Laughing all the Way to the Mosque: The Misadventures of a Muslim Woman
© 2016 Zarqa Nawaz
‘A hit religious comedy show about Muslims worshipping in a broken-down mosque, within a broken-down church, living in a tiny town in the Canadian Midwest?’ said the reporter. ‘I can guarantee you, no one saw that coming.’
In 2007 I stumbled upon a Canadian TV show called Little Mosque on the Prairie, about a small Muslim community in a Saskatchewan town. I found the show delightful on every level, with wonderful character drama, frequent laughs, and interesting shows exploring conflicts within Islam, and between Islam and what passes for western culture these days. Think Vicar of Dibley, but with more religion and fewer allusions to bestiality. I recently found its creator’s memoir, and picked it up hoping for information about the making of the show. While there’s very little about that, Laughing all the Way is entertaining in its own right, being the memoir of a second-generation immigrant who grew up in Canada but within a largely West Asian Muslim community, working to find a fusion between ‘her’ culture and her parents’. These conflicts often informed the storytelling of Little Mosque, though, so fans of the show should find it especially rewarding to read. It’s a coming of age story, as she begins a child and by the end, is taking on serious adult obligations like the washing of the dead.
Nawaz opens up with the usual child-of-immigrants conflicts: young Zarqa wants to fit in with the rest of the kids and wear something other than traditional Punjabi clothes, but her parents resist; she wants to shave her legs and cut her hair, but her parents object. She takes a right turn, however, when she sees someone wearing a hijab for the first time and realizes the potential that Islam has for the perennial struggle between kids and their parents: she can out-Muslim mom and dad! The memoir jumps quite a bit, so we met find her as a young adult guiding the programming of a Muslim summer camp, and already displaying a mix of piety and irreverence. Although her heart’s desire was to become a doctor, Nawaz’ horror of blood and her poor performance in the sciences steered her instead toward journalism, where amid growing Mideastern & Central Asian immigration to the west, and concerns about terrorism, she hoped to tell stories that would otherwise go overlooked. After becoming a mother and taking the Hajj (a full account of which is rendered here), she switches to filmmaking — creating movies that explore issues within Islam, particularly the attempted enforcement of foreign mores onto more westernized Muslim congregations by imported imams. Many of the issues that her own congregation addressed in her young adulthood, like the creation of literal barriers between men and women, were explored in Little Mosque, as well as through Nawaz’ documentary Me and the Mosque. Nawaz touches on differences between West Asian & Arabic expressions of Islam that weren’t addressed during the show, despite its characters including Arab, Nigerian, and Pakistani Muslims. Although touching on many serious topics, this is largely a comic memoir, and thoroughly entertaining. It suffers a bit in its jumping around, and the lack of a general narrative that could tie the excerpts together.
Again I put the kids into mixed-gender teams and let each team debate the issue. Ibrahim was clearly uncomfortable with this sort of arrangement. ‘I doubt they’ll have sex while debating,’ I assured him.
‘Fine,’ I said. ‘But we take the secret of the origins of this marshmallow bag with us to the grave.’ ‘To the grave,’ he said. ‘Pinkie swear,’ I said, holding out my hand. ‘That’s too forward,’ he said.
The hospital recommended Dr Weiner, who was one of the best circumcision men in the city. As soon as we entered the office, his secretary pounced. ‘The doctor’s name is pronounced “Wayner”, not “Weener”,’ she told me helpfully. Wayner, wayner, wayner.
[T]he girls were young and I felt we had to compete with Christmas, the grandaddy of all religious holidays. Muslims don’t have holiday icons like Santa Claus or Frosty the Snowman, because we have a hysterical fear of worshipping things other than God and our holidays centre around themes like starvation and near-child sacrifice. Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of his son is much harder to celebrate with papier mâché than you might think, so I improvised.
Funny in Farsi & Laughing Without an Accent, Firoozeh Dumas
Rebel without a Green Card, Sara Saedi
Wish we had the show here in the US. I’d love to watch it.
I started by watching them on youtube (circa 2007, 2008), then bought the DVDs. There are a lot of episodes currently on youtube if you’re interested in getting a taste of the show. 🙂