Learning from “America’s Imam” Siraj Wahhaj


Asalamu alaykum,

When I landed in the USA in Newark New Jersey for the al-Maghrib course, the first thing that popped in my mind was Masjid al-Taqwa! You see, for many of us 90’s MSA’ers, Masjid al-Taqwa was our spiritual umbilical cord. In those days, 1000 tapes landed somehow, in everyone’s cars and homes. The voice on those tapes was a spark of light, a gift of hope and the sound of reason and unity. It was Imam Siraj. Siraj means sun and by Allah he is a sun that walks on the face of this earth. The rays that came from him have brought light and warmth to our communities and protected us from the bitter cold of our enemies. I asked our Qabila leader, Uzair the balla, to take me to Imam Siraj. We called his masjid and a sister said, Mothers of the Believer! Come over tomorrow before dhur.

learning from two masters

learning from two masters: Cha Cha Jaan Shamin and the Imam of America

We left around 11 and all the while I was thinking, “this is my first visit to the Imam. How many times has he visited the communities I’ve lived in?”

An Imam Siraj Moment

Once, around 10 years ago, I was asked by the Malaysian Islamic Studies Group, who were having a gathering in Missouri, to go to the airport and pick up the Imam. It was cold, snowy and most importantly it was “The Night Before Christmas.” I was so excited and raced to pick up the Imam.

As we drove back to the gathering (a good hour away) the Imam began to ask me questions and get to know me. Allah says, “We created you to know one another.”

Imam Siraj: “Suhaib! What do you say to people in stores when the say “Merry Christmas!”

Suhaib “I just don’t respond and leave the story quietly.”

Imam Siraj “You what?”

Suhaib, the scared gora: “I just leave……”

Imam Siraj: “Brother. Don’t do that! That is a dawa moment. Tell them in a nice manner that you don’t celebrate Christmas. It is a great way to talk with each other and get to know each other.”

So there we were, driving in the dead of night, a large African American Male and an even larger white man (yes I can dunk on Imam Siraj Wahaj and he knows it. Although I heard he put it down on Dr. Jackson), during a snow storm, in Missouri and, worst of all, Ashcroft was still their Senator.

Visiting Masjid al-Taqwa

When we arrived at the Masjid we were meet by one of the sisters who was very cordial and escorted us to the Imam’s office. We greeted the Imam, sat and talked.

Good times at Masjid al-Taqwa
Good times at Masjid al-Taqwa

Imam: “What are you having for lunch and where are you giving the khutbah tomorrow?”

Suhaib: “We’ll we are fine Imam. We just wanted to see you and ask you to pray for us.”

Imam: “You don’t come to Brooklyn and leave without food.”

Commentary by Suhaib:

We had decided to fast that day, since the next day was our Maghrib class. However, we were to shy to say no to Imam Siraj. Dr. ‘Obeid was with us as well and we didn’t know he was fasting also. So we felt, out of adab with the Imam, that we would eat. The funny thing is that, to our surprise, the Imam was fasting as well. Thus, we all broke our fasts out of our love for our fellow brothers even though we didn’t know we were fasting. It was really a special moment that I’m finding trouble putting into words.

The Imam’s community is really nice, human and down to earth. They have more that 41 different ethnic groups and you never hear the words “Immigrant and indigenous.” One of my teachers scolded me yesterday for using such terms saying, “It is a call to ignorance! Be careful.” The Imam makes people feel welcome, opens his doors to them and knows his community. It was a special day that we will always remember, the day we were blessed to visit the Imam of America: Siraj Wahhaj.

Suhaib

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12 Comments

  1. Faisal says:

    I remember the first time i was exposed to Islam was through Imam Siraj’ tape called “Where are the men” I had no contact then in 1993 with Muslims, but man I cried my eyes out that night. this post was most beneficial and has revived your bro.

    akhi Suhaib, we love you brother, and cant wait to see you here in L.A. IA. and help us to become wide awake with our hearts and minds on Islam.

    I hope to pick you up like old times, but this time we will use MAP QUEST. INSHALLAH. PEACE

  2. Sr. Aysha Khanom says:

    Asalamu Alaykum,

    MashAllah it was heart warming to read this, and its these moments and these people which the riches and attractions of this world can never compare to.

    May Allah bless them all, they truly are the shining stars that walk amongst us

  3. Fiaz says:

    mashallah..amazing…and great pictures!

  4. Azeem says:

    He also beat Imam Zaid in a free throw shooting contest (I believe)… let me dig that video up

  5. Assalamu alaykum ya ustadh,

    After reading this I feel sooooo terrible for not coming to meet you when you held a Al – Maghrib class in Chicago. There were a lot of complication so i hope that you will forgive me.

    Jazakallah

    Afaaque

  6. SaqibSaab says:

    This was a sweet post, mA.

    I recently went to this masjid in Chicagoland and happened to walk in when it was empty. I browsed over to their mini-library/bookshelf and there I find a monstrous pile of ooooold tapes of none other than… Imam Siraj!

    Straight up like 1992 to 1998 tapes. Before all us n00b AlMaghrib types came into the scene. I thought, man I gotta get these tapes digitized and up online. InshaAllah one day…

  7. SaqibSaab says:

    Dude how sweet is Imam Siraj’s thobe in that first pic. He’s like carrying books in the front pockets. Shukr clothing eat your qalb out.

  8. Abu Zayd says:

    Sorry, Imam Suhaib, I would have sent these pictures to you earlier, but since I snuck them with my cell phone, I thought you might be mad.

    It was an awsome afternoon.

    Dr Obeyd

  9. Tim says:

    Why not just say “Merry Christmas”? Even if you don’t celebrate it, it ought to be okay to say it.

  10. JYB says:

    This was really heartwarming… May Allah connect us all as brothers and sisters with true love for each other for the sake of Him.

  11. I know this is an old post, but I just came across it. You have a nice way of capturing these touching human moments, ma-sha-Allah. A little bit of description, a bit of dialogue, and I feel like I’m there. I’m really not as familiar with Imam Siraj as I should be, but you have encouraged me to learn more Insha’Allah.

    I think you’ve learned a lot since then Imam Suhaib. You have become one of those people to whom everything is a da’wah moment, Insha’Allah.

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