Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem

Alhamdullilah, wa salaatu wa salaamu ‘alaa Rasool’Allah

Part I of II

Sunday night of Ilm Fest began with a video of Shaykh Muhammad Alshareef giving a special keynote address about Leaving a Legacy, in which he spoke about performing deeds that give on-going returns. Of them are knowledge that continues to benefit, a continuous charity which people take from, and a pious child who prays for the parents.

He ended by saying that when he was being interviewed for Madinah University and was asked who it was who had inspired him, he mentioned Imam Siraj Wahaj. Muhammad Alshareef finished by thanking Imam Siraj for being such an influence in his life, and praying that Imam Siraj gets the reward for the work AlMaghrib has done.

Next, Shaykhs Yasir Qadhi and Muhammad Ibn Faqih went up stage with Imam Siraj, and both felt it incumbent to take time before Imam Siraj’s speech to say a few words to thank him, appreciate him, and show their love and respect for the great things he has done for the Muslim American community and the American community at large, and for the positive effect he has had on so many people.

Shaykh Yasir mentioned how one day we will tell our grandchildren about how we were actually there to hear Imam Siraj speak, and that when it comes to Imam Siraj, we are reminded of the following portion of a hadith from Rasool’Allah, sal’Allahu alayhi wa salam,

If Allah has loved a servant [of His] He calls Gabriel (alay salam) and says: I love so-and-so, therefore love him. He (the Prophet sal’Allahu alayhi wa salam) said: So Jibreel loves him. Then he (Jibreel) calls out in heaven, saying: Allah loves so-and-so, therefore love him. And the inhabitants of heaven love him. He (the Prophet sal’Allahu alayhi wa salam) said: Then acceptance is established for him on earth…. [Muslim]

It’s very difficult and perhaps impossible to describe the feeling in the audience that night. Love, care and respect oozed throughout the audience and permeated the air. And what followed was a heartfelt, emotional and remarkable speech.

Imam Siraj Bringing Down the House on Ilm Fest ’08

Imam Siraj finally took to the podium.

He began by praising Allah and sending salams on the Prophet, sal’Allahu alayhi wa salam.

His shock was noted in his expression and demeanor. He explained how he had not expected such a reception, and then, the mood changed.

As he continued he sniffled, and the eyes became red and wet. The tears then rolled down his cheeks as he stood under the bright lights in front of hundreds and hundreds of people who love him so much. He couldn’t even speak a word, and the room was at a still.

In the audience that night, how many eyes welled up or shed tears, or how many hearts were captured with love and emotion, or how many heads hanged low, only Allah knows. How could they look up, as their teacher, Imam Siraj Wahaj, stood before them shedding his tears in silence.

Finally able to speak, Imam Siraj thanked Allah for allowing him to try his best to serve Him, and said that he appreciated that there are those who have recognized what was being attempted to be done.

Tears still in his eyes, Imam Siraj mentioned how 1978 he was blessed to study at Umm Al-Qura, not for 10 years – but for 4 months – and that he was blessed to have learned from true scholars.

Imam Siraj mentioned that one of his favorite teachers was Shaykh Husayn Hamid from Egypt, who began every class in the same way: “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.” [2:32]. He then added, “We ask Allah to accept our very humble effort.”

He mentioned how he did not want to come to a conference, a meeting, or a gathering, and meet for one minute or an hour or a day without taking something of benefit home.

He mentioned how some of the George Mason students he saw on Thursday said they were coming to Ilm Fest, and the next day at University of Boston, some of the Muslims there said they were coming. And as he went around the country, various students – especially students – said they were coming to the conference.

He related how the Prophet sal’Allahu alayhi wa salam sought refuge in Allah from knowledge that does not benefit, and how Mu’awiyyah had said that there is no real wisdom without experience.

A Travel through the Life of Imam Siraj

Having fully gathered himself, Imam Siraj took the audience through the story of his life. A history – as he described it- that you know, and some of it you don’t know, a history that was very intimate.

He took the audience through the days of his life as a basketball player at New York University. A basketball player would talk to him about the Nation of Islam on the bus. Things led up to his acceptance of what he thought was Islam, in 1969.

Believe it or not, Imam Siraj was in fact a very shy person.

In high school, whenever he was called to come up and read in front of the class, he would sit in the back and hide under the desk. And when he began selling the Nation of Islam’s newspaper, “Muhammad Speaks”, which Malcolm X himself started, Imam Siraj would walk up to people fired up inside, yet scared to death, and would ask, “Excuse me sir, you don’t want one of these, do you?” They said “No”, and he would say, “Ok.”

Fast forward to the 1990s, and Imam Siraj Wahaj is the first Muslim ever to open up a US congressional session with supplication. Then to India, were Imam Siraj gives a talk with John Esposito to a crowd of around three hundred thousand. Till this day, Imam Siraj has spoken around the globe.

Imam Siraj drew from his life experiences. He advised Muslims to stop talking about one another, and rather start talking to one another. He said that we seem to be good at the former, and make a lot of assumptions, while we learn from the Qur’an and hadith and the Prophet, sal’Allahu alayhi wa salam, to be very careful to give our brothers and sisters the benefit of the doubt.

One of the most difficult things, he said, is when someone gives so many speeches and everyone listens to everything they say, and some people listen not to get information, or naseeha, or inspiration, but to try to find something wrong.

Yet when a man came to Rasool’Allah, sal’Allahu alayhi wa salam, about some offense he committed, the Prophet, sal’Allahu alayhi was salam, replied: maybe you just kissed. Maybe some Muslims today would ask: who, and where, and how many times? The point being that he, sal’Allah alayhi wa salam, did not dig in or try to find people’s faults.

Malcolm X: Courage and Conviction, may Allah have mercy on him

As Imam Siraj traversed through his life and things related to the Nation of Islam, he touched upon the life of Malcolm X.

Malcolm X, Imam Siraj said, knew he was going to die.

On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X parked his car not right in front of the Audubon Ballroom, but ten blocks away. A follower of his saw Malcolm walking, and picked Malcolm up in his car and they drove to the ballroom.

When they were in the back of the Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm said, “I feel something’s going to happen. I shouldn’t go out there.” But, Malcolm went out.

Benjamin Kareem, who Imam Siraj said he used to visit personally in Richmond, Virginia, to learn about history from someone who knows, was the person who would open for Malcolm X.

“Imam Siraj, Malcolm X saved my life”, Benjamin said. How, Imam Siraj asked?

“Usually, when I open up for Malcolm I sit right there next to him. And that day I opened up for Malcolm, and Malcolm said, ‘Benjamin, don’t sit there.”

Benjamin was sent back, and at that moment the guns fired and Malcolm was murdered, may Allah have mercy on him.

What you don’t know, Imam Siraj explained, is that two days before that, a professor at the University of Brown invited Malcolm on Tuesday to come and give a lecture to his students. Malcolm said “I’ll be dead by Tuesday.” The professor said, “Malcolm, don’t mess around.” Malcolm said, “I won’t be alive.” “Come on, Malcolm.” Malcolm said, “Ok, I’ll be there – if I’m still alive.” Malcolm knew.

Imam Siraj said that “Malcolm had courage. So even courage is not the absence of fear, courage is to move ahead despite your fear.”

“I know sometimes, young students, you have fear. As a student in college, maybe the only one in your college, only one in your highschool, I know you have fear. But despite that fear, move foward.

“I know some of the sisters, they have fear about wearing the khimar, because nobody else in the area, in the school, on the block, in the neighborhood, wear khimar, so there’s a little bit fear. So some sisters – despite the fear – they put on the khimar, and they move ahead, because they have courage.”

Part II soon insha’Allah…