Praying to the West: How Muslims Shaped the Americas

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Simon and Schuster, Sep 21, 2021 - Biography & Autobiography - 384 pages
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*Finalist for two Alberta Literary Awards: the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction and the Memoir Award*

*Selected as a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star*

An insightful and perspective-shifting new book, from a celebrated journalist, about reclaiming identity and revealing the surprising history of the Muslim diaspora in the west—from the establishment of Canada’s first mosque through to the long-lasting effects of 9/11 and the devastating Quebec City mosque shooting.

“Until recently, Muslim identity was imposed on me. But I feel different about my religious heritage in the era of ISIS and Trumpism, Rohingya and Uyghur genocides, ethnonationalism and misinformation. I’m compelled to reclaim the thing that makes me a target. I’ve begun to examine Islam closely with an eye for how it has shaped my values, politics, and connection to my roots. No doubt, Islam has a place within me. But do I have a place within it?”

Omar Mouallem grew up in a Muslim household, but always questioned the role of Islam in his life. As an adult, he used his voice to criticize what he saw as the harms of organized religion. But none of that changed the way others saw him. Now, as a father, he fears the challenges his children will no doubt face as Western nations become increasingly nativist and hostile toward their heritage.

In Praying to the West, Mouallem explores the unknown history of Islam across the Americas, traveling to thirteen unique mosques in search of an answer to how this religion has survived and thrived so far from the place of its origin. From California to Quebec, and from Brazil to Canada’s icy north, he meets the members of fascinating communities, all of whom provide different perspectives on what it means to be Muslim. Along this journey he comes to understand that Islam has played a fascinating role in how the Americas were shaped—from industrialization to the changing winds of politics. And he also discovers that there may be a place for Islam in his own life, particularly as a father, even if he will never be a true believer.

Original, insightful, and beautifully told, Praying to the West reveals a secret history of home and the struggle for belonging taking place in towns and cities across the Americas, and points to a better, more inclusive future for everyone.

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About the author (2021)

Omar Mouallem is an author, filmmaker, and educator. His journalism has appeared in The Guardian, WIRED, and The New Yorker, and his latest book, Praying to the West, was named one of The Globe and Mail's 100 best books of 2021 and nominated for two Alberta Literary Awards in the categories of Memoir and Nonfiction. His short documentary The Last Baron, about the unlikely link between a Canadian fast-food institution and the Lebanese civil war, is currently being expanded into a feature film to be released later this year. Omar is also the "fake dean" of Pandemic University, a virtual school he founded in support of writers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with his family.

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