As I may have mentioned previously (I’d say stop me if I’m becoming a bore but that is a risky thing to say…) I do not have a religious faith. However, I’m a firm believer in understanding the faiths of others – and one of the best parts of living in Bradford is that I have lots of people to discuss these things with. Call me old-fashioned but I’d rather learn about Islam from talking to and reading the works of Muslims than trusting the tabloid press. Actually, to be fair, I’d probably not want to trust the tabloid press on much at all but I guess I’ll let them give me the football results…
In Zarqa Nawaz’s Laughing All The Way to the Mosque I think I have found a great introduction to the realities of being a Muslim woman in the twentieth century west. There isn’t a huge amount here about the practice of the Islamic faith – Nawaz is not proselytising and doesn’t expect to convert her readers – but there is a lot about practicalities. About why a wash-basin within reach of the loo is the ideal and whether leg-shaving is un-Islamic. You know, the normal stuff. In fact what a large part of the book is about is cultural rather than religious – and often the younger generation are as concerned about the culture they live in as in the one their parents came from. In Nawaz’s case she is more interested in how to fit into Canadian society than into that of Pakistan.
What really sealed the deal for me, however, was how funny the writing is. We rattle through the author’s childhood and education – she seems to have been like most kids the world over, interested in food, fitting in and feeling she knows better than her parents (especially in her teens) – and, once her future career as a doctor falls through after a nasty case of not passing any of the exams, we approach the subject of marriage. Again there is the clash between a modern girl wanting to fall in love (or at least make her own choice of husband) and parents who have had a happy arranged marriage so don’t see why an alternative is necessary. In all these areas, and into her career as a journalist and writer, we see that Zarqa Nawaz is a fast-talking, well-meaning but slightly accident prone woman.
The main part of this book is about Zarqa’s married life. She obviously loves her husband and adores her children but, like any modern woman, she still wants a career. This eventually develops into her work writing a sit-com called Little Mosque on the Prairie – which sounds as if it was everything Citizen Khan wanted to be (but never quite managed). We can see that some of the more conservative elements of Canadian Islam were not amused but, hopefully, this is the kind of writing which will show us the things which we all have in common no matter what our religious or cultural background. I wonder if I can find any episodes of Little Mosque online – it sounds like a sitcom which would travel well?