The Islamic Society of Greater Manchester will host a renowned and, to some, controversial American Islamic scholar as keynote speaker at a fundraiser to help finance their continuing efforts to build the first mosque in New Hampshire.

Imam Siraj Wahhaj, the religious leader of Masjid at-Taqwa in Brooklyn, N.Y., and the first Muslim to give the opening prayer before the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991, will be guest speaker at the group’s April 20 dinner at the Radisson Hotel.

As an expert religious witness at the 2001 federal trial of four Muslims convicted of bombing two U.S. embassies in Africa, Wahhaj testified there is nothing in Islam that endorses killing people and was described by the prosecutor as someone whose “jihad is a real struggle to do good” for his efforts to combat drug addiction in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood.

In the same courtroom six years earlier, Wahhaj was a character witness for Sheik Abdel-Rahman, the blind Egyptian cleric convicted in 1995 of conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center in 1993 and other New York-area landmarks. At trial, Wahhaj described Abdel-Rahman, who had visited Wahhaj’s mosque in the early 1990s, as a “respected scholar” and “strong preacher of Islam,” the Wall Street Journal reported in an in-depth article on the imam published in 2003.

Before the landmarks-bombing trial got under way, then-U.S. Attorney for New York Mary Jo White wrote a letter to defense attorneys in the case identifying Wahhaj as among about 170 people as “unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators,” the Wall Street Journal reported. Wahhaj was never charged; White offered no further comment, the newspaper reported.

“That is kind of a meaningless, but indefensible, slander,” Dartmouth College profession of religion Kevin A. Reinhart said of Wahhaj’s name being included on the list.


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