Imaam Siraaj Wahhaaj

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Imaam Siraaj Wahhaaj

True Stories of American New Muslims

Muslim Students Association (MSA) used to be umbrella organization for the Muslims residing in America and Canada. Over several years, many Muslim students became citizens of United States and made this country their future home. To serve the needs of these citizens, a new umbrella organisation came into being. It was named Islamic Society if North America or ISNA. Siraj Wahhaaj and I had the privilege and honour to be members of Majlis Shura and Executive Council of MSA. We were also members of the first Majlis Shura and Executive Council of ISNA.

We had to meet often at ISNA headquarters in Indiana. Our meetings used to be very long and extremely tiring. There was rarely any chance to talk freely with each other. The Agenda was very big. Only a few members had a chance to express their opinion on various issues. In this way, I felt a vacuum between these Muslim national leaders.

Luckily, one day Brother Siraj and I got together during the brief lunch break of the Executive council meeting of ISNA. I was curious to know how he accepted Islam. He narrated his situation as follows:

“I used to be a member of the so-called Black Muslim movement, which was quite different from the traditional Muslim beliefs and practices. ISNA held a summer training camp for community workers. I happened to attend this camp. The camp started with a recitation of the Holy Qur’aan by a Sudanese brother. I did not know Arabic at that time. This recitation of Qur’aan affected me deeply. I started crying profusely. The more recitation I heard the more tears gushed out from my eyes, flowing down my cheeks continuously and falling on my clothes. I did not understand a word of Arabic. I said to myself, ‘Whatever it is, it seems real.’ I, therefore, became a traditional Sunni Muslim.”

Brother Siraj learnt Arabic diligently and mastered recitation of Qur’aan and Hadith in due course of time. Soon, he became Imaam of Musjid Taqwa in New York. His Friday address used to be very effective. Many men and women accepted Islam through him.

The Muslim community around his mosque grew larger and larger. He surfaced as a Muslim national leader and member of Majlis Shura and Executive Council of ISNA.

I asked him how he viewed the activities of ISNA and other similar Muslim communities. He said loudly, “All of you are very lazy and your output in the activities is very minimal. For example, when I used to be in the Black Muslim Movement, I had to sell a lot of newspapers. I used to stand on my feet for hour to ensure the sale of all the newspapers. Sometimes, my legs used to tremble despite my youth. You guys talk too much and do very little.” There was no more time left in this lunch break to ask questions.

His Musjid is located in inner part of New York city where drug business was done day and night. The drug dealers were very rich and extremely dangerous. To eradicate drugs from this community was a very uphill and risky task. Dealers would kill anybody interfering in their activities. These drug dealers were thriving around Taqwa Mosque. Imaam Siraj did not like this. imaam Siraj gathered knowledge about these dealers from some of the new Muslims who used to wheel and deal with them in the past. Siraj gathered a few hundred Muslims from his community and went to the drug lords one by one. He said to them, ‘Get out of the community by tomorrow or we will get rid of you all.’ Many said to him, ‘Why do you want to rob us of our daily living?’ siraj told them that there was no room for drugs in this Muslim community. Siraj repeated his tour with his followers next day. All drug lords left their centres of activities. In this way, the vicinity of Taqwa Mosque was cleaned of drug dealers for a five miles radius. The American Government was surprised because they could not succees even after spending lot of money and applying different tactics using skilful manpower. Brother Siraj was interviewed on national television for his remarkable achievement. TV Ancherman asked, ‘How and why did you do it?’ Siraj replied, ‘Islam and drug business cannot go together. Islam cannot see the poor public ruined in the hands of these drug dealers. Sincerity of purpose and strong will helped to achieve the noble goal.’

Siraj is now closely working with other Muslim communities in America and Canada. He is very successful in inspiring youth and raising funds for Islamic schools and mosques. He is always with an open boo of Hadith or Holy Quraan in his hand even on the airports. He is respected internationally. During my last visit to Makkah Mukarramah from States, I met a few American Muslims. I asked them who else was there. They told me that Imaam Siraj was also there. Local leaders of Haram were looking for him so that he could participate in the changing ceremony of the cover of the House of Allah.

The last time when I heard his speech was at the Annual ISNA convention in Chicago. It was the time of the campaigning for the American Presidential election. It was in full swing. George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perro were throwing as much dirt at each other as much as law permitted. Muslims residing in America expected to gain some sense of direction concerning their voting in the forthcoming election. Any word from the local American Muslim leaders like Siraj Wahhaaj would have ben highly valued. Siraj started his speech like this. “I was reading the Qur’aan last night. I was surprised to read about George Bush in it. Yes, you heard me right. I read about George Bush in the Quraan last night. In fact, I also read about Bill Clinton. Both were mentioned in the Quraan in the same place. Ross Perro was mentioned in the Quraan as well. I did not have to read lot of the Quraan since all three were mentioned in the beginning of the Quraan. You may be wondering where it is. It is in the second chapter of the Quraan. I can even give you the exact verse.” Then he recited the verse, ‘Summun Bukmun ‘Umyun fahum laa yarji’oon’ (They are deaf, dumb and blind. They will not return to truth)

He added, ‘There ears are not fit to hear the truth, their tongues are not ready to talk truth and their eyes are not capable of seeing the truth. How can there be any hope for their leaning towards or reverting to truth.’

Siraj has his own original style. There is a need for a book to be written about him. I hope somebody will do so one day.

Imtiaz Ahmad