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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.
Masjid At-Taqwa Mosque
Anti drug movement
In 1988 he led his community in an anti-drug patrol in which they staked out drug houses in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the cold of winter for 40 days and nights, forcing the closure of 15 drug houses. This effort received high praise from the New York City Police Department and the media.
Since that time, Wahhaj has been active in many Islamic organizations. He has been vice president of the Islamic Society of North America since 1997 and has served on the Majlis al Shura, a consultative council of Islamic scholars, since 1987. He is a member of the Board of Advisors for the American Muslim Council and has also served on the national board of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In 2005 Wahhaj was elected as the Amir (Chair) of Muslim Alliance in North America's Diwan (Executive committee). The Alliance was founded by scholars including Wahhaj, Zaid Shakir, Hamza Yusuf, Talib Abdur Rashid, Asim Abdur Rashid, Ihsan Bagby, R. Mukhtar Curtis, Sherman Jackson, Amir al-Islam and many others. The organization's initials stand for Muslim Alliance in North America. The organization has since held two conventions in 2007 and 2008, in which the topics of community activism, criminal justice and marriage were given great concern.
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.