Influential Muslim Leader Visits Northwestern

By Rebecca ShereikisJune 14, 2018

Emir Muhammad Sanusi II of Kano, one of Africa’s most influential Muslim leaders and former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, visited Northwestern this spring at the invitation of the Institute for the Study of Islamic Thought in Africa (ISITA). While on campus, Sanusi interacted with students and faculty, delivered two public talks, and toured the Herskovits Library of African Studies.

Bringing Sanusi to campus in late April supported ISITA’s mission of engaging influential African Muslim thinkers and practitioners, according to Zekeria Ahmed Salem, political science and ISITA director. Sanusi’s unique combination of expertise — in the economic sector and as a religious authority — created abundant opportunities for ISITA to collaborate with other units on campus.

Sanusi spoke to Kellogg faculty and students at the Global Hub about Africa’s economic prospects, with a discussion moderated by Kara Palamountain, who is part of Kellogg’s Public-Private Interface Initiative. The Africa Business Club organized the event as part of Mosaic Week, a celebration of Kellogg’s diversity, and hosted a private luncheon and discussion with Sanusi after the talk.

Sanusi also delivered the keynote address at ISITA’s “Islam in Global Africa: African Muslims in the World, Muslim Worlds in Africa” conference. The event brought more than a dozen scholars from Africa, Europe, and the United States to campus for two days of panels and exchanges.

Sansui’s reflections on “Islam and Authority in Global Africa” were grounded in the daily challenges and opportunities he faces as an Islamic authority in multicultural, multi-religious Nigeria. He addressed the relationship between economic development and Muslim family law, the undervaluing of literacy in Arabic and Hausa by Nigeria’s educational sector, the importance of girls’ education, and the difficulties that arise when Western governments and NGOS impose their agendas on northern Nigerian society.

“If I seek to bring change,” Sanusi said, “if I seek to get people to question … tradition, it has to be within the framework of seeking change while maintaining authenticity, however it is defined.”

In addition to Northwestern faculty and students, many members of Chicago’s Muslim community attended the talk.

Sanusi also toured the Melville J. Herskovits Library of African Studies. “I feel at home here,” he said, referencing the fact that his father and grandfather had visited Northwestern in the early 1960s as members of official delegations from northern Nigeria. Photographs of those visits were on display as part of a special exhibit on the Kano emirate prepared by the Herskovits Library staff. Sanusi said he was “proud to be following in those footsteps and that tradition.”