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Siraj Wahhaj

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Siraj Wahhaj
Jeffrey Kearse

(1950-03-11) March 11, 1950 (age 74)
OccupationIslamic scholar
SpouseWadiyah Wahhaj

Siraj Wahhaj (born Jeffrey Kearse (Arabic: سراج وهّاج), March 11, 1950) is an African-American imam of Al-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, New York and the leader of The Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA). [1][2] He was also the former vice-president of the Islamic Society of North America.[3]

Early life and education


Wahhaj was born as Jeffrey Kearse and raised in Brooklyn. His mother was a nurse and his father a hospital dietitian. He went to church regularly and went on to become a Sunday school teacher as a teenager in a Baptist church.[4]

In 1969 he ended his schooling and joined the Nation of Islam, changing his name to Jeffrey12x.[4] During this time he was vocal in his belief that “white people are devils." He said of this, “I preached it. I taught it.” While Wahhaj acknowledges the black pride instilled in him from the Nation of Islam, he concedes that pride went too far when he began denigrating others and that he felt he was "other than [him]self" during this portion of his life.[5]

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 lantern" in Arabic. He was chosen to study Islam at the Umm al-Qura University of Mecca for a period of four months in 1978.[5]



Wahhaj established a mosque in a friend's Brooklyn apartment in 1981. Soon after, the congregation purchased the space of an abandoned clothing store for what would become Masjid at-Taqwa.[5] Wahhaj leads the daily prayers and performs the Friday sermon at the mosque.[6] He also conducts full days of teaching in Islamic studies, Arabic and marital counseling.[6]

In cooperation with local police, Wahhaj led the local Muslim community in an anti-drug patrol in 1988. The community staked out drug houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the cold of winter for 40 days and nights, forcing the closure of 15 drug houses. The effort, which fundamentally changed the character of the neighborhood by "reclaim[ing] the area from drugs and crime," received high praise from the New York City Police Department and international attention from the media.[5][7]

In 1991, he became the first Muslim to offer an invocation (opening prayer) at the United States House of Representatives.[1][3][8]



Wahhaj has made statements in support of Islamic laws over liberal democracy. He also supports capital punishments such as stoning for adultery and cutting off of hands for thievery. He has said: "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."[9]

He has also said: "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."[when?][10]

Personal life


Wahhaj had eight children, aged 31 to 51 as of May 2023.[5]

In August 2018 three of Wahhaj's children were charged with terrorism and felony child abuse. Wahhaj indicated that the three had severed ties with the rest of their family in 2017 and added that it was a tip he himself provided to the police that led to their arrest.[11][12]


  1. ^ a b Samory Rashid, Black Muslims in the US: History, Politics, and the Struggle of a Community, p 120. ISBN 1137337516
  2. ^ Michael Wolfe, Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith, p 139. ISBN 1579549888
  3. ^ a b "Wahhaj, Siraj". The Muslim 500. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  4. ^ a b Paul M. Barrett (2007-02-16). American Islam. Washington Post. Retrieved on 2009-11-08.
  5. ^ a b c d e Dulong, Jessica,The Imam of Bedford-Stuyvesant (archived) from the original, May/June 2005, volume 56, number 3. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
  6. ^ a b Marci Reaven, Steve Zeitlin, Hidden New York: A Guide to Places That Matter, p 312. ISBN 0813541247
  7. ^ "METRO DATELINES; Moslems to Expand Anti-Drug Patrols" The New York Times March 2, 1988
  8. ^ "Siraj Wahhaj". Peace TV. Retrieved 10 September 2015.
  9. ^ Barrett, Paul M. (2007). American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 115. ISBN 9780374104238.
  10. ^ Barrett, Paul M. (2007). American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 114. ISBN 9780374104238.
  11. ^ Hauslohner, Abigail (9 August 2018). "Father of N.M. child-abuse suspects speaks out: They 'cut ties' and disappeared". The Washington Post. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  12. ^ Grinberg, Emanuella (9 August 2018). "Imam says he helped lead police to New Mexico compound". CNN. Retrieved 2019-05-19.