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.

 

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