Written by
Saareen Junaid '23, ORL Student Correspondent
Oct. 4, 2021

It has been a year and a half since our entire congregation has been able to gather together, to feel each other in the space we all expected to be in for four years of our lives. Murray-Dodge was not just a building for religious life, or a place of prayer, or refuge, but a place where so many students of faith sought to experience each other in ways that did not seem possible outside of its walls. And as we realize how special everyone is, how comfy and nap-able the couches are, how delicious the cookies are, the space begins to feel like home – in a way that you can’t quite get enough of. Murray-Dodge is the place where you rush to get a spot on the third-floor couch, camping out in between prayer times and in between classes, because you know the other Muslim students will fill it up. Something about Murray-Dodge resonates with the intuition of your heart, making it clear that you should be there. If you stay there, you’ll run into someone you want to talk to, someone you didn’t even know you wanted to talk to, about things that your heart needs to talk about. And once you do this enough, you start to expect it. You come to expect that some students will show up to share the afternoon prayer together in the Muslim Prayer Room, and you come to expect that Imam Sohaib will join you.

As a student in Murray-Dodge, you expect to run into Imam Sohaib and meet about the things you have always wanted to talk about, but maybe never found the right time or person with whom to do so. Imam Sohaib had such immense compassion, knowledge, and love. He is a prophetic symbol to us of how to be compassionate, knowledgeable, and loving. We were so blessed to have Murray-Dodge feel like home because of Imam Sohaib. It was a blessing to have Imam Sohaib, our saintly friend, color our experience in that space. His family shares the same qualities. We have his equally compassionate, knowledgeable, and loving wife, Arshe Ahmed to spoil us, as well as the beautifully charming and astute young Radiyya. To get to know Arshe is to make your soul wealthy. To get to play with Radiyya was therapy and to share a part of her growing up was so impactful. To many students in our community, Imam Sohaib and Murray-Dodge – and everything that came with this person and this space – felt like a guarantee that would spoil us for the next four years.  We felt as though Imam Sohaib would forever remain our mentor, friend, and imam, for the rest of our lives. Sohaib and Arshe spoke about how he loved to officiate weddings. Maybe, we hoped, one day he would be there to officiate our own. There are so many things that we planned for him to be there for.

When we were all sent home in the middle of the Spring 2020 semester, something happened that we did not expect. A little over a month into Zoom University, we received news from Imam Sohaib that he had been diagnosed with aggressive bile duct cancer. He informed us that the remainder of our time with him was uncertain and that our return to see Imam Sohaib and each other would not occur as we thought. It was like a divine reminder to never take anything for granted. Through all of this, Imam Sohaib still had the time and energy to be our chaplain. He would host Chaplain Cares Dinners, sometimes even from his chemotherapy bed. He would talk to us about music, Islamic psychology, and the questions we had. He shared about about how much more he wished he taught us about the Qur’an. Every Friday there would be a sermon ready for us and he would invite members from within our community and outside of our community. He would always be so purposeful in including women in leadership, in celebrating the diversity of Islam, and highlighting underrepresented Muslim voices. Imam Sohaib created such a supportive, model community for us. A space where even if we disagreed, we did so with the utmost respect. A space where many felt allowed to live out their Islam in a way that prioritized their needs.

How does a community respond after losing someone as prophetic as Imam Sohaib? How can we live in the way our beloved teacher helped guide us to when he is no longer with us? And how do we remember him? Last weekend, we remembered him by listening to beautiful Qur’an recitation, and by writing poems and chronicling memories about how we felt free to talk, to express ourselves, to share our anxieties about life, and to cry in his gentle presence. We remembered him by singing songs named after one of his characteristic sayings and written in the memory of his brotherliness. We remembered him by talking about how much he loved being a father, by listening to his coworkers tell stories of him falling asleep with his baby in his arms, running late to early morning meetings, or about the first time they met. We remembered him by remembering his celebrations of women, of Black Muslims, of Malcolm X, of Muslim diversity, and how much it meant to us. We remembered Imam Sohaib by laughing and crying, sitting next to each other in the chapel pews, by eating cheeseburgers and drinking cherry cokes together, and by listening to Arshe list all of the things he loved, including how he loved being our pastor, imam, and friend. We remembered how much he loved us. 

The Princeton community will forever be marked by the love of Imam Sohaib Sultan. What a beautiful honor it is to have known him, to have loved and been loved by him, and to be the shepherds of the community he left for us as our inheritance. May we do justice to the community he held so dear, to Arshe, Radiyya, his parents and siblings, the Muslim Life Program, to Islamic chaplaincy, and to each other.