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Praying to the West

How Islam Shaped the Americas

A new father, searching for a place for himself and his family in the Muslim community he has resisted all his life, visits thirteen unique mosques across the West on a journey of self-discovery, each one revealing surprising history and a deepening sense of identity and belonging, for readers of Seven Fallen Feathers and Between the World and Me.

“Until recently, Muslim identity was imposed on me. But in the era of ISIS and Trumpism, I’ve felt overcome with the inexplicable and supernatural urge to reclaim the thing that makes me a target. I’ve begun to examine Islam closely with an eye for how it’s 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 journalism 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, he 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 written, Praying to the West reveals a secret history of home and belonging taking place in towns and cities across the Americas, and points to a better, more inclusive future for everyone.

Photograph by Aaron Pedersen

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 codirected Digging in the Dirt, a documentary about mental health in the oil patch. In 2020, he founded Pandemic University School of Writing. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, with his family. Follow him on Twitter @OmarMouallem and find him at

More books from this author: Omar Mouallem