November 18, 2016
Spanish Harlem’s Islamic Odyssey
On Saturday, January 30th, Muslims and non-Muslims alike gathered in Houston, Texas for the most highly anticipated event of the season: the grand opening of IslamInSpanish’s CentroIslamico, the nation’s new nexus for the propagation of Islam to Latinos.Bright, sunny, nearly cloudless skies graced the sizable throng, most of them seated under a protective canopy while the rest stood bathed in the warmth of a Texas winter’s sun. While children frolicked in inflatable castles, the crowd was regaled with speech after speech, each discourse augmenting the auspiciousness of the event, building up to the momentous climax when the blazing red ribbon at the center’s entrance is severed and curious eyes are finally sated.It was a triumphal day, after all. Mujahid Fletcher, Abdullah Danny Hernandez, Isa Parada, Nahela Morales, Sandy Sakinah Gutierrez and many others had concentrated their efforts to create, by the grace and mercy of Allah, something full of promise: a brand new center, physically stunning with mosaics, marble floors, decorative arches harkening to the grandeur of Cordoba, tastefully appointed masalah and lounge, and a high tech recording studio, all run by a cadre of Muslim workers of the highest caliber. There was much to celebrate.I and my wife Faiza of 40 years, as well as Yahya Figueroa Abdul Latif, long-time director of Alianza Islamica, had made the trek and appeared to be the only New Yorkers. Seating was at a premium, yet my wife had managed to find one all the way in the back. I milled around a bit but eventually drifted back and found myself at her side. To my left I saw Yahya, cutting a lonesome figure, sitting off to himself on the curb.We three had unconsciously drifted toward the rear, observing, as it were, the proceedings from afar. We were a senior set, 60-somethings just now qualifying for discounts on movie tickets. Before us was the riotous energy of youth, palpable in every part of the spectacle before us as a new generation dawned.It was a study in contrasts, for decades ago, in the early 1990s, another Latino Muslim center opened up in the heart of New York’s Spanish Harlem, but to no fanfare, speeches, ceremonial ribbon cuttings, dignitaries, or honored guests. Neither newspapers nor television networks covered it, and news of of its inauguration probably spread no further at the time than the curious glance of a passerby. Over the next 12 years, Alianza Islamica became the largest and most influential Latino Muslim organization in U.S. history. Yet its story has lain buried for years in obscurity, hidden in the shadows of neglect and indifference.It began with 4 teenage Puerto Ricans from the streets of Spanish Harlem.
By the mid to late 60s, the pacifism of the Civil Rights movement had given way to a restless and angry militancy which had grown impatient with the slow progress of social and economic reform for the nation’s minority communities.Seething inner city neighborhoods erupted in an orgy of self-destruction. Riots broke out in major urban centers of the country like Watts in Los Angeles and Detroit, the latter being particularly devastating as entire blocks were obliterated and tanks had to be called in to restore order.This gave birth to radically new types of organizations which adopted the socio-political narrative of liberation characteristic of the anti-colonial resistance raging throughout the world.The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Black Panther Party, its Latin counterpart, The Young Lords Party, Movimiento Pro Independencia, El Comite, and the Puerto Rican Student Union were characteristic of this new type of organization which fostered an attitude and a rhetoric of resistance reinforced with images of armed revolutionaries prepared to defend their neighborhoods. The Latinos of this era, especially those socially conscious and educated, were products of this new societal paradigm and more often than not were either sympathizers or active members of these new militant organizations. In addition, Latinos of this ilk were generally distrustful and apprehensive toward government, aware of the oppressive and racist conditions endemic to American society, sympathetic to socialist solutions, and if Puerto Rican, desirous of freedom and independence for the island of Puerto Rico.Into this social milieu, 4 Puerto Rican teenagers from Spanish Harlem, El Barrio, the fabled iconic center of the Puerto Rican community in New York City, came of age. They were Mark Ortiz, Freddie Gonzalez, John Figueroa, and this author, all living within 5 blocks of one another. Spanish Harlem at that time was a neighborhood in crisis, as were most in the country’s inner cities, rotting from neglect and dissolution.Enter the Young Lords Party. The Young Lords Party was an organization that focused on empowerment for Latino barrios with special emphasis on social and economic justice, health care, education, police injustice and abuse, tenants rights, and Puerto Rican independence. They instituted free breakfast programs for poor school children long before the government caught on and presented themselves as a bulwark against the oppressive policies of the white-dominated establishment. Their socio-political philosophy was socialistic based on Marxist-Leninist-Maoism.The effect in El Barrio was electric and fired the imagination of restless youth. Mark, was the first of us to join the movement, becoming a Young Lord at 14! By our late teens, we were all involved in some capacity. John and Freddie became involved with the Third World Students League, an ancillary arm of the Party dealing with organizing high schoolers. I became involved with two other subsidiaries of the Party, the CDC (Committee To Defend The Community) focusing on housing issues and PRSU, (Puerto Rican Students Union) aimed at college students. These were the days of violent student protests and campus building takeovers, and on a number of nights, whether at the likes of the City College of New York or Columbia University, the first early warning midnight watch was usually Freddie, John and myself, a teen trio ranging from 15 to 18 years of age. And when we weren’t watching out for a police raid, we were marching in street protests, demonstrating against colonialism, and assisting tenants in organizing rent strikes.In time, however, the movement began to lose its luster. It was not necessarily the revolution but the revolutionaries that were giving us pause. Internal conflicts and the spiritual vacuum created by drug use, drinking, promiscuity, and infidelity made us wonder what to expect of this brave new world re-made. For a time we were adrift, pursuing different paths, passing through different phases. It was a time of soul-searching and marching inexorably toward a destination we’d only know we arrived once we got there. In time, John and I were introduced to the teachings of the Nation of Islam, a proto-Islamic movement popularized by Malcolm X. The Nation of Islam countered the destructive effects of perceived black racial inferiority with a narrative of black racial supremacy. It embarked on a program of moral and economic upliftment that tranformed lives, turning degenerates, criminals, and disheveled ne’er-do-wells into disciplined, responsible and dignified members of an active, vibrant organization.Nation of Islam members were an commanding presence in the neighborhood while their modest, impeccably dressed women were equally as admired and highly respected. Another cause for this high level of respect was the knowledge that behind every man and woman of The Nation was a formidable security force: the FOI, the Fruit of Islam.Trained by the Master Moses Powell, the founder of the Sanuces Ryu Jujutsu system, the first martial artist to perform at the United Nations, and the first Blackamerican to train the DEA, the FBI, and the Secret Service in martial arts, the Fruit of Islam attained legendary status and was both respected and feared in the community. It was an unquestioned ghetto maxim that Muslim women were always to be accorded the utmost respect and all carried an invisible yet clearly understood warning label; any breach was certain to bring heartache, headache, possible injury or death.However, as impressive as they were, John and I didn’t join, settling instead to become members of The Five Percent Nation, an offshoot of The Nation of Islam, which shared much of the same teachings. Over time, its wild, heretical, and racist narrative of black racial superiority and white demonization raised doubts and misgivings and was ultimately untenable in our multi-racial Latino culture. Our search continued.One evening, while at an event celebrating the release of Puerto Rican political prisoner Carlos Feliciano on 116th St, we met one Abdullahi Rodriguez, one of the first Puerto Rican converts to Islam. With his counsel and guidance, our collective journey brought us eventually to Islam, all four of us becoming Muslims within two years of each other. John became Yahya, Freddie became Ibrahim, Mark became Abdus Salam, and Ray became Abdur Rahim. The Latino Muslim quartet was now complete.
First Steps In A New World
We weren’t the first Latinos to accept Islam in the city, but it was disconcerting to see that some of those who had preceded us — especially the ones closely associated with or members of the predominantly African American masjids — had become in effect, crypto-Latinos, totally subsumed into the African American version of Islamic culture, refusing even to speak Spanish in the mosque. It was a jolting obliteration of identity; Willie Colon traded in for McCoy Tyner.A good number of immigrant Muslims had trouble accepting Latinos as Muslims, some going as far as saying that the existence of a Latino Muslim was virtually impossible; no Latino could possibly be a Muslim. In addition, due to elements of Afro-Centrism prevalent at the time, some of our African-American Muslim brothers handled the presence of Latinos in the ummah awkwardly, especially when it came to dealing with the lighter-skinned and fair-haired.To top it off we had to deal with the perception in our Puerto Rican community that Islam was foreign to our culture, essentially “a Black thing” due to the notoriety of the Nation of Islam and there were disturbing stories of stern Puerto Rican fathers ripping khimars (head scarves) off their daughters’ heads.For Latinos who had struggled to affirm their identity and preserve their dignity, these were clearly uncharted waters.In 1974, we visited a Puerto Rican Muslim group in Newark, New Jersey, called Bani Sakr, whose spiritual guide was Hajj Hisham Jaber, who led Malcolm X’s funeral prayer. For the first time since we entered Islam, we were among other Muslims unashamedly Latino, proudly sporting names like Yusuf Padilla and Bilal Arce. A wedding there was a delight, feasting on sumptuous arroz con pollo to the pulsing percussive rhythms of a conga’s tumbao, an expression of ourselves that no longer looked foreign or alien, something our mothers could relate to. We now had a glimpse of what was possible and were determined to make it a reality.
The Islamic Party
In 1975, we joined the Washington, D.C-based Islamic Party of North America. The Islamic Party of North America was the first constitutionally-based indigenous Islamic organization ever in the United States. IPNA’s call was for the establishment of Islam in all aspects of life: spiritual, economic, political, familial, and social. It also emphasized expressing Islam through civic engagement addressing problems of poverty and social and economic injustice. To that end, in addition to establishing a school and businesses, IPNA established an Oppressed People’s Affairs Committee, programs for incarcerated Muslims and hunger (Feed The Hungry Month), and held symposiums on hunger and rape in the community. It seemed to be the perfect melding of Islam with the social activism of our pre-Islamic days, so we all enthusiastically became members. I went to Washington to work directly at its headquarters while Yahya, Abdus Salam and Ibrahim remained in New York doing the Party’s work of dawah (calling of non-Muslims to Islam) and organizing.By 1977, I was on the Guidance Council of the Party’s Washington branch, but Yahya and the Party’s New York contingent convinced me it was time to come home. We were reunited again in 1978. Unfortunately, not long after I rejoined the brothers, IPNA went into a period of turmoil and division that would eventually lead to a death spiral. We were left without a mooring. However, it was our first taste of a disciplined Islamic movement. The experience was to have a foundational influence.
The Spanish Mosque Debacle
In 1979, we became part of a pan-Latino group representing Muslims from Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Panama, and Brazil and held a series of meetings toward establishing the first Spanish-speaking masjid in New York City, a place where khutbahs (Friday sermons) and religious instruction would be given in our native tongue. Incidentally, it was here that we were introduced to a dynamic da’i from Panama named Abdul Qadir who was to to become a life-long friend and unwavering supporter of the Latino dawah effort.Unfortunately, Muslim leaders — immigrant and indigenous — viewed the project as divisive and damaging to the jamaat (the Muslim community). It met with considerable resistance and received no support from any established Muslim community. A sympathetic African American Muslim brother allowed us to continue to meet at his apartment, but his local imam, on learning of this, ordered him to bar us from convening there. Shocked and disillusioned, the project lost momentum overtime and was eventually abandoned.
Ibrahim Gonzalez Puts Latinos On The Map
After the Spanish Mosque debacle, Ibrahim Gonzalez left New York in the early 80s to take a job at ISNA headquarters in Indiana. While there he translated into Spanish a very popular dawah brochure of the time: Islam at a Glance or Islam a un Vistazo. These were the days before desktop publishing, so Ibrahim prepared the plates himself and readied them for publication. However, to Ibrahim’s stunned disbelief, ISNA’s leadership refused to print the brochure despite the virtual non-existence of any Spanish dawah materials at the time. His anger and frustration were evident in his frequent calls to New York.Ibrahim returned to New York determined to change things around for Latinos and Latino Muslims and, in 1985, came up with a brilliant idea that was to change everything. His plan was to stage an event highlighting Latin culture’s Islamic legacy in a high-profile 5th Avenue venue. Spanish Harlem’s El Museo del Barrio, a museum dedicated to showcasing Latin culture, was the perfect choice. The theme was to be Reclamando Nuestra Herencia Islamica, or Reclaiming Our Islamic Heritage.Ibrahim, Yahya and I put together the event, which featured T.B. Irving — a noted scholar, Quranic translator, and professor of Romance languages who passed away in 2002 — headlining a roster of speakers while our families chipped in to supply Latin cuisine. Ibrahim persuaded The Muslim World League to underwrite the event, and it was a huge success, drawing attendees from all over the country. Latino Muslims were finally emerging from the shadows.However, an even bigger dividend was meeting two key men: Carl Askia El-Amin from the Bismi Rabik Foundation in Chicago, and Daniel Ahmad Mena from Florida who showed up with a duffel bag chock full of the first Spanish-language Islamic books we had ever seen.After the event, a tri-city collaboration quickly developed, becoming the first iteration of Alianza Islamica. Its first fruit was the first bilingual Islamic journal, also named Alianza Islamica, which the Bismi Rabik Foundation published quarterly, headed by Carl at the main office in Chicago. We chose this name to demonstrate solidarity and independence. Ibrahim Gonzalez and Daniel Ahmed Mena were associate editors, Maria Cartagena was the administrative assistant, Carl Askia El-Amin was the advertising and circulation manager, and Omar Abdur Rahim Ocasio was the editor. In the summer of 1986, Ibrahim Gonzalez was invited to Indianapolis to attend ISNA’s annual convention, the same ISNA that had refused his constant requests some years earlier to print a simple Spanish dawah brochure. But now, representing Alianza Islamica, he addressed the seminar on Future Strategies for Dawah Work in North America along with a presentation of ISNA’s Hispanic Dawah Program. Ibrahim, by the grace and mercy of Allah, had managed to put Latino Muslims on the map. They were no longer an afterthought so easily dismissed. The world had turned.The tri-city collaboration lasted only about 2 years as technical, logistical, and financial obstacles eventually did in our essentially virtual organization.
One evening over thirty years ago, Yahya and I spoke of our dream of a dawah center in the heart of El Barrio, unassuming and unpretentious, an organic part of the neighborhood where anyone coming off the street would feel at home and comfortable while hearing the word of Allah. But at that time, in the early 90’s, all we had to show for it were a string of starts and stops, booms and busts. But by the grace and mercy of Allah, the winds were about soon to change.Yahya had long been interested in the field of drug intervention and, since the mid 1980s, had increasing contact with many Muslim converts in recovery. These Muslims in turn referred others to Yahya. In time, a sizable group gathered around him. He began giving classes and lectures at his 12th Street duplex apartment, at a brother named Frenchie’s apartment, and even on park benches. Spiritual retreats in the Poconos followed. The core of a nascent movement was emerging. All it needed was that final spark.Then one day after Jumah in downtown Manhattan, I was approached by Yahya and his friend Khalil and asked if I would give them classes on aqidah(religious creed).At first, it was just the two, then four, then six. They kept coming, brothers mostly and one sister, until all the seats were filled, then all available floor space. We then had to open another class on Sundays due to the increasing numbers of students. Something wholly unexpected was happening. These were the same newly minted Puerto Rican Muslims, straight out of rehab, that Yahya had been mentoring for some time. Now, with their lives turned around, they were hungering for more Islamic knowledge.In time, bonds of brotherhood developed and Yahya and I agreed to seize the moment and formalize it by creating an organization. When the issue of a name came up, I suggested using the name mothballed and lying dormant since the mid 80’s (we were unaware at the time Carl was still publishing a journal under that name). All the pieces had come together. Alianza Islamica was re-born.
Getting To Work
By consensus, Yahya became the director of the newly-resurrected Alianza and assumed the reins with an aggressive leadership style that moved things along very quickly. Anxious to implement an Islamic activist social agenda, he secured a storefront on 107th Street and Lexington Avenue, solidly in the neighborhood where we all grew up.
All the early members and students from the aqidah classes were Boricuas from El Barrio. We had home-field advantage.Yahya’s first priority was dawah, getting the message of Islam out to the people. Alianza’s style was a hands on, face-to-face street approach. Techniques were employed to increase exposure and interest. For that there were periodic caminatas, where brothers and sisters, even whole families, would walk en masse down 3rd Avenue, Spanish Harlem’s main street, to spark, attention, curiosity, and, perhaps, some conversation. In addition, the storefront would periodically attract curious passersby who would come in and hear of Allah, The Most High’s call to salvation in a calm, non-intimidating environment. Conversions grew at a steady pace; at one point, at least 100 families were being served.In addition to his innovative approach to dawah, Yahya pressed for programs which insured the religious education of members and new Muslims. For this he enlisted scholars the likes of the late Sharif Abdul Karim (may Allah have mercy on him), Ibrahim Abdul Aziz and Ali Laraki. He also realized that, as many of the neighborhood’s residents were disadvantaged, GED and ESL programs would improve their social and economic situations, some going on to get Masters and Doctorate degrees. Health, nutrition, and even martial arts workshops rounded out a holistic approach to community development.The object was to make a Latino Muslim part and parcel of the community, to remove the stigma of the alien, and break down the barriers to reception of the message of Islam. A concerted effort was made to Islamize elements of our culture in order to give our people familiar reference points.An example was our Eid celebration, held at times at community centers. Instead of the usual Middle Eastern or South Asian fare we were accustomed to eating at Muslim events, we went out of our way to showcase our own cuisine. The sisters of Alianza, many who worked as hard or harder than any of the men, would spring to action with signature entrees like arroz congandules and pasteles, and desserts like flan and arroz con dulce. My mother replaced the customary pernil pork roast with a leg of lamb prepared and seasoned exactly the way it was typically done, effectively Islamizing our holiday dishes for all to see.Music is a big part of Latino culture, especially of a tropical one like the Puerto Rican culture. Years ago it was not an uncommon summer sight at a playground in El Barrio to see crowds gathered around 4 to 5 congueros beating Afro-boricua and Afro-cuban conga rhythms into the night. Alianza decided that this part of our culture needed an Islamic expression as well. So at Eids, skilled congueros Ibrahim, Yahya and Muhammad Mendez entertained the crowds, the sounds of their tumbaos, bombas, and guaguancos emanating from the community center as an open invitation to all within earshot to a new Latin expression.
Drug And Prison Wars
In the early 1990s, the AIDS epidemic was growing rapidly and American Muslim leaders were forced to confront the problem of drugs and HIV infection in their communities. But early reactions to this problem were positively medieval; a Muslim’s death by AIDS was often deemed the wrath of Allah and community members would refuse to wash his body.Yahya attended the Second International Aids Conference in Paris in 1986 and since then had always remained informed and educated about AIDS/HIV. On his initiative, Alianza Islamica became the first Islamic organization to ritually wash bodies of Muslims who had died of AIDS. In addition, it conducted outreach programs to educate Muslims and non-Muslims alike on AIDS and HIV.Yahya recognized that if we were going to draw Muslims from our inner city neighborhood, many were going to come broken and damaged by drugs and psychological and social ills. To address this, Alianza was instrumental in creating Brothers in Recovery, the first recovery group with an Islamic bent now well into its third decade.Alianza Islamica also had to combat the problem of local drug dealers. Our next-door neighbors were drug dealers protected by crooked cops. Confronting them was risky; there were a number of tense moments, and the risk of retaliatory violence was all too real. However, Yahya insisted that Alianza Islamica have good, cooperative relations with law enforcement. This proved very advantageous; with persistence and a big helping hand from Captain Robert Curley and the officers of the 23rd Precinct, Alianza successfully cleared the block of drug dealers.Yahya always maintained that Alianza Islamica take a proactive approach in dealing with the problems of incarcerated Muslims. In the 1990s, during Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s administration, an inmate blood feud erupted in the prison on Rikers Island between the Latin Kings, the Bloods and incarcerated Muslims. An epidemic of slashings had gotten out of hand. Yahya had connections with the leadership of the Latin Kings and on behalf of Alianza Islamica, was able to broker a truce. Mayor Giuliani was so impressed that he offered Yahya the chaplaincy but could not provide the flexible hours Yahya required. Nevertheless, the incident established Yahya and Alianza Islamica’s credibility as a major player in future prison negotiations and disputes.
Latinas in Crisis
One of the most distressing problems faced by Alianza was the inordinately large cases of spousal abuse, overwhelmingly in marriages of Latinas to Arab husbands. The evident predilection for Latinas among immigrant Arabs, especially for those with American citizenship like Puerto Ricans, and the deluge of incidents of verbal and physical abuse forced Alianza to be a haven offering assistance and badly needed counseling services.Unfortunately, in recent meetings with Latino Muslim leaders it has become evident that this problem still persists unabated and remains a major issue in the Latino Muslim community.
Alianza was blessed with a cadre of dedicated members who bought totally into the dream of making a Latin expression of Islam a reality and seeing it spread among our people. Shukrey (Fabel) Pabon, Mustafa Rivera, Peter Robbasa, Sa’id Concepcion, Maryam Roman, Safia Figueroa, Mikail (Miguel) Marrero, and Abdullahi Rodriguez and others were the indispensable cogs that kept Alianza’s engine running.There is one, though, that deserves deserves special mention: Amin (Frenchie) Madera.Though terminally ill with AIDS, he was our gatekeeper, the one you could always rely on to open Alianza’s doors in the morning and to close them at night. He was available for all that was asked of him, was never cross, always even tempered and would greet you at all times with a smile. Humble, unpretentious, and a devoted servant of Allah, he was the best of us and represented the best of Alianza Islamica.
Pluralism In Practice
Though the vast majority of Alianza’s members were Puerto Rican, the organization could count on a number of non-Latinos whose contributions were invaluable. Chief
among them was Shaikh Shair Abdul Mani, a brilliant Afro-American polymath, who grew up in Spanish Harlem, was fluent in Spanish, and was the organization’s public relations officer. He brought an urbane sophistication, professionalism, and polish to a somewhat gritty organization. Muhammad Omerjee was a Burmese gentleman of Gujurati descent who always sought ways for us to work more efficiently. And Christie Aziza Zimmerman, a German-American firebrand with an indomitable spirit who along with her husband Shukrey were pillars of unflinching support. Finally, of all the imams in the city, no one has been more staunch in his support than Imam Talib of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood. He has been there for us in life as well as in death, being the first to offer his services in caring for our dead. May Allah reward him for being a friend to the oftentimes friendless.
La Mezquita Del Barrio
In the mid 90s, Alianza accepted an invitation by a prominent Indian Muslim to move to a building nearby. He, too, had a problem with drug dealing tenants from the notorious Jamaican Posse and was hoping to get some assistance in getting rid of them. There Alianza established La Mezquita del Barrio, the first Latino community-based masjid on the East Coast, perhaps the country, that we were aware of. Finally, there was now a place where it was possible for the Spanish-speaking to hear khutbahs in their native tongue, ending years of feeling left out and marginalized.The establishment of the mezquita was a milestone for us as it had taken the storefront center concept to its logical conclusion. We could now serve Latinos and Latino Muslims in a way the Islamic Cultural Center just 10 blocks could never hope to. Ibrahim Abdul Aziz became the titular imam of the masjid, responsible for Friday lectures and spiritual guidance. Alianza had made at its outset the conscious decision not to mimic the traditional masjid model prevalent in the city at the time. That is why a dawah center with a director at its head was established first rather than a masjid. Alianza’s success, however, made the establishment of a masjid inevitable.Unfortunately, relations between Alianza and the building owner deteriorated, and after Alianza effectively expelled the drug peddlers from his building, the owner initiated eviction proceedings. In 2000, Alianza moved to Alexander Avenue in the Bronx, but torn from its roots, it was never the same. A slow, inexorable decline ended in 2005 with flames reducing to ashes its final resting place.
A New Era, A New Dawn
Back in Texas, the ribbon was finally cut and visitors were now pouring into the new center. The new day had arrived. Yet for we who were approaching the twilight of life, it was a time to reflect. A journey that began with 4 Boricua teenagers 47 years ago had brought us to this day. But we were no longer a quartet. Abdus Salam left for Riyadh at the end of first Gulf war. As the self-titled Latin from Manhattan, he is reported to have brought a great number of GIs to Islam and Ibrahim Gonzalez, the youngest of us and an innovative, determined pioneer, died suddenly in his sleep a couple of years ago, may Allah envelop him in forgiveness and mercy.But there is much reason for hope, for we see in the leaders of IslamInSpanish, as well as in the leaders of Latino movements who converged there for the event, the steely fiber necessary to take this effort to the next evolutionary level.Each of the tribes and nations Allah has created represent bricks in the wall of humanity. Latino Muslims form bricks in the wall of the ummah. If our people are subservient, lacking confidence, dignity or self-esteem, then they are no better than bricks made of substandard materials. And if we do nothing to correct this condition, then we are no better than crooked, unscrupulous contractors placing in the edifice of the ummah bricks that will not take the weight and jeopardize the integrity of the entire structure.But if they are to be confident, believe and trust in Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) and to realize that Allah has not only honored them by bringing them to Islam, but that they are also the spiritual and cultural heirs to the best of Andalusian civilization, then they would respect and demand respect, and let nothing and no one impugn their dignity. If needing to accept any assistance, they would do so only on their own terms and not based on what looks good on someone else’s annual report. These indeed would be bricks of the highest quality, purity, and strength.I wish to end with an excerpt from an editorial I wrote for the premier issue of our journal Alianza Islamica, Spring 1987:”We are not merely interested in starting a new cultural phenomenon of halal tacos and Islamized aguinaldos. Nor are we interested in the parochial, chauvinistic rise of a subject people to dominance and superiority at the expense of others. On the contrary, we, inshallah, will dedicate ourselves to making Latinos aware of their birthright as vicegerents of the Lord of the Universe, what that position entails, and how the proper execution of their responsibilities can lead to true happiness in this life and in the hereafter……In this country, Latino Muslims are still few in numbers, but they are raising a considerable share of eyebrows when spotted on subways, at department stores, or while strolling through the park with their families. In some quarters, mouths still drop and jaws become slack with amazement that a Latino could be a Muslim… ”…When non-Muslims, curiosity aroused, ask us about our religion, oftentimes there is a titillating streak of excitement in the air. The lure of the daring, the bold, the new is there to awaken a whole new generation to their lost heritage. We, therefore, urge our readers to…plunge headlong into the real-life human drama where the souls of men are at stake; we urge you to spread this message by word, deed, and example. And, finally, we urge all to band together to recreate that beautiful sense of pop-eyed wonder as a people, heretofore despised and rejected, assume their rightful place in the family of man as vicegerents of the Lord and Master of all the worlds.”