These are interesting times for Canadian Muslims.
Tomorrow is the series premiere of "Little Mosque on the Prairie", a new CBC sitcom about the daily happenings of a young Muslim community in rural Canada. It is the brainchild of Muslim filmmaker Zarqa Nawaz, a young Muslim mother of four, who has a number of films already to her credit. There has been considerable excitement leading up to tomorrow's premiere, with international media attention falling upon this unique take on Muslim culture.
What I like about this is that it is advertising itself as a take on a certain part of Canadian culture, rather than a take on Muslim culture. That is, it runs on the assumption that Muslims are part of Canadian culture, rather than a community removed from the rest. Just as other sitcoms may take a humourous look at other cultures that make up the greater Americana, "Little Mosque" appears to take a similar approach. My initial worry was that while this may be hilarious to people like me who would likely understand all the "inside jokes", it would not appeal to a wider audience. When a father looks upon her scantily clad daughter and mutters "Astaghfirullah!", would Mr. Joe Average know what this means? That, coupled with the fact that CBC sitcoms rarely garner enough interest to turn viewers away from American television, lead me to believe that while creative, this project would likely not succeed.
But perhaps that isn't an issue. The humour for most people may precisely be in the fact that the protagonists of this story are different. It wasn't only stuffy aristocrats who enjoyed Frasier, and I imagine that only a few of the regular viewers of Prison Break are former convicts. Ultimately, what matters is that the characters tell an interesting story. I rarely watch television, but I know I've laughed at humourous takes on Jewish, Italian, and American culture. Can others laugh at ours? They laugh at my stories of flimsy stereotyping, innocent misunderstandings, and Jum'ah shoe-switches; perhaps there is potential. Perhaps I can even contribute my own scripts.
There are of course certain conflicts of interest that this whole series presents. I won't get into them here, except to say that the culture of the arts often presents significant challenges for a practicing Muslim. One little-known aspect of my life was my early passion for theatre and improv. There was a time in my life when I considered it a legitimate career option; in fact, many people from my former improv team actually have made a career of it, and have been quite successful on the national improv circuit. But as Islam became more and more important to me, I realized that there was little chance of finding the right balance in that environment, with those people. If the team behind "Little Mosque" has managed to find that balance, I would like to know how. If not, the series may fall into the trap of inviting to Islam by falling into the unlawful. A male can't introduce Islam to a female by flirting with her, nor can a person promote Muslim culture by having Muslim actresses demonstrate their normalcy by wearing skimpy clothes on national television.
The series premiere of "Little Mosque on the Prairie" is being aired at 8:30pm EST on CBC. Anyone else among the Canadians readers planning on watching this? I'd love to hear your thoughts. And for those outside of Canada, have there been any comparable projects overseas?