Uzma Jalaluddin defines herself as a mom, teacher, writer, and visible Muslim woman.
She has become a major newspaper columnist and successful fiction author by writing about the Muslim community with humour and a light touch.
And in doing so, she has unwittingly become a spokesperson for her community and its struggles in an age when Muslim-Canadians are facing discrimination and racial profiling.
Jalaluddin shared her story with Centennial College journalism students from her home in an interview conducted by StreamYard in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.
Watch highlights of the Observer’s interview with Jalaluddin:
When asked what prompted her to write her bestseller, Ayesha At Last — a modern retelling of Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice set in a Toronto Muslim community — her answer was simple.
“First, because I love to write. Second, because I saw a lack of representation, and I thought I could do something about it,” Jalaluddin said.
“A lot of times, books set in immigrant and marginalized communities are very much about the pain this community is facing, and we don’t see the ingenuity, the fun, and the romance.”
Following a dream
Jalaluddin’s Indian-born parents immigrated to Canada from the United States in the 1970s, where her father went to university.
They later moved to Canada. Jalaluddin was born and raised in Scarborough.
“With immigrants, oftentimes where you end up depends on either where you can find a job or where you know someone. Toronto was a serendipitous decision that led to a lot of things,” she said.
Jaluddin eventually became a high school English teacher. She loves to write and started sending humourous essays to the Toronto Star. Before long, she was offered a regular spot as a contributing columnist.
“She can touch on all these different things and be very relatable,” said Jodi Isenberg, Toronto Star’s senior life and entertainment editor, in a phone interview.
Within a few short years, Jalaluddin had secured a book agent and deal with HarperCollins Canada for her first novel. Ayesha At Last has now been optioned to become a movie by Pascal Pictures, the same company that produced The Post and Spider-Man: Far from Home.
Role model for her community
Jalaluddin is very fond of the community she grew up in and aware she is setting an example through her work.
And she is mindful that while the Greater Toronto Area is diverse and accepting, she said no city is “as welcoming to diverse people as people think it is.”
As a person of colour and visible Muslim woman, she says she has often been on diverse panels merely because of the way she looks. She experienced no shortage of intimate questions and stereotypical questions from strangers throughout her career.
She recounted a visit she made to Calgary for a book-related appearance. While she was there, she was warned not to go downtown because of an alt-right demonstration.
“This is the danger of a single story that has been told about this community for so long. It has come to be seen as fact, when actually it’s just a tiny portion of our experience,” she said. “And I said, ‘Let’s just open up the doors a little bit and write about other things.'”