Imam Sohaib Nazeer Sultan, a Hamilton resident who served as the first full-time Muslim life coordinator and chaplain at Princeton University, died Friday after a year-long battle with a rare and aggressive form of bile duct cancer. He was 40.
A beloved and well-known figure on campus and in the greater Mercer County community for more than a dozen years, he was passionate about interfaith dialogue and was known as a bridge-builder who worked to foster relationships between the Muslim community and other faith communities.
Born in North Carolina and raised in Indiana, he became interested in studying Islamic traditions from a young age because of his father’s work as a scholar in Islamic education. When he was 11, he and his family moved to Saudi Arabia, where he learned Koranic recitation. He returned to the United States at 16, finished high school in Charlottesville, Virginia. He then earned a degree in journalism and political science from Indiana University, where he was president and senior adviser of the Muslim Students Association and was honored by the university for his cultural diversity efforts. After graduation, he worked as a freelance journalist in Chicago and was an Islamic affairs analyst for BBC Radio, where he worked on a series of dialogues on Muslim-Christian relations in the United States.
A graduate of Hartford Theological Seminary, Sultan was the first Muslim chaplain at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He was one of eight people profiled in the PBS documentary series “The Calling,” about the spiritual journey of eight people from Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths who chose a life in the clergy. He was a public lecturer and writer on Islam, Muslim culture and Muslim-Western relations, and wrote “The Koran for Dummies”, which was published in 2004, and “The Qur’an and Sayings of Prophet Muhammad: Selection Annotated and Explained,” which was published in 2007.
He was hired to be the first Muslim life coordinator at Princeton University in August of 2008. The program was among the first Muslim college chaplaincies in the country.
Imam Sohaib Sultan is survived by his parents, his wife, Arshe Ahmed, and his young daughter, Radiyya. The Imam Sohaib Sultan Family Trust was created by friends of the family to provide stable financial support for Radiyya’s education and other priorities.
In July of 2020, Sohaib Sultan and Arshe Ahmed recorded a conversation as part of the StoryCorps project in which he shared his thoughts about living through stage four cancer, his Muslim identity, being a chaplain at Princeton University, and fatherhood.
“I’m really grateful that God gave me a lot of purpose and meaning in my work,” he said during the interview. “I needed to have work that gave me meaning and purpose in life, and being a chaplain and taking care of a community, and taking care of people, has always given me such purpose and such meaning. There has not been a day single day where I’ve come to work thinking of it as work. I’ve always thought of it as my greater life’s mission and purpose, very much related to my faith and my relationship with God.”
A funeral prayer service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 17, at the West Windsor Community Park. Burial will take place at 2 p.m. at the Greenwood Cemetery at 1800 Hamilton Avenue in Hamilton. Both services will be livestreamed and can be viewed by clicking the links. The office of religious life at Princeton University will be holding an online gathering at 4 p.m. on Sunday, April 18 (rescheduled from Saturday night) to pray for Imam Sohaib Sultan and to share memories in his honor. The event will be livestreamed on the Princeton Muslim Life Program Facebook page and Office of Religious Life YouTube.
If you would like to make a donation in Sohaib Sultan’s memory, contributions can be made to:
The Imam Sohaib Sultan Charitable Fund https://www.launchgood.com/campaign/support_the_imam_sohaib_sultan_charitable_fund
The Imam Sohaib Sultan Family Trust https://www.launchgood.com/campaign/support_the_imam_sohaib_sultan_family_trust#!/