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story behind the book | kate tuttle

Losing, then finding, his Muslim faith

david wilson for the boston globe

While there are plenty of memoirs about losing or finding one’s religion, Haroon Moghul’s “How To Be a Muslim: An American Story” describes the author’s journey in both directions. Born to immigrant parents from Pakistan, Moghul grew up in small-town New England (first Massachusetts, then Connecticut), his Islamic faith something he “inherited and tried to make sense of” from an early age.

“The incredible gap between what my parents expected me to be, and what I wanted to be, and what people around me were,” Moghul said, was what prompted him “to question what it means to be religious, and whether or not I even wanted to be religious. I think that’s a story that pretty much any child of immigrants or any person of faith goes through,” he added, “It’s one very common to American Muslims, but I don’t think it’s a story many people get to tell or get to read.”


Moghul immersed himself in a diverse community of young Muslims while attending New York University. As president of the NYU Muslim Club, he found himself, at 21, in a public role after the Sept. 11 attacks. “We were one of the largest Muslim communities in proximity to Ground Zero,” he said. “We felt this insane pressure to make sense of what was happening.”

Coming to terms with bipolar disorder, diagnosed while in law school, further challenged Moghul’s faith. “I experienced the diagnosis as some kind of divine punishment,” he said. Writing helped him heal, he added, and he hopes the book will help others — whether because of his willingness to be open about his struggles or just because he wrote “a story about Islam and being Muslim that doesn’t have to do with terrorism or extremism or national security.”

Moghul will read 7 p.m. Wednesday at Harvard Book Store.


Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.