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First Muslim Invocation in Congress

Date: 1991 

On June 25, 1991, Siraj Wahhaj became the first Muslim to pray before a session of the U.S. Congress. Imam Wahhaj offered a prayer in the House of Representatives. The next year, the Senate followed suit by inviting W. D. Mohammed to open a session of the upper body with prayer. The tradition of offering prayer at the opening of Congressional sessions traces its roots to the Continental Congress, which in 1774 decided, after heated debate, to begin its meetings with a prayer. The House of Representatives, which was formed in 1789, continued the tradition, generally employing a Protestant Christian chaplain for the task. By the late 20th and early 21st centuries, however, representatives of all world religions, including Judaism, Hinduism, and Islam, were invited to give the prayer. Siraj Wahhaj, an African-American Sunni Muslim leader from Brooklyn, New York, was suggested by the American Muslim Council, an immigrant-led organization, as the first Muslim. His prayer drew mainly from the words of the first sura, or chapter, of the Qur'an entitled al-Fatiha, or the Opening though it incorporates a few phrases from other Qur'anic verses and Wahhaj himself. He was welcomed to the House by Nick Jo Rahall, an Arab-American Christian Congressman from West Virginia.

 

First Muslim Invocation in Congress (1991)



Siraj Wahhaj



From: Congressional Record (House), vol. 137, no. 99, 102d Congress 1st Session, June 25, 1991, H4947.



Imam Siraj Wahhaj, member, American Muslim Council, Washington, DC, offered the following prayer:

In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful:
Praise belongs to Thee alone, Oh God, Lord, and Creator of all the worlds;

Praise belongs to Thee who shaped us and colored us in the wombs of our mothers; colored us black and white, brown, red, and yellow;

Praise belongs to Thee, who created us from males and females and made us into nations and tribes that we may know each other;

Most gracious, most merciful, all knowing, all wise, just God;

Master of the day of judgment, Thee alone do we worship and from Thee alone do we seek help;

Guide the leaders of this Nation, who have been given a great responsibility in worldly affairs, guide them and grant them righteousness and wisdom;

Guide them and us on the straight path, the path of those whom Thou hast bestowed Thy favors, the path of Your inspired servants, the path of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad;

Guide them and us not on the path of the disobedient ones who have earned Your wrath and displeasure. Amen.

* * *

Mr. RAHALL. Mr. Speaker, it is an honor for me to welcome to the House Chamber as guest chaplain, the Imam of Masjid al-Taqwa, Siraj Wahhaj, of Brooklyn, NY.

He is the first Muslim leader to work in cooperation with the New York City Police Department, and he is nationally known for his leadership in establishing a drug-free zone in his drug-laden neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn. Siraj Wahaj works well within the community in which he was born, and where he has lived for 41 years.

Siraj Wahhaj's leadership extends far beyond his local community. In addition to being a member of the Masjid al-Shura, the consultative committee of New York City, he serves on the advisory board of the Islamic Society of North America, and is a member of the board of directors of the American Muslim Council in Washington, DC.

Siraj Wahhaj was one of the first Muslims to address Christians from the pulpit. His weekly radio program on WWRL-AM is popular with non-Muslims as well as with Muslims.

As he prayed for the Members of this body today, and the people we represent, I know his words entered the minds and will remain in the hearts of all those within the sound of his voice and the reading of his words.

 

Text Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):

Yuskaev, Timur. "First Muslim Invocation in Congress." In Curtis, Edward E., IV, ed. Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2010. African-American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE01&iPin=EMAHD0048&SingleRecord=True (accessed July 22, 2014).

Primary Source Citation (Chicago Manual of Style format):

Wahhaj, Siraj. "First Muslim Invocation in Congress." Congressional Record (House), vol. 137, no. 99, 102d Congress 1st Session, June 25, 1991, H4947. African-American History Online. Facts On File, Inc. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?
ItemID=WE01&iPin=EMAHD0048&SingleRecord=True (accessed July 22, 2014).

Other Citation Formats:

Modern Language Association (MLA) Format
American Psychological Association (APA) Format

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