It took just a few minutes Thursday for the men to lower Abdul-Ghani Wahhaj’s small body, wrapped in white cloth, into the ground and bury him.
They used garden shovels to drop red clay under the pounding sun at a graveyard behind a mosque on the southside of Atlanta. Two little boys watched silently, holding hands, not far from the mother of the child who was being covered in the earth. She said her thoughts bounded between grief, thankfulness for the people supporting her and comfort in the thought that, one day, as the imam had just said, she would meet her son again in paradise.
Abdul-Ghani died earlier this year on a secluded desert compound in northern New Mexico set up by his father, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, 40. He has been accused of teaching children there to commit violence in the name of Islam. His lawyer has denied the allegations, saying he’s misunderstood because he’s black and Muslim.
Prosecutors believe the child may have died because, rather than given him seizure medicine, the dad performed rituals to rid him of evil spirits.
It was a tragic end to a life of struggle. In his very first moments of life, oxygen was slow getting to his brain, which caused brain damage and hampered his health: seizures, cognitive and developmental delays.
Mother Hakima Ramzi, according to family, doted over him and took him as he was.
“I have met no one more loving to Abdul-Ghani than Hakima,” the child’s grandfather, the famous imam also named Siraj Wahhaj, said during the funeral at Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, looking toward the mother. “But Hakima, as much as you love Abdul-Ghani, Allah loves him more.”
The child’s father, by some accounts, tried to fix Abdul-Ghani. Before Wahhaj went into the desert with several adult relatives and 12 of their children around December, at least one friend heard the man speaking of trying to rid the child of a “curse.”
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj then told his wife, Ramzi, he was going to a Clayton County park with Abdul-Ghani and never returned.
Authorities looking for the child raided the compound on Aug. 3, arresting the adults on child cruelty charges and taking custody of the 11 children found living there in filth. From some of the kids, police say they learned Abdul-Ghani spit up during the rituals, which involved the dad reading from the Quran and placing a hand on the boy’s head. The children reported Abdul-Ghani finally stopped breathing during one of them.
His body was wrapped in a sheet and placed in a tunnel.
Siraj Ibn Wahhaj’s Islamic wife, Jany Leveille, believed the boy would soon resurrect as Jesus, her brother told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Authorities have said Leveille also believed the boy would tell the group which “corrupt institutions” to eliminate, though attorneys and her brother dispute that.
The brother, Von Chelet Leveille, who said he spoke with his sister every day from his home in Haiti, recalled that the group left the body in the cave for months, waiting for him to come back.
Instead, authorities found the body on Aug. 6, which was supposed to be his 4th birthday.
So here his body lay, covered by one shovel-full at a time, and here were well-wishers pursued by gnats, coming to dump fistfuls of dirt to honor the boy. Here his mother stood, thanking the other mourners, but with her eyes red and one tear teetering above her eyelashes, threatening to fall, threatening to multiply.
“I know my baby is in a high place,” she told the AJC. “So I feel peace in my heart.”
Because she’d come closer to Allah in all this. She’d also heard what the imam had said earlier at the mosque: that if she could hear Abdul-Ghani right now he’d be saying he was OK, that no one who goes to paradise wants to come back.