They are middle-class, many with college backgrounds, living in the affluent Northwest Washington neighborhood of Shepherd Park and quintessentially suburban Wheaton.

The drive taxicabs, operate shops and work at a District of Columbia hospital, and they are devoted to their families, to their religion and to their spiritual leader.

By their own description, they are Hanafi (Orthodox) Muslims, and their leader is Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, the 54-year-old man born Ernest Timothy McGhee.

Since Wednesday, Khaalis and some of his followers have held scores of persons hostages at three Washington buildings, threatening violent retribution that he asserts is his holy right for the mass murder four years ago of seven members of his immediate family.

Khaalis' Hanafis are not prison-seasoned street "duties" with visions of revolutionary glory. They are not soldiers of fortune seeking large ransoms in return for their hostages nor are they political extremists demanding a safe haven in a foreign land.

They are American-born converts to a brand of Islam not fully recognized or integrated with Washington's large foreign-born Moslem community. But they say they have deep conviction drawn from the Holy Koran, from which they draw scriptural support for their actions.

"Allah permits Muslims aggressed against . . . to take retribution," Khaalis asserted yesterday in a television interview. "Allah orders it in the Koran. Retribution is allowed when you are fighting in a war. We are fighting in a war. In a war, innocent civilians are killed . . . Allah says there is no justice without the sword."

From inside the large Hananfi house at 7700 16th St. NW yesterday, Amina Khaalis, the leader's daughter and a survivor of the 1973 massacre, told a phone interview, "We obey the laws of the country. As long as it doesn't contradict with our Muslim law. Muslim law comes first."

And from Abdul Aziz, the 35-year-old husband of Amina Khaalis talking to reporters outside the Hanafi House: "Allah tells you that by the way of the Holy Koran, when you are persecuted, you retaliable . . . It's a war against . . . the enemies of Islam.

Khaalis, the leader, was born in Gary, Ind. of devout Seventh Day Adventists who had emigrated from Alabama farm country. He graduated 22d in a class of 135 at Gary's Roosevelt High School, where he also excelled as a musician playing percussion instruments. By 1950 he had become a professional jazz drummer in New York City.

His spiritual path took him from his family's faith to Roman Catholicism to the Nation of Islam, in which he became a top official under black Muslim leader Elijah Muhammed. He also was close the Malcolm X and has publicy taken credit for the slain Martyr's break with the Black Muslims.

After Khaalis broke with the Black Muslims, he ran a Urban League program in New York City providing alternative education to public school dropouts. He left in 1970 when funds for the program ran out, a league spokesman said yesterday.

Khaalis and his family settled in Washington, where basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also a Hanafi beliver, purchased the tudor mansion for the Hanafi group in 1972. Jabbar and his family live in the same neightborhood and maintain close ties to the Hanafi group.

Khaalis' continued disdain for the Black Muslim faith he had left was expressed publicly in December, 1972, letters he wrote to Black Muslim ministers. Less than a month later, seven Hanafis ranging in age from 9 days to 25 years were dead, a crime for which five Philadelphia Black Muslims later were convicted.

A continuing investigation into the crime failed to produce additional indictments in an alleged wider conspiracy, and two of the original defendants were not convicted.

At the time of the mass slayings, the Washington Hanafis loyal to Khaalis were said to number around 100. One informed estimate yesterday, put the current figure at upwards of 300.

Dr. Clifford Booker, a neighbor and pediatrician to about a dozen Hanafi families in the area, yesterday said that they worship together at the 16th Street house and are upstanding human beings "I know and love."

"My impression of them is the act of violence in a nondirected fashion is incomprehensible," he said. "It just does not fit within (their) personality structure . . . They all seem to assume their responsibilities and are quite honorable."

Aziz Khaalis' son-in-law is a jewelry store owner and craftsman. A native of New York, he atteneded Howard University from 1961 to 1963, where he said he studied history and government. Aziz said he did not graduate from Howard, but did graduate from one of three other universities he attended.

During his youth, Aziz said he labored with a number of philosophical questions. "I wanted to know why all men can't be brothers," he said yesterday. "How come they can't rule by intelligence, respect and understanding?"

Before he embraced the Muslim faith, Aziz was known as Jan Triggs. According to facts revealed in the 1973 murder trial, Aziz was convicted in the 1960s of attempted bank robbery and marijuana possession.

Aziz' life apparently reformed after he embraced the Muslim faith around 1966.

But since January, 1973, according to several accounts, the Hanafis have been under an extreme strain, in fear for their lives and required to repeatedly relive the massacre horrors in the repeated trials.

Aziz described life before the current situation as "living like prisoners." In a sense that many observers might find difficult to comprehend, Aziz said the entire group now has been liberated by its vengeful actions.

Last week, Khaalis paid a surprise visit to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Penison Building, according to sources. He was asked if anybody could help and answered, cryptically, "No, I got what I want."

Tuesday evening, Aziz and a co-worker closed the Georgetown jewelry store of which Aziz is the principal proprietor. "Most of the time," said a fellow shopkeeper in the small lower Wisconsin Avenue mall, "they just wave goodbye. But on Tuesday, they made the point of coming in to say goodbye."

Wednesday morning, as Amina Khaalis described it yesterday in the telephone interview with The Post those in the Hanafi house said goodbye to Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. "Everyone," she said. "The whole family. We were all there."

It was no secret, she said, that her father would seek retribution. "All the Muslims knew it. Everyone knew it," she said. "They all know Hamaas was going to fight, the detectives, everyone. When the police come by, he tells them. He said, "I'm going to be fighting and we'll be on opposite sides of the fence because you're police. You'll have to carry out the laws."

She praised the police and the prosecutors. "The police, they went out . . . they left their families, they went to Philadelphia, worked undercover, brought the killers back and they gave us protection during the [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]

The presiding judge, Leonard Braman, was "a different story," she said. He threw Hamaas Abdul Khaalis out of court, she said. "He said that Hamaas was too emotional . . . He found all the bodies . . ."

Now, her father himself faces death, she acknowledged. "It's not (just) Hamaas, it's the whole family that's involved. We're all involved," she said.

"And we're ready to fight to the death also, in this house," she said. "And if it means us fighting to the death also, so be it. Babies and all."