“Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.”
This is Muslim chaplain (or, Imam) Sohaib Nazeer Sultan’s favorite quote from the Prophet Mohammed. He encourages all students to engage in this life-long search for knowledge.
“I love working at Wesleyan,” Sultan said. “The students at Wesleyan have a very high level of intellectual curiosity, which makes it a dream place for educators. I love the interaction with students. It’s the most enjoyable part of my job.”
Sultan, who has been at the University for two years, is a rarity among institutions of higher learning. He also serves as the imam at nearby Trinity College.
“It’s very atypical [to have an imam],” he said. “There are only ten colleges or universities in the U.S. that have a full or part-time imam chaplain. Most colleges don’t have a multi-faith approach. Now, increasingly, campuses are seeing the need.”
According to Sultan, many Americans misunderstand Islam to be a religion that is incompatible with the modern world.
“[Some think] that Islam doesn’t allow for social, political, economic progress,” Sultan said.
Although Sultan was raised in a religious environment—his parents are both devout Muslims—he himself didn’t always know that he wanted to be an imam.
“I…have had my ups and downs with religion,” he admitted.
After graduating from Indiana University, Sultan began working as a freelance journalist in Chicago, where his writings focused on religious topics. He was eventually approached by the well-known “Dummies” series and asked to author “The Koran for Dummies.” While writing the book, Sultan realized that this was where his path in life lay.
“It became apparent that it was my calling,” he said.
Sultan subsequently enrolled at the Hartford Seminary.
Though “imam” translates to “leader” in Arabic, in a religious context the word means “spiritual or religious guide.” According to Sultan, the University has approximately 50 students who identify as Muslim, and about 15 of them are very active and visit his office on a regular basis.
Satrio Adi Wicaksono ’10, a member of the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the house manager of Turath House, said that he has found Sultan to be a helpful resource. As an international student, Wicaksono first sought guidance from Sultan for adjusting to life in the U.S. and maintaining his religious traditions in a foreign environment. He said that Sultan is a good person to talk to about day-to-day college problems.
“It’s good to have someone to guide you through the rough waters of college life,” Wicaksono said. “He’s also a mediator between the Muslim community at Wesleyan and the larger community in Connecticut.”
Sultan leads a weekly study group on Thursday from 4:45 to 5:45 p.m., which is open to all students. He also works in an advisory capacity with the MSA and recently helped execute the weeklong series of talks called Islam in Conversation. The events brought out about 400 students and University community members to share in discussions.
For students interested in learning more about Islam, Sultan laughingly recommends his own book, as well as “Vision of Islam” by Sachiko Murata and William C. Chittick. He also recommends the film “The Clay Bird,” which was screened during Islam in Conversation Week.