Humanities Center Director: Thomas Wilson

Zarqa Nawaz

Writer, Journalist, Broadcaster, Screenwriter, and Filmmaker

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mosque

Thursday, April 28, 2011 • 4:10pm • Taylor Science Center G027

When Zarqa Nawaz moved from big city Toronto to the Canadian prairies, she decided to stop whining and start writing. The CBC hit sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie was born. Zarqa will talk about how her comedic experiences growing up Muslim resulted in material for her television show, which is now airing its fifth season in Canada and in over sixty countries around the world.

A Canadian woman of Muslim faith, Zarqa Nawaz was born in Liverpool, England, and raised in the Toronto area. She has a B.Sc. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.A. in journalism from Ryerson University. Initially, she planned to go to medical school but a rejection letter quickly changed her plans and her career choice. A journalism degree later, she found herself working with CBC Radio in various capacities. Looking for a more creative outlet, she began working as a filmmaker, using comedy to explore the relationships between Muslims and their neighbours in contemporary North America. In 2007, her sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie became an instant success on CBC television. She named her production company FUNdamentalist Films, which is all about “putting the ‘fun’ back into fundamentalism.  Little Mosque on the Prairie premiered to record viewership and ultimately became CBC’s highest rated sitcom. The success of her series ushered in a new era of television in Canada. The show has garnered many national and international awards such as the Canada Award at the Geminis, Audience Award for Best Series at the Cinema Tout Ecran in Switzerland, and the Maximo Award for best screenplay at Italy’s Roma FictionFest.  Zarqa Nawaz has written three other comedy pilots: in 2007 she wrote Mecca, Indiana for ABC; in 2008, George and Jamila for NBC; and in 2009, When Harry met Noora for CBS. She has written and directed four comedy short films: BBQ MUSLIMS (1996), Death Threat (1998), Fred’s Burqa (2004), Random Check (2005); these have aired on CBC as well. Death Threat and BBQ MUSLIMS both premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. She wrote and directed the award winning documentary Me and the Mosque, which explored encroaching conservatism in North American mosques and ultimately inspired the series Little Mosque on the Prairie.

Sponsored by the Humanities Forum, the Dean of Faculty, the Yordán Lecture Fund, Kirkland Endowment, Religious Studies Department, and the Chaplaincy