Skip to Content

OpEd by Haroon Moghul: The convergence of the idea of America and the idea of Islam

We think about the world in very different ways that our medieval predecessors did. Must we then think about religion in different ways too?

By Print Preview

Haroon Moghul



Haroon Moghul is a specialist on Islamic thought and the modern world. His 2006 novel The Order of Light anticipated the Arab Spring and its disappointment in Egypt. In the novel  a young Muslim lights himself on fire to protest the authoritarian reality of the Middle East.

The writer and scholar is a fellow in the National Security Studies Program at New America Foundation and on the board of the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

He is also a Ph.D. Candidate at Columbia University's Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, where he focuses on Islamic thought in colonial India. His research is focused upon the Pakistani poet, philosopher and politician ‘Allama Muhammad Iqbal.

In an interview with the online magazine Elan earlier this year, Moghul discussed how he came to study Islamic thought:

I went through a phase of atheism, and the only thing that drew me back to Islam was the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. There’s a beautiful passage in one of Iqbal’s books, the Javid Nama, in which he writes, ‘You can deny God, but you cannot deny the Prophet.’

Even though he and I are in so many ways so unlike, this captured me. I’d rejected God. But I couldn’t reject Muhammad. So what then? And that’s what academia is all about. We find questions that are deeply meaningful to us, such that we choose to sit beside them and think about them for years. I have to have the courage to admit: Questions don’t have to have easy answers. Our lives can be lived in search for meaning, but sometimes it’s the search that is more beneficial than its conclusion. I think Iqbal would agree with that. He’d look at crude sloganeering, like ‘Islam is the solution,’ and ask, ‘to what problems?’ ...

We think about the world in very different ways that our medieval predecessors did. Must we then think about religion in different ways too?  That was Iqbal’s whole project, a very Ghazalian ihya, or revival, but conceived of as a ‘reconstruction.’

Moghul was born and raised in Massachusetts.



  • Thanks for this OpEd

  • Thanks for another important report at Journey thru NYC Religions. We desperately need to hear from more Muslim voices like Haroon Moghul, prepared for the work of social change which lies ahead.

    I quote from the full interview with Haroon Moghul, published at the link in the note above. I find it astonishing that so few people writing today about the Arab Spring and the turmoil in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America, acknowledge the fact that just a few years ago, people in the Middle East and elsewhere in the "Third World" were actively oppressed by American and European powers. "... considered intellectually, culturally, politically and even physically inferior."

    In light of this history, we should be thankful the turmoil is not much worse. Clearly, we are going to need wisdom and all the "sympathetic objectivity" [Journey's journalistic rationale] we can muster.

    "Let’s not underestimate this.
    A hundred years ago, the Third World—which basically included all of Islam—was colonized, and considered intellectually, culturally, politically and even physically inferior.
    In many ways, Muslims and global Southerners thought the same of themselves.
    Today, look at how greatly the world has changed. One day soon we’ll see a woman who wears hijab as President of a country. People with brown and black skin are at the world’s cutting-edge.

    "And countries like China and Brazil, assumed to be genetically inferior, are racing ahead, while Western Europe seems to fall into a demographic and political slumber.
    The Muslim world is part of this awakening, one which has been going on for a long time, but I have no idea where it’s headed, except that it’s moving, and hundreds of millions of people moving will shake the planet.

    "And because so many Muslims are so young, much of Islam will become inflicted by the concerns of young people, struggling against indigenous legacies of patriarchy, autocracy, and stagnation, as well as the realities of colonialism, racism, imperialism and capitalism.
    The Arab Spring presents us a foreshadowing of this, but I’d be far too forward if I claimed to know how it’ll all shake out....."

Sign up for Journey newsletter!

Privacy by SafeUnsubscribe

Upcoming Features