Zarqa Nawaz had a hit show, then a decade-long dry spell. She’s ready for her second act.

Issues have been going nice for Zarqa Nawaz. Little Mosque on the Prairie, the trailblazing CBC sequence she created and the primary Muslim-centric sitcom on western TV, was successful for six seasons, airing its finale in 2012. Two years later, her light-hearted memoir, Laughing All of the Option to the Mosque, was launched to essential acclaim, cementing her popularity as certainly one of Canada’s most beloved comedians. Then Zarqa Nawaz’s telephone stopped ringing as a lot it used to. For nearly a decade, she lived by a interval {of professional} uncertainty that felt like a check of religion.

She chipped away at a provocative satirical novel—a comedic spin on ISIS, and America’s coverage within the Center East—however had hassle promoting it to publishers, who have been involved about its dangerous material. She tried her hand at recommendation columns and radio internet hosting, however in the end had hassle promoting these jobs to herself. She felt like she’d given up.

In 2019, she was the tv anchor for the six o’clock information on CBC Saskatchewan. Throughout that point, at a social gathering, a detailed pal sidled up beside her and stated one thing that hit her deep in her intestine: “You already know you’re throwing your life away, proper?”

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Quickly, Nawaz discovered the gumption to give up her CBC job and turned again to her artistic initiatives. She began performing a stand-up act about generational variations in courting. She was headlining exhibits inside six months, and hoping she might Jerry Seinfeld her manner again onto tv. Then the pandemic hit. Underneath lockdown, she got here up with an concept for an additional TV present, this time a few divorced Muslim girl attempting to get again at her ex. On the similar time, she devoted herself to refining the novel.

It’s laborious to not interpret what occurred subsequent as an act of destiny. On Sept. 21, 2021, Nawaz acquired a suggestion from Simon & Schuster to purchase her novel. Hours later, she received a take care of CBC Gem to provide her sequence. “I felt this wave of pleasure,” she says. “Now I inform myself, ‘Do not forget that day. The subsequent time you undergo a dry spell, keep in mind that day when all the pieces labored out. That day will occur once more.’ ”

Nawaz's new novel 'Jameela Green Ruins Everything.'

Nawaz’s new novel ‘Jameela Inexperienced Ruins Every part.’

Nawaz, 54, is now experiencing a profession renaissance: her novel Jameela Inexperienced Ruins Every part lands on bookshelves on March 8, and her six-episode sequence Zarqa debuts on Could 13. Each function middle-aged Muslim girls who blossom into humorous, flawed heroines.

On the small display, Nawaz has pioneered the artwork of making stereotype-defying Muslim characters. Now a brand new forged of writers and filmmakers is constructing on that success, rising up by the outlet she made within the glass ceiling. Muslim heroines in popular culture are lastly beginning to take management of their very own destinies—and so is Nawaz.


Nawaz’s household moved from the U.Okay. to Canada in 1972, when she was 5 years outdated. Her mother and father settled in Brampton, Ont., and he or she grew up attending camps with the Muslim Youth of North America, an expertise that planted the seeds for her later work.

She earned a journalism diploma from Ryerson and received a job at CBC Radio. In 1994, she moved along with her husband and their first little one to Saskatchewan, the place he would practise drugs. Quickly after, Nawaz determined she needed to be a filmmaker and, in 1995, took a three-week course on the Ontario Faculty of Artwork and Design. There she produced her first movie, BBQ Muslims.

Within the five-minute brief, a pair of harmless Muslim brothers (performed by her personal brother and his pal) get locked up for bombing somebody’s yard barbecue in Oakville, Ont. In the meantime, the actual perpetrators, white members of an anti-barbecue group, are upset to not get credit score for the assault and capitalize on the publicity.

To Nawaz’s shock, the brief was chosen to display on the Toronto Worldwide Movie Competition in 1996. “I sat within the viewers and watched individuals watch the movie, and so they have been laughing,” she says. “That’s once I realized I might make comedies about political points.”

BBQ Muslims was one of many first instances Nawaz used zany plots to bust stereotypes about Muslim individuals. Every time we see Muslims in movie, she says, we solely see stereotypical tales. “It’s all the time the lifetime of a refugee, a terrorist, an oppressed girl,” she says. “And also you don’t see the odd.”

In 2005, Nawaz created a Nationwide Movie Board (NFB) documentary referred to as Me and the Mosque, as regards to male-female segregation and the affect of conservative Saudi Arabian beliefs on North American mosques. The NFB screened the movie at a competition in Banff, Alta., the place she met somebody from the Saskatchewan manufacturing firm West Wind Footage and pitched a TV comedy that performed on the identical themes. “I assumed to myself, ‘What if the imam wasn’t from a culturally conservative nation? What if he was born and raised in Canada? What if he got here from a unique career, like regulation, and like me, left Ontario to stay in Saskatchewan?’ ” Inside months, the CBC had picked up the present.

Little Mosque, set within the small, fictional city of Mercy, Sask., was groundbreaking for its ensemble forged of Muslim characters. It handled the dynamics between Christian and Muslim neighbours and the way Muslim individuals have been handled post-9/11—nevertheless it all the time had a light-weight contact.

For instance, within the pilot, an airport passenger misinterprets the brand new imam’s telephone dialog together with his mother: “No, don’t put Dad on. I’ve been planning this for months, it’s not like I dropped a bomb on him,” he says within the name. “If Dad thinks it’s suicide, so be it. That is Allah’s plan for me.” In fact, he’s referring to his dad’s misgivings in regards to the new job, nevertheless it takes some time to persuade airport safety. Nawaz’s favorite episode, “Eid’s a Great Life,” from Season 2, depicts the mayhem of getting Christmas and Eid ul-Adha scheduled just a few days aside (they solely fall throughout the identical month as soon as each 33 years). It ends on a montage of neighbours from competing vacation events breaking bread collectively, set to a canopy of Peace Prepare by Yusuf/Cat Stevens. “That yr Christmas and Eid ul-Adha have been inside days of one another, and I bear in mind going purchasing and there wasn’t any butter left. The grocery shops couldn’t deal with Christians, Muslims and Jews preventing over essential substances,” she says. Within the episode, she delighted in that absurd chaos.

Nawaz, shown here with co-stars Rob van Meenen and Bonnie Senger, produces and stars in the new series 'Zarqa' on CBC Gem (Courtesy of Peter Scoulard and CBC Gem)

Nawaz, proven right here with co-stars Rob van Meenen and Bonnie Senger, produces and stars within the new sequence ‘Zarqa’ on CBC Gem (Courtesy of Peter Scoulard and CBC Gem)

Though these plots have been radical for the time, the present was nonetheless a conventional sitcom, formulaic and secure sufficient that some critics needed to see extra aggressive social commentary. Wanting again now, Nawaz needs she’d pushed issues slightly farther, like in an episode referred to as “Ban the Burka,” impressed by niqab bans in Europe: “I remorse not making the niqabi character extra outstanding. There are so few alternatives for ladies in niqab to talk for themselves.”

Over its six seasons, the present was a rankings hit and earned worldwide consideration. “It proved to networks that you simply don’t must have white leads with a view to have a white viewers,” Nawaz says. “Persons are keen to observe good tv.”

Claire Ross Dunn wrote for the present for 2 seasons. It was an enormous writers’ room, however by coincidence, she ended up sitting subsequent to Nawaz. “To be trustworthy, she all the time appeared a bit like a Muslim Mary Tyler Moore,” Dunn says.

The 2 would giggle about their lives and their day-to-day peccadilloes, just like the madness of attempting to get their youngsters to soccer on time (Nawaz is a mom of 4), or getting certainly one of their sons to do his math homework when he didn’t need to. They found out how a lot they’d in frequent, simply because the present was attempting to do for a Canadian viewers of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

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Dunn discovered it thrilling to be part of one thing that had the potential to make society higher. It wasn’t simply fluffy TV. “I had watched numerous Homeland. I had watched numerous these American procedurals the place Muslims are continuously the villain. It was a radical to make a light-hearted comedy about Muslims.”

Illustration and variety change the best way viewers take into consideration different individuals, Nawaz says. “If you happen to’re by no means going to fulfill somebody exterior of your cultural bubble, then tv is perhaps the place you meet individuals.” A 2017 research from researchers on the College of Wisconsin-Madison discovered viewers had “decrease scores on implicit and express measures of prejudice” after watching Little Mosque, in comparison with a second group that watched an all-white sitcom. “It issues,” Nawaz says. “TV exhibits matter to how we humanize individuals.”


Jameela Inexperienced, the protagonist of Nawaz’s new novel, is an on a regular basis middle-aged Muslim girl who has simply written a memoir about being an on a regular basis middle-aged Muslim girl, however she’s dropping hope that it’s going to ever high the New York Instances bestseller checklist. Nawaz admits there’s some autobiography within the character. “To put in writing a satire about Muslims, terrorism and ISIS was not simple or essentially advisable,” Nawaz writes within the writer’s observe for Jameela Inexperienced Ruins Every part. It’s a comedy of errors about an odd Muslim girl thrust right into a high-stakes worldwide disaster. It’s additionally a story of inner battle, interspersed with characters’ non-public prayers to God. All through, Jameela struggles with preserving her religion and believing that issues will work out, it doesn’t matter what. “If I look again on the e book now, these are the issues I used to be attempting to persuade myself whereas I used to be writing it,” Nawaz says.

The novel is provocative and cheeky: the fictionalized ISIS group known as the Dominion of the Islamic Caliphate and Kingdom, and the unique title of the e book was The Rise and Fall of DICK. Nawaz is aware of that some scenes—particularly when characters discover themselves abroad within the grips of a murderous terror group—would possibly push the bounds of what an viewers needs to expertise, or what they discover humorous. She heard lots about it from the publishers and editors who learn her drafts.

“At a sure level, I gave up pondering that it might ever get offered as a result of too many individuals have been saying, ‘This e book is simply an excessive amount of, excessive, wacky, loopy.’ They’re like, ‘Are you able to carry it down?’ And I’m like, ‘No,’ ” she says. “This stuff occur on this planet. I’m not making these things up.”

She requested Omar Majeed, a filmmaker and editor, to learn the e book. Majeed met Nawaz within the mid-2000s, when he participated in a Nationwide Movie Board fellowship program and he or she was assigned as his mentor. He was impressed by her devotion to Islam on the one hand and her informal unflappability on the opposite: “I’ve by no means met somebody who’s that by-the-book with regard to faith, however terribly open-minded in each different manner.”

'Americanish' director Zawahry (left), shown here with Nawaz, directed the first two episodes of 'Zarqa' (Courtesy of Peter Scoulard and CBC Gem)

‘Americanish’ director Zawahry (left), proven right here with Nawaz, directed the primary two episodes of ‘Zarqa’ (Courtesy of Peter Scoulard and CBC Gem)

He applauded the e book for its bravery, and for addressing tough material, however predicted it may very well be a difficult learn for a lot of of their group: “As a result of Muslims and different Brown people in western society nonetheless are feeling the rapid results of their marginalization,” Majeed says. “And there are nonetheless deep, deep scars. There’s a sensitivity in our group. I perceive it, however I do know that we now have to work by it.”

The needle Nawaz is attempting to string reminds Majeed of The Producers, Mel Brooks’s 1967 black comedy about playwrights who create a musical about Adolf Hitler. The movie was controversial, criticized by the Jewish group for seeming to make mild of the Holocaust. Later, in a 1978 interview in Maclean’s, Brooks stated: “I believe you possibly can carry down totalitarian governments quicker through the use of ridicule than you possibly can with invective.”

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Nawaz says she’s dealing with criticism that she’s reinforcing stereotypes, and that Muslims don’t need to discuss in regards to the post-9/11 time interval. “Nevertheless it did occur,” she says. “Simply because issues are higher for us within the media doesn’t imply there nonetheless isn’t struggling happening. These terrorists did exist on this planet, however I’m attempting to place a unique spin on it.”


Little Mosque paved the best way for extra numerous Canadian TV sequence, like Kim’s Comfort. And but for a very long time it was nonetheless an outlier, a singular flashpoint in popular culture’s portrayal of Muslim characters. Iman Zawahry, a College of Florida lecturer and director of the 2021 function movie Americanish, a few group of younger Pakistani-American girls in New York, says all that modified with the election of Donald Trump and his determination to focus on Muslim-majority nations with a journey ban. “That was the second {that a} bunch of white male executives have been like, ‘Hey, it’s time for us to inform tales about Muslims,’ ” says Zawahry. “The hijab turned the brand new black. There was a hijabi in each single industrial.” In its 14th season in 2017, for instance, Gray’s Anatomy launched a hijabi physician for the primary time.

In the meantime, the political ambiance additionally made executives extra receptive to concepts from Muslim creators. Within the U.S., Ramy Youssef’s dramedy Ramy, which debuted in 2019, gave audiences new insights into the male Muslim-American expertise. In the UK, Nida Manzoor’s We Are Woman Components, whose first season aired in 2021, incorporates a group of younger Muslim girls, together with a niqabi, attempting to make it as an eponymous punk-rock outfit. In Canada, CBC Gem’s 2021 Kind Of, from Bilal Baig and Fab Filippo, explores the lifetime of the non-binary millennial little one of Pakistani immigrants. Ms. Marvel, scheduled for launch this summer time, will function the blockbuster Marvel franchise’s first Muslim superhero character, performed by Markham, Ont., actor Iman Vellani. And the second novel from Toronto writer Uzma Jalaluddin, Hana Khan Carries On, is being tailored for the silver display by Mindy Kaling and Amazon Studios.

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Zawahry says she cried whereas watching We Are Woman Components, and never due to the plot: “I cried as a result of what I’ve been attempting to do my total profession is definitely taking place.” Nawaz tapped her to direct the primary two episodes of Zarqa, a comedy sequence a few character not often (maybe by no means) explored on display: a middle-aged, divorced Muslim girl. The plot follows Zarqa, performed by Nawaz herself, as she learns her ex is marrying a younger, white yoga teacher, and reacts in every kind of imperfect methods—beginning with a promise to discover a white surgeon named Brian to carry as her plus-one to the marriage. Within the trailer, she asks Siri for the “No. 1 courting app for individuals over 50,” whispering into her iPhone, “white individuals solely.”

When Nawaz’s profession appeared stalled throughout current years, she felt at instances like she was drowning. She would pray to God: “Hey, man, what provides?” However she stored her religion. “As a Muslim, we’re to be examined, and you might be examined by loss. The entire objective of it’s to turn into stronger, to learn to belief and never surrender.”

Now she has handed the check, and he or she has a brand new appreciation for the facility of endurance. “You must by no means say by no means. You must all the time belief and have religion,” she says. “That’s what all this meant: be affected person, even when it means ready a decade.”

This text seems in print within the April 2022 problem of Maclean’s journal with the headline, “Zarqa Nawaz’s leap of religion.” Subscribe to the month-to-month print journal here.

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