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. 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 Sept. 11, 2001. But the fact of the matter is that Muslims 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 the 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.
But getting back to the subject, Muslim comedy in North America is not a widespread or 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. Interfaith laughter 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 in a small town whose inhabitants have preconceived 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 aims to relate to people on many levels and will tickle their multi-cultural funny bones and, one hopes, produce some serious laughter.
There is no gainsaying the fact that this “Little Mosque” title in some way came into being after some clever inspiration from the television series The Little House on the Prairie starring Michael Landon, based on books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which became one of the most successful shows about North American frontier life for a global audience. It certainly was very popular during the late 70s or the early 80s 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 beyond question, because communication across faiths has become a global necessity. People and cultures are now interacting more closely today then ever before in history. For our collective good, it is time to set conflict aside and learn to laugh together. Who knows, maybe humor is the new frontier that will have to be conquered to open closed lines of communication?