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Guide to the Muslims in Brooklyn oral histories 2018.006

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Brooklyn Historical Society

Collection processed by Elena Locascio

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on June 13, 2019
Finding aid written in English using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

 Revised by Maggie Schreiner to reflect updated access restrictions.  , April 2019

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Oral History Interview with Siraj Wahhaj, February 19, 2018

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.

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.

Conditions Governing Access

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

Subject Names

  • Elijah Muhammad, 1897-1975
  • Farrakhan, Louis
  • Muhammad, Warith Deen, 1933-2008
  • Wahhaj, Siraj

Subject Organizations

  • Masjid Abdul Muhsi Khalifah (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Masjid At-Taqwa (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Masjid Muhammad 7C (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Muhammad Mosque No. 7C (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)

Subject Topics

  • African American Muslims -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Black Muslims -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Community policing -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Imams (Mosque officers) -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Islam -- Customs and practices
  • Islamophobia -- New York (State) -- New York
  • Muslim converts -- New York (State) -- Kings County
  • Police-community relations -- New York (State) -- Kings County

Subject Places

  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)