Zarqa Nawaz and ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’

Posted on January 13, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Humor, Pakistanis Abroad, People, Religion, TV, Movies & Theatre, Women
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Adil Najam

The Pakistani community here in USA is abuzz with talk of Canadian Broadcasting Service’s (CBS’s) new comedy series Little Mosque on the Prairie.

Everyone seems to have an opinion, but few seem to have actually seen it yet (since it appears on Canadian TV and the first episode was aired this week). We at ATP wanted to change that and give you all a chance to view the first episode of the comedy program and comment on it. The show – for its subject matter as much as anything else – is causing ripples across the world’s media and has generally, but not always, generated good reviews.

The program’s website describes the program:

Little Mosque on the Prairie, an unabashedly comedic look at a small Muslim community living side by side with the residents of a little [Canadian] prairie town. At its heart, Little Mosque on the Pararie is a humorous look at relationships, family, love, the generation gap and balancing Muslim beliefs and traditions in a pararie setting.

The show and its humor is decidedly post 9/11. At its roots it is as much about the West’s paranoia as it is about the foibles of Muslim communities in the West. More generally it is about the immigrant experience, especially the Muslim immigrant experience. And all of this is done through the lens of humor. Laughing at – so that we can think about – where we are and where we have come to.

The show is written by Liverpool-born, Canada-settled, Pakistani-origin writer Zarqa Nawaz, who according to one write-up:

…has acquired a cult status with her films, which examine and demolish stereotypes associated with Muslims as terrorists, wife abusers and religious extremists. And that too with loads of wit. The name of her production company “FUNdamentalist Films” reflects her satirical bent of mind, and this streak is evident in her film trilogy – ‘BBQ Muslims’, ‘Death Threat’ and her first feature ‘Real Terrorists Don’t Belly Dance.’

While the motto of FUNdamentalist Films is to put “fun back into fundamentalism” the trilogy is what she calls “terrordies”, or comedies about terrorism. The films have been widely acclaimed, and requests have been pouring in for copies. So much so that Nawaz quips, “I could spend my lifetime at the post office, mailing them (the cassettes) out.”

There are plenty of Pakistani connections to the show, including the lead character – a clean cut Toronto lawyer played by Zaib Shaikh who comes to the little town to be the Imam of a makeshift mosque.

Indeed, post 9/11 there is a real thrust of young Muslims in general, including young Pakistanis in the performing arts trying to build inroads into their host communities that earlier generations of Muslim, and Pakistanis, had so neglected to build (see ATP write-ups on Pakistanis abroad doing so in the theatre, in music (also here), in documentary film-making).

So, here is the first episode. What you think of it:

P.S. Thanks to Azmi and the blog Qiyas for directing us to the video.

33 Comments on “Zarqa Nawaz and ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’”

  1. Daktar says:
    January 13th, 2007 2:26 am

    Had been hearing a lot about this the last week so good to be able to see it.

    Quite well done. Funny and also some serious messages. I think it has done a good job of keeping it interesting for Canadian audiences while also sending some serious messages.

  2. TURAB says:
    January 13th, 2007 2:37 am

    makes me proud of being a pakistani canadian due to the diversity and tolerance that exists here… awesome show and highly recommended……

    PS: its a funny show.. nothing serious… thought i would just remind one last time!

  3. Kabir says:
    January 13th, 2007 2:53 am

    LoLzzz very funny…

  4. Moeen Bhatti says:
    January 13th, 2007 9:56 am

    Adil: Thanks for posting this. Great show and very funny. How can we watch all the episodes here in the US?

  5. A. says:
    January 13th, 2007 11:06 am

    FYI – Americans living in states that border Canada e.g. Michigan, can get the show on their own cable network.

  6. ayesha says:
    January 13th, 2007 11:06 am

    Loved the humor!

  7. Saadia Khan says:
    January 13th, 2007 4:06 pm

    I read about this program once on CBC and now its on net, thats great! …thanks for the video Adil.

  8. Saadia Khan says:
    January 13th, 2007 4:57 pm

    ok, back after watching 1st episode of 20 mins, honestly, I liked the trailor better. The program lacks pretty much good/professional sense of humour. I thought Zarqa would bring some British sense of humour and the program must be excellent/professional. naah! I am very disappointed, atleast the 1st episode looks disaster. Perhaps, I was comparing it with “goodness, gracious me” (a comedy from BBC UK). They had also some clips on Pakistanis and muslims but one cannot compare those with this program…hmmm it needs alot alot alot of improvement!!!

    CBC has a good name, I am big fan of their local (live on net) radio channels, they broadcast so professional reportage and I think this unprofessional comedy program (atleast 1st episode) is not for the prime TV channels like CBC.

  9. Saadia Khan says:
    January 13th, 2007 5:25 pm

    Sorry if I am popping in with different messages…next time I try not to ;)
    Forget about goodness gracious me, even Little Mosque on the Prairie cannot compete the well-known comedy program made by muslim youth in Australia, which was also after 11th sept.named “Salam Cafe”. You can get some of its episodes on youtube. I’m putting aleast this one here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acEAWAaAmrM
    as in this episode you can see Azhar Usman from “Allah made me funny”.

  10. Fareed says:
    January 14th, 2007 5:27 pm

    Not sure if I agree with you Saadia. Just saw this and I think it is great. A little rough at the edges sometimes but very very good and hard hitting things too. Like the whole joke on airport security people and how silly they can be. It is good that message is put across. I say, well done.

  11. The Pakistanian says:
    January 14th, 2007 11:55 pm

    I think it was pretty funny over all, although the idea of a yuppie Imam and a pretty girl having a crush on him is not gonna score a whole lot of points in many circles within muslims. The airport scene was really funny, some other scenes were over exaggarated, but thats how you get the point across. Not quiet in the same league as MASH or Cheers, but funny nonetheless, lets see if it survives beyond the first season.

  12. Saadia Khan says:
    January 15th, 2007 7:51 am

    Fareed whole joke on airport security people has been told several times in much better muslim made comedy TV shows in Western media. Anyway I must say everyone has different level and type of sense of humor, probably for me this program needs much development while other thinks its the best.

  13. Amra says:
    January 15th, 2007 8:12 am

    I watched the show over the weekend and tend to agree with Saadia, it was too bland and predictable. The jokes might make you smile but nothing original. I think the characters did not seem ‘real’. They did not seem comfortable in their roles. Good intentions but needs better writing.

  14. Arifa says:
    January 15th, 2007 9:01 am

    I found it very funny too… I think the purpose is not to make the characters believable to us – Muslims – but to western audiences… so they have to be a little exagerated since it is a sitcom. I found it very good.

  15. ronin533 says:
    January 15th, 2007 11:39 am

    Is there a way if we can watch this show in USA specifically NY.

  16. HJ says:
    January 16th, 2007 5:46 am

    [quote comment="27622"]I think it was pretty funny over all, although the idea of a yuppie Imam and a pretty girl having a crush on him is not gonna score a whole lot of points in many circles within muslims. [/quote]

    Err, I am sure many pious Muslims will be very pleased to know their daughter has a crush on a yuppie Imam than a white alcoholic :-)

    Overall, I thought the first episode was a bit thin in developing characters and the *jokes* felt stale. However, humor/wit is a good way of dealing with “sensitive” subjects with a large audience which may be either insentitive to your views or down right hostile. Lets see how it progresses.

    HJ

  17. Akif Nizam says:
    January 16th, 2007 12:18 pm

    I found it reasonably funny; it’s no Sienfeld, but then what is ! I think the attempt is to make the characters relatable to first generation muslims in the West. I find the characters believable (except for the Imam); yes, we already knew all the jokes but it’s still good to see someone else do it on screen. I’ll give it a chance to develop.

  18. TURAB says:
    January 17th, 2007 12:48 am

    its more of a Canadian Comedy, especially the kind of comedy moreso found in the WESTern Canada…
    which obviously is not more in your face kind..

    Moreover, the small stuff was missed out by a lot of people, specifically that mosques usually have lil or no money ALWAYS! heheheh (for smaller communities)

  19. imtiaz says:
    January 17th, 2007 7:23 am

    the first imam……hmm how can a hindu play a role of a muslim imam???? does that not strike you guys at all. did any one notice the way he is leading the prayers? the words he utters…… come on guys, where on earth you find an imam like him. its an insult to the entire muslim community. At least they could have had a muslim playing the role of the imam, if not anything else he would say the ” verses in a better way, or are you telling me that this is the way all the imams are in the US and Canada?
    and by the way when did u learn that it is ok or it is practised while praying that u move and look back and run after some one. Comedy aside, I think this is an insult to the religion itself. Being a moderate mulsim is ok but not knowing anything about a religion and making others believe thats the way it is, thats unacceptable.

  20. Musalmaan says:
    January 17th, 2007 8:15 am

    Imtiaz, I think YOU are the insult to the Muslim community. I have a feeling that this shar-pasandi is deliberate to get an argument going. Now, let me think, who does that……

  21. imtiaz says:
    January 17th, 2007 8:24 am

    [quote comment="28536"]Imtiaz, I think YOU are the insult to the Muslim community. I have a feeling that this shar-pasandi is deliberate to get an argument going. Now, let me think, who does that……[/quote]

    well if u think so, then i guess i will leave u as you are.
    If u dont have a problem with this being a muslim, then I cant say anything. Al Hamd O Lillah I am living in a place where we do not have such things and thank Allah for that.
    May Allah help you in your progress and modernization

  22. Michael Barker says:
    January 22nd, 2007 2:01 am

    I am a Black American who comes from Detroit and I have Muslims in my family converted by Malcolm X. There are cultural differences in Islam. What you are seeing in some way is a North American Islam and that should be understood about this TV show. What North Americans are seeing is that Islam is nothing to fear and in fact should be embraced. Okay, it’s TV. The Black images on it, for the most part, don’t represent my daily life but any chance to go up against the sea of negativity that comes out of the media here should be applauded.

    As to whether a Hindu can play a Muslim; there used to be the same question, in this country, about whether a Black could play a white role. It’s called “acting” for a reason.

    Michael Barker

  23. The Pakistanian says:
    January 22nd, 2007 12:03 pm

    [quote comment="30112"]

    As to whether a Hindu can play a Muslim; there used to be the same question, in this country, about whether a Black could play a white role. It’s called “acting” for a reason.

    Michael Barker[/quote]

    Dear Michael

    Tell this to the people who still have to come to grips with the fact that role of Hamza (Prophet Muhammad’s uncle and close companion) was played by Anthony Quinn in The Message and also Christopher Lee who played the character of Count Dracula many times played the role of Jinnah (the founder of Pakistan) in Jinnah :)

    Also I agree with you regarding the cultural differences within Islam and to me that is a beautiful thing, but then again there are those holier than thou types who give the likes of CNN and Fox News the fodder for their creative news specials the very reason this particular sitcom was created.

  24. AR says:
    January 31st, 2007 12:57 pm

    What she want to show in movie is not good. It looks like she is playing with the values of Islam

  25. shahnaz says:
    January 31st, 2007 2:34 pm

    Okay,

    I feel Zarqa has USED the non-muslim actors in compromising situations. How often do ya’ll see couples kissing freely in front of their kids. I can say, it is great to exploit your situation, but it is disheartening to see that it has not been done tastefully.

    I am finding yet again the sterotype that muslims are stupid and can not fight their own battles is STILL emphasized……go figure, you have a minority writing this, and STILL the same issues. Ironic really.

    The whole concept that something on tv is better than nothing, is a mindset that shows our insecurities in society. We should be MORE careful and critical of what is to be shown before it is aired. Thus, more caution is necessary to ensure the right message is going to occur. Hey, if Zarqa just stated that she is doing to enhance her career, I have no problem with it, but to sit there and state she is helping the “divide” that is a load of crap. I am sure that is what she is thinking while she rolls down to the bank with her bling bling cheque.

    Let’s face it, she missed the mark.

  26. Hussein A. says:
    February 1st, 2007 3:09 am

    I actually think it was funny and very well done, specially for Western audiences. The ‘exagerated’ view of Muslims is teh one that the extremists want all of us to adopt.

  27. Umair says:
    February 16th, 2007 12:20 am

    Assalamo Alaikum to my Muslim friends,

    Here is the deal…We say we are “Muslims” then we end up making shows that mock Muslims all across the world.

    We can not say what Zarqa Nawaz’s intentions in this respect but what we can observe is that this show is NOT BY ANY MEANS near our Muslim values/traditions.

    We have mothers and sisters in our families watching these shows and to make a mockery of Muslims where Muslim women are shown in bikinis for fun is unacceptable. If we were to read the Holy Quran, yeah did we forget we have a great book called the Holy Quran?, it is clearly and I say clearly indicated that Islam doesn’t allow such encounters. If we do not accept that, then maybe we should try to come up with the book against the Holy Quran and prescribe that as our book…hey, it hasn’t been done for over 1400 years, how can we do it now? You accept this challenge? Please come forward.

    No, I am not saying Muslim men are angels. They are at equal fault here too. We see this young individual representing a Muslim in the show who stares at the woman’s behind. This is sending wrong messages of our community, nothing else. Example: my colleague at work, who is an American saw this and the first thing that came to his mind was “hey, look at that girl’s behind…I thought Muslims don’t do this kind of stuff but I guess it’s cool!” — is this the message that this show was supposed to be sending? How does that improve Muslim image in North America/US?

    Let’s come back to our Muslim folks themselves…lot of folks “like” the show as if it were just another comedy show/stage drama. Ever read/studied/researched what Islam really prescribes for Muslim men and women? Are we supposed to be enjoying ourselves with shows like this or improving ourselves?

    Your kids, my kids, our kids, will grow up in this society and what would they think by watching these shows? Ever thought of that? I have seen lots of elders in our community who complain about how their kids do not respect them, do drugs, drink and get involved with outside relationships and yet, they cannot figure out why…well if we produce shows like these it doesn’t help the situation does it now? So much for mere enjoyment…will you enjoy when your kids will throw you out of your OWN house one day because they wanted to share it with their extra marital partner? Yeah, I know folks who have been through that too…

    Again, Zarqa Nawaz might have whatever intentions that we may never know of but from watching such mockery of Muslims it doesn’t look like intentions/ideas were really thought out in the true light of Islam.

    KH

  28. Akif Nizam says:
    February 16th, 2007 3:08 pm

    Umair, it’s a simple solution for you. Turn off the TV, don’t watch it, don’t let your children watch it. I’m not sure if your children are going to be more screwed up if they watch the show or if they live in the cultural ghetto that you prescribe for them.

    It’s a TV show, forgodssake….or is it forGodsssake ?
    It’s not a documentary about muslim life, neither is it a news show; it’s entertainment. A sitcom is not supposed to be the portrayal of reality. Seinfeld was not based upon Orthrodox Jewish values, it only had a somewhat Jewish sensibility. What happens on this show is not a mockery of muslim, what happens in the streets of muslim countries is a mockery of muslims.

  29. Umair says:
    February 17th, 2007 2:53 pm

    Akif,

    I can take care of my family inshAllah but what I wrote was in general for ALL Muslim parents would NOT have control over what their kids watch or do not watch. NOT EVERYONE has control over that. Especially in North America. That was the point.

    Ofcourse, ghetto streets = ghetto kid behaviour but that’s not the point. The point is as I have already indicated and given examples of. Let’s be realistic and not ignore what’s really happening. Come on, you cannot tell your kids these days to do what you want them to do? Maybe some parents can? not all, right? So, with shows like these, doesn’t help our situation. How can you tell an already spolied child what to watch and not to watch. You would atleast expect to get help for that child. If I “turn off the tv..” would there be a guarantee that it will remain that way forever? I didn’t think so!

    Plus, you cannot imagine what would happen if our Muslim women start acting like western women and turn to western culture. Do you want that, forget the kids, but do you really want this?

    And, if you are a parent yourself and you still fail to comprehend my point, then I suggest you research a bit about Islam and religion in general because I don’t know what can convince you that “little house on the prairie” is way way way out of line to what Muslims do and what our religion teaches us. If ypu are not a parent, then you should understand that one day you would be one inshAllah, then what will happen? Typically, you would be like a spoiled child of the parents I described in my other post – someone who would be disrespectful of their parents, someone who would violate Islamic law and not know about it etc. Take your pick, we are all going to destruction and the time to take the action is now, not 10-15 yrs from now and not by turning tvs off…

    KH

  30. PakParsi says:
    April 10th, 2007 9:50 am

    This show is what is needed more than anything right now (and it is hilarious). BTW, you can watch it on YouTube.

    This show is about alleviating fears of Islam. It lets western audiences know that Muslims can make fun of themselves and fit in with western society. Its sad that a couple of the commenters refuse the premise, but I am so happy that most of the commenters here do.

    The character is of Baber is a hilarious stereotype, but I think it is good for people to recognize these stereotypes within their own communities and change them.

  31. rubab says:
    June 27th, 2007 5:06 am

    hi there,
    main ne ye parha or khushi hui ke sharati logon ke liye saza ka maqool intizam hy …..wysy agar un ko saza mil hi gayee to wo sharati na huy is saza se bach niklen tab to shararti kaha ja sakta hy………………………………………..

  32. Priyana/Fabiha says:
    July 22nd, 2007 8:14 pm

    Hi! I haven’t seen any other sitcoms about Muslims to compare this to… but I love it! It’s hilarious, although the humor kind of went down towards episode 8 but maybe that’s because I was watching all the episodes so far in one day… Also, maybe it’s because I’m from the U.S.(I watch it on youtube) but the community seems MUCH more hateful towards Muslims. I don’t know, I live in L.A. and not straight in downtown (it’s 15 minutes away) but in the valley, and I’d think that stereotypes would be worse down here, but I guess not. Actually, many of my friends are very respectful and interested in my culture and religion.

    Another thing is that the wife and general sitcom mother, who is a convert, seems very uninterested in Islam. She treats Islam like a hassle (and I’m not sure how the dad and mom can even call themselves Muslims if they don’t even pray regularly), in contrast to the converts I know. But it’s realistic for the dad to be that way because he would think like that having to pray and do his Islamic duties growing up when he wanted to do otherwise. Maybe you’d think that converts wouldn’t be as religious because they converted and weren’t born Muslim, but they’re more religious than those who were born Muslims. You’d think that the mom would be more into Islam and that’s why she converted but that’s not the case. It could be possible that the dad forced her into it or something when they married but I don’t think that she would actually stand for that. Overall, the writer didn’t seem to put much thought into the characters and how their roles would be with all the factors in their lives, environment, and community.

  33. Kaleem says:
    October 3rd, 2007 8:30 pm

    Reminded me of the show ‘Perfect Strangers’. Which I think was a big success.

Have Your Say (Bol, magar piyar say)