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.