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March 11, 1950
Brooklyn, New York City
New York, United States
Wahhaj was born as Jeffrey Kearse and raised in Brooklyn. His mother was a nurse and his father a hospital dietitian. His brother is writer and editor Gregory S. Kearse of Silver Spring, Maryland. He went to church religiously and went on to become a Sunday school teacher as a teenager in a Baptist church. Wahhaj then later went on to the New York University on a partial scholarship. He also played basketball where he met a teammate who interested him in the Nation of Islam, an African-American movement. He subsequently converted to Islam.
In 1969 he ended his schooling and joined the Nation of Islam, changing his name to Jeffrey12x. During this time he was vocal in his belief that “white people are devils." He said of this, “I preached it. I taught it.” Wahhaj says of his interest in the Nation: "It wasn't the theology that attracted me to the Nation of Islam at all... It was the kind of do-for-self black pride."
When Elijah Muhammed died in 1975, "His teachings began to unravel in my mind", and he became a Sunni Muslim with the encouragement of Muhammad's son Warith Deen Mohammed. Mohammed took over and reorganized the Nation of Islam, urging members to come to orthodox Islam. Kearse then changed his name again to Siraj Wahhaj, which means "bright light" in Arabic. He was chosen to study Islam at the Umm al-Qura university of Mecca for a period of four months in 1978. He also briefly taught a course in Islamic studies at Howard University, where Johari Abdul-Malik is the chaplain.
Wahhaj has made radical statements supporting the implementation of Islamic sharia law as a way of governance in place of Western democracy. He also supports capital punishments such as stoning for adultery and cutting off of hands for thievery:
- “Islam is better than democracy. Allah will cause his deen [Islam as a complete way of life], Islam to prevail over every kind of system, and you know what? It will happen.”
- “If Allah says 100 strikes, 100 strikes it is. If Allah says cut off their hand, you cut off their hand. If Allah says stone them to death, through the Prophet Muhammad, then you stone them to death, because it’s the obedience of Allah and his messenger—nothing personal.”
- Samory Rashid, Black Muslims in the US: History, Politics, and the Struggle of a Community, p 120. ISBN 1137337516
- Michael Wolfe, Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith, p 139. ISBN 1579549888
- Paul M. Barrett (2007-02-16). American Islam. Washington Post. Retrieved on 2009-11-08.
- Dulong, Jessica,The Imam of Bedford-Stuyvesant, May/June 2005, volume 56, number 3. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
- Marci Reaven, Steve Zeitlin, Hidden New York: A Guide to Places That Matter, p 312. ISBN 0813541247
- Barrett, Paul M. (2007). American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. Page: 115.
- Barrett, Paul M. (2007). American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. Page: 114.