“What? She's white, and Muslim?” exclaimed my friend as he watched Sarah Hamoudi pray during the series première of Little Mosque on the Prairie. Having grown up in a city made up largely of immigrant Muslims, I guess he had assumed that Islam was a religion reserved for people of colour. We chuckled through the terrorist jokes, Babar's sermon about 'Smashing the American Idol' and the clashes between liberals and conservatives at Mercy Mosque. The first sitcom about Western Muslims had just aired and it was making a difference already.

I was in my final year of high school at that time and I clearly remember the buzz surrounding the show. Some expressed opposition to the name, which for them violated the sanctity of the classic, Little House on the Prairie. Most were excited to see a fresh, new and unique comedy about Canadian Muslims. An audience of 2.1 million people tuned in for the first episode; a record breaking and unheard of rating in Canada. The ratings declined over the years, but they were good enough to sustain it for six seasons.

It was a proud moment for me to see a show about Muslims air on national television. Along with the regular post-episode discussions on House and The O.C., I could now joke with my friends about Ammar's latest debacle or Babar's classic rants. At a time when Muslim youth were increasingly insecure about their identities, a show like Little Mosque helped boost self-esteem and self-worth for many.

But Little Mosque never set out to accomplish any of the things I've mentioned. It wasn't a show that was aimed at educating people about Islam or solving problems faced by Muslim youth. It was a sitcom that was meant to be funny; it just happened to be about a small Muslim community. It was Islam's Cosby Show. In the post 9/11 times where any normative depiction of Muslims in media was deemed to be too controversial, the CBC made the bold move of creating a whole show about Muslims. Not only were the central characters Muslim, the show revolved around the mosque which played a key role in the community's life. The CBC and Zarqa Nawaz, the show's creator should be recognized by the Muslim community for this historic feat.

The criticism and the lack of support at times from the Muslim community were disheartening for me. Sure, if you don't like the show, don't watch it. I agree that it wasn't a laugh-out loud comedy, and the writing was hokey and uncreative at times. But dismissing the show on grounds that the characters weren't observant enough, or that Zarqa Nawaz had some secret liberal agenda, was disappointing. Are you seriously hoping for a sitcom where the women dare not speak to a non-Mahram? Where the community isolates itself from the kuffar? Where the imam goes around warning people of the evils of Western civilization?

Little Mosque had its shortcomings when it came to accurately depicting the orthodox Muslim community. Yes, the imam didn't have a beard, had an awfully nonchalant attitude towards apostasy and might have shaken hands with the opposite sex in a few episodes. Zarqa Nawaz once explained that some slips happen because almost everyone on staff, from the director to cameraman, is non-Muslim. She alone couldn't possibly monitor every minutiae of the filming. Some aspects of the story, such as the Ammar's liberalism, are obviously intentional. You might not like it, but it's just a sitcom at the end of the day.

These shortcomings are miniscule compared to the number of things Little Mosque got right. The sitcom was the most accurate depiction of Muslims to date and succeeded in bringing the mainstream Muslim community to the television screen, especially at a time when secular and 'progressive' Muslims get preferential treatment. It represented all the characters we find in our mosques; the uncles, the converts, the feminists and the rebellious teenagers. It captured the conflicts between the young and the old, the tension between the liberals and conservatives.

It showcased, with great sensitivity, the first Muslim courtship on television; a social phenomenon which is still under development amongst Western Muslims. Peer-pressure faced by Muslim youth at high schools was also brought to light, as was their conflicts with immigrant parents. I would argue it even addressed issues which the Muslim community faces; I think organizing an 'Islamapalooza' is a great idea and partial hockey boards offer a reasonable solution to the prayer barrier controversy. Because of Little Mosque, people now know that Muslim women take the hijab off at home or that it is possible to be Muslim without having to wear one.

Little Mosque on the Prairie's idealistic worldview represents hope for our community in many ways— excluding its fiqhi failures of course. Our mosques today have closed doors and an unwelcoming atmosphere; not only to people of other faiths but to segments of the Muslim community as well. Women continue to be marginalized, and converts still grapple to find acceptance. I don't see our imam playing checkers with the Reverend down the street, nor do I see bona fide bonds of friendship like the one between Babar and Thorne.

Mercy Mosque's setting was similar to the mosques of Muslim Spain, where the Christians and Muslims at times shared a common building for their place of worship. The series ended with the Muslims welcoming the Christians into their newly built mosque after their church was burned down. The new mosque was constructed in the image of Al-Rashid Mosque. This was Canada's first mosque and was built by donations from Jews and Christians, as the Muslim population in 1938 was minuscule.

Like Al-Rashid Mosque, Little Mosque reminds us that the vision of a pluralistic community co-existing is neither new nor impossible. Its message was simple: Set aside your prejudice, give up your spiritual pride and be a good neighbor.

30 Responses

  1. Proud Kafir

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  2. Shahzad

    Assalamu ‘alaikum. In as much as I was uncomfortable with the show and would never openly recommend it, I had an eye-opening experience with a non-Muslim client of mine when we were chatting in his boardroom. The topic of Islam came up and said something like, “Oh yeah, I know all about hijab and praying 5 times a day stuff.” I said, cool, where did you learn that? He said, “On Little Mosque on the Prairie.” I just sort of laughed at myself.

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    • TolerantTeacher

      You missed the beauty of this person’s statement altogether. Furthermore, you missed an opportunity to help this person to INVITE this person to your mosque (or any local one for that matter) to see first hand and to experience it for themselves. You had a chance to educate someone about your faith and you chuckled. How arrogant is that? Islam is not some private gentleman’s club where only the elite can be members. Maybe this person was trying to show you that they LEARNED something BECAUSE they actually took and interest in the show and watched it??? Like i said earlier, a non Muslim is more apt to watch this show in the privacy of their own home than walk into a mosque. FYI, I probably would have chuckled too but I also would have extended an invitation.

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      • Badger Bagbane

        Rob, if Muslims are so intolerant of ‘Jews and other infidels’ as you put it. Can you explain to me why there are synagogues and churches scattered all over the middle east that are hundreds of year old? Or one better, did you know that a Muslim family has possession of the Church of the Nazerine? Saladin himself gave it to a Palestinian family and commanded that they take care of it.

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  3. Special K

    ” . . . Set aside your prejudice, give up your spiritual pride and be a good neighbor . . ..”

    Good advice all around. Only when it’s heeded by all will a solution to rejection be found.

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  4. Ahmed

    Why does MM post these articles? Have you guys run out of some serious and more beneficial topics then this? It’s a sitcom with MAJOR slip ups (which the author disagrees).

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    • anon

      We don’t have to be serious all the time. And this is beneficial…..you could pass this sitcom on to your non Muslim friends who may learn a more human side of Islam through comedy. Yes it has slip ups…..but it was NEVER meant to be a guide to Islam……it just shows one story. 

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      • Malik

        It’s better than all the misrepresentation of  islam on the internet and media :)

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  5. Ansari_mowghlis_uncle

    I had NO IDEA this show existed!!! Im from london, are these episodes on Youtube?  I am intrigued!

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    • WaleedAhmed

      You can easily watch it on Youtube or just buy the DVDs online

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  6. maddermonk

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  7. Muhammad Wajid Akhter

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    • WaleedAhmed

      walaykumasalm Muhammad, 

      Jazakallah for the comment. I appreciate you expressing your concerns. However, I feel you’ve drawn unreasonable extensions from the things I’ve said. When I am asking Muslims to give up their prejudices and pride, I by no means am saying that “that we should just stop being so fussy about Islam and issues that may be against the Quran and Sunnah”. 

      Being prejudiced and arrogant goes against the Quran and Sunnah. I am inviting Muslims to honour our tradition. The Prophet stood up out of respect for the funeral procession of the Jewish man…because he didn’t see them as sub human. He visited the Jewish boy when he was sick. He had Jewish in-laws  from his wife Safiyyah. The Quran allows marriage to People of the Book. That’s more than playing checkers. 

      Too many in our community are filled with this disease. Seeing the other as sub-human because of the their disbelief….this leads to isolationism and serves as a huge obstacle to our dawah too. 

      In addition, I am not saying that anyone criticizing the show on Islamic grounds is somehow arrogant. I am saying that being overly dismissive based on a few short comings is unintelligent, and for me its disheartening. In the article I acknowledge and recognize its short falls..but I also recognize the overall positive outcome and accomplishment of the show; many have failed to do so. I feel Zarqa Nawaz deserves to be recognized, not criticized, for her work. 

      Lastly, you’ve made the same error that others have when criticizing the show. ” in order to get Islam out in the mainstream, we must make/ accept compromises on aspects of our faith”.  The show was never an attempt to get Islam to the mainstream or to educate others about the faith. The goal was to make a sitcom and make people laugh; criticizing it as if it were some dawah initiative is not applicable. I am surprised, and glad, with the amount of work CBC put into researching/consulting with the Muslim community when making the show. They could have gone ahead and made what ever they wished, but they actually had a committee made up of the Muslim leaders and scholars that were consulted in the making. 

       

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      • The Mad Monk

        “The show was never an attempt to get Islam to the mainstream or to educate others about the faith. The goal was to make a sitcom and make people laugh; criticizing it as if it were some dawah initiative is not applicable.”

        I’m surprised to see the level of your naiveté. If the purpose of the show was simply to be a sitcom and make people “laugh” than why was the clean-shaven, innocent, anti-sunnah, rational Imaam always wining against the crazy, old, conniving extreme old imaam?

        Yes Zarqa Nawaz should be given recognition, by the likes of Mona Tahawi, Ed Husain, and others who support the reinterpretation of Islaam for the modern palette and the dissolution of the sunnah.

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      • burqa barbie

        أ. الغوفرة
        سلحفاة اميركية, الغوفر سنجاب

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  8. TolerantTeacher

    “Set aside your prejudice, give up your spiritual pride and be a good neighbor.”
    I could not say this better! I want everyone to know that this show has been an eye-opener to me. I spent time in the mosque in North Dallas, and my son attended school in both California (Al Madina) and in Texas, and as someone that was born in the United States and raised in the United States, this sitcom, despite all the plausible comments I read below about it being liberal, is and has been the MOST positive and digestible work of art that has come to public television about the Muslim community. No one show can satisfy everyone! For those of you that are “old school” and prefer a “bearded” Imaam to a non- bearded Imaam, and are easily offended by this, shame on you! To put this more bluntly, it is people like you that are stuck on stupid that make the younger generation and others who might lend an open mind and open heart to what the true message of Islam is about want to turn a blind eye and shut their ears! Furthermore, it was a comedy. It was not meant to be a documentary on Islam and for those of you that disagreed with how the Imaam settle disagreements or other issues in this sitcom, you should keep in mind that extremism in ANY religion is psychotic. This show actually made me want to be Muslim. It made me want to set aside whatever insecurities or concerns I had about being openly Muslim aside… And, just so that you know, the Christian (Anglican) church probably had more damning remarks to say about how they were represented than anything I read here… “Interfaith” relations is not a new concept (due your due diligence) and has left the world with magnificent examples of just how beautiful this world would be if only some of you people would worry less about non essential matters and more about those things that really matter. Being proud to be who you are and setting a good personal example is really the best way to represent your faith. Consider yourselves lucky that this first sitcom was not like the horrible sitcoms that misrepresent the African American culture. This sitcom did a good job of non type casting its people and shows that even white people can be Muslim. For me, the most beautiful experience in the world is going to EID and seeing people from all cultures – brown, blue, green eyed people, and every shade of skin color under the sun. This is not an experience I have had as a Christian. And, as a woman, I understand first hand what is is like to be covered and to hear the snide remarks of not the men, but the woman in a non enlightened community… This sitcom explained several traditions very well that many non Muslims would never understand… And, gave non Muslims access to this information in the privacy of their own homes. Think about that for a moment. It was a positive alternative to the frightening media reports. Laughter is good medicine. I love this sitcom. I am sorry to see it coming to an end. It will be sad if no other sitcom airs afterward. Even sadder if one does that lacks its intelligent humor.

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  9. Hafiz

    I agree with the author. Thank you Waleed for writing a beautiful article. May Allah reward you.

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  10. Christian Muslim-lover

    (Pardon for coming in so late to this forum, but I have just found the show and am still in the first season in catching up.) Allow me to preface these comments by stating that I am a 54 year old Christian, of the Southern Baptist denomination, and a licensed minister to families to boot. I am enjoying the show and I’m excited about the prospect of learning more about Muslims in daily life. Of course, I realize that the Muslims portrayed here are not entirely accurate, as is nothing portrayed on television, but I’m hoping for some insight!

    I do have some “insider” thoughts on this program, particularly the episode which depicted a high church minister – an arch-deacon I think, if you’ll allow me. As I said, I’ve been Christian for over half a century and have lived in close contact with similar beings throughout. And yes, I’ve run across a few Christians – and Christian ministers – who are represented by the Anglican arch-deacon and a few other “Christians” on the program.

    HOWEVER, these are NOT the majority in Christian churches. And yes, there are subtle-to-huge variances within the Christian ranks. But like I said, 50 years, lots of experience… I was disturbed with these characters’ whole attitudes, from condescension toward a fellow minister (the church pastor), to their near-alcoholism passion for wine and their greed (i.e. the arch-deacon touching the full collection plate with joy and insisting on a “take” of the offering).

    Please understand that the average Christian is much like I imagine the average Muslim to be: loving God, revering the faith, respecting the religion, but living in the world realistically. Yes, some “Christians” (note the quotes) as they call themselves are just fakers and takers. But I hope to see the show develop some decent real Christian characters who will represent more real-life examples of us.

    We, by the way, respect Islam (when we take time to learn about it) and the devotion and love of God as felt by true Muslims. Our faiths share so very, very much – history, the Talmud/Old Testament, Jewish roots and prophets, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, … Jesus/Isa even! Ignorance, in my humble opinion, is what harms both our families. I hope this program can serve to quench fires of ignorance and bigotry by helping both faiths see our similarities.

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  11. SK

    Thanks Waleed for this article. LMOTP was groundbreaking in its portrayal of Muslims as members of Canadian society.
    In my experience, I find it interesting that the people who are so against the show due to its “unIslamic” characteristics are often the very ones who have no problems watching other entertainment that violates Islamic rules even more flagrantly; these they deem acceptable because there’s no obvious link to Islam. Shameful.

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  12. LM

    I love this show, I have wondered what Muslims might think of it and am glad to have gotten some info about that here. I was raised Catholic, but am currently not practicing. What I love about the show most, besides Rayyan’s beautiful hijabs, is the development of the characters. I find Rayyan’s strength in her faith and practice of it inspiring. Amaar’s gentle ways of guiding everyone, without judging them, impressive. Through out the six seasons you get to see each character develop and grow. It gives me hope that I can develop over time like they did. It makes me feel more accepting of those around me and less judgmental. It gives me more appreciation for all the “characters” in my life and how each person brings something of value to the table. I wish I could go live in Mercy. I’m not sure how much of this is true to the Muslim faith, but the show has really made me curious to learn more. Next time I see my Muslim friend at work, I plan to ask him some questions. And greet him with “Assalamu’ alaikum.”

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    • Waleed Ahmed

      Thanks for sharing those thoughts. Glad to see people can appreciate and relate to the show across the board. It’s great that you want to learn about Islam too, feel free to message me if you’ve got questions.

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  13. Kokaowai

    I just started watching the show I love it funny and timeless. I never thought there would be a show that would be number one in my book replacing Northern Exposure. This show is a blessing sad to see off the air no more Baber what will I do.

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  14. DoktorThomas™

    It was a humorous gap between distant cultures. For many myopics it maybe as close to any Mosque or Muslim they will ever come. Understanding through bad comedy is not necessarily a bad thing. But seeing more than bid Laden on the screen is a substantial step. It is likable.

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  15. Beth Wellington

    Thanks. I had not heard of this show, as it is Canadian and I am in US, but came across it in a list of single-camera comedies. It is now available to watch online free on Hulu: http://www.hulu.com/little-mosque It’s on my list to watch now, based on your review…After I watch a few episodes, if I like it, I’ll post it to my blog and give you a h/t.

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  16. ElvenInk

    I agree that show is groundbreaking in its positive portrayal of Muslims, but I don’t think we should just accept and applaud it without a critical look. It DOES have some mistakes in its portrayal of Islam. I am also not a fan of the constant kissing and innuendo between Yasir and Sarah which makes it difficult to watch with kids!

    I think it’s all about audience. It’s great, as some posters above mentioned, for non-Muslims to understand Muslims and our way of life a little better and it might encourage some of them to do a bit more research. It’s also very enjoyable and a great discussion starter for adult Muslims (or mature kids/teens) who are able to enjoy it for what it is and understand that there are some mistakes in it here and there.

    So overall, I agree that it was a great show. I think it would be great if someone did thorough posting outlining some of the good/educational episodes that CAN be used for dawah, etc, (because there are a few of those) and also describing/explaining some of the errors in the show.

    Anyway, thanks for the great post and starting this much-needed discussion! Insha Allah in a few years’ time maybe we will have more and more shows dealing with the lives of Muslims in the west and their struggles!

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