There are two hadith, or sayings, of the prophet Muhammed (PBUH), that, as the new Associate Editor of Latin America and Caribbean Islamic Studies Newsletter, reflect my professional and personal philosophy.
Abu Umamah Al- Bahili, one of the last sahabi, companions of the Prophet, narrates that the Messenger of Allah, (PBUH) said:
“O people, knowledge only comes by learning and understanding only comes by seeking understanding.”
As an aspiring scholar, learning about the history of Islam in Africa — and more recently in the Americas— has captured my heart since I was a young girl. From making ink using charcoal and glue from trees, to the writing of Qur’anic verses on the loox, wooden boards, to the poetic chants and recitation performed in Qur’anic schools — known as madrasa — my interest in seeking knowledge to understand the world and the position I occupy within it operates within a long established Islamic scholarly tradition.
That tradition emphasizes the sharing of such knowledge, the gathering for exchanging ideas and the propagation of new knowledge. The Latin America and Caribbean Islamic Studies Newsletter is precisely that place in time and space for me. A metaphorical, yet very real, home, where I hope that together, we will be able to foster critical conversations for many years to come.
In a recent conversation with Habeeb Akande, author of Illuminating the Blackness: Blacks and African Muslim in Brazil (2014), we discussed the significance of being a writer within a genealogy of African Muslim writers — he is Nigerian and of Yoruba ethnicity; I am Somali born in Italy. Habeeb referenced a hadith conveyed by Abu Hurairah, one of the most prolific narrators of the prophet's hadiths (PBUH), which says:
“When the human being dies, his deeds end, except for three: ongoing charity, beneficial knowledge, or a righteous child who prays for him.”
We pondered on the notion of “beneficial knowledge.” What is striking about this idea is that, ultimately, knowledge is power. This, of course, is a widely known concept. What is not so evident, perhaps, is that in the Islamic tradition the commitment to sharing beneficial knowledge is an embedded daily practice. Knowledge that will advance, amplify, or improve people’s lives is very powerful. Knowledge, or ‘ilm, gives agency to individuals, it opens doors to understanding the self and the societal circumstances that impact people’s lives, but most importantly, I believe, it provides an opportunity for people to reimagine themselves.
To be part of the Latin America and Caribbean Islamic Studies Newsletter means to be part of a community where such beneficial knowledge can be produced, found, and cherished.
Finally, I could say that I learned about the Latin America and Caribbean Islamic Studies Newsletter by accident. But in truth, it was my desire to learn about how others think, experience, and discuss Islam in the Americas and to connect with people that are attempting to bridge a gap in the ways, past and present, Islam in the Americas is understood.
I am grateful for this opportunity to join the Latin America and Caribbean Studies Newsletter and I look forward to making connections as well as sharing news and content that exemplify both the experiences and histories of Muslims across the Americas and the Atlantic.
-Rahma Maccarone Georgetown University Associate Editor, LACISA Newsletter