errors and continue to shed new light and hope for our future. Part one of this article recalled a number of accomplishments and sought to, briefly establish the development of Alianza, and mentioned some challenges that ultimately led to hurdles that could not be overcome at that time.

We recalled the tensions that confronted Muslims worldwide leading ultimately to the horror of 9/11, a philosophy of despair overwhelmed with hopelessness and a vision of mass suicide. Muslims in modern times have sought ways to modernize while remaining faithful to their culture. Alianza faced the same dilemma with the added complexity of being new Muslims in the very center of the most complex modern city in the world.

From the very beginning Alianza faced the concern of some Muslims that they had segregated themselves from the larger Muslim community. We responded in two ways:

That the essential message of the Quran stresses the universal brotherhood of all people. Racism which holds that one race is superior to others is a uniquely modern European invention which has spread havoc worldwide.

Racist ideology is as opposed to Islam as is paganism or polytheism. Indeed we believe that racism is related to these false concepts of the deity. On the other hand, there is a healthy recognition of the unique culture of Andalusia and we believe it can navigate Muslims not only in the US but indeed worldwide as it did for centuries.

Recall that from our long lost homeland came the leadership of Ibn Hazm, Ibn Rushd and Ibn Arabi. Ours was a land of grand jurists, Quran masters, philosophers and perhaps the greatest Sufi masters of all time. Leave for the time the flight of Ibn Arabi and turn to the very sober orthodox message of Ibn Abbad of Ronda and you glimpse the greatness of our past which must not be silenced by the ignorance and fanatics of our post-colonial setting. Andalusia is a heritage we must grasp with courage and leave the crippled version of Islam that has reduced the Muslim world to shambles in so many places. We learn that much of the destruction of Andalusia came about through racial and ethnic conflict. The beauty of old Spain did not pay full attention to peasants and the poor and in time financial instability eroded the fabric of life. These are dangers that we face as well today. We face the destruction of the basics of faith that the entire Andalusian world shared – firm faith in monotheism, prophethood, life after death and basic morality. These are no longer held as certainties.

A few forward looking suggestions. An all-out effort to explore the rich treasures of Andalusian spirituality and thought. This will require experts in all of the traditional braches of Andalusian learning—not least the Arabic treasures which number among the vastest in Arabic writings. A commitment to forge a political-cultural vision for our people based on past wisdom yet fully able to engage and challenge the many false trends and philosophies among Muslims and others. Finally the ability to tackle the terrible social and economic instability which most of our people share with much of the third world.

An Andalusia of Heart and Soul, part 1

By Yahya Figueroa Abdul-Latif

Director, Alianza Islamica

What was Andalusia?  Islam has come full circle in the west today.  Daily we hear of various horrible events atrocities unfairly attributed to the noble Quran and Blessed Prophet (PBUH).  The insane terrorists and Islamophobic media and politicians share the same distorted propaganda against our faith.  A full range of bad –shocking and horrible images are paraded daily.  Yet against this background Islam still grows and its brilliance of faith continues to amazingly win people.  Just as in the origin of Islam a tiny obscure circle of people has grown into a formidable community throughout the west.  This faith nation is made of many ethnic and racial groups all of them haunted by the ugly specter of the radical madmen whom are destroying much of the Muslim homeland.

We Spanish speaking-cultural, Latino Muslims have also been thrown into this world wind and are with Allah’s grace expanding rapidly.

This is why we are confronted with a most burning issue, the reality of our direction and choice of our future.  Will we simply jump on the bandwagon of the current troubled Islamic model and poorly translate from one language and culture onto another? Or will we insist that our path is Andalusian, which is neither East nor West, but a spiritual reality?

In the first image a few of our brightest will simply go to the Muslim lands and  master the formal structure of prayers and religious formalities and  bring back with them the current ideals and aspirations of Arabia, Pakistan or wherever they may happen to go.

But what Alianza Islamica of Spanish Harlem has always sought to do was to truly identify and revive the spirit of Old Andalusia, a land that brought forth many of the leading religious as well as secular giants of Islam and indeed of the entire world.  Will we simply poorly translate (which is already nearly impossible) the same worn out failed models throughout the troubled Muslim world uncritically, mechanically and then expect that it can achieve something for our people other than the misery that surrounds so much of the Muslim world today.  I am arguing, pleading that we exert ourselves to be true descendants of Andalusia and discover the marvels of that time and place that was a beacon of faith, learning, true science, tolerance and enlightenment.  We believe that it was Andalusia that opened to the modern world the classics of ancient times by way of Arabic translations from Greek and eventually inspired the founding of the new world itself.  If Spanish Islam in the West has any authentic future it can only be by recovering its Andalusian heritage and building upon that.  The other sad alternative is to march blindly to the tunes of the fanatics and spiritually deaf and dumb whose final message seems to be homicidal suicides and ancient blood cults.

I boldly hope that we may even provide for the coming generations in the Muslim homelands and minorities in Europe a message of hope and a path to a liberating future.  Yet this road to New Andalusia is not simple nor can it be the project of a few self-obsessed fame seekers.

We must not forget the inherent contradiction of that land which was a major factor in its decline—the failure to achieve harmony among the competing ethnic and racial groups that made up our homeland.  The same dynamic we witness here today: some racial ethnic groups dominate all the others with no concern for the well-being of society.  In time those conflicts lead to the total collapse of Muslim culture and the retaking of Andalusia by non-Muslims who did not maintain the tolerant vision which Andalusia was famous for.

Will our Spanish Islam be a vision, a dream of the highest form of spirituality and social order or merely a faulty translation from one failed society to another which we as a  minority here are already  most vulnerable?   A choice is ahead of us, a living vibrant future or a sad repeating of a failed vision.

A few spiritual gems from Andalusian Spirituality:

Beware of fame seekers whom use religion for power and wealth—sellers of religion.  Their true desire is to be on stage in front of the crowd exploiting them for money, women and praise of people.

Again from the Andalusian Classics:

This one quoting the Holy Prophet (PBUH):  Actions are according to intentions, and everyone will get what was intended. Whoever migrates with an intention for Allah and His messenger, the migration will be for the sake of Allah and his Messenger. And whoever migrates for worldly gain or to marry a woman, then his migration will be for the sake of whatever he migrated for.

You don’t always have to be talking to be heard.

You don’t always have to be center stage to be seen.