Little Mosque on the Prairie, creator-writer Zarqa Nawaz’s comic take on a Muslim community in Sasketchewan, was not supposed to premiere until fall 2007. But when executives of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation saw the pilot, they fast-tracked the show to a January debut.
The launch attracted 2.1 million viewers, a monster hit in a country where a top-rated series might pull in 1 million. “There’s a huge hunger for this image of normal Muslims going about their daily routine,” says Nawaz, a practicing Muslim. “Ninety-nine percent of Muslims pay their bills and raise their kids. They’re not hell-bent on world domination and the destruction of democracy.” She adds with a giggle: “It’s just not really our thing.”
Little Mosque has drawn mixed reviews (some have called it overly politically correct, slyly mocking of Americans, and its humor more corny than biting), but international interest has been keen. Executive producer Mary Darling has fielded calls from twenty countries. In the U.S. alone, seven cable channels and three networks have expressed interest in buying the show or entering into a format deal.
When she was writing, Nawaz says, “It seemed perfectly natural that I would, as a mosque-going Muslim, do a sitcom about a mosque community.” She compares herself to Ray Romano, whose Everybody Loves Raymond was a “parallel image of his own life.” In the same way, she wrote a sitcom based on her life in a Muslim community in the prairie town of Regina, Sasketchewan, and the cultural clashes that ensue.
“People say to me now, ‘You did such a risky thing.’ But at the time, I needed to come up with a television sitcom and that was the most logical idea for me.”
Nawaz had hoped to become an obstetrician, but she was rejected by every medical school she applied to. She turned to journalism and eventually found her calling in filmmaking. Judging by the largely favorable reaction to Little Mosque from the Muslim community, and that of her own four children, Nawaz believes she is on the right track.
“They are elated by the show,” she says of her kids, ages six to twelve. “They get that the show is a comedy about people who happen to be Muslim. That gives me a lot of confidence.”