Comedy – Muslim-style

Beachgoers walk the scenic shores of Dungeness Spit. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Beachgoers walk the scenic shores of Dungeness Spit.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

My brother called me Tuesday but he had no intention of talking.

“Turn on your TV,” he said. “Put on CBC.”

“You’re kidding, right?” came my reply. “I don’t have time to watch TV. They could cut our cable and I wouldn’t know it.”

(This is not entirely true. Occasionally, I surf for Grey’s Anatomy).

“There’s a new show on. I think you’ll get a kick out of Little Mosque on the Prairie.”

While I didn’t manage to tune in on time, I plan to catch an episode.

I did, however, do a little research on the program, finding a multitude of interviews with its creator, Zarqa Nawaz. The Globe and Mail,, and USA Today indicate the show is inspired by Nawaz’s experiences living as a Canadian Muslim in Toronto and Regina.

The show is heralded first and foremost as a comedy about the interactions between characters in a small prairie town (most of whom just happen to be Muslim) but, along with entertaining her audience, Nawaz intends to “get some Muslims to think about issues in a new way while maintaining the integrity of their faith.”

Reaction to the show is mixed. Viewer reviews range from congratulatory, claiming the show is “a light-hearted, bridge-builder among cultures,” to derogatory, suggesting the creator “ask the Iranian government not to hang the lady who killed one of her gang rapists because that would be an excellent way to stand for Canadian values and demonstrate something called moderate Islam,” to offended, saying the show “made people from the prairie appear stupid while Muslim folks were quick-witted and intelligent.”

Perhaps the most important point is that people are talking about it.

Rebecca Cook Dube wrote in USA Today: “the nation that gave the world Dan Aykroyd, Mike Myers and Jim Carrey has produced a new form of comedy applauded by Canadian Muslims for showing the humour under the hijab [head scarf].”

Nawaz calls herself a Muslim feminist and, as such, sets out to challenge stereotypical beliefs about Muslim women and the men they marry, not only among Westerners, but also within her own faith.

Her 2005 documentary, Me and the Mosque, raised the question of segregation in places of worship (women and men are not permitted to pray together in the mosque). Nawaz claims racism, extremism and sexism exist in all religions, but that “these issues don’t come from the faith; they come from patriarchy.”

Claiming humour is the universal language, she prefers to use comedy to get her message across. Her hit film, BBQ Muslims, about Islamic brothers in Toronto who become terror suspects when they accidentally blow up their gas barbecue, won rave reviews at the Toronto Film Festival in 1996.

I look forward to tuning into the show. I only wish my former students at the Abu Dhabi Women’s College (ADWC) could, too.

Teaching in the applied media program at ADWC, I saw firsthand how creative young Arab women are, but I experienced how restricted their rights were.

I had to have my husband’s permission to teach there. The girls had to have their husbands’ or fathers’ permission to leave the grounds for lunch.

We Westerners had to sneak our weaknesses in. I recall a girlfriend returning from a summer spent in Ontario, secretly armed with a box set of Sex and the City. There was a line up to borrow it.

Websites were guarded, magazine cleavages blacked out, books banned, but in a world driven by dreams and endless technology, the quest to censor information and dull the desire to be heard, is ultimately futile.

Where there is a will, women around the world are making a way.

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