“Little Mosque on the Prairie”

Season 2 cast pic

The Canadian TV series Little Mosque on the Prairie (its 3rd season recently wrapped up) caused a bit of controversy BEFORE it aired; CNN even ran a segment on it!   But when you watch it, you realize that it’s simply a family comedy (almost a throwback to the ’50s) w/ little bits of Muslim culture tossed in.  You can watch this show w/ your entire family… and even learn something new!   LMOTP is a little show (small budget, simple sets, no big name actors) that became a SURPRISE hit all over the world; it’s seen in over 60 countries.  The comedy focuses on a small, yet VERY diverse, group of Muslims and their white neighbors living in the fictional town of Mercy in Saskatchewan.  (In case you wondered- the show is filmed in Regina, the capital of the province, and in the little town of Indian Head.)

Zarqa Nawaz (the show's creator)

My mother didn’t wear it.  I’ve always felt empowered by the veil.  -Zarqa Nawaz

The show’s creator, Zarqa Nawaz, was born and raised in Toronto; she later moved to Regina in Saskatchewan.  She is a wife, mother, former journalist, AND practicing Muslim.  Zarqa (age 40) writes some of the shows and advises the producers on Islamic issues.  But her main goal is to make people laugh.  Currently, one of her duties is advising the producers of a (future) US version of LMOTP! 

Fatima's Cafe: the show's hangout

The show came about when Nawaz wondered what would happen to a Muslim community if it had an imam (the prayer leader of a mosque) who was born and raised in Canada.  He would know the Koran AND be able to relate to the younger, more forward-thinking, Canadian-born congregants.  There aren’t many mosques in North America with imams like this, Nawaz noted in one interview.    

Zaib Shaikh (Amaar)
Amaar: the unlikely imam

The imam in LMOTP is Amaar Rashid (Zaib Shaikh: a Pakistani-Canadian)- a  young/handsome/upper-class/ex-lawyer from Toronto.  Amaar gave up practicing law (at his dad’s big firm) b/c he felt like “there had to be something more out there.”  What he lacks in experience, he makes up for with enthusiasm (and a willing ear).  When he first comes to Mercy, the former imam exclaims: “He’s the new imam!?  He doesn’t even have a beard!”  (Shaikh was raised Muslim and can recite in Arabic; Nawaz commented that this was “luck” b/c “not many Muslims go into the entertainment business.”) 

The comedy arises from misunderstandings between the town’s white residents and the Muslims.  But there are also misunderstandings BETWEEN Muslims of different ages, races, and experiences.  Amaar often serves as the go-between.  

Carlo Rota (Yasir) & Susan McCarthy (Sarah)

One of the first to welcome Amaar is fast-talking Lebanese contractor Yasir Hamoudi (Carlo Rota: a Brit of Italian descent).  Yasir advertised for a new imam b/c the former one wasn’t addressing the needs of the community.  Yasir was also instrumental in getting space for Mercy Mosque (which occupies a section of the Anglican church building).  Though he cares deeply about his family and the Muslims in town, business usually comes first w/ Yasir.

Sarah and Rayyan

Sarah (Shelia McCarthy), Yasir’s bubbly blonde wife, is a Muslim convert who does PR work for the mayor.  Sarah and Yasir are a very affectionate married pair.  They have a beautiful daughter who runs a small clinic, Dr. Rayyan Hamoudi (Sitara Hewitt: a Canadian of Welsh/Pakistani background).  Rayyan is a devout Muslim (unlike her parents); she wears the hijab and is a feminist.  In Season 1, Rayyan is furious when some men suggest putting up a barrier between the genders in the prayer area of the mosque.  She exclaims: “The women already pray behind the men!”   

Sitara Hewitt (Rayyan)

I’m not a Muslim in real life, but for 22 minutes each week, I guess I am.  I’d be honored if people looked up to me as a role model.   –Sitara Hewitt

One of the main arcs in the story is the platonic relationship between Amaar and Rayyan, two progressive young individuals who are trying to build a bridge between Islam’s teachings and the everyday world.  You wonder if they’ll eventually become MORE than friends.  (But unlike other TV pals, you won’t see these two hugging or touching!)   

Manoj Sood (Baber)
Baber: the “old-school” dad

One of the more quirkier characters of LMOTP is Econ prof Baber Siddiqui (Manoj Sood: an Indo-Candian).  Baber speaks w/ an accent, wears salwar kameezes (w/ coordinating caps), and considers himself “an expert in Islam.”  He’s also a divorced single dad raising a sarcastic teenage daughter, Layla (Aliza Vellani: an Indo-Candian).   

Aliza Vellani (Layla)
Layla: the “typical” teen

Layla attends high school, doesn’t cover her hair, and is often embarrassed by her dad.  (What teenager isn’t?)  But she’s also smart, sociable, and respectful of Islam.  Baber loves her deeply, though he can be cranky and judgmental w/ the rest of the town.  This keeps him from being a stereotype.   

Stephen Lobo (JJ)

People have come up to every cast member on the show and thanked us, he says.  A woman wearing a hijab, for example, went up to [actress] Sitara [Hewitt] and said thank you because she felt she was being treated differently since the show started.  –Stephen Lobo

In Season 2, the show added more episodes and new characters.  An old family friend of the Hamoudis, JJ (Stephen Lobo: a Canadian of Iranian and Indian parentage) comes to work on a big project alongside Yasir.  He’s an engineer who’s handsome, single, and VERY wealthy.   When he was a boy, he had a crush on Rayyan.  Yasir notices that the she and JJ are drawn to each other and suggests they go on “a series of arranged dates” that could lead to marriage.  (It gets MORE interesting from there!)   

The imam in his (humble) office
The imam in his (humble) office

Since Amaar is a newbie in “the imam business,” he gets some friendly advice from the older, experienced Reverend McGee (the head of Mercy Anglican).  In one enlightening ep, Rev McGee outshines Baber in the Islam IQ contest held by the mosque.  “Islam and Christiantiy have a lot in common,” Amaar points out to a frustrated Baber. 

There are other characters and issues than the ones I’ve pointed out, so check it out (search on You Tube under MydienMusic or LMOTP ).  If you liked shows like Ballykissangel or Monarch of the Glen, you might especially enjoy Little Mosque on the Prairie.  Islam is presented as a good, simple, inclusive religion on the show; it’s part of MANY people’s everyday life.  It’s exciting to see a show like this succeed!

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