Zarqa Nawaz offers humorous take on Islam in Laughing All the Way to the Mosque
The creator of the hit TV show Little Mosque on the Prairie, Zarqa Nawaz, says she wants to put the fun back in fundamentalism. So that's the theme of her talk this evening at the Indian Summer festival.
"Why did I come up with that slogan?" Nawaz tells the Georgia Straight on the line from her home in Regina. "I think it's because it is a coping strategy for me to deal with everything around me that's happening. If you can just see the humour in it, then you can get through."
The documentary maker, former CBC journalist, and mother of four has written a new book, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque (HarperCollins), which is a series of comedic essays in memoir form.
It addresses everything from the hijab to not getting into medical school to Eid, which is the Feast of Fast-Breaking to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
Nawaz, who was born in Liverpool, wears a hijab, as does one of her daughters, whereas her other daughter does not wear it. To Nawaz, it's a matter of choice in terms of how Muslim women want to interpret the Koran's message that they should show modesty.
One chapter, entitled "Behind the shower curtain", captures the frustration she felt when men and women were separated during prayers in her Regina mosque.
"Ultimately, that was the way Little Mosque on the Prairie came into being," Nawaz reveals. "A very conservative imam from Saudi Arabia was hell-bent on making sure women were behind a curtain. It was so upsetting—so upsetting that this was happening in my community that it ultimately spawned an entire TV series."
The program attracted 2.1 million viewers for its opening episode, the largest in modern history for a CBC show. Nawaz has since sold four pilots to U.S. television networks, but none have been converted into a series yet.
She originally intended to write a serious book, but on the advice of her editor, it was rewritten in a more lighthearted format.
She jokes that writing intellectual essays is not her strength—and she's jealous of those who can do that.
These days, Nawaz is fasting during Ramadan, which means she sometimes feels a bit sluggish. In fact, she confesses that at times, her brain is like molasses.
"I don't recommend launching a book in Ramadan," she quips. "That would be my first advice to everyone."
Her book includes a chapter on the first Eid dinner she hosted to celebrate the end of Ramadan. It has since become an annual event with a tent pitched in her back yard to accommodate a growing number of guests each year.
Nawaz jokes that there's "big competition" for tents nowadays because it's also wedding season.
"My kids invite their teachers and their friends and the neighbourhood," she says. "We stagger it throughout the day because even the tent can't hold that many people."
When asked what the biggest misconceptions are about Islam in Canada, Nawaz can't resist making a wisecrack.
"I think the [biggest] one is that we are all in cahoots—we want to take over and destroy western civilization and impose Shariah [Islamic law]. And that this is our goal in life, really," she says. "I was telling a reporter, it's really hard just to get your kids to and from soccer practice. I find those goals a bit too lofty, so I feel we're not really up to the challenge."
On a more serious note, she admits to being troubled that whenever there's an article about her online, the comment section is often filled with "horrific" remarks about her faith.
"It's disconcerting because I'm sure all these people have Muslim neighbours who are not like that at all," Nawaz says. "Yet this impression of us as violent crazy people still exists and lives in the stratosphere."