Little Mosque on the Prairie
Series to Premiere in Canada
By Ras H. Siddiqui
Little Mosque on the Prairie cast
Every once in a while
a unique project crops up that needs to be noticed for both
its current relevance and ambition. A Muslim-Canadian sitcom
aptly titled “Little Mosque on the Prairie” is
one such effort.
It is a bold new television series that has recently gone
into production after being commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting
Corporation (CBC). This “Little House” is the
brainchild of Liverpool-born and Toronto-raised Zarqa Nawaz.
The series, if not too restrained, is well positioned to search
for and expose the hidden humor produced when the Muslim experience
encounters Canadian rural society in the prairie town of Mercy.
One may argue that there is nothing funny about the Muslim-local
relationship within the North American landscape after the
attack on the Twin Towers on 9/11/2001. But the fact of the
matter is that Muslim people have been living in the prairies,
towns, cities and yes, ghettos of this continent for over
a century now (and longer since the time of slavery). Let
us also not forget that the architects of that horrific 9/11
episode do not represent the millions of followers of the
Islamic faith resident either in Canada or the United States.
They may have claimed to speak for many but they incorrectly
invoke any relationship to the divine.
discussion during a production session
But getting back to the
subject, Muslim comedy in North America is not a seminal effort.
We have had the privilege of seeing the “Allah Made
Me Funny” comedy act in action over the years, either
when it was fully represented by the Azhar Usman, Preacher
Moss, and Azeem Muhammad trio, or by viewing some of their
separate performances. From that and other experiences, many
of us have come to appreciate the need for a little laughter
both from within our religion and between Islam and other
faiths. “Little Mosque on the Prairie” will in
its own way search for humor in both of these realms. But
viewers are aware that the task will not be easy. Simultaneous
laughter across faiths still remains a formidable goal.
Zarqa Nawaz has described this television series as first
and foremost a sitcom. She adds that this is not a political
or religious satire, but is meant to open doors to the lives
of people (from the Muslim community) who are trying to assimilate
into a small town whose inhabitants have pre-conceived notions
about people who follow the Islamic faith.
The cast includes Arlene
Duncan (Fatima), Zaib Shaikh (Amaar), Carlo Rota (Yasir),
Manoj Sood (Baber), Sheila McCarthy (Sarah), Derek McGrath
(Reverend Magee), Debra McGrath (Mayor Popowicz ), Sitara
Hewitt (Rayyan) and Neil Crone (Fred). Incorporating strong
comedy talent from across faiths, this sitcom is destined
to relate to people at many levels and will tap their multi-cultural
funny bones to produce some serious laughter.
One cannot avoid the question
that this “Little Mosque” title in some way came
into being after some clever inspiration from Laura Ingalls
Wilder's (and Michael Landon starring) “Little House
on the Prairie” TV series which became one of the most
successful shows about North-American frontier life for a
global viewer ship. It certainly was very popular during the
late 70’s or the early 80’s and had developed
quite a following in the Muslim world. Now we can only wait
to see how Little Mosque on the Prairie is received. The need
for such an attempt is certainly there.
Communication across faiths has become a global necessity.
People and cultures are now interacting more closely today
than ever before in history. For our collective good, it is
time to set conflict aside and to learn to laugh together.
Maybe humor is the new frontier that will have to be conquered
to open closed lines of communication.
(“Little Mosque on the Prairie” premieres on Tuesday,
January 9, 2007 on CBC Television. It is a WestWind Pictures
production). Photographs by Sophie Giraud courtesy CBC.