Haroon Moghul was the student leader of New York University’s Islamic Center when the September 11th attacks occurred. In this interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, he talks about his experience representing the Muslim community at such a young age and the release of his new memoir How to Be a Muslim.
Here are some snippets from the interview:
On what inspired him to help create the Islamic Center at NYU:
“….when I got to NYU, it was the first time I had ever encountered a large group of diverse Muslims, and I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if all of us could find a place where we’d feel at home, where being Muslim was something that we got to define for ourselves and not have imposed on us from without?” So we set ourselves to the task of building this really cool, this really dynamic and this really fun institution. And I think it took off precisely because a lot of people were invested in their religious identity, but they didn’t have a place where they could express it.”
On being thrust into the spot-light, following September 11th attacks:
“… when the attack happened, I was [the] leader of one of the largest Muslim communities in proximity to ground zero, and one of the few [communities] that was able to talk to media because it was conversant in English and composed of people who had grown up here and had the ability to speak to wider American audiences. And suddenly this task of community building and community organizing — which was only ever supposed to be for a university campus — became part of a national, even international, conversation, which I felt like I had to do, and felt completely and totally unprepared for.”
On being a “professional Muslim”:
“Every time something bad happens you’re called upon to apologize, to explain. It means that your entire identity is pegged to events in other parts of the world — usually and almost exclusively negative events — and your entire religious life becomes the articulation of why your community is not a problem or should not be perceived as a problem to wider America.”