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.

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