CRI marks first anniversary with Zarqa Nawaz

By KIRAN MALIK-KHAN, Connect Contributor

Members of the Collaboration for Religious Inclusion (CRI) committee with Zarqa Nawaz (second-right) creator of CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. PHOTO: Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

Members of the Collaboration for Religious Inclusion (CRI) committee with Zarqa Nawaz (second-right) creator of CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. PHOTO: Kiran Malik-Khan, Connect Weekly

“This is not about tolerance, this is about inclusion, I repeat, inclusion, not tolerance,” Wajeehullah Arain summed up Collaboration for Religious Inclusion (CRI) committee’s goal perfectly.

The group marked its first anniversary on November 7, 2015 with a keynote address from Zarqa Nawaz, creator of the hit CBC show “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” The event was held at the Eagle Ridge YMCA Community Centre, and saw strong support from the community.

Formed after the Unity Walk following the Parliament attacks in the fall of 2014, CRI has a mission to bring together like-minded organizations to foster religious understanding and inclusion.

Partner groups include: First Nations Elder Bill Bertschy, Fort McMurray First United Church, Fort McMurray Sikh Society, the Islamic Centre of Fort McMurray, Markaz Ul Islam, McMurray Gospel Assembly, The Multicultural Association of Fort McMurray, RCMP Wood Buffalo, Regional Advisory Committee for Inclusion, Diversity, and Equality (RACIDE), and Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Arain, who was the event emcee spoke of the group being a “voice for the voiceless.”

“We are here for the indigenous sisters, for seventh-day Adventists who want to worship the way they wish, and for Muslim women who want to wear the niqab to citizenship ceremonies. We are here with love and respect for each other,” said Arain, who is the Vice President for Community Affairs, Markaz Ul Islam.

Greg Wolf of McMurray Gospel Assembly spoke of the group’s origins. He emphasized the committee’s focus on working together for a better community.

“We now have a multi-faith prayer room at the Fort McMurray International Airport. This is a great group working hard,” said Greg Wolf.

“We now have a multi-faith prayer room at the Fort McMurray International Airport. This is a great group working hard.”

In a word, Zarqa Nawaz, was impressed.

“I was pleasantly surprised to be invited to this event. I didn’t know Fort McMurray was diverse. This is wonderful. It tells you there are people here who respect diversity and inclusion. It tells you people care. Canada leads the world in integrating different people. We have something precious, and we have to hang on to that,” said Nawaz, who had just returned from Europe promoting her book Laughing All the Way to the Mosque, which has been translated into Dutch.

Her keynote focused on how she used her creative gifts to foster an understanding of diverse groups, especially Muslims. She spoke about her multicultural family background spanning three continents.

“My story begins in 1947. My dad was from India. He then moved to Pakistan after 1947, and then came to Liverpool, England, where I was born. We moved to Canada when I was five.”

A self-confessed accidental writer, Nawaz, who has a BSc, set out to be a doctor, like most Southeast Asian children fulfilling their parents’ wishes.

“I was devastated when I didn’t get the marks for medical school, but then went to Journalism school at Ryerson when I started noticing young strangers in my living room eager to marry me. My dad was anti-marriage. My mom had other ideas,” she shared with a laugh.

And, then making movies came. She started with BBQ Brothers (1996) a supposedly serious look at Islamophobia, inspired by the Oklahoma City bombing. The movie premiered at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival to critical acclaim.

“I couldn’t understand why people were laughing. But, it showed me, humour works.”

In 2007, “Little Mosque on the Prairie” premiered to record ratings on CBC with “2.1 million viewers. The last time CBC had that many viewers was 20 years before when Anne of Green Gables was on,” shared Nawaz, who lives in Saskatchewan.

The show, based in the rural town of Mercy, Saskatchewan focused on a Mosque within a Church, and how the small community came together. “Little Mosque on the Prairie” was the first show of its kind in the world – helping everyone understand Islam relatively better. It was exported to 60 countries around the world with European media trying to understand Canadian dynamics of integration the most.

Mary Thomas, Executive Director, Multicultural Association of Wood Buffalo, helped oversee the anniversary event, and was responsible for landing Nawaz as the keynote speaker. She first heard her speak at the 2015 Fostering Diverse Communities conference in Grande Prairie.

“Zarqa was the keynote speaker. However, instead of speaking about race or gender disparity, she tackled the bull of religious discrimination by its horns using humour,” said Mary Thomas.

“Zarqa was the keynote speaker. However, instead of speaking about race or gender disparity, she tackled the bull of religious discrimination by its horns using humour. At the time CRI was evolving like a grassroots solution, an answer to a cry from the community to stand in unity and solidarity against the hate that was taking over the country after the Ottawa shootings,” she said.

“When we were looking at likely speakers to launch CRI in the community, I couldn’t think of anyone better. She seemed to be the icon and role model for the modern, bold young women of faith who have to deal with freedom within family, community and the broader universe.”

– Connect Weekly –