Category: History


Islamic Education: Reclaiming Our West African Islamic Legacy

In a recent post on her blog Hagar Lives, Dr. Jamillah Karim shares the transcript of a speech she delivered in December 2017 in Atlanta, Ga., at the 7th Annual Shaykh Hassan Cisse Ziyarah, an annual event commemorating the life and work of the late, renowned Senegalese Islamic scholar and humanitarian. Her speech explored the relationship and some similarities between the work of Shaykh Hassan Cisse and Imam Warith Deen Mohammed (may Allah shower His mercy upon them both) focusing particularly on their efforts to provide transformative education to Black American Muslim youth. Her talk highlighted two institutions created by Imam WD Mohammed and Shaykh Hassan Cisse. First, Imam WD Mohammed established the Sister Clara Muhammad Schools, the largest network of Islamic schools in the United States, after he assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam in 1975. Second, Shaykh Hassan Cisse founded the African American Islamic Institute (AAII) Qur’an School during the 1980s, which gave hundreds of Black American children the opportunity to study alongside students from around the African continent at a traditional Qur’an school in Senegal.

Dr. Karim’s talk provides some of the history of both institutions, and contextualizes the historical connection between these two men. Shaykh Hassan Cisse first travelled to America in 1976, just one year after Imam WD Mohammed was elected to lead the Nation of Islam, and the two ultimately built a relationship based on mutual respect and support. Two themes from her talk are particularly salient. Dr. Karim emphasizes the central role that Black women played in building both of these important institutions. She recounts Imam WD Mohammed’s changing the name of the Nation of Islam’s school, the University of Islam, to Sister Clara Muhammad School to honor the legacy of his mother, “without whom there would not have been a Nation of Islam.”

Imam Mohammed Shaykh Hassan

Imam Warith Deen Mohammad with Shaykh Hassan Cisse

Dr. Karim further explains how Sister Clara Muhammad introduced her husband, Elijah Muhammad, to the teachings of Fard Muhammad in 1930.

Clara Muhammad first learned of Fard Muhammad’s teachings from another woman. Sister Clara once recounted, “My girlfriend told me there’s a man who’s saying some things about our people. We once dressed in long flowing cloth and we were royal. We were not Christians. We were Muslims.”

This idea, passed on through women, that we were once a great Muslim people gave birth to the Nation of Islam. The Nation of Islam gave birth to Sister Clara Muhammad School.


Sister Clara Muhammad

Later, Dr. Karim highlights the central role that women played in the creation of the AAII Qur’an school as well.

Like the case of Sister Clara Muhammad, an African American woman stood at the center of this historic moment. Sister Kareemah Abdul-Kareem, from New York City, managed the home where American students lived while attending the Qur’an school in the 1980s and ‘90s. Called the Yellow House, the residence provided American students a home away from home and a community mother who supported them.

Kareemah Abdul-Kareem,in Senegal, 1983.

Kareeemah Abdul-Kareem (in white khimar) joined by daughter Aminah, friend A’aliyah Abdul-Karim, A’aliyah’s daughter Majida, other American students, and local hosts in Senegal 1983. Photo courtesy of Majida Abdul-Karim

The second noteworthy theme is the impact that Sister Clara Muhammad Schools and AAII had in helping Black Muslim children in America forge a strong Black identity firmly rooted in self-love to combat a white supremacist society that devalues both Blackness and Africanness, especially African Islamic scholarship. Dr. Karim states.

The Nation of Islam not only taught my parents to love their African features, but it provided them the institution, Sister Clara Muhammad School, to ensure that their children would be educated enough and loved enough to never question their beauty. But more importantly an institution, that at its best, would beautify our hearts with the Qur’an.

And this is what Shaykh Hassan gave us. He gave our parents a Qur’an school in his home of Senegal, but for us. And he made it clear that it was for us by calling it the African American Islamic Institute.

Read the entire transcription of Dr. Jamillah Karim’s speech on her blog Hagar Lives.

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Jamillah Karim is an award-winning author, speaker and blogger. Jamillah specializes in race, gender and Islam in America. She is author of American Muslim Women and co-author of Women of the Nation: Between Black Protest and Sunni Islam. Dr. Karim is a former associate professor of Islam at Spelman College and holds a doctorate in Islamic Studies from Duke University. In 2014, she was highlighted as a young faith leader in the African American community by JET magazine.


Bayyinah Sharrieff: African American Traveler, University of Khartoum Student, Nation of Islam Leader

by Sylvester A. Johnson and Edward E. Curtis IV from The Journal of Africana Religions, vol. 5, no. 1. Reposted with the permission of the editors.

This month we are reposting three articles written by Bayyinah Sharrieff, a remarkable convert to the Nation of Islam, for Muhammad Speaks newspaper. These articles represent a concise cross-section of the understanding of race, religion, and gender Sharrieff developed during her residence in Sudan. They are part of a wide number of provocative articles she published during the late 1960s that we would encourage readers to further explore. We have provided the articles with excerpts from the journal editors’ excellent biographical introduction of the author.

“Bayyinah Sharrieff is a significant, but largely unknown figure for the study of Africana religions in the twentieth century. Below we reprint [some] of her columns from Muhammad Speaks, the Nation of Islam newspaper whose circulation was at least seventy thousand and perhaps over one hundred thousand papers per week. These rare documents at once tell us about the experience of an African American female undergraduate dealing with culture shock in a foreign country and also illustrate the popular orientation of African Americans toward Islam and Islamic lands as resources in a postwar Afro-Asian struggle against racism and colonialism.

Sharrieff served as a captain of Muslim Girls Training, the women’s auxiliary of the Nation of Islam charged with religious education, home economics training, fundraising, self-defense, and group discipline. Beyond this, new research is needed to identify her background before joining the Nation of Islam and her activities after the period discussed in the columns below.

Sharrieff … spent significant time living with Muslims in a Muslim-majority country. As such, she is an important point of comparison to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, or Malcolm X. Both identified Sudan as an example of a fully Black and fully Arab society that established the complementary nature of Arab and Black identity. Sudan proved that anti-Black racism was not an uncontested phenomenon among Arabic-speaking people.

But Sharrieff’s journey to Muslim Africa led to a different religious affiliation than Shabazz’s sojourn abroad: for her, Muslim Africa was a necessary stop on the way toward, rather than away from, the Nation of Islam. Bayyinah Sharrieff became a member of the Nation of Islam only after having spent twenty-two months in Khartoum. Sharrieff’s example proves that some African American Muslims in the 1960s did not suddenly convert to Sunni Islam once they had been exposed to what Malcolm X referred to as ‘orthodox Islam.’ Her knowledge about Sunni Islam is abundantly clear in an explanation of salat, or prescribed prayers, and in her references to Islamic legal guidelines on the male-female relationships in Sudanese culture, among other places. Sharrieff illustrates the idea that Nation of Islam members considered themselves to be real Muslims who were following a legitimate Muslim prophet in the person of Elijah Muhammad.

Sharrieff’s writings also lend credence to the conclusions of several Nation of Islam scholars that, though the movement was patriarchal in nature, women’s intellectual life was valued and encouraged. Islam was seen as the socially conservative but politically radical vehicle of a specifically gendered liberation for both Black men and Black women. Like other female columnists in U.S. newspapers of the era, Sharief focused on women’s issues, which were interpreted through the lens of a middle-class respectability and the cult of domesticity.

Beyond the importance of these documents to the transnational study of Africana religions, especially African American religious engagements with Africa and the Muslim world during the 1960s, Bayyinah Sharrieff’s writings will be of interest to students of travel, higher education, and cultural exchange. Her analysis of the encounter with Sudanese culture through the lens of Elijah Muhammad’s theology may be unique–at the least, it is most certainly rare.”

“Black Woman Who Came Home To Islam Discovered Muhammad While Abroad,” Muhammad Speaks, May 19, 1967, 10-11.

My slave name is Christine Wilson. I have traveled widely in Europe including Greece, Italy, France, Denmark, and Sweden passing through Germany, Switzerland, and Luxembourg. I have spent 22 months in the Republic of Sudan, where I have been a student at the University of Khartoum for the same length of time. In Paris, France, I studied French six months at the Alliance-Francaise.

I have also traveled extensively in the United Arab Republic. I became acquainted with a Muslim family (followers of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad) in Paris. After hearing some of the teachings and reading The Message to the Black Man in America [1965], I cancelled my plans (studying in France until June, 1967, then going to Tanzania, East Africa, where I have been offered a scholarship to study at the University College) and returned to America March 29, 1967.

I have returned to that point from which I came, only in a different plain. The only plain for the righteous, Islam, under the teachings of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. I was alone, proud, yet shocked, I seemed to be within a vacuum. I was not conscious of my breathing. Suddenly a fresh gust of air seemed to penetrate the existing vacuum, I inhaled a fresh breath of life, I felt a new birth. Power was gaining momentum from within, and a new strength was rising within me.

A devil had just left me after confessing the cruelties and injustices that his white people have committed to my Black brethren. With tears in his eyes he made his confession, apologized for his people, and asked for my forgiveness for their wrong deeds.

Where was I . . . Bjorko, Southern Sweden. Why was I there? . . . to attend an International Students study-work camp on Race Relations. This conference was one of a number of such student conferences held in Europe, Asia, and Africa by the World University Service, in collaboration with a local student organization of similar purposes.

We were students of ten countries: England, Germany, Finland, France, Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Sweden and the U.S.A. We lived in the midst of an Emmus camp. The thirty-some Emmus members collected and packaged clothes for shipping to Tanzania, Africa and Peru, South America. Part of our time was devoted to assisting the Emmus camp, but the majority of our time was for the study and discussion of, the conference.

I was the Black representative. After defining terms related to our subject, a brief synopsis was given by each representative of the types of racial discrimination existing in their countries. I was surprised to learn that white discriminate white.

Up until that time I had not singled out one caucasian from another caucasian, they were all white. I learned that Germans discriminate against the Italians, the Swiss discriminate against the Italians. (In both cases the Italians migrated to the north for employment which falls in the categories of construction and menial labor.)

The French discriminate the Spanish, the Algerians, and the Italians. The Dutch discriminate the Germans. Regardless of the discriminations lying within their bleached societies, the conference focused its attention on the Black-white “problem” within the U.S. and South Africa. Of these two countries more time was devoted to the U.S. for this country has the largest number of minority protest groups in the world.

“I told them that they could not criticize a person who wished to clean his people and to have them to detach themselves from the devil.”

One evening when the agenda contained groups listed under “Black Power,” a student asked me to state briefly what the Muslim movement in America wanted and why was their leader the Honorable Elijah Muhammad taking the approach he was by declaring all white men to be devils, and by nature evil. At that time I did not know that we Blacks are by nature Muslims, nor was I a follower of our Dear Apostle the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. But I have always tried to be a rational person.

I had had 22 months of exposure to an Islamic society in the Sudan, and had seen some issues of Muhammad Speaks, and had read some reviews of what critics had to say of the Honorable Messenger. So I gave a brief outline of the Messenger’s publicized program . . . joining on to own kind, recognizing one another as brothers, and throwing off the indecencies of the white devil’s society . . . such as drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking and committing adultery, to work for self, and kind to be clean, and eat the proper [diet.]

I told them that they could not criticize a person who wished to clean his people and to have them to detach themselves from the devil. I had gotten angry because these ill-informed students tried to point out to me that Rev. Martin L. King was doing all this for Black people in a peaceful way, not advocating violence. I informed them that the “Muslims” weren’t advocating violence either, and then I was attacked about the term “white devil,” how could the Muslims use this term?

By this time I had them all flared up so I asked them to define a devil, what are the characteristics attributed to the devil? How does one recognize the Devil? After they had defined the devil, they realized that they had defined their own kind. We were enslaved by the White Man, forced to work by them for them, kicked, cheated, and abused and led astray by them for 400 years.

Who else could we define as the evil agents? Who else has committed all of the crimes of injustices upon our Black people, but the white man? and I did not limit my comments to the U.S.A. alone, but cited incidents in England, Africa, and India. They were silent, they had confessed their own guilts. They seemed sick to their stomachs, and I rejoiced in causing them discomfort. Our discussion for that evening was over. They did not defy me again.


The University of Khartoum

“Says Messenger’s Teaching Can Correct Confusion of Identity for Black Women,” Muhammad Speaks, September 1, 1967, 17-18.

Through the spread and influence of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s teachings of the black man’s history, pride of the black man’s color and features has grown largely, within the past seven years, among our Black people.

I have noticed upon my return to America the large lumber of black women wearing the so-called natural hair style, (hair which is not straightened and is left naturally curly) cut short, in a style similar to that of Miriam Makeba.

These black women, I believe, want to be proud of their color and African heritage. Perhaps it is the fact that the trend among the black nationalist, and so-called black intelligentsia here in America, that she wears her hair in this style.

It is quite obvious that the black woman is searching for her identity, but it seems as if Africa is not enough with which to identify herself. If we look at her we see her hair and skin color is that of the black continent, Africa. The short-”mini jubes”-skirts, net stockings (which only used to be worn by prostitutes, loose women, and show girls), and often blue and or green eye shadow, are of France.

Her sandals are Italian. Her bangle bracelets, of Eastern fashion. Sometimes she may be seen in a long dress (modest) with long slits on the sides exposing her legs just as if she was wearing shorts. Often one may find her in a tent dress, resembling a pregnant woman.

Her fingernails have grown out, resembling claws (of the devil-Bible). I am sure that a person, let’s say a foreign visitor casting an eye at the so-called American Negro woman and seeing the confusion of two, three or more styles, standards and countries, may think her to be a bad mental case.

Do the Black women here in America, think that they are identifying themselves with Africa–modern Africa?

All African women do not wear their hair cut short. Yes, in South Africa and in some parts of East Africa one will find this style quite popular among the women, but not the modern women. In western Africa one will find that the women wrap cord around sections of their hair, parting and dividing the hair to make various designs and styles.

In the Sudan, Chad, and in parts of Ethiopia the women wear their hair in fine strands of braids, which are made closely to the head. The hair is braided or balled at the back of the head in Northern and Northeastern Africa. There are many styles of the African women’s hair, but braids and clasping the hair at the back of the head are the most common.

While I was in the Sudan I met one American black girl who was touring North East Africa. She came wearing the Afro hair style, with short dresses, high heeled shoes (which the women do not wear there) and a confused appearance much like the one I have described above.

This woman thought that she would feel and look at home in her natural hair style. In reality she would have looked more at home and natural, in the eyes of the Sudanese, if she had worn braids, or her hair twisted in a bun, or clasped in a ponytail. Braids would have been the best style, if she was seeking identity with the inhabitants of North-east Africa.

One should review the history and customs of a country before visiting it. This woman expected to see the loose life that she had seen the African students living in America. She felt very much out of place. It is not wrong to identify ourselves with Africa. We know that we were brought to America by our African grandparents. We are brothers to the Blacks in Africa. But we should not take on the appearance of that which we do not understand, and that which might represent an underdeveloped culture.

It is quite evident that the lip service, “Black is best,” is not sufficient for our women, if it were they would not mix its representation with another. If our women would only come to us at Muhammad’s Mosque of Islam and hear the Truth as taught by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, they will learn why “Black is Best.” They will no longer just be saying it, and still searching for an identity.

The dress and appearance of a person reflects the character and habitudes of that person. When I look out on our people, especially our women, and see their confused dress, I pity them. Once they come into the Nation of Islam, they will no longer have to search for their true identity, they will know who they are.


Elijah Muhammad with his wife, Clara, and sons

“Says Devil’s Education System Prepares Blacks to Spread ‘White Superiority,’” Muhammad Speaks, March 22, 1968, 13, 19.

The old white English house mother at the University of Khartoum, Sudan, had installed in my mind that I was different from my black Sudanese sisters; that I was from a superior order of civilization, and that it would hinder and disgrace my intelligence to befriend the Sudanese.

This is, as the Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us, the successful pattern of the devil since he has been on our planet Earth: dividing brother against brother by the use of deceiving falsehoods.

Through the white man’s system of education, the Blacks of Africa and Asia are taught that they are of a superior stock of black than the Blacks in America. The white man teaches them that they never have been subjected to slavery as the Blacks of America. They are shown only pictures of American Blacks who are poor, dirty and happy in servitude.

I recall a motion picture that was shown in the Sudan in which there was a scene of a funeral for a Black woman. This funeral included a brass band, with people dancing and jumping about singing as if they were rejoicing. Some were moaning and crying.

The Blacks in the film wore bright colors. The women wore extremely short sleeveless dresses with low necklines. The Sudanese students came in large numbers questioning me about this scene. The action of the Blacks in the film contradicted the general code of ethics of Sudanese society.

My explanation was that in times of slavery, when our people were subjected to very cruel treatment by the white man, our people looked forward to dying, hoping to go to heaven and find peace of mind.

This is an example of the type of movies that the white man is showing in Africa.

All over the world the Black man who receives a university education, is educated the way the white man wants him educated.

The Honorable Elijah Muhammad teaches us that Africa was not known by that name prior to the time of Alexander the Great. Before the time of Alexander, the continent was known by the name of Asia.

The educated Blacks of Africa and Asia are educated to the way of the devil and are blind to the knowledge of themselves, much as we, the Blacks in America, were prior to the coming of Allah, in the Person of Master Fard Muhammad, to whom praises due forever.

We in America were brain-washed into believing that Africans were cannibals, wild, savage people dancing only to drum beats and practicing strange mystic ways an uncivilized people, who had to be civilized by the white man before we could consider speaking to one of them.

All over the world the Black man who receives a university education, is educated the way the white man wants him educated. Even today, the white man takes the Black man away from his natural environment, Africa, and places him on foreign soil, surrounding him with alien people of opposite color and cultures–teaching him the civilization of the white man for a period of four to five years, at which time he is considered degreed in the way of the devil.

The African then returns to his people and country with the habits of the devil’s civilization, which do not fit into his own country. He seeks Europeans in his own country with whom he feels more harmony, for he has now become addicted to the way of the devil. This is the idea of the white man who educates the African.

The so-called educated African is a made product, grafted by the devil into the European culture and is planted among his own people, to act as an agent to spread and make known the way of the white man. The Black man with the white heart is able to gather information about Blacks the white-skinned man is unable to obtain.

The Black agent, educated by the devil, spread the knowledge which he learned in Europe to his people, stressing the superiority of the European civilization.

He even helps to establish institutions to spread the teachings of the Europeans among his people. He also helps to assist and aid the Europeans to move in his country and to make his country comfortable for the European.


There Was No Black ‘Contribution’ to Islam

This month’s post is an abridged version of Shaykh Muhammad Nizami’s article, “There Was No Black ‘Contribution’ to Islam.” Here, Nizami calls us to consider how the notion that Black Muslims have made a “contribution” to Islam in fact positions them as “fringe associates rather than inherent fellows.” He demonstrates that the global history of Islam is a story that cannot exist independently of the various Black sahaba, ‘ulama, warriors and saints who make up its very existence. Historical representation often reflects current political representation in our own communities. Defending the rightful place of Black Muslims in Islamic history is therefore more than an academic issue of accuracy — it is also a matter of social justice. Nizami thus provides a fascinating account of Ibn al-Jawzi’s “Illuminating the Darkness on the Virtues of the Sudanese and the Abyssinians,” a 12th-century treatise that performs precisely this task.

This article was written originally for a British audience, but it holds important lessons for American Muslims as well. Black Muslims were the first to pray, fast and persevere in their belief in the United States. The presence of Black Muslims in this country has preserved the legacy of “fearless resistance against oppressors” of which Shaykh Nizami speaks down to the present day. Here, too, Black Muslims are often addressed as “contributors” to a history of Islam that did not truly commence until the second half of the 20th century. Bilal, radhiAllahu ‘anhu, is frequently tokenized as the Black “one-man show” who proves that Islam is an anti-racist religion. Yet, many American Muslims continue to speak of Islam, in this country and elsewhere, as something that would remain whole without Black “contributions.” Shaykh Nizami shows us both the incoherence of this position and a way toward a better representation of Islamic history.


by Muhammad Nizami

It’s bold to claim there is no such thing as a Black ‘contribution’ to Islam, and perhaps intentionally provocative, but for good reasons that I’ll point out later. Rest assured, this article certainly doesn’t mean to negate a shared Muslim story, but actually to confront the implicit way Black Muslims are often regarded as fringe associates rather than inherent fellows. To put it as a metaphor, rather than participating as co-chefs it is insinuated that they simply presented some ingredients. One way this is exhibited is by the superficial Bilalic recital that is a common feature in non-Black Muslim justifications that Islam categorically rejects racism, as if the religion itself is the contention. Condescendingly, the prejudiced remind everyone that there is solid proof that Black people have a place in Islam, and ‘he’ is Bilal ibn Rabah, effectively a one-man show. But rarely do we hear about the Prophet’s wet nurse, Umm Ayman, with whom he’d affectionately joke, debate and spend time, or Mihja’, the first believer martyred at the Battle of Badr, or Salim, the most Qur’anically well-informed apostle in early Makkah who would lead the likes of Abu Bakr and Umar in prayer, or Usama ibn Zaid, a favorite of the Prophet (hubb rasulillah) and his military general, or Julaibib, the martyr who killed seven pagans in the moments of his own demise with the Prophet declaring: “I am from him and he is from me,” or both Barirah, a close friend of A’ishah, and the comically lovesick Mugheeth repulsed by her. Bilal et al were not contributions from some nebulous Black “group” in Prophetic history but distinct and equal participants of the shared Muslim story; they made the story what it is.

The popular vernacular and mode of reference towards Black Muslims of the past imagines them as a peripheral entity, and when they are spoken of, it is usually for rhetorical purposes that neglect a meaningful engagement with how they served to shape Muslim history, instead merely pointing out their existence. It’s not lost on the many who see it for what it is: parading the “token black guy” to fend off accusations of racial prejudice. Unfortunately, many Muslims tend to have a racialized view of faith, assuming their particular ethnic group to be vanguards of the “true” Islam. Where the cultural products of some ethnicities are upheld or their cultural dominance in religious settings (even tacitly) maintained as the status quo, the diverse Black experience is either disregarded or looked upon with disdain. “Blackness” is often unwelcome.

The lazy assumption that those of the darker hue (the superficial marker that tends to lead to prejudice) have not made up a significant collective of believers or a distinct Islamic community supports the inaccurate idea that [Black] people cannot be intrinsic to the Islam we practice today.

Ironically, many of those who assume some sense of supremacy in their cultural religious understandings are not only oblivious that Africa had monotheism long before their part of the world, but that Black scholars from the African subcontinent and Arabia have had a profound impact on general Islamic scholarship, not to mention fearless resistance against oppressors. In the history of the Abrahamic religious tradition, Joseph entered into Egypt, the Hebrews settled there developing their traditions until the age of Moses. After the destruction of Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, it is reported that some of the Children of Israel fled to Africa. Many exegetes citing Ali ibn Abi Talib suggest that a prophet and his followers known in the Qur’an as As’hab al Ukhdud were Africans. After the Messiah, the main bulk of the Unitarians who rightly caused the earliest controversies of Christendom were Africans. And when the Prophet Muhammad’s own pagan Arab people turned on him, he did not turn to Indians, Chinese, Persians, Romans or the rest of Arabia, but a just, Black, African king whom he knew would give sanctuary to the believers. Africa was a second home to the early Makkan converts, a beacon of decency and peace when much of the world was drowning in tyrannical paganism.

The lazy assumption that those of the darker hue (the superficial marker that tends to lead to prejudice) have not made up a significant collective of believers or a distinct Islamic community supports the inaccurate idea that such people cannot be intrinsic to the Islam we practice today. But, can there be an Islam or a Qur’an without Moses, the dark complexioned curly haired prophet, whose story has illuminated the righteous ever since he walked the earth? Sticking to the theme of Qur’anic content, what of Luqman whom some theologians also held to be a prophet, and with most affirming him to be Nubian? God relates this noble character’s lengthy and enlightening advice to his son as a model that every father, for the rest of time, might emulate (31:12-19). In fact, can a mus’haf (scripture) be legitimately considered the Qur’an without parts that mention these people? And in order to emphasize my opening point to this article, were they “contributions” to God’s message or are they actually part of the message itself?

We look back longingly to the “enlightened” Islam of Andalusia, but few consider that the earliest significant foray into Europe was headed by Tariq ibn Ziyad who landed on [the Rock of Gibraltar], from Jabal Tariq (Tariq’s mountain). One of the most significant writers in Islamic history, al-Jahiz, was Black and authored over 200 works on various subjects. Speaking to racist attitudes, he [wrote] an impassioned defense on the qualities and accomplishments of Black sub-Saharan and East African believers. Famed Hanafi scholars such as the muhaddith Jamal-din al-Zayla’i, author of the indispensable hadith work “Nasb al-Raayah,” and the jurist Fakhr al-Zayla’i, commentator of the Hanafi work “Kanz al-Daqa’iq,” both hailed from what would today be Somalia.

… it cannot logically be claimed that addressing the cause of disunity will instigate disunity, unless one is oblivious to the discord the cause is essentially triggering.

… do I seek to be a “defender” [of Black visibility] here? Yes indeed, and I believe so too should all committed believers regardless [of] their own skin tone or ethnic background. There are historical precedence found in the righteous scholars of old; the just caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz was wholly cognizant of his responsibility to serve everyone, saying to his wife when questioned on his melancholy at night, “I thought about it and I found that I had been charged with the affairs of this ummah, its black and its red (people)…” Similarly, in facing down the pervasive negative racist sentiments in his time, the erudite Hanbali Baghdadi scholar Ibn al-Jawzi authored Illuminating the Darkness on the Virtues of the Sudanese and the Abyssinians, which sought to address not only the value of their cultural heritage, but also denounce general discrimination against Black people that was rooted in their skin tone. Beginning with an account of Black people as Hamitic and repudiating the biblical notion that Ham, son of Noah, was cursed by his father with dark-colored skin, he continued on to discuss the characteristics of the Sudanese Black folk, describing them with strong bodies and hearts that “cultivate courage” and the Abyssinians with “widespread generosity, upright morality, harmless towards others, smiles, good words, a lucid vernacular, and nice speech.”

Arguing that the controversial nature of the topic will lead to communal rupture is intellectual delinquency at its finest. First, this point is only made by non-Blacks, who as [philosopher John Stuart] Mill put it, overlook the interests of the excluded and see it with very different eyes from those [who are directly affected]. Equally, those who put it that the current political climate means that Muslims should avoid such contentious issues overlook the idea that Muslims differ in what they believe to be a priority to the preservation of the faith or those things that significantly contribute to the everyday ill-being of believers. Second, it cannot logically be claimed that addressing the cause of disunity will instigate disunity, unless one is oblivious to the discord the cause is essentially triggering. Such lobbyists might be better served to actually engage Black opinion on a wide level, and actually interact with conversations taking place among Black Muslims.

By removing obstacles of an unethical nature and working on a truly shared Muslim identity, one that organically melds the best of what we all are, we should actually anticipate an enriching experience. And while it might require that we all slightly adapt to locate our commonality, rather than becoming nervous, we ought to look at it as part of the maturation process that develops the believing community in exciting and positive ways.


ShaykhMNizami-1Shaikh Muhammad Nizami is an Islamic scholar currently focusing on applied theology, Islamic law and ethics (fiqh) in a British context, and applied (Islamic) legal theory and philosophy (usul al-fiqh). At a grassroots level, he advocates a return to a God-centered approach to religion and western life, with a deep focus on Qur’anic narratives and how they inform us how to live meaningfully, specifically as western Muslims.


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.