The Next Chapter·Q&A

How Zarqa Nawaz's real life crisis of faith inspired her novel Jameela Green Ruins Everything

The Little Mosque on the Prairie creator spoke to Shelagh Rogers about writing a debut novel.
(Peter Scoular)

Zarqa Nawaz is the creator of the hit comedy TV series Little Mosque on the Prairie and author of a memoir called Laughing All the Way to the Mosque.

Her latest book is a novel called Jameela Green Ruins Everything. It's a satire of America's Global War on Terrorism and a comedy about faith and family. The story follows Jameela Green, a middle aged suburban Muslim mom experiencing a crisis of faith. Jameela desperately wants her memoir to make the New York Times bestseller list.

But when that doesn't happen, she turns to the imam at her local mosque for answers. They make a pact that sets off a series of unexpected and zany events that land Jameela in an international terrorist organization in a bid to save her friend and then the world.

Nawaz spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Jameela Green Ruins Everything.

What was the inspiration for Jameela Green Ruins Everything?

I was going through a really introspective time in my life. After Little Mosque on the Prairie, I hadn't been able to get a second show off the ground. My book hadn't made it to the New York Times bestseller list. I was having a spiritual crisis — talking to God all the time. I wanted to be in a different place.

I was having a spiritual crisis — talking to God all the time.

So I started writing. A lot of it was very personal. And as I was writing, the whole idea of, "What if this character accidentally gets an imam to disappear in the same way Maher Arar was disappeared all those years ago?" came to me. I had remembered reading his wife Monia Mazigh's memoir about that period and it was so heart-wrenching. I thought, "God, these things happened all the time." So I thought, "What if the imam disappeared? And what if Jameela was responsible for that but nobody would believe her when she was trying to explain why?"

What made you want to tell this story through a comedic lens?

For me, comedy kind of breaks it down into smaller bites so my brain and my emotions can get through it. If you have to sit through something that's hard, painful and uncomfortable, I need to be able to laugh at it and be able to make other people laugh at it. Then we can say, "Ok, that was funny, but what's actually happening?"

It's been the way that I've connected to different situations through story and comedy and the way I connect to other people.

I connect to different situations and to other people through story and comedy. I think it's a way of coping for me. Psychologically, it's a way of being able to take something so difficult and distil it down to its essence. Then I'm able to laugh at it, connect to it, be able to talk about it and process it — sort of giving yourself power over it. 

Little Mosque on the Prairie creator Zarqa Nawaz is returning to the airwaves with her new show, ZARQA

1 year ago
Duration 2:45
Zarqa Nawaz, creator of Little Mosque on the Prairie is filming a new comedy series in Regina

You also write that writing through the prism of faith helped a lot. How did that help?

I am a practicing Muslim. But just because you're someone who believes in God, doesn't mean that faith comes easily to you. There's this verse in the Qur'an, which says, "I will test you through loss of life or through loss of labour or through loss of wealth." But why does it have to be like that? Why can't you be nice to us all the time? Why can't things be easy?

Even though the novel is a zany international spy thriller, I think at its core, it's about how belief can get you through the most difficult stages in your life.

I know spiritually, the reason God says this is because it's how we grow and we change and become more empathetic toward others. So when I was going through this really difficult period in my life, it was hard to sit there and say, "I'm going to have faith and I'm going to have to be patient. I need to have complete and utter certainty that eventually things will get better." How do you build that trust and not not let grief, worry, sadness and depression overwhelm you? That's the place I was when I wrote this book.

Even though the novel is a zany international spy thriller, I think at its core, it's about how belief can get you through the most difficult stages in your life.

Jameela's understanding and her relationship with God changes along the journey. What did you want her to experience?

I wanted Jameela to realize that when you get to absolute rock bottom in your life and there's nothing left, the only thing left is your trust in God. I wanted there to be the switch when the imam who had such strong faith starts to lose it, and he himself starts to wonder if the things that he says are true. One of my favourite lines in the book is when she says, "I can't be the one who breaks him."

Sometimes looking after somebody else who's in pain is the thing you need to heal yourself.

Jameela realizes she's going to have to be the one who helps him through this. She's the one who suddenly has to be the strong one who teaches him about faith and belief. It sort of fell into the theme of the book that you can become stronger if you believe and you don't give up on yourself. Sometimes looking after somebody else who's in pain is the thing you need to heal yourself.

Zarqa Nawaz's comments have been edited for length and clarity

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