Sitcom’s Precarious Premise: Being Muslim Over Here
James Estrin/The New York Times
TORONTO - The handsome, clean-cut young man of evidently Pakistani or Indian origin is standing in an airport line, gesticulating emphatically as he says into his cellphone, “If Dad thinks that’s suicide, so be it,” adding after a pause, “This is Allah’s plan for me.”
As might be expected, a cop materializes almost instantly and drags the man off, telling him that his appointment in paradise will have to wait, even though the suicide he is referring to is of the career kind; he’s giving up the law to pursue a more spiritual occupation.
The scene unrolls early in the pilot of a new Canadian comedy series called “Little Mosque on the Prairie.”Yet that fictional moment is an all-too-possible occurrence, as witnessed when six imams were hauled off a US Airways plane in Minnesota in November after apparently spooking at least one fellow passenger by murmuring prayers that included the word Allah...
“Little Mosque on the Prairie” ventures into new and perhaps treacherous terrain: trying to explore the funny side of being a Muslim and adapting to life in post 9/11 North America...
During one recent episode being filmed at a neighborhood swimming pool, two Muslim characters who are normally veiled leave the changing room to discover that a man has replaced their usual female instructor. The horrified women lunge for bath towels to use as temporary hijabs, or veils, to cover their hair.Ultimately the solution is found when, as the script describes, “Fatima comes out dressed in the Haz-Mat Islamic swimsuit.” The costume designer unearthed a swimsuit on the Internet from Jordan that covers her from scalp to ankle and had it shipped to Canada.
The struggle over what constitutes modest dress is central to the show.
When a Muslim girl flounces into her immigrant father’s presence with her navel showing, he recoils in horror, saying,
“You look like a Protestant.”
She counters, “Dad, you mean a prostitute?”
He responds, “No, I meant a Protestant.”...
Amaar is abandoning a law career to become the new imam, or prayer leader, in the small town of Mercy. His predecessor as imam preaches sermons like, “First there was ‘American Idol,’ and now there is ‘Canadian Idol.’ All idols must be smashed.”Ms. Nawaz, [the shows creator] wanted the show to look at how a native-born imam, exceedingly rare at the moment, might deal with issues differently from the standard imported imams.
Another episode focuses on the anguished debate among strict Muslim
families about allowing their children to dress up and collect candy on
Halloween, a Christian affair built atop a pagan festival. Most North American Muslims eventually compromise because the day has been drained of religion. “Little Mosque on the Prairie” turns it into “Halal-oween,” halal being the Arabic word for anything religiously permissible.
In an earnest manner not atypical of Canadians, one goal of the show is to explain Muslim behavior, or at least make Muslims seem less peculiar, much as humor about Jews, Italians or gays helped those groups assimilate.“On the news all you ever hear are voices from the extreme end of the spectrum,” Ms. Darling said. “This gives voice to ordinary people who look just like other ordinary people.”With its small-town setting and affable cast of characters - even a talk
radio host who labels Muslims as terrorists comes across as rather lighthearted - the show unrolls a bit like “Mary Tyler Moore” or some other 1970s sitcom.
Great idea? Here are a couple more...