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11:17 am
Sun February 2, 2014

American Muslim Men Balance Faith And Love In 'Salaam'

Originally published on Tue February 4, 2014 11:16 am

What exactly do Muslim men want? That's the theme of a new book of essays called Salaam, Love. It's the companion volume to one that came out last year called Love, InshAllah, which focused on the lives of American Muslim women.

Haroon Moghul is one of the essayists whose work is collected in Salaam, Love; he wrote about his experiences growing up as an Indian Muslim kid in Massachusetts, seen through the lens of his high school prom. Moghul tells NPR's Rachel Martin that "I think I've reached a point where I'm comfortable writing about certain things in my life, as long as a decade and a half has passed."


Interview Highlights

On not dating, and marriage

I don't even know if [my parents] ever explicitly told me that at some point I would be allowed to get married. I think it was sort of assumed that after I did med school, and a residency, and a fellowship, then somehow I would get married. To who, and how, and what I would think about that — no idea, except probably by the age of 35. Which, to note, I am still not at.

On not being allowed to go to sex ed class

We don't talk about those things! As a result, we have some of the highest growth rates in the world — there's some sort of, you know, paradoxical relationship here. It was just not discussed. The only way I found out was that I was told I had to go to the library one day, and I was sort of like, why? I mean, usually if you're in trouble, you don't go to the library. And then I found out from my classmates that everyone was taking these sex ed classes for a couple of weeks ... It was pretty devastating to be the only brown kid, and the only Muslim kid, AND the new kid, AND the only one who was not allowed to take sex education. Kind of marks you for life.

On going to prom

Senior year, I finally started to feel comfortable in my own skin, and to me, prom was the culmination of everything, right? It was the one thing you did that marked you in high school, and for me, it was like a challenge I set to myself — something I wanted to do, something I had to do, and then eventually, something I thought would help me understand myself a little bit better.

On why he decided to be part of Salaam, Love

I think for a lot of American Muslims, especially those of us who are in some kind of community role, we're forced to become, for lack of a better term, professional Muslims. A lot of the things that I wanted to do with my life, I was unable to do, because I realized that as an American, and as a Muslim, I had an obligation to become part of a conversation that we as a country needed. And I don't regret that, and I think it was something that is the right thing to do. But unfortunately, I think in the process, we were forced to deny a lot of parts of ourselves, and I don't think the Muslim community would have been ready to receive a book like this ten or 15 years ago — it just came around at a point where I felt like I had to say something and get it off my chest, and not pretend to be just one kind of person.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

What exactly do Muslim men want? That's the theme of a book of essays called "Salaam, Love." The book grew out of a blog called "Love, Inshallah," which is a place where American Muslims turn for advice on love and sex, a place to share their personal experiences. We're joined now by Haroon Moghul, who wrote an essay included in the book. The essay's about growing up as an Indian Muslim kid in Massachusetts. He joins us now on the line. Thanks so much for being with us.

HAROON MOGHUL: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So, your essay is about high school, specifically the high school prom. Why is this the chapter of your life you wanted to use to illustrate your struggles with identity and romance in particular?

MOGHUL: I think I've reached a point where I'm comfortable writing about certain things in my life, so long as a decade and a half has passed.

(LAUGHTER)

MOGHUL: So, I decided there was sufficient distance that I could tackle topics that might be a little bit taboo within some Muslim circles. But I didn't want to get too personal, shall we say.

MARTIN: So, you were a pretty regular American teenager growing up in a Massachusetts town. But there were all these things, these regular American things you couldn't do. I'd love if you could read just from the very first page of the essay.

MOGHUL: Sure. (Reading) I tried to go along. I 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. Somehow it was assumed but unspoken that a spouse would pop in a kind of ironclad Pakistani-American Hegelianism. Thesis antithesis: children. But there was only so long I could stand being on the sidelines.

MARTIN: And how did your parents address these issues with you?

MOGHUL: But not addressing them. That was their approach. I don't even know if they ever actually explicitly told me that at some point I would be allowed to get married. I think it was sort of assumed that after I did med school, and a residency, and a fellowship, then somehow I would get married. To who, and how, and what I would think about that - no idea, except probably by the age of 35. Which, to note, I am still not at.

MARTIN: You write in the essay that you were the only kid who wasn't allowed to go to sex ed class. How come?

(LAUGHTER)

MOGHUL: 'Cause we don't talk about those things. As a result, we the highest growth rates in the world. There's some sort of, you know, paradoxical relationship here.

MARTIN: But you would think that since your parents weren't comfortable talking about it, it would be easy to outsource the conversation to school.

MOGHUL: It was just not discussed. The only way I found out was that I was told I had to go to the library one day, and I was sort of like, why? You know, I mean, usually if you're in trouble, you don't go to the library. And then I found out from my classmates that everyone was taking these sex ed classes for a couple of weeks. And they told me that, yeah, a letter was sent home to our parents and they signed off on it. And so it was pretty devastating to be the only brown kid, and the only Muslim kid, and the new kid, and the only one who's not allowed to take sex education. Kind of marks you for life.

MARTIN: You also weren't allowed to go to your prom. But you decided that it was a rule that you were going to break. Why was it so important to you at the time?

MOGHUL: I think for me in senior year, I started to finally feel comfortable in my own skin, and to me prom was the culmination of everything, right? It was the one thing you did that marked you in high school, and for me, it was like a challenge I said to myself - something I wanted to do, something I had to do, and then eventually, something I thought would help me understand myself a little bit better.

MARTIN: So, why this book? What's important about it? Why is it something that you wanted to be a part of?

MOGHUL: I think for a lot of American Muslims, especially those of us who are in some kind of community role, we are forced to become, for lack of a better term, professional Muslims. A lot of the things that I wanted to do with my life, I was unable to do, because I realized that as an American, and as a Muslim, I had an obligation to become part of a conversation that we as a country needed. And I don't regret that, and I think it was something that is the right thing to do. But unfortunately, I think in the process, we were forced to deny a lot of parts of ourselves, and I don't think the Muslim community would have been ready to receive a book like this 10 or 15 years ago. It just came around at a point where I felt like I had to say something and get it off my chest, and not pretend to be just one kind of person.

MARTIN: Haroon, thanks so much for talking with us.

MOGHUL: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Haroon Moghul is the author of an essay in the book "Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex and Intimacy." There's 22 very different essays from American Muslim men. The book comes out Tuesday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.