The Muslim Students’ Association collaborated with the English and Drama Student Society last Friday to host an evening with Zarqa Nawaz.

The writer, filmmaker, journalist, and UTM alumna spoke intimately about growing up in Canada as a Pakistani Muslim woman and how she created an internationally recognized show on CBC, Little Mosque on the Prairie.

“The big push, especially from our dads, was to become doctors […] as a little kid, that was the occupation that I had been taught would be the best occupation. It was like my plan A,” said Nawaz.

But soon after she received her Bachelor of Science, Nawaz could not deny the discontent she felt with her area of study. The pressure from her parents—who also attended the event—began to loosen at the time, and she decided to change her path to journalism.

Nawaz described her work in journalism, documentary filmmaking, and TV shows as “satirical comedies about Muslims and stereotypes”.

She pointed to Little Mosque on the Prairie as her most successful project, as it reached TV sets worldwide in the post-9/11 era, a time when she described Muslims as being “very self-conscious of their representation” and non-Muslims as having a skewed vision of Islam.

“At that point, the only television shows that existed that portray Muslims were Homeland or 24, and the only reality you see as Muslim men were as terrorists […] and Muslim women as victims of terrorists,” she said.

During the Q&A session, the discussion shifted towards Nawaz’s efforts to show her audiences “the suburban, regular Muslim: the people who pay their bills, the people who raise their kids […] in that average boring suburban life”.

A childhood spent among a high degree of diversity inspired Nawaz to educate the public on the tolerance of Muslim communities and to in effect reduce the ostracism many Muslims face in Europe and North America.

Although Nawaz is no longer producing TV shows, she is still pursuing her writing career. Her latest book, Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, was featured at the event.