Dr. Sulayman Nyang: Philosopher, Sage and Teacher

By Muhammad Fraser-Rahim

OH, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!

Rupyard Kipling

As a I sit here writing about Dr. Sulayman S. Nyang in his hospital room in Washington, DC as he recovers from a recent stroke, I am reminded of the timeless words that Dr. Nyang has said to me on numerous occasions encouraging myself, and thousands of others (perhaps more) to understand the interconnectedness as human beings, citizens of the world and people of African descent. As you may have heard by now, Dr. Nyang recently suffered a stroke, one of many over the years, but in no way diminishing his continued resolve, and yet again he is rebounding and recovering strong, showing signs of amazing progress, despite all odds and truly having faith in the transcendental other as he would call it, for giving him countless blessings and being the greatest movie maker of us all.


Dr. Sulayman Nyang (c) Aadhil Shiraz

Like those thousands of other students of diverse religious, cultural and academic experience, I too have had a personal relationship with the “sage” as many of us call him. I first met Dr. Nyang when I was 8 years old in my hometown of Charleston, SC where I grew up and we stayed in touch as pen pals up until I was ready for college. After finishing undergraduate, and preparing for graduate school it was not Harvard, Yale, Oxford or Cambridge as the leading contenders or strong options for me to attend with my interest in Islamic and Africana studies, but instead Howard under the tutelage of Dr. Nyang. Like so many others, we decided to study with the de facto “Shaykul-Islam” of Islamic and African Studies and to find the deep meaning of life, purpose and at the same time receive a proper academic training in our doctoral studies. Myself and countless others are no exception in deciding that we would devote our attention and all of our personal and academic time meeting with Dr. Nyang at coffee shops, in hotels, at this home or wherever he was. In fact, we were and still are in fact disciples of Dr. Nyang’s work and intellectual legacy in which we see the huge shoes to fill and to carry on his legacy as he recovers. What Dr. Nyang means in his humility, his almost photographic memory and kindness is in fact the extension of a father, friend and teacher. Part of the historical legacy for many who have been exposed to an African/African American or Muslim aunt or uncle is his love and timeless patience.

It is that sentiment in which we continue to move forward our philosopher, our teacher, our sage and continue his legacy along. At present, we have established the Dr. Sulayman Nyang Foundation which will immortalize his work 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.  The Foundation is a bridge building institution that seeks to nurture the human intellect of all individuals, regardless of their social status, religion or worldview, and seek to keep alive the continued use of positive and uplifting ideas to our “mental furniture” in the words of Dr. Nyang. This foundation will keep alive his intellectual brain trust in the areas of Islam, Africa, Philosophy and U.S. history and seek to make the necessary connections to societal thought, art and civilization.


Dr. Sulayman Nyang with Usama Canon (c) Aadhil Shiraz

Lastly, the establishment of a foundation of this kind will aide in the following:
1) The identification of a building/office space to serve as the intellectual hub of engagement amongst students, scholars and others in the tradition of Dr. Nyang;
3) Establishment of a Scholarship Fund for students at Howard in the field of Africa, History and Religion;
4) Working in concert with graduate students and academics in assisting in journal publications in the areas of specialization of Dr. Nyang;
5) Working toward an endowed Chair position titled, Dr. Sulayman Nyang Chair of African and Islamic Thought;

To support his foundation –

For those unfamiliar with Dr.Sulayman S. Nyang:

Dr. Sulayman S. Nyang, recently retired from Howard this year as professor and former chairman of the African Studies Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He joined the faculty of the African Studies Department at Howard University, shortly after obtaining his Ph.D. in Government in 1974 from University of Virginia. Originally from the Republic of the Gambia in West Africa, Dr. Nyang’s career in academia, local, national and international service and activism spans 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 prodigious corpus of publications on Islam, African political, cultural, social and development affairs include 11 books and more than 70 articles and monographs, such as: Islam in the United States of America (1999); A Line in the Sand: Saudi Arabia’s Role in the Gulf War, co-authored with Evan Hendricks (1995); Religious Plurality in Africa: Essays in Honor of John S. Mbiti, co-authored with Jacob Olupona (1993); Islam: Its Relevance Today, co-edited with Henry Thompson (1990); Islam, Christianity and African Identi-ty (1984); Reflections on the Human Condition (1984); Ali A. Mazrui: The Man and His Works (1981). Since 2001, Nyang has been a regular contributor to the Washington Post’s “On Faith” online forum where he has written many articles and thinks and opinion pieces. One of the most significant being apiece entitled, ‘What Near Death Taught Me About Life’, a reflection on his miraculous recovery from a serious cardiac arrest on May 31 2004. Embracing new technologies of knowledge dissemination, Nyang has authored many audio and visual recordings on various subjects, and made them available from sources, such as Islamondemand, YouTube and iTunes.

muhammad_yarrow (1)Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is a Ph.D candidate at Howard University in African Studies with a focus on Islamic Thought, Spirituality and Modernity. His dissertation research focusing on Islamic Intellectual history in America and across the globe infusing original Arabic sources under his translation, and is leading the way on a seminal study on the 21st century Islamic revivalist, Imam WD Mohammed.


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  • Thank you so much for this blog and for sharing your thoughts and experiences with Dr. Nyang. I, like hundreds of others, was his student and I can honestly say that I probably would not have gone on to complete a Ph.D. without his support and encouragement. He is truly a scholar, a mentor, and a friend of whomever had the honor and privilege to be his student. African Studies at Howard is because of the hard work and dedication performed by Dr. Nyang and his colleagues.

  • Thank you so much for the work you are doing to ensure the legacy of my dear friend and mentor Dr. Nyang. For over 25 years I’ve been on staff at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and throughout the years Dr. Nyang has been a steady source of love and support. In fact insisting that we carry on the work and make sure our time as Muslims in this part of the world is known and respected. Undaunted by any challenges, whenever you met him you were greeted with that all embracing smile, those dancing eyes encouraging you, even daring you to go ahead and do it! Please call on me for any assistance, it would be an honor.

  • I am really sorry to hear of Dr. Sulayman Nyang’s health condition. I pray that Allah ta`ala makes verything he is going through as an atonement and a means for raising his spiritual rank with Him. Thanks for the post.

  • This peace is timely. The work of my big Brother Doctor Nyang will ever be remembered. I missed him. I talk about him.

  • I pray he is healing and doing well. Often I Google his name to try to see any updated information on him. He always encouraged me by reading my blogs on Facebook and commenting. I keep him in my prayers.

  • Tribute to Professor Sulayman Nyang

    You graced my family with your friendship
    For over 40 years,
    Godfather to our daughter Sena,
    So many stimulating discussions
    At our home during Thanksgiving,
    Christmas, Easter, you always came.

    If one word assesses your life’s work
    It is “Impact” – for the lives you influenced,
    The ideas you espoused for Africa and the diaspora,
    Your progressive and positive voice of Islam in the World,
    As Councilor to Presidents on Islam and Middle Eastern affairs,
    Most of all your students that carry your loving spirit
    That will be passed on for generations.

    It is such a travesty that your dream –
    An intellectual center-of-excellence in The Gambia
    Serving all of Africa – a “Think Tank” that
    We discussed as an endeavor of your retirement
    Will not be fulfilled – but perhaps your intellectual progeny
    Will see it done.

    My brother, my best friend, my wife and I will so miss
    Lunches at the Tasty Diner, reveling in the
    Bell-ringing clarity of your theses
    And basking in the marvels of your intellect.

    Graham K. Hubler, Ph.D.

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