A new show called "Little Mosque on the Praire" debuts in Canada next week. I've been reading quite a bit about this on entertainment and media websites. Seems like its quite anticipated, and its debut will surely spark some controversy. It's about Muslim immigrants in the middle of nowhere in Canada interacting with their white neighbours. How exciting is that?
I certainly hope US audiences get a chance to watch this show. The 2 clips posted on the shows website seem quite promising. This show is a great idea, and I hope it turns out to be successful. Its impressive that Canadian government owned CBC television is airing this pilot series.
Zarqa Nawaz, creator and writer of the groundbreaking show, insists she's an equal-opportunity satirist taking dead-aim at both Muslim and Canadian stereotypes in a post-September 11 world. "I expect both groups will be wondering if the other finds the show funny," says Nawaz.
There are predictable jokes about Muslim beliefs clashing with Canadian traditions. In one scene, a father wearing a kufi, or a knitted cap worn by devout Muslims, protests that his Canadian-born daughter wearing a revealing tank top looks "like a Protestant."
"Don't you mean prostitute?" the daughter asks.
"No, I meant a Protestant," the father replies.
In another scene, a young man of Middle Eastern origins with a Canadian accent is heard in an airport check-in line telling his mother via cell phone that his father shouldn't think his choosing to stop being a Toronto lawyer to become an imam in Saskatchewan amounts to career "suicide." "This is Allah's plan for me," the young man says in passing, before an arresting cop appears suddenly and tells the surprised lawyer that he won't be making that appointment in Paradise.
Nawaz, a British-born Muslim and mother of four who settled on the Prairies with her family a decade ago, downplays the idea that the homegrown comedy may spark widespread controversy.
She insists her comedy springs from a relatively uneventful life in multicultural North America, unlike Europe, for example, where relations between Muslims and the wider Christian community are often a powder keg. "North America should be the first place where a comedy like this would come about, where Muslims can be comfortable in their own skin and questions of Canadian identity can produce a sitcom," she says.
To ensure it doesn't cause unforeseen offense with "Little Mosque on the Prairie," the government-owned Canadian Broadcasting Corp. (CBC) has hired an independent Muslim-Canadian consultant to comb through the sitcom's creative elements and suggest possible alterations. Kirstine Layfield, CBC executive director of network programming, says recent preview screenings with select Muslim audiences elicited encouraging results -- laughter.
"Just doing the series is a risk in itself, but one the public broadcaster should take on if we're to help communicate authenticity of living in Canada," Layfield adds. Mary Darling, one of three executive producers shopping the Canadian comedy stateside, says a U.S. airing may help break down barriers between faith communities. "It won't do any harm, and maybe it can do some good," she says.
Humor transcends boundaries and the world really needs to look at the lighter side of life as a Muslim in North America. The aim of the show is to build bridges between cultures and religions and I hope it stays on track. People may be afraid of a bit of controversy, but Islam shouldn't have been a delicate topic in the first place. Nothing should be immune to criticism and there is plenty of humor and hypocrisy within all religions, including Islam. Most non-Muslims are wary of Islam and view it as being stubborn, violent, and backward. The show will surely focus on these stereotypes. Poking light-hearted fun can only help foster understanding between communities. A show like this can stretch the boundaries of what is allowed to normalcy.