Muslims Crack Wise in a Canadian Sitcom
Monday, January 8, 2007
TORONTO -- The bearded imam in traditional robe is railing against pop culture idols, warning Muslims to protect themselves from the evil influences of prime time.
" 'American Idol,' 'Canadian Idol,' I say all idols should be smashed," Baber tells a small congregation sitting on the floor of a makeshift mosque. " 'Desperate Housewives'? Why should they be desperate when they're only performing their natural womanly duties?"
Rayyan, a gorgeous young woman in a head scarf, whispers to her mother: "Hey, did you tape last night's episode?"
The scene is from the first episode of the CBC comedy "Little Mosque on the Prairie." (It airs tomorrow in Canada. Only some Americans in border states will be able to view it.)
The producers hope the topical humor about Islam and Christianity -- with a backdrop of bumbling buffoons and everyday cross-purposes -- will be as funny as it is fresh.
"To me, this is not a political show, this is not about the Iraq war, it's not about 9/11," said the show's creator, Canadian Muslim Zarqa Nawaz. "First and foremost, it's entertainment."
It may not be about 9/11, but it often feels like it. In the first episode, a handsome young Muslim man is dragged by police from an airport line after he barks into his mobile phone: "If Dad thinks that's suicide, so be it. This is Allah's plan for me."
He is talking about his decision to leave his father's Toronto law firm and become the spiritual leader of the small Muslim community in the fictitious prairie town of Mercy.
Another scene has a character named Joe stumbling upon the new makeshift mosque housed in the parish hall of an Anglican church, then rushing out to call the "terrorist attack hot line" when he sees the Muslims bowing to pray, "just like on CNN."
Nawaz noted that while the classic sitcoms "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons" dealt with bigotry and racism for the first time on American television, their success was based on the hilarious delivery of those issues, not on preaching to viewers.
"If it humanizes Muslims, that's great," she said during a recent taping in a studio outside Toronto. "But we live and die by the ratings, and whether people find it funny."
In another scene from the first episode, the Muslims are arguing about the start of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. The imam, Baber, insists Ramadan begins when the crescent of the new moon is observed with the eye.