Monday, December 28, 2009

Death of Two Latino Callers to Islam: Sister Khadijah Rivera and Imam Benjamin Perez (May Allah Have Mercy on Their Souls)

By Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani

I just wanted to mentioned the fact that two Muslim da'is (callers) to Islam of Latino ancestry have died in the past two months. Inna lillahi wa inna alaihi raji'un (To Allah we come and to Allah we will return). I would also like to send my condolences to their families. The first was Sister Khadijah Rivera, the founder and president of P.I.E.D.A.D., who died on November 22, 2009. The second was Imam Benjamin Perez who was one of the oldest U.S. Latinos to convert to Islam. He died on December 8, 2009.

Sister Khadijah founded P.I.ED.A.D. which is an organization that was set up to help Latina Muslimahs. It originated in New York City in 1988. She eventually made her way to Florida. More recently, the organization redefined itself as an American / Latina organization. The following is a quote from the P.I.E.D.A.D. Yahoo! group about their organization at :

"In 1988 some sisters in NYC decided to dedicate themselves to dawah. We have distributed hundreds of Free Qurans and thousands of Islamic Literature. Held lectures at Colombia University , ISNA and other locations. Reverts to Islam unite...... PIEDAD is a support group for American/ Latino women. Al hamdulilah Islam is ever growing in the USA and every single major city has felt it. Latinos are reverting here as in Latin America and their families are joining in. Mashallah. We are a vital part of this revolution , just as the African Americans in the Sixty's during the time of then called, Malcolm X. Yes , this is our time and we are ready. Reverts have many hurdles to cross internally e.g. family, friends, and lifestyles . Only another revert can understand or support them without sounding condescending. Please feel to post dawah events or issues related to Latino American dawah efforts or education. This group is open to Everyone but our chapter PIEDAD meetings are only for sisters. MISSION STATEMENT 1. Dawah to Women and Hispanics One on one dawah soley to women 2. Leadership training and Dawah Partners with Muslim women of America. 3. Community Service Supporters of Project Downtown to feed the homeless. "

I was not fortunate to have met her, but I am familiar with her dawah (calling to Islam), community support efforts, and activism. In December 2008 and February 2009, she went to UAE to seek knowledge of Islam with a program that the the UAE government set up to teach Muslims in the US their din (religion). (References: and

Furthermore, she was instrumental (with the help of P.I.E.D.A.D.) in getting support for Imam Yusef Maisonet's (a Puerto Rican chaplain in Mobile, Alabama) trip to Puerto Rico. His goal of going there was to build ties with Muslims on the island and see if he could aid dawah efforts on the island (reference:

Concering "Imam" Benjamin Perez, I met the brother once at a lecture on Latinos and Islam. He was sitting in the audience. We chatted for a just little after the lecture. A few weeks ago when I heard he was sick and dying, I wanted to call him and interview him about his life. However, due to the circumstances, I did not think it would have been appropriate. I feel it is very important for US Muslims, in general, and Latino Muslims, specifically to document our lives and history. If we do not then we will be wiped out of history or someone else will rewrite our story.

From what "Imam" Benjamin Perez (rahimahullah-May Allah have mercy on his soul) told me, he became Muslim around the 1950s (if I recall correctly) after he came to a Nation of Islam (NOI) event. He said he liked the food and so he joined (or some words to that effect). Now of course, the NOI is not a Muslim organization, but proto-Muslim (as Eric Lincoln in the book "Black Muslims" called them), a quasi-Muslim, pseudo-Muslim, hetorodox Muslim, unorthodox Muslim, so-called Muslim, or "Muslim" organization. So simply put, he was not a true Muslim at that time. So when did he accept true Islam? That part I do not know. It could have been in 1975, when the leader of the NOI Elijah Poole (Muhammad) died and W.D. Muhammad (rahimahullah) took over the organization and brought the followers into the fold of Islam (though not upon the Sunnah). But based on the time period that he enter the NOI, I would guess that he came to Islam much earlier than that.

I will say this, if he did indeed enter the NOI at the time that he says he did, he may have been the first Chicano and Latino/Hispanic to have entered an organization making a claim to Islam.

Furthermore, if he entered true Islam prior to the 1960s (which is highly likely as I have already stated), then he would be the very first U.S. Latino to have entered Islam. The earliest report that I know of U.S. Latinos entering Islam are of some New York-Puerto Ricans who entered Islam in the 1960s and 1970s. See my article entitled "Latino Conversion to Islam: From African-American/Latino Neighbors to Muslim/Latino Global Neighbors" at The LADO Newletter ( for more on my thesis on Latino conversion.

On another point, I do not know if he was an actual imam of a masjid. He may have used the title "imam" as a title of respect, since he was involved in dawah. From my discussion with him, I do not think he was a student of knowledge or sat with any of the ulama (scholars), and Allahu a'lam (Allah knows best). He was more of a dai' (caller) to Islam with a great love of Islam. May Allah reward his for his efforts, Amin.

His family has set up a blog that has been dedicated to him at . If anyone would like to contact them or make a donation to his family, he/she can contact them there."

If I said anything that is correct it is from Allah, and if I said anything that is incorrect it is from myself and Shaytan; and I ask for Allah's forgiveness for that.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Shaykh Abdullah Al-Ansari at Islamic Center of Nashville (ICN)

This is a clip of our brother, Shaykh Abdullah Al-Ansari at the Islamic Center of Nashville. He is a graduate of Imam Muhammad ibn Saud University in Riyadh. Below is a link the lecture that he gave at ICN a few weeks ago.


Friday, December 18, 2009

Salafee Condemnation of the Fort Hood Shooting and a Disavowal of Anwar al-Awlaki

Check out the Abul-Hassan Maliki's speak on Fort Hood Shooting and on (milk)Shake Anwar Al-Awlaki at my other blog at:

Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Prof. Emeritus Richard T. Antoun stabbed, killed at Binghamton University by grad student: cops

I am saddened to hear that Prof. Antoun, professor of anthopology at SUNY-Binghamton, has been stabbed to death. Once again New York's Broome County is being tested by people who want to kill. Earlier this year, Binghamton made headlines when a person went crazy and shot up and killed about thirteen people and wounded four at the local immigration center. Prof. Antoun has done research and written several books about Bilad-ush-Sham (the Greater Syria). He was afilliated with the North African and Middle East Studies Program at SUNY-Binghamton. My condolences go out to his family. Inna li-llah wa inna ilaihi raji'un (To Allah we come and to Allah we return).

Prof. Emeritus Richard T. Antoun stabbed, killed at Binghamton University by grad student: cops

Saturday, December 5th 2009, 4:00 AM

Prof. Emeritus Richard T. Antoun

A longtime Binghamton University anthropology professor known on campus as "a really nice guy" was stabbed to death in his office Friday by a grad student whose dissertation he was to judge, authorities said.

Cops said the as-yet unidentified attacker plunged a 6-inch kitchen blade into 77-year-old Prof. Emeritus Richard T. Antoun four times, puncturing his lung.

He was pronounced dead at Wilson Hospital in Johnson City.

The suspect was still in BU's Science 1 building when police arrived, tackled and frisked him.
When cops asked about Antoun, the witnesses said he replied, "Yeah, I just stabbed him."
BU's Web site described Antoun as a "sociocultural anthropologist" whose scholarly interests focused on comparative religion, Islamic law and ethics and "the sociology of dispute with respect to tribal law in the Middle East."

Professors and students said the mood in the building was one of shock and fear.
"It's scary as hell," Peter Knuepfer, an associate professor of geological sciences, told the Ithaca Journal. "It's another one of those things like the downtown shooting," where a rampaging gunman shot 13 people dead at the American Civic Association in April. "You think it happens somewhere else, but it happens here too."

The Science 1 building was to be closed for 24 hours after the stabbing. Student counselors were put on duty throughout the weekend.

President Lois DeFleur condemned the slaying as "an act of senseless violence" and Gov. Paterson said Antoun would "live on in his writing, his research and in his students, whose lives he forever changed."

Monday, November 02, 2009

Who Are the Moors?

Hey, folks. I have been thinking lately about the term 'Moor'.

You see this term is used a lot to describe the Muslims who lived in Spain. It has several different meanings, and it seems that 'Moor' is the most widely used term to describe the Muslims Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain). But what does this term really means. Beside a term to describe the Muslims of Al-Andalus, it is sometimes used to describe the individuals who are of mixed Arab and Amazigh (Berber) peoples of Northern Africa.

Those of you know who do not know Arabic may be suprised to find out that this term is not used in books written in Arabic - the official language used in Al-Andalus. Therefore, what did the people of Muslim Spain and Portugal (Al-Andalus) call themselves? What did Muslims from other lands refer to those people who inhabited Al-Andalus when Islam was dominated that peninsula?

One thing is for sure, and that is that the Muslims of Andalus (Andalusis) did not refer to themselves in terms as people do today. Race as we know it today was not conceived as we conceive it today. The closest concept was ethnicity. Many of the Muslim people were part of tribes, and may have see themselves as part of a tribe first. The concept of nationalism (wataniyyah of qawmiyyah) was not as it is today. The Westerner concept of the 'nation' as defined it a people and a common land with cleary defined borders did not exist until the Westphalian Treaties of 1648, and did not enter the Muslim lands until after Napolean invaded the Muslim lands.

The tribes were indeed the bases of loyalty for most in Al-Andalus. The 'state' was made up of alliances that were not necessarily limited to a specific piece of land. However, people did have a sense of being from a certain land or descended from a particular place. This, however, did not lead people to have extreme patriotism, nationalism, and racism as we have today.

There was also the identity of religion which was much bigger then it is nowadays. Muslims viewed themselves as member of an ummah (worldwide Muslim community). They regularly look at other people as being part of clearly defined religious communities.

Then there was the linguistic identity of Arabs and non-Arabs. The Quran and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad - sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam - (May Allah mention him among His angels) explained that "there is not difference between an Arab and non-Arab...except by God-conciousness." Arabic is a blessed language since the revelation was brought down in this language and the Quran is preserved in that language. The Prophet Muhammad - sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam - (May Allah mention him among his angels) defined an Arab by those who speak Arabic and not as an identity based on descent.

Another matter I would like to touch upon is the fact that Islamic Spain (Al-Andalus) was a country that had a diverse ethnic community. The main ethnic groups in Al-Andalus were ethnic Arabs, Amazigh (Berbers), White Europeans, and Black Africans. Most of these population of Al-Andalus were Muslim. There was also a large Christian and Jewish population to which their was great tolerance towards them.

Having said all of this, I realize that I have not anzswered the question of who are Moors. It seems that this term relates mainly to the Amazigh people who are of various races (black, whites, and tans). The terms also can also be expanded to several other tribes of North and West African. The term also spread in Europe and came to refer to all Black Africans and also any of the Muslim peoples. The use of the term in this expansive meaning is really where a lot of the confusion comes into play.

So what about the fact that the Moors never called themselves Moors? Well it is true that this term was not used during the Andalusi days. The Romans prior to the introduction of Islam to Iberia refered to the land south of Iberia as Mauritania and the people as 'Mauros'. In fact, the term originated with the Greeks who used the term 'Maurus'. But from my research, there is evidence that the tern originated in Africa.

So one fact that I think should not be overlooked is that the Muslim of Spain, despite their ethnic origins, refered to themselves as Muslims and also refered themselves as 'Andalusi'. The inhabitants of Al-Andalus were indeed Andalusi. Further, they never refered to themselves as Moors from what I know.

Viewing themselves as 'Andalusis' should not be confused with any modern concept of nationalism. It simply is a matter of attributing themselves to the land in which they lived. The term Andalusi is much more inclusive than the term Moor and much more relevant to the history of Al-Andalus.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Speak Back

I am alway interesting in what the readers of my blog think about my blog. I appreciate all of you who make comments here. However, I know there that are still many of you out there who never make any comments. I would like to hear from all of you. What do you like about my blog? What do you dislike about my blog? What do you think should continue, and what do you feel I should change?


Eid-ul-fitr Festival in Clarksville Marks End of Ramadan Month of Fasting
The Leaf-Chronicle
September 21, 2009
Sunday morning showers eased up as a group of about 60 Muslims trickled in beneath a pavilion in Rotary Park to celebrate the end of a month of fasting called Ramadan.
Muslim men, women and children hailing from Indonesia, Puerto Rico, Kenya, Bangladesh, India, Iraq and right here in Montgomery County greeted each other in Arabic and admired one another's beautifully decorated outfits before gathering to celebrate Eid-ul-fitr, an Islamic religious holiday.

For the local Islamic community, which is made up of about 50 families and growing, Eid-ul-fitr symbolizes the end of a period of self-sacrifice, deep meditation and thankfulness for what they have.

"'Eid' means 'festivities,' and 'fitr' means 'the break of fast,'" said Amena Mabrouk, a woman raised in the Islamic religion. "The holiday symbolizes the breaking of the fasting period. Eid is celebrated after fasting for the month of Ramadan as a matter to be thankful and show gratitude to God, Allah."

Worshippers took off their shoes and lined up in rows on blankets and carpets across the concrete pavilion floor.

Danny Salagado stood in front and led the group in Arabic chants and prayers. The congregation softly repeated the words and at times kneeled, sat or stood.

Salagado then gave the Identity of Muslims ceremony, a speech in Arabic and English that reminded the worshippers of the teachings of Allah and the way Muslims should live their lives.
A recent convert
It was her first Eid-ul-fitr celebration for Courtney Stewart, an Austin Peay State University student who marked the occasion by publicly converting to Islam.

Stewart, 19, began serious learning about Islam only two months ago while on campus.
"I was ordering a pepperoni pizza for a Muslim friend and they explained they didn't eat pork, and that led to explaining more Islamic beliefs. I started reading the Quran and started learning, and it all came from asking about pepperonis," Stewart said.
Stewart, who said she was raised in a strong Christian family, said her decision has put a strain on family relations.
"When I told them I was learning, most of them had written me off as not being family anymore," Stewart said. "This is a strong enough thing, and if they are not going to support me in my happiness, I will support my Muslim brothers and sisters."

On Sunday, she publicly gave her statement of faith, where she said there is no god but one god and Muhammad is his messenger.

Breaking the fast
Stewart said although she was not yet a Muslim, she participated in Ramadan and fasted. She said the experience strengthened her faith.

"It's a hard struggle, and you have to be very dedicated," Stewart said. "I thoroughly enjoyed it. ... You feel thankful, and you don't take food for granted. We fast because there are others around who don't get to eat all day, and you do not take food for granted."

Mabrouk said Ramadan is essential to cleansing and drawing closer to Allah.

"The purpose of the fast, or Ramadan, is to cleanse the human soul by remembering god, Allah, by doing worship," Mabrouk said. "When you're hungry and have nothing, you remember God more. That's the only thing to turn back to ... to feel what the poor feel and to appreciate what we have because you don't realize what you have until it's taken away."

Mabrouk said this year was one of the longest fasting periods, lasting from sunrise to sunset, which began at about 7:30 p.m. Mabrouk said nothing was consumed, including water or food.
"It elevates the level of our faith in that month," Mabrouk said.
Feasting on fine foods, gift giving and fellowship are all part of the Eid-ul-fitr celebration.

The week after the celebration has a special meaning for Muslims — they can fast for another week to have their sins forgiven for the previous year.

"It keeps me grounded," Mabrouk said about the fast and celebration. "You don't own yourself to decide the way you want. You belong to Allah. ... It is the mentality of a Muslim woman and man that keeps us grounded."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Eid Al-Fitr Announced

Alhumdulillah, the moon has been sighted in in Australia and Saudi Arabia. According to world sighting that would make tomorrow (Sunday, September 20, 2009) Shawwal 1st and Eid Al-Fitr. For those who follow local sighting, I do not know if there will be anyone in the US going out and looking for the moon since most masajid are following the calculation the would put out by the Fiqh Council. The Fiqh Council has already declared Sunday as Eid Al-Fitr.

See for more on the sighting in Saudi Arabia.

TaqabbAllahi minna wa minka (May Allah accept from us and from you).

Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani


Sunday, September 06, 2009

The Latino Crescent: Latinos make a place for themselves in Muslim America

By, Lyndsey Matthews
The Brooklyn Rail
September 2009
Ponce de Leon Federal Bank, Pan Con Todo restaurant, and the Made In Colombia boutique line the sidewalk on Bergenline Avenue, which runs through the center of Union City, New Jersey. Flags from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic hang proudly in storefronts. Miniature Honduran flags dangle from the rear view mirrors of cars parked on the thoroughfare. More than 60 percent of Union City’s population is Latino. You don’t have to speak English to live here.

Just off Bergenline, there is a stately columned building that used to house the city’s Cuban community center, once a popular venue for traditional Hispanic celebrations like quinceañeras, the 15th birthday parties of Latina girls. Late one Sunday afternoon, three young women wearing traditional Muslim hijabs, or headscarves, stand on the steps of what for the past 17 years has been the Islamic Educational Center of North Hudson.

The North Hudson Islamic Educational Center’s building crest now reads “Allah” in Arabic. Of the thousands who worship here weekly, over a hundred are Latino. Photos by Lyndsey Matthews.

Another woman wearing a hijab rushes up the stairs of the mosque frantically murmuring to herself, “Empanadas, empanadas, empanadas!” as if to remind herself to pick up the savory Latino pastries for the crowd waiting inside. “Empanadas!” Shinoa Matos, one of the three women on the steps, responds excitedly. “I’m very hungry,” she says as her attention turns towards the inside of the building. The Sixth Annual Hispanic Muslim Day event is about to begin.

Unlike churches and synagogues, mosques do not keep rosters of their worshipers. Where one goes to pray is more fluid in the Islamic tradition. Matos estimates that of the thousands of people who pray at the Union City mosque in any given week, more than 100 are Latino. “Just like how there are Albanian mosques in Albanian neighborhoods,” she explained, “we are a Latino mosque because we are in a Latino neighborhood.” Islam, however, discourages differentiation among ethnic groups, she said, so Muslims try not to do it.
Inside the mosque the aromatic scent of steaming empanadas, spiced beef stuffed inside shells of puffed pastry, inundates the first floor auditorium. About a hundred people of various ages mingle around a dozen round tables covered with white plastic cloths and topped with cream-colored ceramic vases holding bouquets of purple silk pansies. Grandmothers coo over infants while a group of young men plug a laptop into the sound system and the Middle Eastern sounds of nasheed, a traditional form of Muslim music, begin to emanate. There are more women than men, and only a few women are not veiled. By what seems like an act of natural separation, the men sit on the left of the auditorium, the women on the right, with a few scattered in between.

Eventually Ramon Omar Abduraheem Ocasio comes to the front of the auditorium to give the keynote speech. He is a family man who found Islam in Harlem in the 1970s and reared his six children as Muslims. He describes what it was like in those days to be ostracized in the neighborhood’s mosques, which members of the Nation of Islam dominated.

Before Hamza Perez found Islam, he dealt drugs. Today he performs with his brother, Suliman, in a Muslim hip-hop group. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.

Ocasio is one of the 44 million Latinos living in the United States who constitute the nation’s largest minority population, according to 2007 U.S. Census estimates. This, plus the rapid growth in the number of adherents to Islam in the United States, has given rise to the relatively new demographic of American Latino Muslims. In 1997, the American Muslim Council identified some 40,000 Hispanic Muslims in the country, a number that had swelled nine years later to a reported 200,000. A 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life put the number of Latino Muslim U.S. residents at four percent of all Muslim U.S. residents. The figure represents a tiny minority within a tiny minority—just over half of one percent of the U.S. population—and a somewhat surprising one. Latinos have long been associated with the Roman Catholic church and more recently, the evangelical Christian traditions. All the same, it is not unusual for Americans to change faith for another denomination, an entirely new religion or no religion at all. For example, of the nearly one in three Americans raised as Catholics, fewer than a quarter still consider themselves Catholic.

Although Islam has not permeated Latino culture to the extent it has black culture—24 percent of Muslim Americans are black—its influence is evident. The Spanish-language telenovela “El Clon” (The Clone) often has its characters discussing Islam and the prerequisites to become a Muslim. The appeal, Latinos who have converted say, comes from their search for a simpler and more intimate experience of God. They find the Muslim emphasis on family and conservative values familiar and beyond that, Latinos often share neighborhoods with black and immigrant Muslims, and in turn develop strong ties as neighbors, friends, and co-workers.

Diverse is the best description of Latino adherents to Islam in the United States. They include Ocasio and his children; his close friend Ibrahim Gonzalez who co-founded one of the nation’s first Latino Muslim organizations with Ocasio; Hamza Perez, an ex-drug dealer who performs in the Muslim hip-hop group Mujahadeen Team, and young mothers like Matos and Fatimah Vargas. They and many others tell of hard-won but growing acceptance, not only by non-Latino Muslims but by their own non-Muslim family members as well.

The pale blue balloons floating on strings above a dozen or so round tables scattered about the room matched Alex Robayo’s baby-blue collared shirt. As the Hispanic Muslim Day emcee, he spoke in both Spanish and English and mostly directed his remarks to the non-Muslims in the crowd.

“Are there any Catholics in the room?” he asked. A young dark-haired woman with a copy of El Coran, the Qu’ran in Spanish, resting on the table in front of her, quietly raised her hand and cringed slightly under the attention turning her direction.

Repeatedly, Robayo stressed the similarities between Christianity and Islam—the belief in one God, and the many common prophets, including Jesus. Many converts say that they find the Christian idea of the Trinity complicated and that the monotheistic simplicity of the Islamic concept of tawheed—the “one true oneness of God”—has great appeal.

“You may say in Spanish ‘dios,’ in English ‘God,’ in Arabic ‘Allah,’” Robayo told the crowd. “Is dios and God different?”

“Dios es grande,” he said.

Robayo shared a story about his mother, a Roman Catholic, whom he picks up after Mass most weeks. While there, he admires the beauty of the statues of Jesus and the saints, but appreciates that in Islam there are no images. Robayo likes the notion of a direct, unmediated conversation with God that Islam promotes, a straightforward approach that appeals to many Islam converts.
Robayo is followed by a series of six speakers, punctuated by a martial arts demonstration with swords—“ninjitsu”—from Puerto Rican Muslim Yusef Ali Abdullah and his students. Speaker Yusef Calderon talked movingly of his commitment to Islam. “There was something so unique and simple with this faith,” he said, highlighting the straightforwardness of the Muslim act of prayer. “This simplicity,” he said, “is what brought me to the way of happiness.”

Ocasio spoke last, telling the story of his Muslim declaration of faith, shahada, at the 125th Street mosque in Harlem back in 1973, along with his friend Ibrahim Gonzalez when they were teenagers. He recalled how lonely their path to happiness was at a time when Puerto Ricans were not so warmly welcomed in the Harlem mosques dominated by non-Latinos. The two friends learned never to greet each other in Spanish. It was as if, as Gonzalez said later, these Muslims had a right to “decide what the rules are.”

“We were so embracive of our Latino roots that some interpreted it as being separatist,” he said. “We were baffled that in such a multi-cultural environment that people would object to us speaking Spanish.” According to Ocasio both he and Gonzalez found it difficult to embrace their Hispanic background and practice their new religion at the same time. Gonzalez not only had problems at the mosque, but at home. His parents greeted his conversion “with some curiosity,” but his mother was always more open to his decision than his father. Eventually, his parents came around and he and Ocasio found more acceptance at a mosque in Newark, where other Hispanics were already worshipping. That encounter led Ocasio and Gonzalez to found the Alianza Islamica in 1975 in their own East Harlem neighborhood with a few other friends. It became one of the United States’ first Latino Muslim organizations and a place, Gonzalez said, that “drew our hearts together.”

They helped form the Alianza to venerate the historical precedence of the Moors, Muslims from northern Africa, in Spain from the 8th to 15th centuries. Gonzalez explained the cultural attachment of the Spanish Caribbean both to Africa and Spain through the Moorish influence. Even parts of the Spanish language derive from Arabic. “We’ve dug a little deeper into our roots,” Gonzalez said. The Alianza teaches Latinos about Islam without any of its typical Middle-Eastern cultural attachments with a goal of educating Latinos about Spain’s Muslim past—“a part of their history that many have not learned,” Gonzalez said.

The imam of the Union City mosque is Muhammad al-Hayek. He is not a Latino but often emphasizes to Latino worshippers how Islam can be seen as “reclaiming your original state.” Like the members of Alianza, al-Hayek uses the term “reverted,” instead of “converted.” “That’s better for Islam,” he said, smiling kindly.

Today the friends feel no need to be apologetic about speaking Spanish in the mosques in which they worship. “I know that I’m doing nothing wrong,” Gonzalez said. The Alianza no longer has a physical address and its activity slowly faded away around 2005. A new generation of Latino Muslims have taken over from their parents and now organizes events through Google groups, calling itself the Tri-State Latino Muslim Organization. Its founder is one of Ocasio’s sons.

Conversion to Islam is also taking place in the projects and in prison. Before Hamza Perez discovered Islam, he dealt drugs in the projects of Worcester, Massachusetts and had no use for religion. These days he performs with his older brother, Suliman, in the Muslim hip-hop group M-Team. M-Team is short for Mujahideen Team, which in Arabic stands for “someone who struggles in the cause for God.” As musicians, the brothers deftly blend musical influences from their Puerto Rican background with their Muslim identity, creating hip-hop that focuses on poverty, injustice and race. As Hamza explains it, a mujahid is not only a holy warrior engaged in jihad. “You can be a mujahid against drugs and alcohol. You can be a mujahid to speak out for truth.”

“Music is a struggle. Hip-hop is a struggle,” Hamza said, speaking of the extravagant lifestyle typically associated with mainstream hip-hop culture. “You can’t just do it for glamour or for showing off or being in love with the sound of your own voice.” Instead, Hamza and his brother use their music to promote a positive Muslim message.

Hamza was not always a devout Muslim. Hamza and Suliman, who is two years older, grew up in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood until they moved to Puerto Rico in 1984 to live with their grandmother. “We [were] getting into trouble at an early age in New York so my mom wanted to get us out,” Hamza said.

The brothers were raised around Christianity in a family that was religious, but never as devout as Hamza is today. His parents “were kind of ‘whatever’ with it,” Hamza said, remembering that his mother only attended Catholic services every once in awhile.

When Hamza was 12 years old, he returned from Puerto Rico to live with his mother, who had moved to Plumley Village, a public housing project built in 1972 in downtown Worcester. At age 15, he found himself hooked on heroin-laced marijuana and was bouncing back and forth between Massachusetts and Puerto Rico. By the time he was 16, he was dealing drugs in Plumley Village with a crew of young dealers. Within a year, he could afford his own apartment. “It still never made us happy. No matter how much money we had, no matter how much drugs we used. It still never made us happy,” he said. In 1998, his roommate and drug-dealing partner, Louis Jijon, a member of the Latin Kings gang, went missing.

“Word in the projects was that he got kidnapped by some Arabs—we were laughing about it,” Hamza recalls, until one day he saw a Muslim man standing outside of a store.

“Yo, you know my friend named Lou?” Hamza asked the man.

“No,” he replied. “I know Luqman.”

Although Hamza took it as a joke, he soon saw Louis walking towards him dressed in white. “He became Muslim,” Hamza said. “He was my crime partner—just seeing him with his life changed like that had a big impact on me.”

Influenced by his friend’s conversion, Perez soon performed his own shahada. Eventually many members of Hamza’s family converted to Islam as well, including his aunt, cousin, Suliman and his wife and his wife’s brother. Another 55 or so people from Plumley Village did the same. “It was like a chain-reaction,” Hamza said.

After he converted, Hamza quit dealing and doing drugs “cold turkey.” To signal his transformation, he returned to all his familiar haunts dressed in traditional Muslim garb and passed out Muslim information. Although Hamza and Suliman’s legal names remain Jason and Juan, they adopted Muslim names to cement their new identities.

What drew Hamza to Islam he said, was the way it allowed him to adhere to Islamic laws and while preserving his own Puerto Rican culture. “Everybody has their own Islamic flavor—Africans with their colorful garments, Saudis with their all-white garb.”

Before their conversion, the brothers rapped in another politically conscious hip-hop group called FOESL, an acronym for the “Force of the Educated Slave.” They performed locally in Massachusetts and self-released an album called “Planet of the Apes.” Eventually, the group became M-Team, which has reached a wider audience through the support of their label, Remarkable Current, a Muslim hip-hop imprint based in California.

While the brothers devote a significant part of their lives to their music, they often view it as secondary to their duties serving their community. After Hamza’s conversion, he began working with at-risk youth—a group he has always identified with—through a self-designed social service curriculum called the SHEHU Program (Services Helping to Empower and Heal Urban communities). The acronym means “teacher” or “leader” in many Muslim communities, and is another word for sheik. The brothers gained experience for creating these programs when they were younger and worked with youth at various summer camps.

In 2004, they moved to Pittsburgh when SHEHU caught the attention of the Sankore Institute of Islamic African Studies and its directors asked the brothers to run some of the programs in their community. The Sankore Institute is an independent school with teachers based all over the United States. Its Pittsburgh headquarters houses its main project: collecting, translating and preserving rare and fragile African manuscripts. The school has collected and digitized more than 2,000 of them. Pittsburgh has “one of the highest murder rates in west Pennsylvania,” according to Hamza. The Institute now acts as the intellectual branch of SHEHU.

Hamza runs his life skills programs for teens of all religious backgrounds in schools, YMCAs, and Boys and Girls Clubs, teaching them about anger management and healthy relationships using the traditional curriculums from the translated manuscripts. SHEHU also has a prison outreach program three days a week in which some 90 inmates participate.

As an offshoot of SHEHU, Hamza’s own experience as a drug dealer led him to found the 30 Below program with his old friend from the projects, Luqman Salaam. It specializes in drug dealing prevention. Named after the hierarchical nature of drug-dealing operations, the program discourages the glorification of drug dealing rappers and gangsters and hopes to guide them along a better path.

Before Fatimah Vargas discovered Islam in the years before 9/11 she said she “did not know the difference between a Muslim and a Hindu.” Born into a Dominican family in New Jersey with the name Marleny, Vargas was a single mother by the time she turned 18. A group of former Pakistani co-workers provided her first exposure to Islam. “Their character amazed me,” she recalls, because they did not look at the scantily clad women going to the beach during the hot New York summers. Eventually she checked out a copy of the Qu’ran at the public library and read it in secret in the middle of the night. When she read the first few lines she said she knew immediately, “This is it.”

When she told her brother, “He was very upset,” she said. Her mother noticed a change in her daughter when Vargas started dressing more conservatively but did not initially understand why. “I used to dress very inappropriate—to say the least,” Vargas said. These days she conceals her hair behind a hijab and the only skin she shows is her delicate hands and face. Eventually she told her parents about her conversion. “That was horrible,” she remembers. Her parents had preconceived misconceptions about Islam and her mother warned that if she converted she would become a terrorist and marry Osama bin Laden. “I couldn’t hurt a roach, how could I kill a human?” Vargas protested. When she married her husband, a Puerto Rican Muslim, she did not get her parents’ approval.

Ocasio’s wife, Faiza Ocasio, encountered similar resistance from her family when she first converted. Her mother was angry and continued to serve her pork dishes, even though her new religion restricted her from eating the meat.

When September 11 occurred, Vargas knew that it wouldn’t help others accept her new religion. She struggled to convince others that being Muslim was something very different than being a terrorist. These days, her parents have accepted her choice to be Muslim, which she thinks is the best thing that could have ever happened. They are actively involved in her life now, as she and her husband rear their three children, ages 9, 8, and 4, as Muslims.

The Ocasios’ six children, like Vargas’, are a rare sector—just 10 percent—of the Latino community in the United States, in that they were were born and raised as Muslims. In New York, this community has also reached a third generation: there are five Ocasio grandchildren who will also grow up in the Muslim faith. Though the Ocasios struggled to embrace their Latino culture in the African-American dominated mosques of the 1970s, their children’s experience growing up as Latino Muslims have few vestiges of the dual-identity conflict their parents experienced. They are proud of both their heritages.

The Ocasio children range in age from 15 to 33. They are practicing Muslims who grew up in New York’s Black Muslim world. They attended the Al Madrasa al Islamiya, a predominantly African American Muslim school in Brooklyn, where their mother teaches, until they went to high school. Sultana, 29, the third daughter of the Ocasio children, described her desire to assimilate as a Latino Muslim minority. “I always wished I was darker,” she said of her childhood. She wanted to fit in with her African-American classmates who were part of a culture where the mantra “Black is beautiful” was revered. “I wanted to be more black,” she remembers. “Hip-hop was cooler than rock ‘n roll.”

Many of Sultanas childhood classmates and friends called their dads “abby,” a slang term for father in Arabic. One time she tried calling her father this. “You call me papi,” he shot back, reminding Sultana that his family did not need to change who they were as Puerto Ricans because they were Muslim too.

Though Sultana felt different from her black counterparts in grammar school, she encountered a whole new sense of not belonging when she joined the Muslim Student Association at Baruch College, from which she graduated with a degree in political science and sociology in 2008. There she went through a culture shock interacting directly with Arab and Pakistani classmates who were often more reserved than her “more colorful” Latino friends. Many of her peers assumed she was Egyptian “until I opened my mouth,” she said. She had to adjust once more to being a minority within a minority. But despite the initial confusion, her experiences with non-Latino Muslims in no way mirror those of her father at mosques in the 1970s.

Many West Africans “transform” themselves, Sultana said, to symbolize their adherence to the faith, dressing in traditional Arabic dress. They’re adopting cultural traits, not religious ones though, Sultana pointed out. It is important to her family to separate religion from culture. They do not need to be one and the same. “Being Puerto Rican is important to me, but not as important as being Muslim,” Sultana said.

Today Sultana works in the Bronx for the Muslim Women’s Institute for Research and Development, coordinating ESL classes. The Institute also runs a halal food pantry open to the entire community, in addition to many other services. Working in social services runs in the family. Her mother used to be a social worker in the Islamic Family Services before she became a teacher.

Sultana also has experienced bewilderment from non-Muslim Latinos about her religion. When some Puerto Rican immigrants find out that Sultana is both Puerto Rican and Muslim, they ask her, “Why in the world are you Muslim?” she said. They find her choice radical, but she tells them, “I like this—this is something I feel is right.”

Though the Latino Muslim community shows continued potential for growth as evidenced by new leadership, and increasing acceptance within their ethnic and religious communities, their numbers remain just “sprinkles,” in Sultana’s words, in many Islamic communities. “There’s no Puerto-Rican Malcolm X,” Sultana said, unsure of how or if her people will ever become a unified group within the faith.

As evening falls over the Sixth Annual Hispanic Muslim day and Imam al-Hayek brings his remarks to an end, someone approaches him to tell him that a middle-aged woman who goes by Angela wishes to declare shahada. Angela became interested in Islam when her son converted. She likes how Islam affected him and his behavior, she says. He’s become a man now. Prepared to assert her new faith publicly Angela comes to the front of the room and recites in Arabic, “Ash-Hadu AnLa Ilaha Illa-Allah Wa Ash-Hadu Anna Muhammadan Rasul-Allah”. In English, it means “I witness that there is no god but God and I witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” As she finishes, the entire room erupts joyously in unison, “Allah Akbar,” “God is great.” And their community increases by one more.

Photos 1-3 by Lyndsey Matthews.

Photo 1: Just off Bergenline, the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center is home to a small, but growing Latino Muslim community.

Photo 2: The North Hudson Islamic Educational Center’s building crest now reads “Allah” in Arabic. Of the thousands who worship here weekly, over a hundred are Latino.

Photo 3: No commentary.

Photo 4: Before Hamza Perez found Islam, he dealt drugs. Today he performs with his brother, Suliman, in a Muslim hip-hop group. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Ramadhan 2009 in Clarksville, Tennessee

Ramadhan 2009 in Clarksville, Tennessee

By Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani

Alhumdullah, this is the second year that the Islamic Center of Clarksville is holding iftar dinner at the L&N Train Station in Downtown Clarksville. The iftar is held on Friday and Saturday. The iftar is followed by taraweeh prayer. This is a great time of year when you see many of the Muslims come out. Once the adhan is called, we quickly break our fast with dates, and then we have some small items (fruit salad, samosa, etc) to eat. Then we pray the maghrib prayer. We have some rugs to use at his place, since it is not a regular masjid. The price to get this place was very steep, but alhumdullah some brothers from the community are flipping to bill.

I am glad to see all of the brothers from the community and their family come out. The Clarksville community is very diverse. There are Palestinians, Egyptians, African Americans, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Puerto Ricans, White Americans, and Panamanians. There is about at least two from the above mentioned ethnic groups. On the social level, it is also diverse. There are professors, soldiers, doctors, businessmen, students, barbers, and other professions represented.

After the maghrib prayer, we wait to get the cue from the sisters to go and get some dinner. At the L&N Train Station, there are two main halls and a small hall between the two. The first one is the place of prayer and the second one is mainly a place for eating. One thing I greatly hate (for the sake of Allah) is the fact that we are in very close proximity to the sisters. Alhumdullah, I and some (not all brothers) try and take our food back to the musallah (prayer area) or pray with our backs toward the women so as not to cause any fitnah.
After we eat, it is usually time to pray. Since there is no imam in our community the president of the executive board Dr. Ahmad Joudah usually leads the Isha' prayer. Then I and/or a Palestinian brother named lead the salaah. We usually pray four rakaat each, but today he prayed the whole eight. Dr. Joudah finishes off the prayers by praying two rakaat shafi' and one witr. The last rakah includes dua (supplications).
Tomorrow there will be a fund raising iftar at Austin Peay State University (Morgan University Center, Room UC 303 & 305). The price is $25 for singles and $50 for families. The money is to help for the price of the masjid that the community is tryingto build. The main speaker will be an "uncle" from my wife's country (Kenya) - Dr. Awadh Binhazam from Olive Tree Education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Anyone in the Middle Tennessee/Western Kentucky area who would like to go can RSVP by calling Mohsun Ghias at 931-237-1050.

The photos used in this post where extracted the following website:

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


I found this article at Professor Raquel Rivera's website. It is from the Puerto Rican rapero and reguetónero on the topic of race in Latin America and Puerto Rico in particular. While I do not support all of his views in this article, I think it sheds light on how race is viewed from AfroBoricuas.


Tego says skin color's still a major issue for Latinos.

New York Post
February 15, 2007

Just this morning, I was listening to radio host Luisito Vigeroux talking about a movie project that I am working on which co-stars Mayra Santos Febres and he was saying, "Her? She's starring in it?"

Questioning her Black beauty.

I remember, too, when Celia Cruz died, a newscaster, thinking she was being smart, said Celia Cruz wasn't black, she was Cuban. She was pretty even though she's black.

As if there is something wrong with being black, like the two things can't exist simultaneously and be a majestic thing. There is ignorance and stupidity in Puerto Rico and Latin America when it comes to blackness.

In Puerto Rico, Spike Lee's "Malcolm X" was only shown in one theater and unlike all the other movies shown here, there were no subtitles. It's as if they don't want the masses to learn.

But it's not just here - in Puerto Rico - where I experience racism. When I lived in Miami, I was often treated like a second class Boricua. I felt like I was in the middle - Latino kids did not embrace me and African American kids were confused because here I was a black boy who spoke Spanish. But after a while, I felt more embraced by black Americans - as a brother who happens to speak Spanish - than other Latino kids did.

Because I am well known, sometimes I forget the racist ways of the world. But then I travel to places where no one knows Tego Calderón I am reminded.

For instance, when I travel first class, the stewardess will say, "Sir, this is first class," and ask to see ticket. I take my time, put my bags in the overhead, sit, and gingerly give them my ticket, smiling at them. I try not to get stressed anymore, let them stress themselves.

And the thing is that many white Puerto Ricans and Latinos don't get it. They are immune to the subtle ways in which we are demeaned, disrespected. They have white privilege. And I've heard it said that we are on the defensive about race.

Those things happen and it's not because of color, Tego, but because of how you look, how you walk, what you wear, what credit card you have. Then, they spend a couple of days with me, sort of walk in my shoes, and say "Damn negro, you are right."

When I check into hotels and use my American Express they call the credit card company in front of me saying the machine is broken. This happens a lot in U.S. cities but it's not because there is more racism there, it's because they don't know me. When I'm in Latin America, I am known, so it's different. That is not to say that there is less racism. The reality for blacks in Latin America is severe, in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Honduras ...

Puerto Rican (and Latin American) blacks are confused because we grow up side by side with non-blacks and we are lulled into believing that things are the same. But we are treated differently.

My parents always celebrated our history. My dad always pointed things out to me. He even left the PIP (Pro-Independence Party) because he always said that los negros and our struggle was never acknowledged.

Maelo (Ismael Rivera) and Tite Curet did their part in educating and calling out the issues. Today, I do my part but I attack the subject of racism directly.

It makes me so happy to see Don Omar call himself el negro and La Sister celebrate her blackness. Now it's in fashion to be black and to be from Loiza. And that is awesome, it makes me so happy. Even if they don't give me credit for starting the pride movement, I know what I did to get it out there.

Young black Latinos have to learn their story. We also need to start our own media, and forums and universities. We are treated like second class citizens. They tell blacks in Latin America that we are better off than U.S. blacks or Africans and that we have it better here, but it's a false sense of being. Because here, it's worse.

We are definitely treated like second class citizens and we are not part of the government or institutions. Take for instance, Jamaica - whites control a Black country.

They have raised us to be ashamed of our blackness. It's in the language too. Take the word denigrate - denigrar - which is to be less than a negro.

In Puerto Rico you get used it and don't see it everyday. It takes a visitor to point out that all the dark skin sisters and brothers are in the service industry.

It's hard in Puerto Rico. There was this Spaniard woman in the elevator of the building where I lived who asked me if I lived there. And poor thing - not only is there one black brother living in the penthouse, but also in the other, lives Tito Trinidad. It gets interesting when we both have our tribes over.

Black Latinos are not respected in Latin America and we will have to get it by defending our rights, much like African Americans struggled in the U.S.

It's hard to find information about our people and history but just like kids research the newest Nintendo game or CD they have to take interest in their story. Be hungry for it.

We need to educate people close to us. I do it one person at a time when language is used and I am offended by it. Sometimes you educate with tenderness, as in the case of my wife, who is not black.

She's learned a lot and is offended when she sees injustices. She gets it. Our children are mixed, but they understand that they are black and what that means. My wife has taught her parents, and siblings, and they, in turn, educate the nephews and nieces. That is how everyone learns.

This is not about rejecting whiteness rather; it's about learning to love our blackness - to love ourselves. We have to say basta ya, it's enough, and find a way to love our blackness. They have confused us - and taught us to hate each other - to self-hate and create divisions on shades and features.

Remember that during slavery, they took the light blacks to work the home, and left the dark ones to work the fields. There is a lot residue of self-hatred.

And each of us has to put a grain in the sand to make it into a movement where we get respect, where we can celebrate our blackness without shame.

It will be difficult but not impossible.
As told to Sandra Guzman

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Puerto Rican Race: A Reply to Ibrahim Abdullah Al-Boriqee
By, Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani


I would like to answer your question as to my position on Puerto Ricans and race. It has been long overdue that I reply to you on Puerto Ricans and race. If you do not agree with me, then at least you can see the sources from where I am coming. At the very least, these article may help you strengthen your position. Simply stated I would say an emphatic “no” to your question regarding whether or not I see the Puerto Ricans as a “rainbow people.” Before I engage this topic, I will say from the outset that there are several positions out there regarding the topic of race and Puerto Ricans. Therefore, there is no ijma (consensus) on this topic among those scholars who have studied this topic or among the common Puerto Rican people (al-‘amm) themselves. Perhaps the first proponent for the “rainbow people” position was a New York Puerto Rican Felipe Luciano, the former chairman of the Young Lords and an original Last Poet. Interestingly enough, he also held a position of being a black Boricua (see Palante: Young Lords Party, by the Young Lords Party and Michael Abramson). There are many in Puerto Rico, Latin America, and the continental United States that reject the fact that there is a Puerto Rican race.

Race has many different meanings depending upon whom you ask. From the outset, I must say that my understanding of race is based more so upon a sociologist point of view. I hold that race is a social concept that is not based upon biology. Race itself is a topic that is an ever-evolving topic. Where does one demarcate the “us” from the “them” differs in time and place? A search at Wikipedia can give you a good introduction as to the various positions of race that has developed in time and place.

The position that there is a “Hispanic race” is a similar position to the “Puerto Rican race” concept. This concept I also do not believe in. Also, regarding that there is only one race (i.e., the human race), definitely, there is only one race in one sense of the word. However, the fact is that there is this other meaning of race out there that cannot be denied or ignored. I do not think that Blacks had been lynched in the past for anything other than being from a different race than White people. While some of my thoughts on race and Puerto Ricans are influenced by my experience as a non-White person (at least in this society I am) in the continental United States, many of my ideas are based upon a growing movement of Boricuas on the island that are challenging old concepts of Boricuas being a “Puerto Rican race,” “a rainbow race,” or a “Hispanic race.” It is also part of a Latin American movement to recognize African and indígenas cultures in Latin America. The whole concept of hispanism or latinidad is a Eurocentric concept. As far as hispanism/latinidad recognizing the non-European part of our past, it sometimes, at the very least, recognizes the so-called brown (i.e., indígenas) roots of our people. It may also extend to be inclusive of some Black African roots, but this is always conceived as something far, distant, and in the past.

One of the leading academics that put forth the position that we Puerto Rican are a “rainbow” people was the New York Puerto Rican sociologist Clara Rodriguez. She says that she did not coin the phrase, but that it came from Felipe Luciano, as mentioned earlier. Her main work on race and Puerto Ricans is her book Puerto Ricans Between Black and White. See pages 25-35. Her book is available at the following website: .

Also see:,M1 .

You can read an article from her where she defends her “rainbow people” thesis in an article entitled, “Rejoiner to Robert Rodríguez-Morazzani’s "Beyond the Rainbow: Mapping the Discourse on Puerto Ricans and ‘Race’,” by Clara E. Rodriguez, Centro Journal, Volume IX -Number 1 (Winter 1996-97). It is on the internet at: . This is article was in reply to Rodríguez-Morazzani’s “Beyond the Rainbow” thesis found in his article “Beyond the Rainbow: Discourse on Puerto Ricans and “Race,” Centro Journal, Volume VIII, Number 1 & 2 (Spring 1996). It is online at .

20th Century Black Puerto Rican Intellectual on Race

While Rodiguez does not deny blackness in the Puerto Rican community, one thing we cannot deny is that the whole concept of the Puerto Rican race was a concept that, for the most part, upper class, land owning, white Puerto Ricans and light-skinned mulattos conceptualized. Even upper class Afro-Boricuas like Don Pedro Albizu Campos had exposed the concept of a “Hispanic race” (not a Puerto Rican one). His reasoning for accepting such a concept was more grounded in politics then fact. He was organizing in Puerto Rico at a time when he was trying to unite Puerto Ricans of many different racial backgrounds around the concept of nationalism. We can make a comparison of him as a nationalist and President Barack H. Obama who were both trying to see their particular nation as a post-racial society. The recent controversy over Professor Henry Louis Gates shows from many angles how the United States is still no longer a post-racial. Even his mentioning that the Cambridge Police Department “acted stupidly” has raised White Americans anxieties about race.

The question though is whether race has been resolved in Puerto Rico. I do not think it was resolved in Don Pedro’s day nor in our time. During his time, the island’s elites blamed Puerto Rico’s problems on the lower class Afro-Boricuas. In the 1970s and 1980s, the conflict between cocolos (salseros) and rockeros highlights the conflicts of race in the island. (See “Policing the ‘Whitest’ of the Antilles,” by Kelvin Santiago-Valles, Centro Journal, Volume VIII- Number 1 & 2, Spring 1996). In the 1990s and this decade, the issue of crime is seen as one of a problem originating with Black Puerto Ricans and Dominicans (another Black Hispanic peoples) of the island’s ghetto.

Many good articles shed light upon some of the intellectual Black Puerto Ricans of the early twentieth century on the issue of race. One particular article that compares two Black Caribbean men’s (i.e., Marcus Garvey and Don Pedro Albizu Campos) positions on race is the following article: “Two variants of Caribbean nationalism: Marcus Garvey and Pedro Albizu Campos,” by Juan Manuel Carrión, Centro Journal, Volume XVII - Number 1 (Spring 2005). It can retrieved at .

Another good article that compares and contrasts the concept of race between Arturo Shomburg and Jesús Colón is Winston James’ James’ “AfroPuerto Rican Radicalism i nthe US: Reflections on the Political Trajectories of Arturo Shomburg and Jesús Colón” in Centro Journal, Volume VIII - Numbers 1 & 2 (Spring 1996), . Arturo Shomburg is well-known in New York’s African-American community since there is the Arthur Shomburg Library dedicate to him on 135th Street in Harlem. His story is interesting since he was born and raised on the island, and when he asked a teacher in school as to Blacks contribution to Puerto Rican society, his teacher told him that there was no contribution. He then set out to research the contribution of Blacks to Puerto Rico. Again, this story shows how Puerto Rican history has been whitewashed.

One last article that I will mention is “Un Hombre (Negro) del Pueblo José Celso Barbosa and the Puerto Rican “Race” Toward Whiteness,” by Miriam J. Román, Centro Journal, Volume VIII, Numbers 1 & 2 (Spring 1996), .

There are many articles discussing and examining the issue of race and Puerto Ricans. I know this can be a very controversial topic. Many Boricuas do not share the position that I have taken in this regard. My position is simply this – Puerto Ricans are a nation of people that are made up of three main racial and cultural backgrounds – Black African, Iberian Europeans, and Native Americans. All of these races and their cultures have contributed to Puerto Rican culture and society. The African element has contributed more than any other culture, and this contribution is ignored or marginalized. American culture has also contributed to Puerto Rican culture since 1898. Puerto Ricans are not one race. They range from the whitest of white to the blackest of black. Most Puerto Ricans are a mulatto people. That means that most are mixed somewhere between the White race and the Black race. Puerto Ricans that are mixed with the Black race may reach up to seventy percent. I do not like the way that Blackness is suppressed in Puerto Rican society. It is what it is. It is not something to be ashamed of, ignored, or explained away.


To sum it all up, I can say much about this topic. I hope that you will read these articles and develop your own view. You will have to establish membership at Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños before you can access most of these articles. I am not saying that I am necessarily right or wrong. Might I suggest that you start off reading the Centro Journal’s Spring 1996 issue on race and identity. You may want to first read Kelvin Santiago-Valles’ and Rodríguez-Morazzani’s articles. Another scholar that influenced my ideas the most is Raquel Rivera. You can find her book at It is entitled New York Puerto Ricans from the Hip Hop Zone (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003). You may access her homepage at :
Her MySpace blog is located at the following: .
By the way, she was raised on the island. I mention that she is from the island you made a distinction between Puerto Ricans (and other Latin Americans) from the island and their concept of race and Stateside Puerto Ricans’ concept in your comment to my last blog entry. While I think there may be some difference on these two Puerto Rican groups’ concept of race, the position I am exposing has its roots on the island among intellectual from the island.

So what does all this have to do with us as Muslims? I think that my position is more pluralistic than the “rainbow people” thesis, even though the “rainbow people” thesis is more pluralistic than many other theses out there, including some that see Puerto Ricans as a white population. I say that because the concept I hold is accepting of various aspects of Puerto Ricans culture, both African and otherwise. There is no one Puerto Rican culture or background, such as there is no one American culture or background. If Puerto Ricans can accept this, I think that they can, at the very least, accept Muslims that are Puerto Ricans. Right now there are those that think that if you are not a Christian that you cannot be a Puerto Rican. On an even higher level, perhaps my perspective on Puerto Ricans can help Boricuas to exam the religion of some of their ancestors, whether it be by way of Spain or Africa. The Muslim contribution to Puerto Rico is great and deep. We just need to scratch the surface and then we can open to topic to the most important topic of tawheed. It does not matter what path one may comes to Islam. I hope that Allah guide all the misguided Puerto Ricans (and all non-Muslims) to accept Al-Islam, Amin.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Black Professor and Da White Cop
I, like many other so-called minorities, am very distrubed by the arrest of Professor Henry Louis "Skippy" Gates, Jr. Maybe I should not be. Maybe I should put on my rosy-colored glasses and act as if we are now living in a color blind society. Maybe I should forget that there is still injustice in American society. Maybe I, as a Muslim, should not concern myself with such issues that DO affect my life as being a Puerto Rican and a Muslim. Maybe we do live in a post-racial society. Hey, it can't be that bad if we have a Black president, right? Maybe it is right and justified for a policeman to arrest a man who who was just a little perturbed by the officer's inquiries into his presence at his own residence. Maybe I should not take sides and be a bit more reserved and just "wait till all the facts come out." Maybe I should shut up and be a good citizen because cops are just trying to make us safe and secure (except of course if you are a black man who can't get into his residence). Maybe I should just assimilate into the Muslim mainstream that is trying to fit in with the value of the middle class.
Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani
Clarkville, TN

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Roots - "Allah the Merciful"

Skip to 7:13 where Kunta Kinte calls out to Allah in prayer.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Justice Sotomayor and Death of Steve McNair

We shall soon see as to whether or not Sotomayor will be the next Supreme Court justice. I was suprised to find out the other day that she is a Boricua. I was also further suprised to learn that she is (or at least was in the past) a supporter of independence for Puerto Rico. Sotomayor and I have many things in common. That is, that both of us were born in the Bronx and are Nuyoricans. Her politics seem to be progressive, and I agree with most of progressive politics (minus all their stances on social issues). I hope that she does become the next Supreme Court justice.

On another note, I was suprised and alarmed to learn that Steve McNair was killed in Nashville, Tennessee. I took an interest in the story since Nashville is only about 50 miles from where I live. I also took an interest since this story involved a female with a name that appears to have some Muslim connection. I was hoping and praying that this would not turn out the be another story that involved Muslims murders. It seems that some other people were speculating to some "Islamic" connection such as Neocon Latina (

Alhumdulillah, this murder did not seem to involved any Muslims. I am still not sure as to even if Sahel Kazemi was a Muslim. She may have been born a Muslim, but the absence of practicing Islam can negate one's faith. As is evident, it does not seem that she was practicing Islam even if she may have originally come from Iran. Neocon Latina claims that she was a Bahaii. Allah knows best. Either way, my condolences go out to the family of all of those who died in this tragedy.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

The 'King of Pop' Returns to the King of All Kings

I send my condolences to the family of Michael Jackson. Inna lilAllah wa inna ilaihi raji'oon (To All we come and to Allah we return). I am reminded of death and how close and evident it is. As Allah says, "Every sould shall taste the death."
I can still remember being nor older than 6 or 7 and being home that night that the Thriller video premiered on MTV. The days of the 80s are still sketched in my mind. The red leather jacket that he wore set the trend for the day. Michael knew very well how to be a trend setter and how to manipulate popular American culture.
There has been much discussion on the net that Michael had converted to Islam. I do not know of anything, yet, that has been proven conclusively about this. It is a shame that there are some of our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters feel that they have to make up lies about famous people converting to Islam in order for help the cause of Islam. Neil Armstrong was another person that it was claimed that he accepted Islam. This was proved to be an urban myth as well. And no guys, he did here the adhan (call to prayer) while on the moon. It is true that there are many famous people who are Muslim like Jermaine Jackson (Michael brother and singer from the Jackson 5) and Dave Chappelle - to name a few.
In conclusion, let us remember death and take this time to reflect on the true purpose of life. We are only here to worship the One God. I hope that Michael was able to realize this and that his last words were La Ilaaha ill Allah (There is nothing worthy of worship except God). Nothing else can benefit him now.

Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani

Sunday, May 03, 2009

40th Anniversary of City College Student Strike
Sorry I did not get this up in time, but I would still like to show my solidarity with the movement that began 40 years ago. The article below was written by one of the students who took part in that movement and is still involved in the struggle that has not ended.
Memories of April-May 1969 at Harlem University (a/k/a CCNY)
by, Ronald B. McGuire

April 22nd marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the City College student strike led by Black and Puerto Rican students that won Open Admissions and established ethnic studies departments at all CUNY colleges. Alumni, students, faculty and community members will gather at Remembrance Rock on Liberation Hill on the South Campus of Harlem University (a/k/a City College) next Wednesday, April 22nd at noon to commemorate the 1969 Black and Puerto Rican Student Strike and the 20th anniversary of the 1989 CUNY student strike that also began at City College. We will share our memories, and our hopes and we will rededicate ourselves to continuing the struggle to realize the vision of the 1969 and 1989 student strikers. What follows are some of my memories of the events of April-May 1969 at City College.
On April 22, 1969 250 Black and Puerto Rican students occupied the South Campus at City College and renamed CCNY "Harlem University". The strike was the culmination of a campaign that began in Fall 1968 in which the "Black and Puerto Rican Student Community" raised 5 demands:1. A School of Black and Puerto Rican Studies (later reformulated as a demand for a School of Third World Studies), 2. A separate freshman orientation program for Black and Puerto Rican students,3. A voice for students in setting the guidelines and governance of the SEEK program, including the hiring and firing of faculty,4. A revised admissions formula that would insure that Black and Puerto Rican students would comprise a proportion of the freshman class at least equal to the proportion of Black and Puerto Rican students in New York City public high schools and,5. A requirement that all education majors take courses in the Spanish language and Black and Puerto Rican history.Classes never resumed on a normal basis after April 22nd. White students supporting the strike occupied Klapper Hall (the old School of Education building) and renamed it "Huey P. Newton Hall for Political Action" after the co-founder of the Black Panther Party. Thousands of residents of Harlem marched to City College in support of the Black and Puerto Rican students who were joined by national and local leaders including Kathleen Cleaver, Betty Shabazz, H. Rap Brown and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and cultural figures, including Queen Mother Audley Moore.
The occupations were mostly peaceful, although there were some instances of violence. An undercover cop who had infiltrated the occupied buildings was discovered, interrogated and beaten before being released at a press conference called by the Black and Puerto Rican students. That night the Black and Puerto Rican students reported that police fired shots at the occupied buildings on South Campus. I witnessed a gang of anti-strike students systematically and viciously beat a white strike supporter outside Newton Hall. It was a frightening time. The tremendous support of the Harlem Community sustained us during the siege of the occupied buildings. Queen Mother Moore was a tremendous inspiration to all of us, including the white strikers.

The occupations of South Campus and Klapper Hall continued for two weeks until May 5th when a New York State Supreme Court injunction was served on the students. The Black and Puerto Rican leadership decided to end the occupations but to continue the strike. Students who continued to go to class were considered "scabs" as hundreds of police in riot gear occupied the campus in a vain attempt to keep classes open. There were pitched battles between supporters of the strike and white students who opposed the 5 demands and wanted to return to class. Many white faculty and students feared that open admissions would lower academic standards and jeopardize City College's reputation as the "proletarian Harvard". The strikers, who included Black Panthers, SNCC organizers and students who would later become organizers of the Young Lords Party, were determined to integrate City College and establish ethnic studies "by any means necessary". Hundreds of Black, Puerto Rican, Asian and white students confronted police and white student "scabs" who unsuccessfully tried to open classes. About a dozen supporters of the strike were arrested and several were expelled. A number of students were hospitalized from injuries in the fighting. Students used concrete rebar, steel rods, rocks and bottles as weapons as strikers fought strike breakers.While students battled students and students battled cops, City College President Buell Gallagher began negotiations on the five demands with a delegation of the Black and Puerto Rican students and leaders of City College's faculty senate. The preparation of the students for the negotiations was extraordinary. Three student negotiators held their own against faculty, administrators, trustees and, eventually the political leadership of New York. The student negotiators were Charles Powell, Rick Reed and Serge Mullery. They came to the negotiating table armed with facts but more importantly, imbued with a vision of the historical inevitability of a new CUNY redefined by its special mission to the children of the African and Latin American diasporas. The student negotiators and the Black and Puerto Rican strikers understood that the historical imperative for integrating City College as the culmination of the struggle for learning and self determination that dated from the struggle against slavery and the fight of the Boriquenos against the conquistadors and Yankee imperialism. The faculty and administrators were simply overwhelmed by students who not only would not defer to their authority, but whose command of the facts was only matched by their command of the political forces on the campus and in the community. The negotiations transformed Open Admissions from a radical dream to the inevitable convergence of the visions of Frederick Douglass and Townshend Harris at City College in Harlem. One of the two principal faculty negotiators, Dean Robert Young (the director of SEEK at CCNY), said: "You must understand, these students were organized, they were deliberate, and sometimes - politically speaking - intimidating. They knew when to raise questions, when to insist on going into caucus, or to place the administration into a position that could best be described as 'ill at ease'". Bernard Bellush, the Chair of the Faculty Senate was the second principal faculty negotiator. Professor Bellush later said "faculty are not trained to face up to an organized group of students who feel they are right, who in the process of negotiations are making clear they are not acting in the role of subservient students. Faculty were terribly shaken, psychologically, educationally - whichever way you put it". Conrad Dyer, "Protest and the Politics of Open Admissions" , (dissertation, CUNY, 1990) p.133-134.By May 5th the City College Black and Puerto Rican faculty issued a press release supporting the strike. The white faculty remained divided. The non-tenured faculty opposed the use of force while the nearly all white tenured faculty demanded the immediate resumption of classes. Eventually the tenured faculty staged a "coup" and voted separately from the non-tenured majority to demand that the administration open the campus and take a tough line with the strikers.
However, the students gained the upper hand in the negotiations. After calling on experts to demonstrate the economic and educational viability of a new admissions model, and engaging the faculty and administration in nearly non-stop round the clock negotiations, the faculty negotiators began seriously discussing implementation of the five demands, including a new admissions policy. Eventually even President Gallagher appeared to be won over to the essence of the five demands and he called on the CUNY Trustees to join the discussions on implementation. However, as Gallagher's position softened, the trustees became intransigent. The trustees refused to rejoin the negotiations and ordered Gallagher to use the police to break the strike, with force, if necessary.

The turning point of the strike came in the days between May 6th and May 8th during one of the most frightening weeks in City College's history. The CUNY trustees had refused Gallagher's request to join the negotiations with the students and May 6th began with pitched battles raging between students supporting and opposing the strike. That week hundreds of striking students successfully staged marches to close classes despite the attempts of hundreds of riot cops to stop our marches, which grew every day. About a dozen black students and two white students supporting the strike were arrested by the riot cops. No anti-strike students were arrested.
On May 7th approximately 400 white students opposing the strike held a rally on the North Campus and marched to the South Campus chasing and sometimes beating Black and Latino students and white students with strike armbands. While the mob chased strike supporters several hundred cops marched in formation along Convent Avenue, but did nothing to interfere with the attacks as long as the racists had the upper hand. The white mob swept through the South Campus (the stronghold of the strike) and finally cornered what appeared to be the last group of 30 Black students on campus at the gate by Wagner Hall at Saint Nicholas Terrace. Most of the 30 trapped Black students attempted to flee the mob, climbing over the fence to escape into Harlem. However, four young Black women stood and faced the mob at the locked gate and eventually the other students who had climbed over the fence came back over the fence and stood shoulder to shoulder with their comrades facing the mob that now numbered about two hundred. Students from both sides grabbed tree branches and rocks and in a furious battle the 30 Black students routed the much larger white mob in a fight that broke the back of the organized student resistance to the strike and sent seven white students to the hospital. Guillermo Morales was one of the activists who led the Black and Puerto Rican students in the battle at the Wagner Hall gate.

A day or two later I met with one of the leaders of the anti-strike students who went to high school with me. He explained that he had come to realize that we had to get the cops off campus before classes could resume and if the College had to take in more Black and Latino students to end the strike, then he and his followers were willing to accept the price. Many of the former strike breakers joined our marches demanding the removal of the cops and a resumption of negotiations to implement the five demands.
Gallagher's last attempt to open the campus ended in disaster on May 8th. As hundreds of NYPD riot police patrolled the campus, and set up check points, the Aronow auditorium in the old Finley Student Center was engulfed in flames and destroyed by fire as eleven fires were reported on the campus that day. Deputy Chancellor Seymour Hyman rushed to the campus. At a meeting that night Hyman said that as he stood outside the smouldering ruins of Aronow Auditorium "the only question in my mind was, How can we save City College? And the only answer was, Hell, let everybody in."
Gallagher was broken by the violence of May 8th and the refusal of the Board to resume negotiations with the students. The Board ordered Gallagher to stay the course and use whatever force was necessary to open the campus the next day. Instead, on May 9th, Gallagher announced his resignation, effective on Monday, May 12th. The CUNY Board appointed as interim President Joseph Copeland, the most vociferous spokesman for the faculty who opposed the strike and an outspoken advocate of using all force necessary to break the strike.
Gallagher's resignation and the intensity of the strike turned the tide in favor of Open Admissions among the white faculty. In an extraordinary session on May 12th the faculty senate heard presentations from clergy and community leaders from Harlem before adopting a resolution proposed by the SEEK Director Robert Young and backed by the Black and Puerto Rican faculty calling for closing of the college, the removal of the police and the resumption of the negotiations which had been broken off by the CUNY Board. Copeland rejected the Senate resolution and refused to remove the police. Many faculty canceled their classes anyway.The daily marches by strike supporters continued to grow, our ranks swollen by white students who saw a resumption of negotiations and a new admissions policy to admit more Black and Puerto Rican students as the only way to re-open the campus. The police were unable to contain the marchers who succeeded in keeping most classes closed or empty.
On May 15th Black elected officials and civic leaders converged on the CCNY Administration Building in an extraordinary meeting with the student negotiators and representatives of CUNY. That afternoon I was one of about a thousand strike supporters waiting in front of the Administration Building for word from the student negotiators. Finally the student negotiators told us that CUNY agreed to accept the five demands, including the new admissions policy, and that negotiations would begin on implementing the demands. The leadership of the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community called for a moratorium on further campus disruptions. The faculty voted to give students a pass or no pass alternative to letter grades for the Spring 1969 term and negotiations over implementation of the five demands began.On July 9, 1969 the Board of Higher Education passed the Open Admissions Resolution that established open admissions at CUNY beginning in September 1970; required every CUNY campus to immediately create departments or programs in ethnic studies and committed CUNY to striving for "national preeminence" in ethnic studies, authorized the colleges to establish supplemental freshman orientation programs for Black and Puerto Rican students to deal with issues concerning racism and ratified the decision of the City College Faculty to make the study of Black and Puerto Rican History and the Spanish Language requirements for all education majors.

CUNY became the first public university system in America to establish an open admissions gateway to baccalaureate degree programs as well as an institutional commitment to Black and Puerto Rican studies. Join the gathering at Remembrance Rock this Friday, April 22nd at 1:30 PM. The Rock is between Aaron Davis Hall and the Y Building about one block south of the South Campus Gate at 135th Street and Convent Avenue. The nearest subway stops are 137th Street on the 1 line or 125th Street on the A-B-C-D lines. The campus is within walking distance of the stations. There are also free purple school buses to the 135th Street gate from the 137th Street Station on the 1 line or the 145th Street station on the A-B-C-D lines. Transfer to the M-101 bus to 135th Street and Amsterdam Avenue is available at 125th street.In Loving Memory and Solidarity,Ron McGuire,
Harlem University, expelled, 1969

To get to Liberation Hill use the gate at 133rd Street and Convent Avenue.