A photo of the exterior of the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Northeastern Illinois University Assistant Professor of Educational Inquiry and Curriculum Studies Sunni Ali-Howard has published his fourth book, “An American Love Story: Islam and the Black Experience.”

The book highlights how notable figures of the Islamic religion, such as Prince Hall, Noble Drew Ali, Marcus Garvey and Mufti Muhammad Sadiq, influenced Black Americans to form the Nation of Islam, influenced Black leaders such as Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali and create a modern Islamic revival.                         

“Growing up, I struggled with having an African name because I was not aware of my culture and the real, global influence Black culture has,” Ali-Howard said. “In fifth grade, my teacher wanted me to play Sunni Ali Ber, the Muslim, West African ruler over the Songhai Empire and my namesake, in a school play. In doing the research for that role, I began to feel empowered learning about Ali and how his military genius expanded his small village of Gao into an empire.”

Ali-Howard, who teaches Urban Community Studies, grew up in a Christian household. As he learned more about his name and Black Islamic history, he found himself immersed in Islam. 

“I attended Howard University, which is often called ‘The Mecca’ of Black education,” Ali-Howard said. “I became immersed and captivated with learning about the Islamic Empires of Mali, Ghana and Songhai. I had Muslim friends who invited me to Islamic service or Jumma. As I learned more about the significance of the faith, it began to resonate and speak to me. A personal goal of this book is to leave readers with a richer understanding of the intersectionality between Pan-Africanism—or the concept that Black people should come together for our common interests—Blacks’ historical resiliency in redefining themselves, and their pursuit of liberation by reincorporating Islam into Black life.”

Throughout the book, Ali-Howard argues that the influence of Islam—from West Africa to modern Black America—has a far-reaching impact, and one that many don’t often realize or consider. 

“When someone talks about Islam in America, there’s a certain perception that often comes to mind,” Ali-Howard said. “Some might think of Muslim immigrants, others might jump to quick, nonsensical conclusions based on extremist views. In actuality, there is a link between Islam and Christianity. Many Black people looked to Presbyterianism and Evangelism to engage in a faith different from the one followed by their oppressors. People like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali stood courageously in their Isalmic faith to positively change the world.”

Ali-Howard’s other books are “Here’s to this Flag of Mine,” “My Schoolhouse is a Ghost Town,” and “Lessons Learned: Critical Conversations in Hip-Hop and Social Justice.” He will deliver a lecture at the Jacob H. Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies, 700 E. Oakwood Blvd., from 6-8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28. Admission is free. Advance sign-up is recommended.

A headshot photo of Sunni Ali-Howard wearing a black shirt, smiling into a camera.
Sunni Ali-Howard

Photo of the book cover of "An American Love Story: Islam and the Black Experience," featuring photos of historical figures in Islam.