If you’ve attended any sort of Muslim fundraiser of any sort — at an Islamic school, masjid, Muslim organization — chances are you’ve heard Imam Siraj Wahhaj speak. Chances are the twinkle in his warm eyes coupled with the deep timbre of his voice urging you to donate based on faith-ful appeals had you reaching for your pocketbook. He is the embodiment of Islam in America, the one so many of us feel close to even though we may not know him personally.
Several months ago, in January of 2018, Imam Siraj publicly posted an appeal to find his missing children and grandchildren, asking his brothers and sisters in Islam to pray for their safe return. Now news reports are saying that the remains of a young boy suspected to be Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj, Imam Siraj’s grandson, have been found on a compound in rural New Mexico along with 11 “emaciated children.”
CNN reported that Abdul Ghani Wahhaj’s father, also named Siraj Wahhaj, is suspected of abducting his young son laste last year from Clayton County, Georgia. He was arrested along with his sisters Hujrah Wahhaj and Subhannah Wahhaj, along with two other adults — LUcas Morten and Jany Levielle. Today Imam Sirhaj gave a news conference regarding the arrests, saying “”I am feeling a lot of emotions in so many ways. We want to find out what happened.”
Many rumors and conspiracy theories are swirling around this tragic case, and with those close to the Imam also dealing with their own shock and sorrow and unable to offer details or clarity on the situation at this time, the best we can do as collective communities is offer our prayers for healing, for justice to be served and for truth and clarity. The following is an excerpt statement from Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, which offers some sensible insight and advice on the matter:
MuslimARC Statement on the Media Coverage of the Wahhaj Family
We at MuslimARC are appalled by the sensationalist and Islamophobic news coverage of the arrest of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, the son of our beloved Imam Siraj Wahhaj.
Imam Siraj is a respected member of the American Muslim community. He is a devoted family man, a community builder, and he has been central in the efforts to raise millions of dollars for the betterment of the lives of orphans, for direct services impacting Muslim and allied communities, and in support of advocacy and justice work across the nation. With over 40 years of experience, Imam Siraj has sparked minds and inspired souls with messages of hope, faith, and the power of redemption.
MuslimARC calls on all those who have benefitted from Imam Siraj’s efforts to support his family in this time of need. We have been following this situation since January 4th, 2018, when Imam Siraj publicly posted about his missing children and grandchildren, requesting prayers from the community for their safe return. Imam Siraj has been active in trying to help his four year old grandson, Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, return to his mother, including by posting a GoFundme and sharing pictures and fliers. We have watched the video where Hakima Ramzi, the mother of Abdul-ghani Wahhaj, pleaded for the return of her son. On Friday August 3rd, New Mexico authorities arrested Abdul-ghani’s father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, who was one of five adults taken into custody on child abuse charges after authorities found them with 11 children starving and in wretched condition. Abdul-ghani remained missing, and we are deeply saddened to learn that his body was later found.
We condemn the sensationalist and irresponsible media coverage that has centered language about Imam Siraj being an “unindicted co-conspirator” to refer to this tragic situation involving his family. Referring to alleged but unproven charges reflects anti-Black media bias in pulling up the records of the victims’ family members and perpetuates a pattern of Islamophobic news coverage where Muslims are always found guilty by association. We call on all media outlets to uphold journalistic standards and ethics in covering this case. We ask our followers to avoid reading clickbait articles and focus on sharing news that includes responsible coverage. We caution supporters to avoid amplifying conspiracy theories and statements that can further add to the trauma of the victims and their families.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Abdul-Ghani’s loved ones, especially his mother Hakima Ramzi. We expect media outlets to provide more responsible coverage of these traumatic and tragic events. We call on the media to refrain from drawing speculative links to shadowy plots where the circumstances do not warrant them. We ask our followers to respect the privacy of the Wahhaj family as we await further details from the investigation.
We are including the following list of action items for supporters.
1. Review the MANA Statement on the Arrest of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj (http://myemail.constantcontact.com/MANA-Statement-on-the-Ar…).
2. Watch the MANA Press Conference (https://www.facebook.com/ali.abdulkarim1/videos/10155947007667909/?fref=mentions).
3. Donate to the GoFundMe Campaign “Hakima Needs your help” (https://www.gofundme.com/hakimaneedsyourhelp) to pay for funeral arrangements, travel fees, and legal fees for the family of Imam Siraj’s grandson.
4. Watch the Muslim Wellness Foundation livestreamed discussion on Trauma & Grief: Coping in the American Muslim Community (https://youtu.be/85sQvoRJ9FY).
5. For organizations who have benefitted from the work of Imam Siraj, we encourage you to issue statements of support for his family at this time of mourning.
6. Write letters to the editors of news outlets like NY Daily Post, CBS News, and others to express your concerns about the sensationalist coverage and demand more fair coverage. Additionally, add comments to the news stories online.
7. Pray for the family at this difficult time.