From journalism to television sitcom


From freelance radio and TV news writer/producer to documentary maker to creator of a hit Canadian sitcom, Ryerson University journalism graduate Zarqa Nawaz' media career is on a serious roll.

"I didn't realize I had an affinity for writing or the creative process," says Nawaz, the brains behind CBC's highly successful Little Mosque on the Prairie. "Ryerson exposed me to the writing side of me that I didn't know I had."

In the late '80s, Nawaz was on track to become a doctor, but after struggling through a four-year bachelor of science degree she took the advice of her filmmaker best friend and turned her attention to journalism.

Upon graduating in 1992, Nawaz leveraged her training to build a progressive career as a writer/producer for CBC, first for its radio division, working on programs such as Morningside, and later for its TV division. She also worked for a time as a producer at CTV's Canada AM. In 1994, two changes took place in Nawaz' life: She, her husband and her one-year-old daughter moved to Regina, Sask.; and, seeking to satisfy what she calls a "creative itch," Nawaz switched gears and began filmmaking as a way to tell the stories that most interested her.

She took a summer film workshop and, drawing on her Muslim heritage, began making films that riffed on terrorism, burqas and fatwas.

The increased scrutiny on the Muslim faith post-9-11 inspired in Nawaz the idea for a TV sitcom that showed the humourous side of the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims. The CBC quickly scooped up Little Mosque on the Prairie - a comedic take on small-town Canadian life with a Muslim twist - and Nawaz began working with a team of veteran TV comedy writers to make it happen.

"With so much curiosity about Islam, we're perfectly situated to talk about the issues of the day, including racism, sexism and extremism in the religion, and to do it in a comedic fashion, which no one else had done." Nawaz is always looking ahead to the next project, which at the moment is another sitcom, this time for the U.S. market, about the interdynamics between three generations of a Muslim family. But when she looks back on her start, she's grateful for the creative spark triggered by her journalism training.

"I was able to delve into another part of myself and get on a great pathway to television and filmmaking."