Born in England and raised in Canada by Pakistani parents, Zarqa Nawaz has always lived in two very different cultures at the same time. Navigating a more liberal culture while staying true to her parents conservative culture made for some very interesting experiences to say the least. It seems that the best way to remain sane in this sort of situation is to look at it all with humour. And that is exactly what Zarqa has done.
In 2007, Zarqa brought to Canadian television a hilarious, momentous television show called Little Mosque on the Prairie. Set in Saskatchewan, the show was a comical look at the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in a small town. And it was hilarious. Now, the hilarity continues in her fabulous memoir Laughing All the Way to the Mosque.
From being a young girl trying to convince her mother she should take peanut butter sandwiches to school rather than curry chicken drumsticks, to trying to explain to a plumber why her toilet must be within arms length of the sink, Nawaz looks at her life full of culture clashes with fondness and humour. There is the traditional stuff like arranged marriages and a pilgrimage to Mecca and the non-traditional stuff like playing the Newlywed Game at Muslim youth camp. There’s serious subjects, like what it’s like to be Muslim in the days following 9/11 and separation of genders in religious services, and hilarious moments involving trying to find enough halal chicken thighs to feed over 100 people the day before Eid.
I absolutely enjoyed this book. I read an excerpt online and immediately went to get a copy of the book. I watched Little Mosque each week and many other times in reruns and the humour you see on the screen is what you get here on the page. I was laughing out loud, reading passages to my husband and making him laugh out loud, and recommending this book to friends.
Part of the reason why I find this book so funny is because I’ve spent my entire life with people just like Zarqa, people with immigrant Muslim parents whose entire lives have been spent immersed in Canadian culture. But I will say, that you don’t need to have that experience to find this book funny. You don’t need to know much about Islam either. I’m not saying that this is the book to learn all about it, but it definitely challenges any negative attitudes that are directed toward the faith.
At the heart of it, this isn’t just a book about growing up Muslim. It’s about growing up in a culture that is not your parents, about the clashes between parents and children, and about being the odd one out on the playground, both as a child and in life. Many people will see themselves in this book, even if they have nothing in common with Zarqa. Except for crazy family members, we have all that in common.