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Islamic Studies

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

About the author

Suhaib Webb

Suhaib Webb is a contemporary American-Muslim educator, activist, and lecturer. His work bridges classical and contemporary Islamic thought, addressing issues of cultural, social and political relevance to Muslims in the West. After converting to Islam in 1992, Webb left his career in the music industry to pursue his passion in education. He earned a Bachelor’s in Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and received intensive private training in the Islamic Sciences under a renowned Muslim Scholar of Senegalese descent. Webb was hired as the Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, where he gave khutbas (sermons), taught religious classes, and provided counselling to families and young people; he also served as an Imam and resident scholar in communities across the U.S.

From 2004-2010, Suhaib Webb studied at the world’s preeminent Islamic institution of learning, Al-Azhar University, in the College of Shari`ah. During this time, after several years of studying the Arabic Language and the Islamic legal tradition, he also served as the head of the English Translation Department at Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah.

Outside of his studies at Al-Azhar, Suhaib Webb completed the memorization of the Quran in the city of Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He has been granted numerous traditional teaching licenses (ijazat), adhering to centuries-old Islamic scholarly practice of ensuring the highest standards of scholarship.

Webb was named one of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in 2010 and his website, www.SuhaibWebb.com, was voted the best “Blog of the Year” by the 2009 Brass Crescent awards.

Suhaib Webb has lectured extensively around the world including in the Middle East, East Asia, Europe, North Africa and North America. Upon returning from his studies in Egypt, Webb lived in the Bay Area, California, where he worked with the Muslim American Society from Fall 2010 to Winter 2011. He currently serves as the Imam of the Islamic Society of Boston’s Cultural Center (ISBCC).

13 Comments

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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…

  • 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

  • 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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