Siraj Wahaj is a well-known African-American Muslim speaker in North America, and a big supporter of Islamic causes. He's currently the Imam
, New York
. Born in New York as Jeffrey Kearse, he became a Sunday school teacher as a teenager, then later went to NYU
where he studied Math education. In the 1960's, he became attracted to the Nation of Islam, then later found mainstream Sunni Islam. He changed his name to Siraj Wahaj, which means "Bright Light" in Arabic, and was chosen to receive Imam training at the Ummul Qura university of Mecca
in 1978. he also briefly taught a course in Islamic studies at Howard University
He started his own mosque in 1981 in a friend's Brooklyn apartment. They moved the furniture from the living room to the bedroom so that 25 people could pray toward Mecca. Soon afterward, the congregation, known as Masjid At-Taqwa, bought an abandoned clothing store at a city auction for $30,000 and converted it into a mosque. Today, it is a well-known mosque in New York City.
Imam Siraj has been Vice President of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America) since 1997 and has served on the Majlis Ash-Shura, a consultative council of Islamic scholars, since 1987. He is also a member of the Board of Advisors for the American Muslim Council. He has appeared on several national television talk shows and interviews in America, and was the first person to give an Islamic invocation to the United States Congress.He's well-admired by Muslims in New York at the very least, he led his Brooklyn community in an anti-drug patrol in Brooklyn, New York in 1988, which was a success and put a dent in the drug trade in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and received high praise from the NYPD for his efforts.
He's a fairly prolific speaker, at least in America. He makes many appearances at the major North American Muslim conventions, and numerous forums and lectures in the Northeast US alone. There are many audio lectures given by him in English available online, with titles like "Allah's Word is Supreme," "Are You Ready To Die?" "Confusion of the Ummah," "Control Your Anger," "Easy Way To Paradise," and "Good Or Bad Company:How To Judge." I find him to be very charismatic, and an excellent leader of the community, as well as of Muslims in America.
Since 9/11, a small number of people have tried to smear him and launch small fear-mongering campaigns against him and his mosque. Daniel Pipes, a known right-wing Islamophobe, publicly questioned Mr. Wahaj's patriotism in America because he is a practicing Muslim, which I find ridiculous. Imam Wahaj was perhaps the most public advocate of Muslims voting in America that I can think of. Some question his education in Saudi Arabia, and his speeches on death and the ways to paradise, claiming that it makes him some sort of closet terrorist. The whole allegation is ridiculous, and a result of people trying to connect dots that truly don't have any relation. Would the US Congress allow him to give the opening invocation if he had any connection to terrorism?
Some of his lectures are on sale, with preview clips and even some video, at http://www.meccacentric.com/siraj_wahhaj.html