“Little Mosque on the Prairie” 15 years later

“Little Mosque on the Prairie” 15 years later

When it premiered on Jan. 9, 2007, “Little Mosque on the Prairie” captured over 2 million Canadian viewers—the biggest premiere for its host, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), in 10 years (New York Times). Though it faced its fair share of criticism from Muslims and non-Muslims alike over the years, the show’s six-season run garnered worldwide attention and established its role as a pioneering piece of Muslim media.

Set in Saskatchewan, Canada, “Little Mosque on the Prairie” follows a small, tight-knit mosque community navigating its role in a fictional, largely Christian town. Operating out of a rented room in a church, under the Imam leadership of newcomer and former lawyer Amaar Rashid (Zaib Shaikh), the community includes an eclectic cast of characters reminiscent of most sitcoms. The show has a classic feel, The New York Times comparing it to “‘Mary Tyler Moore’ or some other 1970s sitcom.”

Created and produced in Canada, the show has won various awards throughout the years, including the Canada Award at the 2007 Gemini Awards and the 2007 Common Ground Award, and has been nominated for many others. In 2008 CBC even announced a deal with Fox to create an Americanized adaptation, but the project never materialized.  The Canadian version of the show was eventually released on DVD in the United States and it aired on Hulu in 2012.

The reception among the non-Muslim audience was significant. A 2008 study in Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education found that the majority of posts in response to the first episode of the show were negative, even inflammatory. Simultaneously, the show’s positive reception highlighted the power of comedy to spark honest conversations. In an interview with The New York Times, creator Zarqa Nawaz said, “Nobody has done a comedy about Muslims before, so they are not sure how to take it. … Some non-Muslims wonder, ‘Are we allowed to laugh?’”

Nawaz is perhaps the most important part of this equation. A Pakistani-Canadian Muslim and former journalist, she built the show based on her own experiences as a Muslim woman. When she first began working on the project, she was the only Muslim writer on the team, so many early episodes are heavily influenced by her community—a factor that proved to be difficult to navigate. In an interview with The Toronto Star, she said of the response from fellow Muslims, “A lot of people say, ‘Why do you have to expose this stuff? A lot of white people already think we’re the dregs of humanity.’” 

Today, Nawaz has her hand in a few different projects: her latest show, “Zarqa,” is streaming on CBC Gem and she is also an author—her 2014 memoir “Laughing All the Way to the Mosque” was called “laugh-out-loud story that everyone can enjoy” by Publishers Weekly and her novel “Jameela Green Ruins Everything” was released this year. 

“Little Mosque on the Prairie” set the scene for the Muslim sitcoms of today—“United States of Al,” “Ramy” and “Mo” for example—by leveraging self-depricating humor to tackle tough identity issues. But it also stands on its own, a unique product of its post-9/11 context and a reminder that, in the words of Nawaz, “You have to push the boundaries so you can grow and evolve as a community.”

“Little Mosque on the Prairie” is available to stream on Roku, Tubi and Amazon Prime

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