Journalist Omar Mouallem travels to thirteen remarkable mosques and discovers the surprising history of their communities. But what he finds also challenges his own long-held personal beliefs, and even his sense of identity.
• Winner, 2022 Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction book
• A Gold Nautilus Book Prize Winner for Indigenous & Multicultural Stories
• Finalist, 2022 Alberta Literary Book Awards (Memoir)
• A Globe and Mail “Globe 100” book of the year
• Indigo’s Best Books of 2021: Top 100 Adult Books and #1 Social Sciences Book of 2021
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. Order the book now!
Press and Praise for Praying to the West
“Omar Mouallem’s search for faith and its place in his life and the histories of the place into which he was born is as honest as it is urgent. Praying to the West is a thought-provoking book, written in clear prose and from a position of deep empathy and accommodation. … This book is of vital importance to understanding our contemporary world.” –Jury for the Wilfrid Eggleston Award for Nonfiction
“Omar Mouallem is one of Canada’s most masterful non-fiction writers and there’s no one I’d rather follow on a journey like this: across centuries, around the world and into intimate corners of family and personal history. With a deep generosity of both intellect and heart, he offers a rich and complex view of Muslim communities, and of his own ever-evolving relationship to the faith.” –Rachel Giese, author of Boys, winner of the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
“Absorbing … (Mouallem’s) book has made it impossible not to see this faith tradition’s rich complexity.” – Anne Bartlett, BookPage (starred review)
“Mouallem is masterful in his ability to both embrace what he loves and interrogate the faith he was born into. … It’s a refreshing read that shines light on the humanity of Islam through the words, reflections, and lives of its practitioners.” – Sheniz Janmohamed, Quill & Quire
“This essential examination of places and faces of the Islamic diaspora ambitiously travels the pre-pandemic world with high-stakes curiosity and professional dexterity.” – Fish Griwkowsky, Edmonton Journal
“Mouallem’s curiosity—about the promise of a global ummah and his personal relationship with Islam—is inviting and engaging. His journalistic style informs, while his spiritual inquisitiveness encourages self-reflection. A necessary meditation on the richness and multiplicity of Islamic history and practice.” –Desmond Cole, journalist and author of The Skin We’re In
“Praying to the West manages to cover hundreds of years of Islamic and pan-American history without falling prey to boring digressions or sweeping cliches… Mouallem is filling a major gap in knowledge.” – Austin Bodetti, Inside Arabia
“Praying to the West is a moving testament to the resiliency, dynamism and ingenuity of Islanm and its adherents. For non-Muslim Canadians, I’d venture to call it an essential read – an education in all the ways Muslims have informed and enriched the cultures on this continent, and also as a warning of the price our Muslim neighbours pay for our ignorance.” – Miranda Martini, Alberta Views
“Praying to the West is certainly a testament to [Mouallem’s] journalistic acumen, full of well-chosen and vividly rendered stories. The book is a peripatetic illustration of how many people, often scattered and marginal, practice Islam in the Americas. It’s when he is chronicling the plight of these people that Mr. Mouallem is at his best.” – Melik Kaylan,Wall Street Journal
“There’s a spirit of generosity, curiosity, and—dare I say it—humour in this book, which lightens the load of a weighty topic. I love a master-craftsman of a storyteller who can take you on a journey in which you feel like you’re along for the ride, figuring stuff out at the same time as the author. That’s what Omar Mouallem does here: takes the reader on a thoughtful journey all up and down the Americas to reveal a religious landscape few of us stop to notice. Some of the people he meets are cranks, some are ideologues, some are inspirations, but all have a human dimension that you can appreciate, even if you’re a 100% secular person as I am.” –Russell Cobb, historian, professor, and author of The Great Oklahoma Swindle
“This book kind of blows my mind. … [T]he historical breadth of it, the geographic breadth of it, the complexity of how he talks about religion, faith and culture, and how it’s all interwoven, and how other people perceive it versus how he perceives it. … It’s just so profoundly deep and intellectual, researched and thorough, yet with very personal conclusions.” – Angie Abdou, Daybreak Alberta
“(Mouallem) visited mosques from the Arctic Circle to the Amazonia, exploring Islam’s deep roots in himself and the Americas and crafting a striking portrait of both.” –Brian Bethune, Maclean’s
“In Praying to the West, Omar Mouallem performs a daring act of historical excavation and cultural reconstruction of Islam’s history and perseverance as a faith and a community builder in the Americas. Through insightful reporting, masterful storytelling and exquisite prose, he provides both a panoramic and an intimate view of peoples and sects within a religion often willfully misunderstood and mischaracterized in the West. What a towering achievement this book is and what a gift to have Mouallem guide his readers through its complex and urgent explorations.” –Kamal Al-Solaylee, author of Return and Brown, winner of the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
“Confronted with that seemingly unbridgeable gap between East and West, Omar Mouallem decided to ignore it. … The picture that emerges from Mouallem’s collection of interviews and vignettes is of an Islam that is far too diverse to ever be captured in a three-minute news segment, but also of a faith that can be incredibly regular.” – Tom Ndekezi, Edify
“At once a work of historical scholarship, fascinating travelogue, and deeply personal assessment of lost and rediscovered faith, Praying to the West is a balm against the depiction of Muslims as some kind of nefarious monolith. Omar Mouallem has excavated so many buried stories of Islam’s relationship with this part of the world, and in doing so created a timely, vital, and thoroughly readable biography. This is a book that eschews easy answers and generalizations, and the result is both honest and kaleidoscopic.” –Omar El-Akkad, Giller Prize Winner of What Strange Paradise
“This insightful and engaging history of Islam across the Americas…informs and entertains while inviting serious contemplation.” – Joseph Hnatiuk, Winnipeg Free Press
“The Canadian author goes deeper than a lot of reporting on the topic.” – Joseph Hammond, Arab News
“[Praying to the West] shows why Islam is not a monolith, far better than any academic work possibly could to the general population at large.” –Junaid Jahangir, New Age Islam
“Part memoir, part historical study and cultural critique, this is personal writing that digs deep into what shaped the author.The perceived world around him creates a piece of literature with a broad-spectrum appeal.” –Rushti Lehay, Rat Creek Press