Yesterday we laid in the ground the physical body of one of the most influential American Muslims of our time. Prof. Sulayman Nyang, for many years the head of the Dept. of African Studies at Howard University, was a member of the Minaret of Freedom Institute Board of Advisers for almost its entire history. He was a force in the Muslim community in America and his passing constitutes the loss of a scholar, a teacher, and an inspiration.
For us at the Minaret of Freedom Institute, we will miss his enthusiasm. When other Sunni Muslims tried to discourage us from the unprecedented inclusion of the general public at American University in 2007 for a discussion of Sunni-Shi’a relations on the grounds that it “would only make things worse” Prof. Nyang enthusiastically jumped into the program which was such a success that ISNA emulated it two months late. Later, when the Amman Declaration was issued declaring that there are eight schools of Islam, not just the Sunni or Shia schools, Br. Sulayman eagerly urged us “to connect the dots” from our breakthrough at American University to Detroit to Amman.
“Connect the dots” became a persistent theme for Sulayman as he urged us all to put all the little pieces of the events happening around us into the big picture. He did this with a deep knowledge of history, a pastoral appreciation for the human spirit, an activist’s commitment to fairness and justice, and a refreshing sense of humor. When we published Islam and the Discovery of Freedom he urged me to consider writing a paper on “How to Be an Entrepreneur Without Being White.”
A man of immense energy, Sulayman not only supported the Minaret of Freedom Institute, but served on the boards of the African Studies Association, the American Council for the Study of Islamic Societies, America’s Islamic Heritage Museum, and the Association of Muslim Social Scientists. Despite his ill health in recent years he continued to show up at events urging us to connect the dots.
As I observed the galaxy of Muslim intellectuals, activists and community leaders at the funeral, I considered how every one must have been touched by Sulayman Nyang’s erudition, insights, and integrity. We are the dots connected by Sulayman’s great life. His spirit lives on.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute