Obituary of Imam Sohaib Nazeer Sultan (d. 4/16/21)
Written by Guest Contributor: Shabbir Agha Abbas
Imam Sohaib Nazeer Sultan left this world on the 16th of April, after battling a rare and aggressive form of bile duct cancer, also known as metastatic cholangiocarcinoma. Even though we had a year of notice as to his devastating diagnosis, nothing could have prepared the Princeton University, as well as the greater New Jersey Muslim community, for his loss. The reason being, Imam Sohaib himself was our comforter, he was whom we turned to during times of difficulty. Finally emerging from this scarring pandemic, it would only be natural that our souls would beckon us to Murray-Dodge Hall, room 202, to receive pastoral counsel from our dear Imam. Who do we see now, where do we go? Whom do we convey our feelings to? Who will help shoulder our burdens? His loss will only become more pronounced in the coming months, as Princeton and other universities in the region begin returning to normalcy.
The truth is Imam Sohaib Sultan has not left us; he lives on in the very lives of all the students and community members whom he impacted with his work. He was a trailblazer, only the second university funded chaplain in the nation, and in his efforts he looked at things with great foresight. He did not strive to just provide services to those living in the present, instead he kept future generations in his considerations. Together with his wife Arshe, devoid of any blueprint, constructed a model Muslim Life program, centered around the Islamic ethos of love and service to others; and him and Arshe lived what they preached. Thus every person who sat in the presence of Imam Sohaib, and was touched by his kind heart and godly soul, inadvertently became an ambassador of that goodness which he embodied. He was a flower that gave a beautiful fragrance to all who came in contact with him; similarly he had an infectious smile that could bring joy to those facing the darkest of times.
As a leader within the American Muslim community, Imam Sohaib was a guiding light. He was keenly aware of racial injustice in our country, and he worked to uplift the voices of Black brothers and sisters within the Muslim community. Not only that, he made the discussing of racial injustice commonplace within mostly South Asian and Middle Eastern Muslim spaces, thus cultivating a more empathetic Muslim populace. When it came to bridging the divide between Islam’s two greatest sects, the Sunnis and the Shi’a, he pushed for unity such that Princeton Muslim Life now hosts an annual Muharram majlis and other such intrafaith Islamic events. Likewise, he made himself available to all students and community members, no matter what religious persuasion or racial background they were of. Sunnis, Shi’as, Salafis, practicing and non-practicing, black and brown, and all kinds of Muslim students could find a welcoming ear in Imam Sohaib.
Lastly, and most importantly he was a firm defender of Islam, especially in this age of Islamophobia. His writing of The Koran for Dummies, as a fresh college graduate, in the year 2004, spring-boarded him to a path of even more public writing and speaking; in which he uncompromisingly presented the true image of his faith tradition. He bravely confronted the proponents of extremism, who misused the name of Islam, and he likewise stood up to bigots and all those who intended on besmirching the religion. In the last year of his life, he continued his brave writing, but instead focussed on his own mortality, setting an example as to how one can live and die with grace. To his very last moment in this temporal existence, he was concerned with his pastoral duties to the Muslim community, he was thinking of us. It is time now that we think about him by praying for his soul, and by providing support to his family, his young daughter Radiyya, his wife Arshe, and his dear parents. We offer them our sincerest condolences.