Dark Nights of the Soul

Leadership is always a tough position to take. All eyes on you and your every move. Being a religious leader raises those stakes, especially if you're a Muslim one prodded in front of cameras after 9/11. Haroon Moghul was 20-something and leading New York University's Islamic Center when his religion became a lightning rod for social and political ire.

While that's an undesirable spotlight for anyone to occupy, it caught Moghul in the midst of an ongoing crisis of faith, one that began when he was a teen and frequently left him wondering if he was a fraud. Originally triggered by adolescent feelings of love and lust, his dark night of the soul grew over time to swallow his marriage, mind and nearly his life. Fortunately, a Pakistani Muslim psychiatrist was able to clue him into what else was weighing him down: bipolar disorder.

What endears me to memoirs about belief is when they're written with profound candor--ditching any sense of "holier than thou." You can see it in Kathleen Norris's classic The Cloister Walk and Shalom Auslander's caustic Foreskin's Lament. Somewhere between Norris's devotion and Auslander's desertion lies How to Be a Muslim (Beacon Press, $17). Moghul takes many an opportunity to delve into Islamic history as he strives to sort himself out. Even when he's in a flat-out run from his Muslim upbringing, he catches whiffs of the Prophet and the caliphs in his own experiences. They are echoes that ultimately draw him back, but not without significant changes in his relationship to the religion.

In time, Moghul learns to manage his mental health and even begins to see where it dovetails with his faith. He aims for a life "in awe at the privilege of existence" as he learns and relearns the love and gratitude that inhere in Islam. "Because we exist. But we did not ask to." --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

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