Book Review: Laughing All the Way to the Mosque

This was a first for me; I’ve never read an autobiographical book of a modern-day Muslimah.

Frankly, it’s not a topic that interests me because I feel like I would already know what would be written; que the stereotypical struggles of overcoming racism, oppression of a patriarchal society, religion vs. the modern world, etc. Perhaps that’s dismissive and presumptive of me, but in all honestly, that’s completely how I see it. But this book was given to me as an Easter gift by my aunt (ironic!) who wasn’t sure if it would be offensive or not, but thought it would at least be humorous. I figured it would be a waste not to read it.

The author, Zarqa Nawaz, is a Canadian of Pakistani origin who starts the book with her grade school self wanting to fit in with the other Canadian girls in her class. The only thing standing in her way are her pungent curried chicken drumsticks that her mom packs for lunch. Although after some whining she successfully convinces her mother to pack her PB&J like the other girls, after a short trial period she comes to the conclusion that fitting in is overrated and leaves you more hungry.

As you continue reading, you will see that that is the theme of Nawaz’ life. Although I was doubtful about the impact this book would have on me, surprisingly, Nawaz has gumption which is something more Muslim women should have. At first, due to parental pressure she started going down the traditional and boring path of pre-med undergraduate studies, medical school and then marriage, but she knew she was better than that. Luckily, she did not get accepted to medical school which triggered two desperate quests in her and her mother: Nawaz wanted to get into journalism school and her mother wanted her to get married. Of course, Nawaz finishes her quest first and from there her talent at writing takes her from the newsroom, to producing a couple of short independent films, to the first sitcom of its kind on Canadian television, “Little Mosque on the Prairie”. Oh yes, and she does find the time to get married and have four children in the midst of all of this.

She takes us through all of these milestones in her life and the hilarious events that punctuate them. Her writing is funny in a way that is well-suited to a medium such as film or TV. There were a few times when I felt that she was stretching the humor in a situation (bathroom scene with the contractor, jinn outhouse by the gas station) but for the most part I chuckled along to her foibles. At times she shocked me with her cheeky inattention to social rules (her comments at the dead body washing committee were too much!) but I suppose it’s that same boldness that compelled her to forge the career she did.

This is a mostly light-hearted but meaningful read that explains the common cultural and religious issues that Muslim women encounter at some point in their lives. I was expecting the lamenting of a disenfranchised woman but was surprised to find the smart and ballsy woman for me to admire. Overall, I highly recommend this book to someone interested in seeing a different type of Muslimah than the ones you see on the news — endearingly irreverent though she may be.

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Reflections: Eid Al-Adha 2016

Eid al-adha has begun and will last until Thursday. The most holy of our two holidays in which we remember one of the main trials of Ibrahim’s life — to obey Allah by the sacrifice of his son, Ismail.

Every year this holiday comes and every year I find it very difficult to relate to that level of iman. It’s too incredible for my little brain. The fact is that I just don’t hear about things like that happening nowadays.

If you take a moment and really imagine the story of Ibrahim’s sacrifice as more than just a story you read about, but as what it is — a real historical event — you’ll know what I mean.

What if you heard about an incident with a neighbor who was a good man. A man who was very pious and God-fearing and you hear about what happened with his son who was also very pious and good. You hear that one day he had a dream in which God told him to sacrifice his son to show his faith. Right when he’s about to slit his son’s throat, at the eleventh hour, a miracle happens and he sees that his son has been replaced by a dead ram and that his son is unharmed.

It’s different when you hear it like that, isn’t it? That kind of faith doesn’t exist in everyone or everywhere. I wish I could say that I would do the same if I was in his position. But honestly, I most likely won’t. I don’t know anyone who would either. But that’s why we remember it every year since about 1700 BC.

It was an incredible leap of faith that continues to baffle, awe, and inspire generations of people. It never gets old and it never gets topped.

It makes me look at all of the things I’ve wanted to improve in myself in order to get closer to Allah. One of the most difficult and enduring of which is to memorize the Qur’an. Ever since I converted I’ve had the thought of memorizing this great book gnawing at my brain. Is it the voice of God telling me to do it? I’m guessing not. Most likely it’s just my habit of setting high expectations for myself that is making me want to do this, but still, maybe those thoughts that challenge us to improve and test our strength are the ones we need to listen to.

Just like Ibrahim who listened to a dream he had, maybe we need to listen to our dreams and have some faith in God for everything to work out for us.

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