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The Muslim Student Association(MSA) used to be an umbrella organization for the Muslims residing in America and Canada. Siraj Wahaj and I had the privilege and honor to be members of the Majlis Shura(Advisory Council) and the Executive Council of MSA. Over several years many Muslim students became citizens of the United States and made this country their future home. To serve the needs of these citizens a new umbrella organization came into being. It was named the Islamic Society of North America or ISNA. We were also members of the first Majlis Shura and the Executive Council of ISNA.
We had to meet often at the 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 a very long one. Only a few members had a chance to express their opinion on various issues. In this way I felt a vacuum between these national Muslim leaders.
Luckily, one day brother Siraj Wahaj and I got together during the brief lunch break from the Executive Council meeting at ISNA. I was curious to know how he accepted Islam. He narrated his experience as follows:
“I used to be a member of the so-called Black Muslim movement, which was quite different from traditional Muslim beliefs and practices. MSA held a summer training camp for community workers. I happened to attend this camp. The camp started with a recitation from the Holy Quran by a Sudanese brother. I did not know Arabic at that time. This recitation from the Quran 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 learned Arabic very diligently and mastered the recitation of the Quran and Hadith in due course of time. Soon he became the Imam(leader of prayer) at Masjid(mosque) Al-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 leader of the North American Muslims.
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 most activities is 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 hours 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 any more questions.
His mosque is located in the inner part of New York City where drug trafficking was conducted 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 the Al-Taqwa Mosque. Imam Siraj did not like this. He obtained knowledge about these dealers from some of the new Muslims who used to wheel and deal with them in the past. Then, he gathered a few hundred Muslims from his community and went to the drug lords one by one. He said to them, “Get out of this 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 these visits of warning with his followers the next day. All of the drug lords left their locations. As a result, the vicinity of Al-Taqwa Mosque became safe from the drug dealers for a five-mile radius. The American Government was surprised because they could not succeed, even after spending a lot of money and applying different tactics using skillful manpower. Brother Siraj was interviewed on national television for his remarkable achievement. The TV Anchorman asked, “How and why did you do it?” Siraj replied, “Islam and the drug business cannot go together. I did not want to 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 working closely with other Muslim communities in America and in Canada. He is very successful in inspiring the youth and raising funds for Islamic schools and mosques. It is common for him to have an open book of Hadith or the Holy Quran in his hand, even in airports. He is highly respected internationally. During my last visit to Makkah from the USA I met a few American Muslims. I asked them who else is here in Makkah. They told me that Imam Siraj Wahaj was present. The local leaders of the Haram Mosque were looking for him, so that he could participate in the ceremony of changing the cover of the Ka’bah(House of Allah).
The last speech I heard of his was at the Annual ISNA Convention in Chicago. It was the time of the American Presidential campaign. It was in full swing. George Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot were throwing as much dirt on each other as the 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 Wahaj would have been highly valued. Siraj started his speech like this. “I was reading the Quran last night. I was surprised to read about George Bush in it. Yes, you heard me right. I read about George Bush in the Quran last night. In fact, I also read about Bill Clinton and Ross Perot too. All were mentioned in the Quran in the same place. You may be wondering where it is. It is in the second chapter of the Quran. I can even give you the exact verse.” Then, he recited the verse:
صم” بكم” عمى” فهم لا يرجعون
They are deaf, dumb and blind. They will not return to the truth. (2:18)
He added, “Their 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 the 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.