'Little Mosque On the Prairie'

ByABC News

Jan. 10, 2006 — -- There are no one-room schoolhouses or any horses on a new Canadian TV show taking its inspiration from "Little House on the Prairie."

The classic TV series has been reinvented in a new comedic series which explores the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, something the show's creator has experienced first hand.

"When I got married I moved to the prairie where there was only one mosque in a small Muslim community," said "Little Mosque on the Prairie" creator Zarqa Nawaz. "It was a different experience for me because Muslims of different ideologies had to deal with each other. So I thought there was so much interesting material, [so many] hilarious situations coming out of this situation [that] it could sustain a sitcom."

The 39-year-old mother of four is a Canadian Muslim of Pakistani origin, living in the prairie town of Regina, Saskatchewan. Her new CBC series features a young, successful lawyer from Toronto who abandons his career and moves west to become the spiritual leader of the small Muslim community in the town of Mercy.

Hilarity ensues as members of the Muslim community and prairie residents confront different traditions, beliefs and ways of life.

While "Little Mosque" deals with comedic situations, from coed swimming at the local pool to renaming Halloween "Halal-ween" -- "halal" being the Arabic word for anything religiously permissible -- Nawaz's plot lines do not shy away from controversial topics.

Episodes also deal with race, the clash of traditional and modern values, and, obviously, religious beliefs. Still, Nawaz said it's not about politics.

"It's not really a show that deals with the politics of what's going on internationally," said Nawaz. "It deals with the foibles of everyday life, the relationships between spouses, husbands and wives, relationships between them and their children, relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims, and the comedy of everyday material that we deal with in life."

In its first episode, which aired this week, "Little Mosque" tackled the stigma of Muslims on airplanes, boldly going where no sitcom has gone before by portraying the humorous side of being Muslim and adapting to life in a post-9/11 world.

However, Toronto-born Muslim actor Zaib Sheik, who stars in the show, reiterated that the political implications of the show are secondary. "This isn't a show that's meant to be political," said Sheik. "It's a show that's meant to be funny, that shows an aspect of Canadian culture that just happens to be Muslim."

Canada's Muslim population is estimated at 800,000. The United States is estimated to have 6 million Muslims. The show's creators hope that the series will break through many of the social, cultural, racial and religious barriers which have come to hamper relations between Muslims and people of other faiths.

"I think that North America has always been, when it comes to tackling the issue of racism and sexism, the first place where sitcoms have succeeded," Nawaz said. "Look at 'The Jeffersons' and 'All in the Family,' that was a time of great upheaval in America. I think if anyone is ready to deal with a comedy that deals with non-Muslims and Muslims it would be the Americans.

"I think it is the perfect time, the perfect place and the perfect setting for a comedy about Muslims right now," she added.

And, Nawaz has aspirations for "Little Mosque" beyond people's living rooms. Through comedy, she hopes, viewers will open up to its underlying message of tolerance and understanding.

"Comedy is a common language that we all speak and comedy brings together universal themes of relationships that every faith community has regardless of its ideological bent," said Nawaz. "I think it is also a way to heal the wounds and differences."

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