Over twenty five years ago, a dynamic generation of African-American Azhar graduates came back home all ready to inspire the Muslims in North America with the richness of knowledge that they had gained. They were the first Americans to go overseas in pursuit of sacred knowledge, and the last echelon to have had the unique privilege to study with the late, eminent scholar of our era, Dr. Suleiman Dunya (1407/1987). When they returned home, and as direly as the community needed them, the masses did not have the lexicon to understand their noble message—nearly two decades before any American pontiff started talking about a sacred tradition. However, none could have had any success without fifteen years of Imam Siraj Wahhaj going around the MYNA camps, igniting the imagination of young people, creating a yearning in their hearts for something more, preparing the soil for the seeds of blessed scholarship that would change their lives.
Long before traditional sacred sciences captured the imagination of a generation, imam Siraj was inspiring people to know themselves through the profound simplicity of Islam.
Few—(if any)—servants of sacred knowledge have the right to be called 'imam' in our day. Siraj Wahhaj is an imam in charity; an imam of bridge building between people; an imam in the way that he is a visionary; in the way that he is a man.
Siraj Wahhaj paved the road for all of us to build on. He has always encouraged people to strive for a higher level of competence. All of that will, we pray, sprout into eternal fruits of radiance for him wherever he is. Siraj Wahhaj is the voice of the spirit of Islam in America and its pride.
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful
Vigilance led some of our noble predecessors to not ask about the condition of others—i.e., to avoid asking others: How are you? They considered themselves accountable if someone related to them a difficulty that they could not help, or a need that they could not fulfill. They just acknowledged that their own meager resource would be challenged if they had encountered someone whose situation they were not in a position to ameliorate.
Imam Siraj Wahhaj had always asked people how they were doing. Of course, he also remembers their answers years later. If any one had related a need or difficulty to him—regardless of his own meager resource-he would find a way to fill voids in people's lives. He simply understands the special affinity that Allah, jalla thana 'uh, blesses him to have with others; and he just uses this affinity to help people, to influence others, to motivate others, to bring people together.
Few men deserve a tribute while they are still alive—for few men keep their covenant with Allah truthfully—without polluting it with artifice, or injustice toward anyone. Our beloved messenger, salla Allahu 'alaihi wa sallam, celebrated countless companions during their lifetime, and in their presence. While some he chose to honor only in their absence, or after their passing. Indeed, few people are modest enough to be content to be estimated at their true worth. In his Tahzib al-Athar, Imam Tabari codified that the kind of praise that our beloved messenger, may God's peace and blessing be upon him, is the praise that is [indeed] the acknowledgment of what a person has of beauteous manner and salutary acts for which he is renowned for among people. In that capacity, it is in the realm of what we were honored to narrate in al-Adab al-Mufrad: Those who are most grateful to God, are those who most grateful to people. We pray that Allah grants us the honor of always being among the truthful, and bless us with an honorable exit from this world.
Lastly, may the choice to honor Imam Siraj Wahhaj as SAKEENAH's inaugural guest, by God's grace, be a harbinger of greater togetherness, greater goodwill, and less animosity and divisiveness among us. To truly honor our dearly beloved older brother, and mentor, and communal imam, is to be truly committed to the spirit of what he had struggled and had always worked for: to bring us together, and to celebrate truth. Amen.