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June 8, 2017

Book Notes - Haroon Moghul "How to Be a Muslim"

How to Be a Muslim

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Haroon Moghul's memoir How to Be a Muslim is a poignant and often hilarious memoir of growing up as a second generation Muslim immigrant.

The Washington Post wrote of the book:

"Rarely does a book come along that captures the complicated nature of Muslim life in the West with such probing clarity and authenticity. Haroon Moghul's "How to Be a Muslim: An American Story" is perfectly titled: part memoir, part history lesson, part philosophy. It is a profound and intimate book — the story of a single American Muslim that also illustrates the fears and strengths of a community."


In his own words, here is Haroon Moghul's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir How to Be a Muslim:



"Climbing Up The Walls," Radiohead

When I'd first started researching suicide, I told myself it was better to look it up than act it out. Theoretical exercises. Passive ideation. Until I found carbon monoxide. "You go to sleep," some kind anonymous soul wrote on a crowded message board, "and you wake up dead."

"Geek Stink Breath," Green Day

Neither my upstanding mother nor her geeky adolescent child had any idea what Green Day was about, let alone what the name referred to. My eyes scanned the liner notes, a jagged white font set against an oily black paper that revealed every fingerprint, and alighted on the word that almost rhymed with "steam," the word that Billie Joe Armstrong raged into the microphone. Methamphetamine. I wasn't precisely sure what this was, except that it was 200 percent haram. Mightily forbidden. I might've suffered a small cardiac event. This was what I liked?

"Stinkfist," Tool

I might have prayed to God right there and then that I'd be forgiven. But here's the thing. I don't think I had that much interest in being forgiven. Because the scandalous CD was not binned, tossed, or left to gather dust.

"Father and Son," Cat Stevens

The first job I ever applied for was at McDonald's. Had my mom and dad discovered this, they'd have been horrified: my priority should've been school. But I needed to pay for prom, so as I sat in that plastic chair, testifying to my aptitude for flipping burgers, guilt wasn't the first feeling that came to mind. I'd tried to go along. I'd bought into it: We didn't drink. They did. We didn't dance. They did. We didn't date. They did. We did not like girls, never mind need them.

"2 Heads," Coleman Hell

I'd not expected this would end, even as I'd made plans to go away for college. We can hold two contradictory hopes in our head and still be devastated when one of them gives way. It's wanting to have your cake and eat it too. But what the hell else would you do with cake?

"Black," Pearl Jam

If every person has one great test, then mine was—and may still be—parting. I'd learn I could deal with death. But I couldn't accept that God would let lives get entangled only to be yanked apart. How can you live forever and be parted forever? That's death. A real end without resurrection. A place where Islam can't go.

"Ya Rayah," Rachid Taha

The inevitable response to engaging so many, feeling briefly of some flickering cosmic significance, then finding myself deposited in a lifeless, carceral, overly air-conditioned cellblock, staring out windows impossible to defenestrate therefrom. Someone else made the room. Someone else stayed overnight before me. Someone else would clean up after me. It'd be like I was never there. The end was the beginning was the hospitality industry.

"Surat Yusuf," Idrees Abkar

"O my father," Joseph relates, "I saw eleven star, the sun and the moon, and they prostrated to me," and the next words out of our professor's mouth sent a sciatic tingling down my legs. "Did you all hear how eleven is inflected?" he asked the class, most of whom were not Muslim, did not have a Qur'an before them, and in general had no idea what the hell was happening.

"Wake Me Up When September Ends," Green Day

I'd begun to contemplate walking away from the Islamic Center, hoping to go somewhere else or at least be someone else. I was tired of every thing having to mean everything. New York was big enough, NYU was vast enough, to contain other possibilities. But the Prophet warned us a time would come when holding onto Islam would be like holding onto hot coals.

"Losing My Religion," R.E.M.

We were touring the death camps of a brilliant civilization. Less museum, if you will, and more mausoleum. We had no choice but to face a slow-motion holocaust; most of Spain's Jews were wiped out or expelled relatively quickly, while the much larger Muslim population was whittled down over many decades.

"Cosmic Love," Florence + the Machine

She reached over, her hijab very much still wrapped around her wavy dark hair and grabbed my cheek with her teeth. She didn't break skin, but she could have. Should have. She didn't leave for another seven days. She read me poetry. She recited it to me on the balcony. She had a way of finding the most wonderful and heartfelt music, songs that could get me through anything. She left me. She left me Florence and the Machine.

"Alive," Pearl Jam

Somehow I found an ounce of courage and pushed back. For if being a terrible Muslim was the cause of bipolarity, depression, or other such ailments, then how come I met so many terrible Muslims who weren't depressed, manic, or suicidal?

"Ghoom," Junoon

He was talking to God and we happened to be behind him, squeezed in so tightly we could hardly find places for our foreheads on flawless plush carpet. Abkar started crying. Bawling, truly. What, after all, does it really mean to talk to the One who made you? "You. . . ." He whispered. Then he mumbled it. Screamed it. "You," he managed, in between roiling sobs, "brought us from nonexistence into existence." This thought entering him stabbed us too, but he kept on, no rest for the bewildered, him tearing us open and firing a water cannon of tears into our hearts. Abkar made what was foundational into what was conclusive, thundering it, panhandling for it, returning to it, swearing by it, running a giant circle around us and spinning us around with him.

"Fantasy," Mariah Carey

Once I was in a Stop & Shop parking lot and a gaggle of blond girls swarmed toward me in a wave of spring-break exuberance, beautiful, bright-eyed and uniformed, yellow shirts and yoga pants. They carried glitter-marker signs, which read in curly girlie twenty-two-point letters do you need a hug? and why does this shit only ever happen to me plus yes but I can't touch you but thanks for letting me know what paradise kind of looks like. I dove into my Nazgûl-black Camry at the time—and pretended like I wasn't the lamest person ever for declining. I should go to heaven just for that.

He already knows I think that. Deal with it.


Haroon Moghul and How to Be a Muslim links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Atlantic interview with the author
Macleans interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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