Author shares his experiences growing up as a Muslim in America

Katie Weiler November 17, 2017 0

The Bowers Writers House was filled with an abundance of laughter Monday, Nov. 13 as author Haroon Moghul shared his story with a comedic approach.

Moghul’s most recent book is titled “How to be a Muslim: An American Story,” and he talked about what it was like to grow up as a Pakistani-American practicing Islam in the United States.

As a scholar on Islam and public affairs, Moghul has worked with think tanks and gone on both national and international interviews while living in Washington, D.C. He has been published by many sites, including CNN, BBC and TIME magazine.

Today, Moghul is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America in Muslim-Jewish relations.

Director of the Bowers Writers House Jesse Waters shared an introduction with the audience, saying he had first seen Moghul on CNN. The room then welcomed both Moghul and his wit to the stage. 

“By making jokes, he made the dense topic seem lighter,” sophomore Damani Odom said.

Moghul started off the book reading with an anecdote about flying to Montreal for a book reading and stopping at customs. He shared that airports make him nervous since he is more likely to be suspected as a terrorist since he is a Muslim.

After the man asked typical questions, Moghul suspected the man would shoot him on the spot for appearing so flustered and, well, Muslim. Luckily, the man let him pass through, even after Moghul could not remember the name of the hotel he was staying in. Moghul shared his story with a side of humor to help others listen and get past the seriousness of the situation.

Moghul grew up in Connecticut, where his family was one of the only families in the neighborhood practicing Islam. Before Moghul shared more of his stories about practicing his faith in America, he talked about rejection.

As a senior in high school, Moghul visited Yale University and was enamored by the university. He took Yale classes as a junior in high school, as a part of a special program. He then fast forwarded to how he was heartbroken that Yale rejected him and how he decided to go to New York University (NYU) instead.

Many years later, Moghul was approached by an editor at Yale University Press and asked to write a book for them to use in their classes. They said he could write either a memoir or a textbook. After two years of work, he received a phone call from Yale saying they were rejecting his book because it was not apparent whether he was writing a memoir or a textbook.

After this two-time rejection by Yale, Moghul decided to rewrite the book as a memoir and get it published on his own.

While at NYU, Moghul was the student in charge of the NYU Islamic Center, and was in New York City during the 9/11 Terrorist attacks in 2001. This led him to be a leading force in Islamic relations in the U.S.

From his book, Moghul read a chapter based on when he went to prom, which was against his family’s wishes. His father, a man who was born in Pakistan and had fought in a war, did not understand why his son wanted to write a book, so Moghul hesitantly told his father he was writing one.

Surprisingly, a few months later, his father asked him if he had finished his book. Moghul told him it takes a long time to write a book, to which his father responded that it only took Bill Clinton six months to publish his. Moghul explained to his father that since Clinton was president, it did not take him as long to publish a book, but his father only responded by asking why Moghul was not going to be president.

After attesting to his father’s stubbornness, Moghul read the story on how, after all his trouble to attend the prom, his girlfriend at the time decided to break up with him afterwards.

During his life, Moghul has gone from working in D.C. and apparently having it all to losing his job, marriage and money.

These things in his life led him to move to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and stay with family.

“This was the first time I lived in a Muslim majority,” Moghul said.

He then explained that for the first time in his life it did not matter that he was Muslim, and he could finally have a private spiritual life with no need to explain anything.

“I found myself deeply transformed by the opportunity,” Moghul shared.

Eventually, a colleague in the U.S. offered Moghul the chance to be among the Americans who visit Iran and freely converse with Iranian intellectuals about ideas and perspectives.

Senior Sabria Fountain shared that Moghul visited her class earlier that afternoon.

“I still left with new knowledge,” Fountain said.

Overall, Fountain enjoyed how Moghul talked about his experiences and was very candid and open.

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