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Dr. Sulayman Nyang (1944-2018): Dean of Islamic Thought in America and Intellectual

By Muslim New Magazine
Judge Halim Dhanidina

LOS ANGELES,CA, ( 11/9/18) — Last week, our friend, Dr. Sulayman Nyang passed away after battling a long illness.

Dr. Sulayman Nyang is one of the most influential Muslim American academics who has been a pioneer in developing and adding to the understanding of Islam in the United States, Africa, and the broader Middle East. He transcended the role of academic professor, public intellectual and traditional Islamic teacher, all while being a genuine and down to earth person.

Dr. Sulayman S. Nyang worked at Howard University in Washington, DC until last year when he retired from Howard as a professor and former chairman of the African Studies Department. Dr. Nyang’s career in academia, local, national and international service and activism spanned more than 37 years.

At Howard University, he has been responsible for designing, developing and teaching courses on various topics in African and Diaspora Studies, particularly Islam, politics and philosophy. He has mentored and supervised the work of more than 200 graduate students and many more undergraduates, both at Howard University and other institutions of higher learning outside the US.

His numerous publications on Islamic thought, African Islam, African American Islam, African political affairs along with Middle Eastern and international affairs topics has made him one of the formidable experts in his areas of expertise, both domestically and internationally. This role as a scholar also includes 11 books and more than 70 articles and monographs.

Dr. Nyang was a champion of the African American Islamic experience, and up until recently, before he became ill, he was a regular staple at the annual conventions of African American Islamic communities. Dr. Nyang on numerous occasions told his students in formal and informal settings that stories are critical and must be preserved to document the essential contributions in the time they are living. In his words, “ we must always move from being footnotes and move to the main text.” This mantra often used by Dr. Nyang is one of those famous sayings that any student of his would be familiar with, and an important statement in his encouragement for preserving the African American Islamic experience and other stories in history. 

Dr. Nyang’s tradition of spreading the message of religious pluralism, cross-cultural understanding and the preservation of sacred knowledge from Africa, the Middle East and around the world was vital to his life mission. Through his pursuits and students, he has produced around the globe; he has cultivated a tradition for preserving the reflective and thoughtful intellect of all individuals, regardless of their social status, religion or worldview.

Dr. Nyang has sought to keep alive the continued use of positive and uplifting ideas to our “mental furniture,” to use his own words. By preserving this global view, we all can keep alive the tradition of our friend, Dr. Nyang and carry his body of knowledge along in the future.