Wahhaj was born as Jeffrey Kearse and raised in Brooklyn. His mother was a nurse and his father a hospital dietician. His brother is a 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, subsequently he 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 Makkah 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.
Wahhaj is a prolific speaker in America. He makes many appearances at major North American Muslim conventions, and numerous forums and lectures in New England. His audio and video lectures are also popular in America's Muslim community. He is known to encourage Muslims to be God-fearing, enjoining good and forbid evil, practice regular charity, stay away from drugs, abstain from pre-marital relations, and other issues as well. He has also appeared on several national television talk shows and has had interviews with several media outlets.
In 1991 Wahhaj offered an invocation (opening prayer) to the United States House of Representatives. He was the first Muslim to do so.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright hosted Wahhaj and notable scholars for a Ramadan feast of lamb, lentils and saffron rice.
Masjid At-Taqwa, in Brooklyn, New York
In 1981 Wahhaj started his own mosque, Masijd Al-Taqwa, in a friend's apartment in Brooklyn. Later they bought an abandoned clothing store which is where Masjid At-Taqwa still resides today. The Masjid has expanded since then and is usually overcrowded on days of Jummah (Friday prayer).
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 MANA's Diwan (Executive committee). 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.
♦ Imaam Siraj Wahhaj remains one of the most admired Muslim leaders and speakers in America.
May Allaah (Subhaanahu wa ta 'Ala) bestow Mercy upon Sheikh Siraj Wahhaj and Bless his efforts done in His Noble Cause in order to make His Word & Deen Superior above all others. May Allaah ('Azza wa Jal) Accept his efforts, Guide countless of people to the Religion of Truth - Al-Islaam through them, and Forgive him for any shortcomings & inconsistencies with the Qur'aan & the Sunnah that he may have made throughout the years as he is only human and not infallible. May Allaah (Jalla Jalaalahu) Multiply all his sincere deeds by resonating the benefit of his works to later generations and Cause his legacy to continuously act as a guide to non-Muslims as well as a tool for Muslims to gain beneficial knowledge until Yawmul-Qiyaamah and Cause it all to be a means of Sadaqah-Jaariyah & Pleasure for him in the Barzakh, and ultimately Grant him & his family Jannatul-Firdaws! Ameen! : )