The Office of Religious Life mourns the passing of our colleague and friend, Imam Sohaib Sultan, who died on April 16, 2021. We wish to use the opportunity to learn from him about death and dying- as he wrote and reflected upon often in his last year with us. Included in this page are quotes, sermons, conversations and programs shared by Imam Sohaib and others in memory of his wisdom and legacy.
Imam Sohaib at Princeton University
"Princeton’s Office of Religious Life shares the heartbreaking news of the death of our beloved Muslim Chaplain, Sohaib Sultan. He died of metastatic cholangiocarcinoma, or bile duct cancer, which was diagnosed in the spring of 2020. He spent the remaining year of his life with even more spiritual abundance than before, writing and preaching and speaking in many settings. Over the years he was a marvelous instructor to all of us in how to live. In his last year he taught us even more so how to die.
Sohaib came to Princeton’s Office of Religious Life as its first full-time Muslim Chaplain in August 2008, at which time he was only the second such institutionally-supported university Muslim chaplain in the United States. He created an extraordinary program at Princeton, one that serves as a national model for its expansiveness of programming, breadth of inclusion of all Muslims and non-Muslims, its intellectual depth, its beauty, challenge, support, and relevance. Sohaib built a wonderful and caring Muslim community at Princeton, and often said that this fact provided his greatest sense of joy and accomplishment in his work.
Sohaib studied at Indiana University and in the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Hartford Seminary. His first professional passion was journalism, and after his move into chaplaincy he continued to be a prolific writer. He is the author of The Koran for Dummies (Wiley, 2004), The Qur’an and Sayings of the Prophet: Selections Annotated and Explained (Skylight Paths, 2007), as well as many articles for TIME Online, the Huffington Post, and other publications.
Sohaib is survived by his wife Arshe Ahmed, their daughter Radiyya Sultan-Ahmed, his parents and sister. Our hearts go out to them all. A memorial gathering for Sohaib will be held at Princeton when it is safe to do so, hopefully this fall."
- Alison Boden, Dean of Religious Life and of the Chapel
Prayer Gathering for Imam Sohaib Sultan
On Sunday, April 19, the Office of Religious Life hosted a prayer gathering for the community to come together and share stories and thoughts in memory of Imam Sohaib.
In Memory of Imam Sohaib
Below are quotes from various members of the Princeton community in memory of Imam Sohaib.
"There is so much to say about Imam Sohaib Sultan, but for now I will say this: he was gentle, he was strong, he was inclusive, he was wise. We often talk about Imam Sohaib's nurturing personality, and indeed his presence was a form of nourishment. But he also pushed and challenged us to grow and be better.
During my senior fall, Imam Sohaib started the Paragon Leadership Program, which trained five of my fellow Muslim undergraduates and me in the art and practice of ethical leadership. He often encouraged students to try their hands at delivering the Friday sermon--he did so twice with me. When I spoke to him about my interest in studying end-of-life care for my senior thesis, he encouraged me to engage Islamic philosophy on the subject.
In all these instances, he was encouraging us to make our time at Princeton one of moral refinement, in addition to intellectual and professional advancement. He went to great lengths to shape young Muslims into capable leaders and community servants. The hand with which Imam Sohaib guided us was tender yet empowering. Whenever he could, he helped connect us with the tools--or, sometimes, discover those tools within ourselves--to achieve the change and impact we wanted to see, whether in our work, our activism, our scholarship, our leadership, or our personal development.
That thousands of his former students, advisees, and friends are already actively at work in trying to carry forward his legacy is testament to Imam Sohaib's preparation of us--through his career in chaplaincy and his dying--to be people of virtue."
- Nabil Shaikh ‘17, MPA ‘21
I smile at the whispers of you,
the sounds sweetened by echoed salawat,
the intensity quelled by your serenity.
"For last year’s mawlid at the chapel, Imam Sohaib helped me write a poem to read aloud about our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and I’ve come to notice that this line describes Imam Sohaib just as well. He was someone who perfectly emulated the Prophet's character; it’s something that we all aspire to do, but I always admired how Imam Sohaib did it with utmost ease. Imam Sohaib was so special with his welcoming presence, corny humor, and everlasting advice - and I’ll truly miss running into him at Murray-Dodge and hearing his renowned “Yoyo Nimrah, Salam!” He is who I want to be as I grow old, both in terms of character and spirituality. I will miss his beautiful smile and his warmth, his strange decisions to order onion-pineapple pizzas during Chaplain Cares dinners, his loving gaze towards his wife Arshe and daughter Radiyya, and sitting in his office for another much needed coffee chat."
- Nimrah Naseer '23
"Sohaib Sultan was an asset to our Princeton community in many distinctive ways, but I would like to highlight three among them. First, he was a thoughtful counselor to undergraduate and graduate students and many found great comfort in his words and his company. It is in that part of our community, our students, that his loss would be felt most keenly. Second, his was a bold and articulate voice on matters relating to social justice. He spoke on them often and, by his example, too, motivated people to engage with those issues. And third, he contributed significantly to the intellectual vibrancy of life on our campus. The events he organized, the speakers he invited, helped foster a deeper, richer understanding of Islam as a lived and diverse tradition. For all this and much more, everyone who knew him is in his debt."
- Muhammed Qasim Zaman, Professor of Near Eastern Studies and Religion
"I will never forget the first time I met Imam Sohaib Sultan. It was the Fall of 2016, and I had lost my nephew a few days prior to the beginning of the semester. I remember standing in Murray Dodge Hall after Jummah (Friday) prayers, when Imam Sohaib approached me and introduced himself. He asked how I was doing. I was about to reply with a generic “Fine,” but something about the compassion in his eyes made me tell him about my nephew. Imam Sobaib’s generosity of spirit has stayed with me throughout my time at Princeton. He and his wife Arshe opened their home and hearts to the students at Princeton. They were open about their journey to parenthood, and their daughter Radiyyah was a joy that they shared with the entire community. I am forever grateful to him for the example he set, for he truly embodied the principles and character of the Prophet Muhammad. The people we love are on loan to us from God, and what a beautiful loan he was to all who knew him. He was a beacon of light for so many. May he dwell in gardens of paradise with the righteous, may he live in perpetual peace and tranquility."
- Fatima Siwaju, PhD Candidate in Anthropology & African American Studies
"As you enter into Murray Dodge, a sense of calmness engulfs your being. You hear the quiet chatter of students, little Radiyya’s feet stomping the ground, and above all those noises is Imam Sohaib’s light hearted laugh as it resonates throughout the building. You feel happy as you make your way towards Imam Sohaib’s cozy office to catch up on a few words. Conversations with Imam Sohaib were different. He would bestow his entire focus upon you and would with genuine interest and concern ask you how you are doing. Imam Sohaib was a man who encompassed the true meanings of love and kindness. To us students, he was a mentor, a friend, a confidant, and a role model. The loss that is in our hearts is deep, but knowing that he has reunited with his Creator gives our hearts peace."
- Meryem Konjhodzic ‘23
"Sohaib was the pivot who held the Muslim community both on campus and beyond together through his caring and constant mentorship, infectious energy, and unparalleled capacity for quality programming. Sohaib possessed a unique gift for weaving intellectual challenge and enrichment with spiritual pastoral care. One aspect of his vision to cultivate community that I particularly appreciated was the way it brought together devotional density with explicit attention to the arts, humanities, and activism. This was best visible in the remarkable depth of his programs and initiatives, ranging from thought provoking lectures, concerts involving female vocal artists, and the spectacular annual celebration of the Prophet’s birthday that always juxtaposed contemporary and traditional devotional styles and musical registers. Herein lay a hallmark of Sohaib’s pastoral approach and persona: he made sure that difference-intra-Muslim, inter-religious, racial, intergenerational, linguistic, intellectual, or doctrinal-was a source of the community’s strength. And his commitment to celebrating difference did not come from a nod to some fashionable tenet of multicultural diversity but was rather driven by a deep-rooted faith in the importance of treating the ‘other’ with profound kindness, respect, and curiosity and without undermining the thorny and often difficult complexities of life."
- Tehseen Thaver, Assistant Professor of Religion/Islam
"The warmth and care that Imam Sohaib exuded will never be forgotten. A man whose greetings, smiles, laughs, and mannerisms all made one feel welcome, made one feel like a friend, like someone who matters. When students spent time with Imam Sohaib, whether sharing intimate parts of their life to him as a counselor, learning and growing spiritually with him as a teacher, garnering life advice from him as a mentor, or just having jovial conversation with him as a friend, Imam Sohaib made us feel that we were the most important person in that moment. The legacy he leaves in our community is one of spiritual empowerment – that faith can make us more grateful, more joyful, more welcoming; that it can make us more considerate, just, and critical of injustice; that it can move us to service of others and our communities, and that it can elevate us as human beings at our best selves. His laughter, care, presence, and spirit will be strongly missed. I miss him so much it aches. And yet, we can only be grateful that we were blessed with such a diamond in our lives. Alhumdulillah, praise and thanks to God."
- Fawaz Ahmad '22
"For Princeton students living within the “Orange bubble”, Sohaib created a bubble within the bubble – that burst the bubble.
His preaching called us to the higher ideals of Islam: God-consciousness, compassionate hospitality, and service to humanity. He reminded us that there was a world beyond our libraries and labs; he provoked us to think about how our efforts could extend beyond the ivory tower. Graduate school especially can be an isolating experience, and he gave so many of us a family – his family – and a community. He offered us all a place to find connection, meaning, and love.
He also offered us himself. He would spend most of his day meeting with students, either individually, in groups, or at events. His door in Murray Dodge was almost always open, so whenever students would come to the building to pray one of the daily prayers, they would stop by and say hello. Those simple moments with him were a great source of relief, comfort, joy, and peace.
Through his presence and his efforts, Sohaib gave life to an entire generation of Muslims at Princeton. His earnest hope for us was that wherever we go, we try to do the same: to spread life, to spread Light."
- Wasim Shiliwala, PhD Candidate in Near Eastern Studies
"Imam Sohaib was a great gift to the Princeton community, and a pioneer in the field of Islamic chaplaincy. I always appreciated his gentle smile, gracious hospitality, and ability to bring people together. Just before the pandemic hit, he audited my undergraduate course on Christian ethics, often one of the first to arrive in the lecture hall, and linger afterwards for conversation. Sadly, our plans to get together for a leisurely coffee were disrupted by COVID and his cancer battle. His life, and way of facing death, will no doubt be remembered by many."
- Eric Gregory, Professor of Religion
Family and friends of Imam Sohaib are compiling reflections about him. If you have a story or reflection that you would like to share we invite you to visit sohaibsultan.com
Living and Dying with Grace
In his final months, Imam Sohaib shared various reflections on the theme of living and dying with grace. He kept a blog for those who wanted to follow him on this journey of dying with cancer. In this blog, Imam Sohaib wrote:
"One of the hardest lessons that cancer is still teaching me is the art of letting go. Everyday I can’t help but imagine what my final moments may be like; my body being washed; the funeral prayer; my body being placed in the grave. Along with those thoughts, I can’t help but wonder how those I love and what I cherish will continue to be after I’m gone. I accept that leaving the abode of this world is inevitable and that the world will move on, rather quickly, is also inevitable. Only the long, painful, contemplative days of living with cancer could give me such clarity."
The clarity of Imam Sohaib's final moments is evident in the beautiful conversations he had with colleagues and friends of his, and the last sermons he shared with the Muslim community.