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What You Should Be Watching: Little Mosque on the Prairie

Little Mosque on the Prairie Wednesdays @ 8PM on the CBC (Canada) In a Nutshell: Father Ted/Vicar of Dibley/Ballykissangel + 24 Little Mosque on the PrairieThis is one of the best new shows I've seen all year. It's a comedy - a sitcom, even - about Muslims. And I'm not talking it's "about" Muslims like Blue Collar Comedy is "about" rednecks, it actually centers around a group of Muslim people and the goings-on in their daily lives. They deal with their kids, their neighbors, their customers. Oh and yes they do deal with practicing their religion. The premise of the show, which was written and created by Torontonian Zarqa Nawaz, is that a group of Muslims living in a small Canadian prairie town needed a place to hold their prayer meetings, so they rented the activity room in the local Anglican church. At first the group hid the fact that they were holding prayer meetings there under the guise of using the space as contractor Yasir's (Carlo Rota) office but the Anglican minister and some of the town's busybodies quickly caught on. As it turned out, Reverend Magee (Derek McGrath) didn't really care - membership was down in his church and they could use the rent money. The mosque's standing prayer leader, Baber (Manoj Sood), was the Muslim equivalent of a "fire and brimstone" minister - speaking vehemently against Western culture (such as American Idol) and pushing the congregation towards an extremely "right wing" view. The mosque members weren't too keen on him, so they sent for a new imam in the form of young Amaar, from Toronto, who was the polar opposite of Baber. Other cast members are Fatima (Arlene Duncan), the strict African Muslim woman who runs a halal lunchcounter; Sarah (Sheila McCarthy), Yasir's whiter-than-white, Muslim convert wife; Rayyan (Sitra Hewitt), Yasir and Sarah's hip young doctor daughter - who declares herself a "conservative feminist Muslim;" the town's mayor (Debra McGrath), Sarah's sympathetic boss; and Fred Tupper, the anti-Muslim loudmouth radio personality in town. The show's cast is an amazing representation of a Muslim community. The young imam has to deal with both the conservative and liberal members of his mosque as they argue with what is the "right" way to do things. Often, Amaar finds himself seeking guidance from Reverend Magee who has some of the exact same problems in his congregation. Yasir and Rayyan"Feminist" and conservative Muslim Rayyan deals with her convert mother who is still learning the ways of the Muslim life while on the other side she deals with Fatima who is very strict in her faith but holds much more traditional views than Rayyan. Her father, Yasir, would rather not have to think about such things - he just tries to keep the peace between the two women in his life. Both Fatima and Baber, the most conservative members in the mosque, have teenage children (Fatima a son and Baber a daughter), and the show touches on how Muslim parents with traditional views struggle with how they decide to raise their children in a modern Western society. One of my favorite lines from the show so far was when Baber accused his daughter of looking "like a Protestant" when she wore a slightly revealing shirt. "You mean a prostitute?" "No, I mean a Protestant!" The entire Muslim community also has to deal with "town mouthpiece" Fred Tupper, who often berates the mosque during his radio show. The townspeople, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, seem to take Fred's rantings with a grain of salt (Fred often dines at Fatima's diner, often playing - and losing - games of wit with her). Mosque members sometimes end up having to appear on his show to defend certain misunderstandings, but the town learns pretty quickly that the mosque poses no threat. The writing and acting on the show are not anything spectacular - it's at the level of, say, Yes, Dear or King of Queens. It is in fact creator Nawaz's first go-round with television and I believe it might even be her first attempt at comedy. However, the first few episodes have been solid and entertaining, and if nothing else, educational. It is more than refreshing to see how Muslims in North America truly live - and how your typical Muslim is no different than your typical Christian - without focusing on any extreme behavior that is meant to shock and awe. The show has an enormous amount of promise. There are many, many avenues to explore - conflicts between the different "types" of Muslims who worship at the mosque, conflicts between the Muslims and the rest of the community, having to live a strict Muslim life in modern times, and the old sitcom standby of man vs. woman. Unfortunately, even this show has gotten plenty of press and "buzz" in America, I am not sure that any of our stations will be picking it up any time soon. It's either way too "controversial" for the American public or just not as exciting as Deal or No Deal. But I urge you to seek it out at soon as it's on DVD or better yet, find it at your favorite torrent site. It's a sitcom about Muslims! What will they think of next?! By the way, if you're wondering why I equated this show to 24, it was the only show I could think of that has any Muslim characters in any sort of starring role (Carlo Rota actually has a recurring role in 24). If anyone could point out some others, I'd like to know. And no, the Kumars At No. 42 are not Muslims.