Alianza Islámica - A Latino-Muslim Organization was founded in 1987 by a group of Puerto Rican Muslim converts and was the United States' first Latino Muslim organization.
Four Puerto Rican teenagers living within five blocks of each other in Spanish Harlem — El Barrio, went through many struggles for social and economic reform for themselves and their community in Harlem and back home in Puerto Rico. They eventually became Muslims within two years of one another. These were Mark Ortiz, Freddie Gonzalez, John Figueroa and Ramon Francisco Ocasio. These four Latino Muslims saw ignorance, racism and Afro-Centrism in the African-American masajid and rejection of Latinos as Muslims by immigrant Muslims. In 1975, Umar Ramon Ocasio, his wife Faiza and children, and Muhammad Abdus Salaam joined the Islamic Party in North America and moved to its organizational headquarters in Washington, DC. Ocasio and Abdus Salaam were active in the Dawah efforts of the Islamic Party and convinced organization leaders to concentrate some of its propagation efforts in the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest Washington, DC, a predominately Latino area with residents from throughout Mexico, Central, and South America.
After going through many struggles, successes and failures, they decided to open a dawah center in El Barrio in the 1990s. Ramon Ocasio started a class on Aqidah with only two students which kept growing and led to the successful formation of Alianza Islamica. It grew to a point where at least 100 families were being served. They secured a storefront on 107th Street and Lexington Avenue to serve as their first center. They expanded their services to include classes and workshops on GED and English, Health, Nutrition, martial arts. The events included Eid celebrations and Muslim Day Parade. They also confronted the problems of AIDS epidemic and drugs in the neighborhood. The group was successful in clearing their block from drug dealers.
In the mid-1990s, Alianza established its first Latino masjid, La Mezquita del Barrio, in Harlem in a nearby building by an invitation of its owner, a prominent Indian Muslim. According to Ocasio, the owner wanted to get rid of drug-dealing tenants.
Unfortunately, after Alianza effectively expelled drug peddlers from his building, the owner-initiated eviction proceedings. Due to the lack of financial support and much needed support from the immigrant community, it was forced out of Harlem to the Bronx. Being out of place and away from their roots, the movement ended in 2005.
Life-long struggle of the four teenagers for the sake of Allah s.w.t. laid a foundation for the Hispanic Muslim community in the USA. While the Alianza Islamica organization ended, it gave rise to other communities like Islam In Spanish, an Hispanic Muslim Mosque in Houston. The work of Alianza was not one-dimensional. It wasn’t merely centered around Ibadaat. In fact, they started as dawah workers and came up with programs including social activities, skills workshops and social justice.
Alianza Islamica did not develop a mechanism to sustain itself financially thereby becoming vulnerable to the whims of other supporting organizations and individuals.
o Many Muslim leaders and organizations like Islamic Party and ISNA helped them in their struggle, and yet many others did not.
o Ramon Francisco Ocasio mentions many issues which the Hispanics faced from the African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims. It brings out the racial and cultural issues which need to be studied in depth but perhaps a different framework. Cultural and racial support must at least have two equally important components.
▪ Respect and acceptance of other cultures by leadership and community at large by any Muslim entity.
▪ Each person must have a minimum number of Muslims of his or her race and ethnicity in the organization to make that person feel at home.
Ramon Francisco Ocasio also mentions a large number of abuses and divorces of Hispanic sisters from Arab husbands, which led them to setup family counseling programs. I think, the need of Dawah and education to born Muslims then require a first priority and who can do better on this than the immigrant-based organizations!