About the Book

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.

• Selected as a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, and CBC Books

• A Chatelaine, Quill & Quire, and Canadian Living fall best books selection

• BookPage Top 10 Book for October 2021

• 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.

Praise & Reviews

BookPage (starred review)

“Absorbing … (Mouallem’s) book has made it impossible not to see this faith tradition’s rich complexity.”

Review by Anne Bartlett

Quill & Quire

“Mouallem is masterful in his ability to both embrace what he loves and interrogate the faith he was born into. It takes a gift of discernment to define and redefine what it means to be a Muslim without romanticizing its problems or giving Islamophobes more fodder.”

November issue

Wall Street Journal

“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.”

Review by Melik Kaylan

Edmonton Journal

“This essential examination of places and faces of the Islamic diaspora ambitiously travels the pre-pandemic world with high-stakes curiosity and professional dexterity.”

By Fish Griwkowsky

The Walrus

“Mouallem’s book gives unequivocal historical proof that we do belong in Canada and across North and South America. It reminds me that we’ve always been here.”

By Fatima Syed

Winnipeg Free Press

“This insightful and engaging history of Islam across the Americas…informs and entertains while inviting serious contemplation.”

By Joseph Hnatiuk

Maclean’s

“(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.”

Review by Brian Bethune

Rat Creek Press

“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.”

Review by Rushti Lehay

Rachel Giese, author of Boys, winner of the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

“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.”


Russell Cobb, historian, professor, and author of The Great Oklahoma Swindle

“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."


Desmond Cole, journalist and author of The Skin We’re In

“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.”


Kamal Al-Solaylee, author of Return and Brown, winner of the Writers’ Trust Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing

“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.”


Omar El-Akkad, author of American War and What Strange Paradise

“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.”


Eva Holland, author of Nerve: A Personal History Through the Science of Fear

“Thoughtful, deeply personal, and rich in long ignored and buried histories, Praying to the West reshaped my understanding both of Islam—or, the many Islams—and the history of North America. Omar Mouallem has written a fascinating, essential book.”


Ziya Tong, science broadcaster and author of The Reality Bubble

“In Praying to the West, Omar Mouallem shatters the myth of a monolithic Islam by revealing a sweeping array of cultures within the Muslim faith. Part adventure story and part investigative probe, his journey spans the Americas, from an Arctic mosque to the Maya Muslims of Mexico. Written from the perspective of an “atheist Muslim,” Mouallem asks tough questions and offers surprising insights. Like all great books, it is transformative. After reading Praying to the West, you’ll never see Islam in the same way again.”

The Author

Omar Mouallem: Writer, filmmaker, speaker, educator, and small-business owner

Omar Mouallem is an award-winning writer and filmmaker. He’s reported on Muslim and Middle Eastern issues for The Guardian, The Ringer, and WIRED, coauthored the national bestseller Inside the Inferno: A Firefighter’s Story of the Brotherhood that Saved Fort McMurray, and directed two documentaries. His new film, The Last Baron, about the unlikely connection between the Lebanese civil war and hamburgers, premiers in CBC Gem on Sept. 17/21.

Omar is a frequent TV and radio guest, having appeared on Al Jazeera, WNYC, and CBC, and he has hosted several podcasts, including six episodes of CANADALAND’s flagship show.

In addition to public speaking, Omar is a part-time educator. He mentors graduate students in King’s University creative nonfiction program, teaches the business of freelance writing at the University of Alberta, and operates Pandemic University Pop-up School of Writing, a virtual school he founded in support of writers affected by the COVID-19 fallout. To date “PanU” courses and webinars have been attended by more than 2,500 people from 40 countries, and the community has collectively raised over $10,000 for literary causes.

He lives in Edmonton, Alberta with his wife and two kids.

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