Tuesday, January 29, 2008

morrison endorses obama for president

Associated Press: Morrison Endorses Obama for President (actually, I found out through La Chola who got it from Diary of an Anxious Black Woman)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The woman who famously labeled Bill Clinton as the "first black president" is backing Barack Obama to be the second.

Author Toni Morrison said her endorsement of the Democratic presidential candidate has little to do with Obama's race — he is the son of a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas — but rather his personal gifts.

Writing with the touch of a poet in a letter to the Illinois senator, Morrison explained why she chose Obama over Hillary Rodham Clinton for her first public presidential endorsement.

Morrison, whose acclaimed novels usually concentrate of the lives of black women, said she has admired Clinton for years because of her knowledge and mastery of politics, but then dismissed that experience in favor of Obama's vision.

"In addition to keen intelligence, integrity and a rare authenticity, you exhibit something that has nothing to do with age, experience, race or gender and something I don't see in other candidates," Morrison wrote. "That something is a creative imagination which coupled with brilliance equals wisdom. It is too bad if we associate it only with gray hair and old age. Or if we call searing vision naivete. Or if we believe cunning is insight. Or if we settle for finessing cures tailored for each ravaged tree in the forest while ignoring the poisonous landscape that feeds and surrounds it.

"Wisdom is a gift; you can't train for it, inherit it, learn it in a class, or earn it in the workplace — that access can foster the acquisition of knowledge, but not wisdom," Morrison wrote.

In 1998, Morrison wrote a column for the New Yorker magazine in which she wrote of Bill Clinton: "White skin notwithstanding, this is our first black president. Blacker than any actual black person who could ever be elected in our children's lifetime. After all, Clinton displays almost every trope of blackness: single-parent household, born poor, working-class, saxophone-playing, McDonald's-and-junk-food-loving boy from Arkansas."

Obama responded to Morrison's endorsement with a written statement: "Toni Morrison has touched a nation with the grace and beauty of her words, and I was deeply moved and honored by the letter she wrote and the support she is giving our campaign."

See also: black presidents (part six)

a saint in the city: sufi arts of urban senegal

Better late than never: A Saint in the City: Sufi arts of urban Senegal is a rather rich and informative article about a book about an art exhibit of works inspired by the influential Senegalese Muslim holy man, Amadou Bamba.

"A Saint in the City" presents the visual culture of a dynamic religious movement known as the Mouride Way that is inspired by a Senegalese Sufi pacifist, poet, and saint named Amadou Bamba (1853-1927). Mourides are galvanizing contemporary Senegal and its ever-expanding diaspora through their hard work and steadfast devotion. The exhibition presents a striking range of Mouride arts, from large popular murals, intricate glass paintings, and calligraphic healing devices to posters for social activism, colorful textiles, and paintings by internationally known contemporary artists. A devotional sanctum filled with sacred imagery and an urban market scene capturing the bustle of contemporary Dakar are re-created to suggest how Mourides live and work under the beneficent eye of the Saint (Fig. 1). Artist profiles and videos feature the voices and works of nine artists who have shaped our understanding of this deeply spiritual movement. Signal works from Islamic cultures elsewhere in Africa reveal a similarity to Mouride arts while underscoring particularities of Mouride creativity.


Mouridism is one of the most distinctive aspects of contemporary Senegalese social life. Indeed, it would be impossible to understand how the republic's "brisk and vigorous democracy" (NPR 1998) makes it "a beacon of hope ... in a troubled region" (Wallis & Caswell 2000) without fully appreciating this, the republic's most economically and politically influential Islamic movement. Mouridism links all secular and sacred activities. Senegal also has "a long tradition of amicable and tolerant co-existence between the Muslim majority and the Christian ... and other religious minorities" (CIR 2000; see also Ndiaye 2002:606); and political scientist Leonardo Villalon (1995) holds that the country's striking stability can be attributed to the unusual balance of power between the Senegalese government and the Mourides and other religious orders (also see Biaya 1998). In the year 2000, Senegal peacefully elected the long-time opposition candidate Abdoulaye Wade their president. Mr. Wade is a devoted Mouride, and since his election he has played a prominent role in negotiations for African peace and economic recovery (Onishi 2002).


"Islam in Africa is nearly as old as the faith itself" Rene Bravmann reminds us (2000:489), and a mere century after the Prophet Muhammed's death in 632 C.E., Islam was being practiced in trading towns of the Sahel. Islam reached what is now Senegal by the tenth century (Hiskett 1994:107) and soon became important to local politics (Levtzion 2000:78). In the eighteenth century, Sufism brought its international influences, spiritual technologies, and paths to divinity to Senegal. The growth of Islam in Africa has been phenomenal ever since, and now, at the turn of the twenty-first century, one of every eight Muslims hails from sub-Saharan Africa, while one of every three sub-Saharan Africans is Muslim (Kane & Triaud 1998:7, 12).

Ocean trade has connected Senegal to other parts of the world for many centuries. Lying at the westernmost point of the African continent, Senegal is the first sub-Saharan country encountered as one sails southward "around the bend" from Europe. It has long been a threshold between the Americas and Africa as well, and the fortifications and infamous "Slave House" of Goree Island lying just off the coast of Dakar provide poignant reminders of the transatlantic slave trade. Senegalese Muslims were among the first slaves brought to the Americas. "Literate, urban, and in some cases well traveled," they "realized incomparable feats in the countries of their enslavement" (S. Diouf 1998:1). (12) To underscore the point, Manning Marable writes that "faith and spirituality have always been powerful forces in the histories of people of African descent. Central to that history is Islam" (quoted in S. Diouf 1998, back cover).

If the above intrigues you, check out the entire article which goes into more detail about the concept of baraka, the role of Sufism in Senegal, the branch of Mouridism known as Baye Fall, and other subjects.

Related links from Third Resurrection:
Shaykh Amadou Bamba
catching up

Sunday, January 27, 2008

indiana jones and the kingdom of the crystal skull

So aparently my speculations about the upcoming Indiana Jones film back in indiana jones and the spear of destiny were totally off the mark. The new film will be called Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and will center around crystal skulls which are a part of pre-Columbian culture rather than the Abrahamic tradition. It makes me wonder if across the various incarnations of the Indiana Jones stories; the movies, the television series, the novels (graphic and otherwise) etc. does the theology get any clearer? In the first and third films, we see Judeo-Christian relics which are clearly endowed with real power. But in second film, we see Hinduism-related artificats which are also "real". So will this fourth film help clarify the issue or will it make things more complex by throwing another pantheon into the mix? Or have things already been "mixed" in the other Indiana Jones stories?

see also
indiana jones and the temple of orientalism

Saturday, January 26, 2008

y tu abuela, a’onde esta?

La Chola (formerly Brownfemipower) recently linked to a post over at Waiting 2 Speak: Y tu abuela, a'onde esta? which touches on and fleshes out some of the gendered hassles faced by Afro-Latinas. especially in the contexts of personal relationships. The title is a reference to a poem by Fortunato Vizcarrondo (which is a central text in terms of Afro-Latino identity and which has appeared before on Planet Grenada in y tu abuela donde esta?)

The author over at Waiting 2 Speak also links to Latinopundit and the more explicitly political post: Barack Obama and Latinos: ¿Sí se puede?

Also check out:
obama and black latinos
nigger-reecan blues by willie perdomo (maybe it should be nigger-rican blues?)

cornel west on the santa clausification of dr. martin luther king jr.

Recently, on Tavis Smiley's show, Cornel West made some timely comments on “The Santa-Clausification” Of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
video clip on nobodysmiling.com
transcript from Tavis Smiley's website
I really liked West's comments but I also realize that, after hearing him speak several times and reading much of his work, his basic "rap" is pretty familiar to me so nothing he said was really surprising. But if you like West and haven't seen this yet, check it out. One important insight he shares (which I've tried to get across through many of the mlk posts here) is just that if you take him seriously, Martin's message of love is much more radical, demanding, "dangerous" and "funky" than most folks realize. Therefore his message is sanitized and deodorized for public consumption before it is allowed to spread.

More Cornel West from Grenada's past.
a philosophical view of easter
islam and the passion (for social justice)
that was kanye west, not cornel west -- kanye west
cornel west on katrina
"...he run venezuela"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

heru: live in lagos, nigeria

Here is another dose of Heru. The YouTube clips below are from World Music Day in Lagos, Nigeria June 23, 2007 so it is more reggae than spoken word. It makes me wonder about the relation between Ausar Auset (alluded to in some of Heru's other pieces) and Rastafari (which is usually associated with reggae music and the idea of "Babylon")

more heru on tv
even more heru

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"i have a nightmare"

Black mathematician, Jonathan Farley shares some rather inconoclastic thoughts about King in the recent Guardian piece, I have a nightmare. While Latina blogger, La Chola, responds in "non-violence failed us" Both pieces make me wonder if anyone out there is actually a pacifist anymore? And if we don't really believe in pacifism then what is the meaning and value of King's legacy? Did he only teach us how to take a beating? What do you think?

you can't please everybody (part two)

So the civilizational discussion is continuing with the folks (Forest Gump fans?) over at Pros and Cons in the post: You oughta come back home … to Greenbow ALABAMA!
And check out part one in: shock and awe or... you can't please everybody

Monday, January 21, 2008


I thought I should repost last year's in preparation for mlk day. I especially hope that, given the current conflict in the Middle East. instead of merely looking at, listening to, recalling the "I Have a Dream" speech that folks would also reflect on Beyond Vietnam Also consider: no wonder they shot him.


I was flipping channels the other day and came across Boycott (a tv movie on the Montgomery Bus Boycott) on BET. The movie was decent but mainly it reminded me of how Jeffery Wright (who played King) is an amazing actor. Every role I've seen him in (in Angels in America, in Shaft, The Manchurian Candidate, Basquiat, Presumed Innocent etc.) have been intense and radically different from one another. The next time I rent some DVDs I'm definitely going to look for more of his films.

old boondocks

On a Hill...

Huey to Ceasar: Soon our nation will pause and celebrate the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. We will reflect on his legacy and his wisdome. Who can forget when he said, "Violence against your fellow man is never the answer...

"... unless you suspect your fellow man has a weapon that you yourself have but don't want him to have, then you should bomb the bejeezus out of 'em!"

Ceasar to Huey: Stop that.

the urgency of now

On the occasion of MLK day, from Chickenbones Journal here is The Fierce Urgency of Now: Martin Luther King Birthday Celebration 2008 by Grace Lee Boggs

amir sulaiman: like a thief in the night

So one of the albums I did end up getting at the aforementioned trip to the music was was Amir Sulaiman's Like a Thief in the Night which I definitely recommend. I was able to find videos clips to go along with two of the tracks. One is the very short film by Bobby O'Neil called Spit:

and then there is also the more sensitive piece "She Said I Prefer a Broken Neck (To a Broken Heart)" which appears on Like a Thief in the Night. But this particular performance is from Def Poetry Jam:

See also: upon the ashes of babylon

mayda del valle

Just the other day I was in a music store and came across The Best of the Roots. There was no way my conscience was going to let me pay $17 get the CD since I already had the first six Roots albums, but one track which definitely intrigued me was a version of (Hip-Hop is the) Love of my Life featuring Mayda del Valle. (At least for now, the track seems to be available on her myspace page) I've mentioned her in passing before but for those that don't know, she is an amazing Puerto Rican spoken word artist, originally from the southside of Chicago. When I was at the National Poetry Slam a couple of years back, she was the only performer who actually made me feel starstruck when I would see them walking down the street.

She has a lot of different "ethnic" pieces which are amazing (I think "Descendancy" is my favorite) but I just happened across some of her other pieces which are pretty powerful too. First is "To all the boys I loved before" which is obviously a relationship piece...

And then there is "The Gift" which starts off as a why-I-write type of poem but also dips into relationship territory (Like she says, "my poems go off on tangents.")

I think that both poems should inspire any male to be the kind of man she says she deserves.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

obama and black latinos

I just "discovered" the blog Multiplicative Identity through the entry Obama and the Latino Vote in the NY Times by Cuban blogger Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez. The article rightfully rips the NY Times a new one for the clumsy way in which they describe the demographic issues around Obama's efforts to campaign among Latinos in New York.

She also turned me on to the Blacktino e-News Network (BNN)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

shock and awe or... you can't please everybody

Surprise, surprise: One of the contributors of the conservative Alabama-based blog Pros and Cons said in the entry Holy Smokes! that they didn't like or get Planet Grenada. I left a comment suggesting that they should read Hisham Aidi's piece Let Us Be Moors - Islam, Race And "Connected Histories" which fleshes out the mini-manifesto at the top of my blog. But the information was quickly deleted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

cuba: one race, two countries

From AfroCuba Web:
Tonyaa Weathersbee is a columnist for the Florida Times Union out of Jacksonville. A member of the prestigious Trotter Group of African American columnists in the US, she has maintained an interest in Cuba and issues of race & identity there. In September of last year Tonyaa Weathersbee wrote an article about a recent trip she took to Cuba, One Race, Two Countries. A group of 4 Cuban Americans attacked her for this article in a letter to the editor, Cuba is no paradise for blacks, 11/07. AfroCubaWeb columnist Alberto Jones comments on this attack in A Failed Revisionist attempt To Mask Cuba’s Tragic History, 11/07.

(Here is the original article and the various responses)

barak obama on the middle east

Common Dreams: Barack Obama on the Middle East by Stephen Zunes

See also: Planet Grenada on Obama (and other related subjects)

dropping out of electoral college

From In These Times: Dropping Out of Electoral College by Martha Biondi summarizes a rather clever plan devised by a Stanford University computer scientist named John Koza to do an end run around the electoral college without having to overhaul the U.S. Constitution. It’s called National Popular Vote (NPV), and in April, Maryland became the first state to pass it into law. It works as follows: according to the Constitution, states have the right to determine how to cast their electoral votes. So instead of awarding its electoral votes to the top vote getter among that state's voters, under NPV a state would award their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. As soon as the measure passed in enough states, the electoral college would technically still exist, but for all practical purposes we would be able to directly elect the president. Pretty sneaky sis.

For another interesting idea on tweaking the election system in the interests of greater democracy check out Common Dreams: The Glories of the ‘Single Transferable Vote’ by Ari Savitzky and David Segal

Monday, January 14, 2008

britney spears may convert to islam

Alarabiya: Britney Spears may convert to Islam

Stranger things have happened. Actually no, they haven't. Somehow in the cases of other celebrity converts to Islam (Jermaine Jackson, Everlast, Cat Stevens, Rick James, or even looking at the rumors around Prince Charles) there seemed to be a little bit more continuity, however faint. In any case, this should be interesting however it turns out. Let's keep her in our dua.

white muslims
"we shall change them for fresh skins"
i'm rick james, ukhti?
michael jackson: off the wall
Middle East Quarterly: Prince Charles of Arabia

more on deobandis (and barelwis)

Recently JinnZaman over at Global Intifada posted an article on the Differences between Deobandis and Barelwis which gives an enlightening perspective on the two groups. But to be honest, I personally don't understand how two groups that are so close (both Hanafi, both Maturidi, both looking back to Ahmad Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah, both respecting the various Sufi tariqats) could be so much in conflict. Why can't they just emphasize their (considerable) common ground instead of their differences?

Planet Grenada
the jamaa'at tableegh and the deobandis
a deobandi with a difference
differences between schools
ideology and temperament
ideology and temperament (the habashis)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

muharram facts

For more information on Ashurah and the New Year, you can check out:

Sunni Path: Fiqh of Islamic Months: The Month of Muharram
New Islamic Directions: The Blessings of the Day of Ashura by Imam Zaid Shakir

along with a number of Ashurah/Muharram links over at Scatterbrained Soonee Sister's entry: Welcome Muharram 1429

happy birthday to me

So this year my (Gregorian) birthday landed on a date close to the Islamic new year and I just realized that the same was probably the case when I was born (which should give a hint about how old I am). It all reminds me of how arbitrary all these methods for marking time are.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


For reasons I don't want to get into right now I've been thinking a lot about mathematics education, especially in the Black community. In that vein, I want to make a plug for using mancala games (sowing games or count-and-capture games) as a tool in the classroom and elsewhere to stimulate greater interest in mathematics, logical reasoning and strategy among Black youth.

Firstly, many of the games in this category are Afican in origin and are commonly played in Africa or the diaspora so the the games would be able synergize well with any other Afrocentric content which was part of the school curriculum. (Some of these games are also popular in Asia. E.g, recently a friend of mine sent me a picture of a Malaysian coin which has the image of one of these games on one of its sides.)

Secondly, the games are almost purely "mathematical" in the sense that they are based on keeping track of the number of stones or seeds contained in various "pits" on a game board and so they will provide a certain amount of practice in counting, doing arithmetic, and certain kinds of mathematical reasoning.

To be honest, I'm still trying to figure out which particular mancala-game is the most mathematically rich for the purposes of teaching. Oware is one of the more "serious" versions and seems to be the most respected in terms of adult-play (e.g. The Oware Society holds international tournaments and keeps track of rankings.) Kalah is the most widely-marketed version in the U.S. (It was one of the games included on my first cell-phone and it is also the game included in the links below.) I've met a group of Haitian-American students who like to play a version of mancala which is basically a race to clear their side of the board. But there are literally dozens of variations. If anyone out there takes my plug for mancala games seriously, you might even consider starting clubs or organizations where young people could come together to become familiar with several different games instead of just focusing on one.

Mancala (Kalah):
Mancala (3 stones per pit)
Mancala (4 stones per pit)

Planet Grenada on games:
submachine games
pencak silat
weeping and nashing of teeth aka he got game

happy new year (it's 1429 y'all)

(see also ashurah 1428) InshaAllah, in a day or so, I'll put another such post together for this year.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

more on black jews

Over at ChickenBones: A Journal, I recently saw two articles by Adeyinka Makinde which discuss the possible Jewish descent in the Igbo of Nigeria: on the Igbos: A Lost Tribe of Israel? and The Igbo and Jewry. But really, these sorts of articles shouldn't be surprising.

As I point out in another post:
...according to the Bible, Jacob (Israel) and his sons went into Africa as a group of 12 households and hundreds of years later they came out of Africa as a nation of millions. Either the children of Israel are really really really inbred or they intermarried with the people around them and became basically an African group. The Bible even explicitly says that Abraham, Joseph and Moses married African (Egyptian and Cushite) women [Genesis 16:3, Genesis 41:45, Numbers 12:1].

I think I need to read How Jews Became White Folks and What That Says About Race in America by Karen Brodkin which has been recommended to me on more than one occasion. There is so much history and politics behind racial classifications and I would like to have a better understanding of how the process unfolds.

See also:
the lemba
"i've seen ethiopians knocking out rome" (part 2)
reclaiming jewish traditions in mexico
are desis white?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

the islamic struggle and ours

Grace Lee Boggs is a powerful, long-time, multi-issue activist who recently wrote a response piece to Lous Baeck's paper "Islamic Views on Globalization". She touches on a subject I've been kicking around on Planet Grenada ever since I've started, namely the relationship between Islam and different forms of Leftist thought (see islam needs radicals)

The Islamic Struggle and Ours by Grace Lee Boggs

In my mind’s eye throughout the holidays has been the image of three million white-robed Muslims peacefully praying and picnicking on their pilgrimage to Mecca in December. At the same time I have been reflecting on “Islamic Views On Globalization” by Louis Baeck, Professor of International Economics and Development at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium.

Prior to reading Baeck’s article, like most Americans, I had not paid sufficient attention to the fact that during the last few decades people all over the Third World have been engaged in a search for alternate roads to modernity because the modernity forced upon them by western colonization and corporate globalization has been so traumatic and also because the unrestrained economic development of western societies has had such catastrophic consequences for our planet and for our relationships with one another.

In the Islamic world, according to Baeck, liberal and progressive intellectuals have been searching in their own cultural and religious traditions for a way of thinking that would guide them towards a more democratic and humane modernity. They hope and believe that Islam, unlike western secularism, can provide them with a philosophy that puts morals and ethics, or right conduct, in command of economics and thus a way of thinking that will safeguard their societies from the consumerism and commercialization of all our human relationships which has become the norm in the West, and especially in the United States.

In the Islamic world the 1979 revolution in Iran, which overthrew the U.S-sponsored Shah and empowered the Ayatollahs, is viewed as an expression of this cultural revival.

Since the U. S. military incursions into oil rich- Saudi Arabia and Iraq and the increasingly blatant support by the U.S. of Israel’s occupation of Palestine, this search by Islamic progressives for a non-western road to modernity has been overshadowed by the fundamentalists led by Osama bin Laden. But the search continues and we have a responsibility to explore the possibilities it offers for building relationships of solidarity that can replace the immobilizing fears and suspicions created by 911 and perpetuated since then by the Bush administration and the media.

The Islamic search reminds me of MLKs’s call for a radical revolution in values against the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism as he grappled in the last three years of his life with the crises of the urban rebellions and the violence of American culture at home and abroad.

“The war in Vietnam,” King said, “is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit. We have come to value things more than people. Our technological development has outrun our spiritual development. We have lost our sense of community, of interconnection and participation.”

“Our society has made material growth and technological advance an end in itself, robbing people of participation, so that human beings become smaller while their works become bigger.”

“Instead of pursuing economic productivity,” King urged, “we need to expand our uniquely human powers, especially our capacity for Agape which is the Love that is ready to go to any length to restore community.”

I also see similarities between the Islamic struggle for more democratic and humane roads to modernity and our Detroit City of Hope campaign. Because we have suffered and are suffering the devastation which is the result of putting economics in command, we are making community-building rather than economics the key to the reconstruction of all our institutions from the ground up.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

an african american muslim convert as the founder of chinese hip-hop

Given that this blog is supposed to be about "an emergic global anti-hegemonic culture" with Islam at its heart, I thought it would be good to include the following post from Islam in China: An African American Muslim Convert as the founder of Chinese Hip-Hop

puerto rican muslims or the people of islam?

From the blog: Ahl al-Hadith: Synergy Of Reason And Athaar: Puerto Rican Muslim Or The People Of Islam?: At The Feet Of Shaikh Pepe’ Negron The Poor Righteous Teacher From Philadelphia (In Honor Of My First Shaikh)

As a late teenager, deeply impressionable, culturally conscious and concerned, Pepe was moved by the struggle. Pepe saw many a strange thing in life but even late in life he was moved by the struggle. It was all about his people or so he said. It was all about his people. Pepe grew up in an immigrant (Puerto Rican) home located in the inner city of North Philadelphia. The section he matured in is known as the Barrio, which showcases the Bloque De Oro (the GoldenBlock) “5th street” and is flooded by Spanish speakers and spanglish often reverberates in the air over the songs of salsa music and gun shots and hip hop. As he narrates, the Bloque De Oro is historically noted as the location where big time drug dealers trafficked in large sums of cocaine and some marijuana. They masked illegal business with legitimate businesses like restaurants and video stores etc. to move their dirty money. Often they were these businesses were the targets of the city’s drug task force.

It was with “dirty money” that many found small fortunes, fortunes they failed to find once America’s factories were exported and inner city schools crumbled there was no way up the social ladder in teh face of poverty and discrimination. In the Barrio many ” went big time and got paid” they sold crack and heroin, two drugs of choice for the drug addict and the feds. Pepe says, for the addict these drugs were cheap and addictive and for the feds they made big money that needed to be seized. How many millions of dollars the feds seized in North Philadelphia has yet to be known to its inhabitants all victims of the war on drugs but one thing is sure the money never was returned to the school system nor did it create jobs for the poor. One thing is sure many of the drugs seized made their way back to the streets at the hand of corrupt cops in the early and late 90’s. (today America’s inner cities are seeing regentrification the question is are its inhabitants?)

This is why Pepe liked that the rapper KRS ONE would say things like “illegal business controls America” this line he said, speaks to reality ( a nasty reality that people suffered with their lives). With the new found fortunes the American gangsters amassed they built mansions in Puerto Rico and wrecked the Island by bringing corruption and by default extended the sway of the Columbian drug cartels over American streets and Latin American countries. But in the absence of economic ventures that created strong markets for the poor markets governed by the rule of law the underworld took over.

They killed us, Pepe said, by destroying the very fabric of community and life. Our youth poured out the Churches and into the streets and into the Prison system (and their blood poured too) there are few that made beyond 25 years of age and less who entered into the University. The Church became a place for funerals as the murders increased and the Barrio’s walls hosted an array of murals dedicated to the dead. Street corners were ornamented with candles and trinkets marked the spot where someone was killed, assassinated in the war on drugs.
The Barrio was marked by the acronym “R.I.P” except we never saw peace and it has yet to descend. Pepe chanted to me a mantra that I would never forget “they destroyed us and the Barrio our streets are covered with blood“.

Pepe claims his mother told him his family was a refugee family from Puerto Rico, forced to leave the Island because of trade agreements between the US and the Island leadership and this is how he saw himself a Puerto Rican Fugee. This feeling of refugee was dispelled when he realized America was home. Although he was always distrust that American troops colonized the Island during the Spanish-American war and Puerto Rico and today they perform military exercises in the Island’s waters that are said to be the cause for the high cancer rates in Vieques, Puerto Rico.

Like Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans inhabit a limbo state as an identity (and hold on tight to Spanish as a resistance move that they learned when the US tried to force them to speak English) not from here and not from there. Pepe reconciled with this ambivalant state as many Puerto Ricans had done. But he never failed to remind me that Puerto Ricans fought for the Yankees and spilled their blood for America this he believed entitled Puerto Ricans, gave them a right to be citizens of los Estados Unidos.

He also felt that if it was not for the African American and Latinos that there would be no United States. He also declared staunchly ” we built this country with our blood and sweet”. My grandfather, he said labored in this country and my uncles fought for this country andI pay taxes young buck.

Pepe knew about things, facts and stuff, he reminded me of someone who preserved and narrated an oral tradition, a village elder. It was because of his peculiarities that the “young boys” who crowed the corners to peddle drugs for older drug dealers considered him odd. He only offered anecdotes and advice on life and not an opportunity for quick cash. Unfortunately, it was common for young men to sell drugs with the purpose of making enough money to take home to provide food for their parents, buy clothes and escape the stresses of life by getting high at night (smoke blunts and drink beer).

Pepe said: “it is depressing that they use the school yard to peddle “weight” (large sums of cocaine) but they never took benefit of the school. In scuffles with other thugs they fought for Potter Thomas School as territory and never came to know who is Potter Thomas (Thomas Potter :an Irish immigrantwho became wealthy) and why the school was erected in 1965.
Pepe knew about the struggle he said. He knew about the real story about Puerto Ricans and he felt their pain. He had an uncle that went to the caves in Puerto Rico and studied Taino drawings and religion and through his great uncle he connected with his ancestral roots and always recalled that he was native to the Americas. Pepe ranted about facts such as:

1.) the first sociologist in all the Americas was Puerto Rican ” Eugenio Maria De Hostos”
2.) Julia Maria De Burgos was one of the greatest poets of Perto Rico she settled in New York and year later a schools was named after her in Philadelphia but they never taught her poetry
3.) Many Puerto Ricans were literate and intellectuals possessed of degrees (Phd’s and MA’s) from European Universities in the early 1900’s.
4.) Muslims from Mali and Andalus inhabited Puerto Rico but were banned by the Catholic Church after the emergence of resistance movements against the Spanish were launched in cooperation with the Taino tribe that spanned from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic over to Cuba but popular historical records fail to report the detailed facts of these events the actual details are preserved in Spanish libraries and Church records after all the rebellions is one of the primary reasons Islam and Muslims were banned from New Spain by legal and Church decree.

Pepe was a walking book of Puerto Rican history characterized by melancholy. Once I confronted Pepe and asked him: “what was the issue” he broke down, and told me, in tears, with distraught what ached him. He said: “I love my people but they are killing themselves.” Drugs, crime, ignorance have overwhelmed our community. Pepe went to the extremes -emotionally- he wanted his people to be in the stuggle for a better life, he thought Islam could help. The question was would they put aside their culture and habits for Deen, were the men brave and strong enough for that and the women willing to sacrifice?

Pepe was a Catholic but he was fascinated by Islam. Islam occupied his mind so much so that he narrates that one time he preached to his friends on a street corner about Islam he told them it could benefit them. Despite, his efforts and enthusiasm he saw little results.

Years later Pepe would see his friends convert to Islam (something that made him content) the problem, he said, was many entered Islam in jail, as protection for advantages. Pepe on the other hand entered Islam because he felt and saw in it truth and was convinced that the Catholic church failed abandoned Latinos. The closing down of Churches in the inner city for economic reasons only convinced him more of this reality -big business he said.Pepe said weird things like: The Polish Pope John Paul the II made an agreement with President Regan to eliminate the work of priests in Latin America (they were with and for the people) so Poland could be rid of Communism (in other words he sold them out for national liberation). It took me years to figure out what Pepe was talking about (after entering the seminary and leaving the Church for Islam).
Pepe always was about some affair and steadily aware of the trends and forces shaping thought and action in the community. One time he told me about the 5% Nation of Gods And Earths and the Nation Of Islam. I thought he was nuts until I saw a 5% Percenter talking to him telling him he was a God and he needed knowledge of self. He seemed to be interested in the idea of self knowledge and the focus on literacy that he saw these things in these two groups but he did not think they were real religions.The Nation of Islam and 5% ‘s cultivated learning he said but he wanted to know about Jesus and it was this quest to know Jesus that pushed him to study Islam and by this means he came to enter into Islam.

Pepe took to study the history of the Holy Land for a greater knowledge of the historical Jesus during this quest study he confront Islam for the first time as it was practiced in a Muslim land . Through this search he would learn of the adhan and heard it called while watching a documentary on Palestine (the land Jesus was said to have been born in). The adhan resonated in his heart for years, its beauty and simplicity moved his heart and years later he became Muslim. Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar….La Ilha Illa Allah

Pepe commented on the influx of converts into Islam in the late 80’s and 90’s and did not seem to like the manner in which people in Philadelphia were converting to Islam (in large numbers from both the African American and the Latino communities). I found this strange at first but the reason for his unease was a lack of quality in commitment. He felt that many were moved by the fad to imitate the Muslim but the yearning for an inner transformation was lacking. In fact, this same feeling was reverberating among many young religious people particularly Christians who saw young people flocking to Islam because it offered a culture, an identity (dress and name and cool terms).

Pepe recalled to me a story that highlights what was happening among the youth. He said he once saw an old classmate on the city’s public transportation. While on a bus his friend Jaime, with whom he went to Catholic school, had been exposed to Islam. (this would be one in a large series of contacts with Muslims) During the encounter Pepe asked Jaime if he had been attending Church as both Pepe and Jaime were once altar boys and did their confirmations together. ( Pepe also recalled Jaime was beaten by the nuns, quite often. So one day Jaime punched the nun who beat him in the face, in retaliation for what he deemed abuse this happened at St. Henry’s Catholic school. He also mentioned that Jaime was being raised by his father and grandmother and seemed to have emotional problems) Pepe said Jaime was not very religious in school but he made a point to talk to Pepe about Islam when asked about Church he told him: Muslims have a Holy book (theQur’an) that rhymes and itis “dope.” Pepe never saw Jaime have enthusiasm about things holy but Islam seem to overcome him as if he had nur on his face.

This I think is what scared people about Islam, it energized people and caused them to love religion and study and practice and brought people together. This posed a threat to emotional religious activity and its establishment (this is what characterized Christianity in the poor communities). Christians in the inner city saw Muslims as a threat because in the words of a religious Christian man: ” those Moslems study, you gotta watch dem” this identity took people from the Church but today Muslims seem to be no threat because they have the same problems that drove people from the Church.

Pepe was possessed by sadness, I believe, because he saw so much in life. Once he narrated to me a story about a young guy who grew up in a crack house, saw his mother used by men for drug money (she sold her body) and then saw his mother shot by police officers, gunned down in the streets. This is the stuff that brought sadness to him. Much had changed in the Barrio he said. In the old days the elders worked together and settled their problems by a fist fight at the most by the time this incident of tragedy occurred the streets were plagued by guns, trafficked in by gun peddlers many of them European Americans from the country side and the suburbs. They sold military issue weapons and traded shot guns for drugs Pepe said.
Pepe told me. social breakdown this is the plight of our people the poor of America in the country and the city (white, black and latinos and others) and his struggle is struggle to be a poor righteous teacher in a cess pool.

It was a sense of mission that pushed him into Islam but he was sad his people did not follow suit. He told me he read Piri Thomas‘ biography (from the Nuyorican movement), it was like a Puerto Rican version of a Malcolm X story, except Pepe says, Piri missed the boat because he saw Islam thought about it and never became Muslim. Pepe says many older Puerto Ricans say the older American Muslims in New York and Philly carried with them traces of the Zulu Nation. Their practice of Islam and way is marked by their past. Then he said you see Muslims today use licorice sticks as miswaks these sticks before the dawn of Islam were a mark of the Zulus. This and other coded symbols and behavior indicated to older Puerto Ricans that the trend among Zulus was to turn to Makka, i.e., they were entering Islam.

Pepe was always sad when he thought of the plight of his people, the poor, their stuggles but he regretted more and with greater intensity that the early Muslims who converted to Islam did little in education. This tore him apart after he converted. He said this failure to build in education will haunt the community in the future. Pepe supported this claim by recited that Guarionex, a great Taino chief from Puerto Rican taught us a lesson. When he fought the Spanish colonists he declared “we must fight them or our children will blame us and curse us for being subjugated to oppression.” From this historical lesson he said the older generation must make a way for the youth, we must leave them a better state or they will blame us for their ill condition and deficiency. Predicated upon this principle, of making a way for the youth he hoped to work in education among Muslims and change the effects of history.

Historically he saw that the effort of the Nation of Islam to educate their members served a great need and they did more in this regard than did the Sunnis. This hard lesson I was never to forget.Pepe always had ideas he tried but he worked to be practical. He said to me: “Our people will come into Islam but they will bring their cultural baggage and stunt their growth. They will make a point to keep their Latinoness and keep alive their Nationalism and fail to learn because they will have to change this is what will destroy them. Do not take this path and work to make a difference.”He said: “If they only knew how they only needed to cultivate a Muslim identity and replace shallow notions of culture and life with founded principles and revelation.
Time to time, Pepe would emotionally break down before me, in tears. I will never forget when he said in tears: “I have watched my people kill themselves and I only loved for them the best. I would never think to see Muslims kill and fight each other and argue over their Deen. What I realize today is that they too are in need of Islam -oh how Islam is strange” He then looked at me still in tears and said: ” Young akh, you are Puerto Rican?” and I turned to him and said: “no, I am Muslim.”He said: Correct, you have done well “young boah.”

What I want you to realize is that studying Islam and living it is to have real have culture and in this you will find yourself. Our people, he said: they die in ignorance and some love kufr instead of Iman. Because of desire they fail to love the Deen. Don’t be afraid to stand alone, without your people if need demand this is the way of the Prophets (as) Ibrahim (as) was a Nation, side with the truth. Remember that the brotherhood of Islam is a brotherhood of Iman and transcends race, class and color, a lesson yet to be learned!


"armageddon has been in effect... go get a late pass!" (part two)

As I was trying to do more research about the Sudanese Mahdi, I found the paper, Nineteenth Century Islamic Mahdism in Iran and the Sudan: A brief analysis of the teachings and influence of Ali Muhammad (The Bab) and Muhammad Ahmad (The Sudanese Mahdi) by Jason Illari which compares his claims to those of the Persian Bab. The paper is interesting but takes a slightly polemical turn towards the end; it appears as if the author is Bahai and therefore actually believes that Bab was the true Mahdi.