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Oral History Interview with Siraj Wahhaj, February 19, 2018

Scope and Contents

In this interview, Siraj Wahhaj discusses the impact of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination on his feelings about nonviolent protests; his exploration of the Nation of Islam as a young adult; his attendance and activities at the Nation of Islam's Muhammad Mosque No. 7C in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn; and his experiences with Louis Farrakhan, Warith Deen Mohammed, and other leaders of the movement. He elaborates about becoming the imam of Muhammad Mosque No. 7C after it was renamed Masjid Muhammad 7C; studying Islam in Illinois and Saudi Arabia; the circumstances of his leaving Masjid Muhammad 7C; and his founding Masjid At-Taqwa in Bedford-Stuyvesant. He also speaks extensively about the anti-drug patrols he coordinated at Masjid At-Taqwa, his experiences with local law and federal enforcement, and the importance of integrating Islam into American culture as a mainstream religion. In addition, he touches on his family, childhood, and early education. Interview conducted by Zaheer Ali.

Biographical / Historical

Siraj Wahhaj was born in 1950 in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. He joined the Nation of Islam in 1969 and became the imam of Masjid Muhammad 7C in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1976. Two years later, he studied with the Muslim World League in Chicago, Illinois and at Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. He founded Masjid At-Taqwa in 1981, and purchased a building in Bedford-Stuyvesant to house the mosque the following year. As the imam of Masjid At-Taqwa, he coordinated successful efforts to reduce crime in the area, especially through anti-drug patrols in January of 1988, and also emphasized significant community outreach. He was the first Muslim to give an opening prayer for the United States House of Representatives in 1991, and in 2004, he founded the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) to advocate for Muslim Americans' needs and civil rights. He also served on the city's Majils As-Shura Islamic Leadership Council of New York, campaigned for New York City public schools to formally recognize Muslim Eid holidays, and represented Masjid At-Taqwa in the Raza v. City of New York lawsuit against the New York City Police Department for religiously-motivated surveillance.

Conditions Governing Access

This interview can be accessed onsite at the Center for Brooklyn History's Othmer Library and online at the Oral History Portal.

Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201