Do not do what is already done.
- Terence, Roman Writer of Comedies (B.C. 185-159)
What better day than the day before Thanksgiving to salute a series on Hulu about a small-town group of Muslims, right?
What, you say???
Well, actually it’s about of small-town group of Canadian Muslims.
What the heck does a bunch of Canadian Muslims have to do with our blessed American holiday of Thanksgiving, especially when Canadians don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving in the right month?
Well hear me out.
Didn’t America start as a country where people came so they could practice their religions without persecution? And wasn’t Thanksgiving established as a meeting of two cultures between the long-time inhabitants and the newcomers to the continent? If you look at it in those two contexts, plugging the show “Little Mosque” the day before Thanksgiving makes perfect sense, because the show focuses on a group of Muslims who are mostly new immigrants coming to a country to practice their religion and prosper, while struggling to co-exist with the people who can lay claim to having been there a bit longer than they have. [*note]
If you don’t have Hulu by now, you can read my post on why you shouldn’t live your life without Hulu or you can just trust me on it and believe me when I tell you that, along with Netflix, Hulu is the best $8 a month you can spend on entertainment.
Little Mosque is available exclusively on Hulu and can be enjoyed only as a great TV show should be enjoyed these days, on demand, at your convenience, from the first episode to the last.
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Let’s start with the characters:
Little Mosque – I’m watching the first episode and it’s about a little mosque out on the prairies, and I’m wondering why the heck they didn’t make a play on “Little House on the Prairie” with the title. Too obvious, maybe? Turns out, the program is indeed listed at IMDB as “Little Mosque on the Prairie!” You then have to guess that when it went from originally airing as a Canadian show to being imported for a largely-American audience on Hulu, a concession was made so as not to offend fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder or the classic American TV Show. Wow, right off the bat, we see a little bit of the culture clash in the powers that be feeling it necessary to go with the more generic title of “Little Mosque” so as not to upset some American sensitivities. Boo to that decision, but probably understandable.
Yasir – He’s the guy who pulls his small band of Muslims from meeting in his basement to a chapel which can use the rent money as its own congregation is dwindling. Yasir could be said to be more focused on his business than his religion (as could be said of many Christians if we’re honest) as his primary motivation in landing the chapel space for the mosque often seems to be the free room he gets in the deal as an office for his construction business, but despite his dedication to worldly success, deep down, he’s a true Muslim and it’s often funny to watch his converted wife and his more devout daughter struggle with their different levels of faith, with him caught in the middle, a manly man who just so happens to be a total pushover for both women.
Amaar – He flies in from Toronto, a young imam ready to accept the meager pay for his first position as an imam at a humble little mosque. Amaar’s greatest challenge is in finding a balance between the traditionalists in his tiny congregation and the more progressive / feminist element – that and his lack of a beard, which causes some *cough* Baber *cough* to question his legitimacy as an imam. He’s a good guy, no doubt about it, he takes pride in his little mosque and he’s handed a healthy helping of humility in just about every episode.
Rayyan – She’s the daughter of Yasir and his converted wife, Sarah. She’s smart and beautiful, a doctor and a very devout Muslim, but while she wears the hijab with pride, she is also outspoken in believing that women should have a stronger role to play in the faith and a more visible role in the mosque instead of being segregated behind a barrier during prayer. Of course, this leads to some inevitable clashes with our friend, Baber.
Mayor Popowicz – Like any politician, the mayor of the small town of Mercy is always looking at the political angle of things, such as how to deal with the newly visible Muslim community and keep the town folk happy while a talk show host is constantly on the air, stoking the townspeople’s fears. She’s a bit shallow and detached from her duties as mayor, which is probably good because she doesn’t take anything too much to heart unless it affects how she ends up looking politically, but working closely with her assistant, converted Muslim Sarah (Yasir’s wife) the mayor shows herself to be very much an example of someone who believes in “live and let live,” even if it’s only partially because she’s liberated and partially because she just doesn’t care enough to get caught up in any of the drama.
Baber – Isn’t it funny how sometimes the character you would expect to like the least becomes the one you love the most in a show? Baber is like the Muslim version of Archie Bunker, always talking about the infidels and the evils of Western culture. Baber is old school, traditionalist, militant in his beliefs, sexist (or just the opposite of feminist if we’re charitable) but watch hilarity ensue with Baber, like the scene where he suddenly finds himself teamed-up with one of the beer-swillin’ yokels he despises as they both bring pickets to protest a gay marriage in their small town.
Reverend Magee – His parish is growing older and the ranks are growing thinner, but there are perks to his job as reverend, such as preaching for free meals at senior centers, retirement parties and AA meetings. While some evangelicals may gasp at his willingness to marry a gay couple along with renting out his chapel to a group of Muslims, you can feel for this man with the dwindling flock and say what’s a guy in that position to do but try to embrace everyone with open arms. His friendship and comradery with Imam Amaar is one of the highlights of the show.
Fred – When they created the show, I’m sure they said, we need some Rush Limbaugh-type guy spewing a bunch of fear-mongering over the Muslim “incursion” on the airwaves of the small-town radio station. This could have been a disaster for the show if the guy wasn’t so over the top as to make honest comparisons to right-wing talk radio laughable (laughable to anyone outside the #StopRush nutjobs who see Limbaugh as the boogeyman) but Fred is the perfect foil on the show for being the one white guy you don’t want to be – ignorant, reactionary, an inciter of fear. Fred’s character works because he’s a bit too far off the handle to be wholly offensive, yet there’s enough of a kernel of truth in there to make him funny.
Fatima – She’s the African Muslim owner of the local cafe on the show and her character gives us some interesting contrasts between an African Muslim and the Muslims of the Middle East. Though they are united in their religion, Fatima brings her own unique culture and traditions to the group. She’s quick witted, sharp-tongued and gets some of the best lines on the show. Just make sure you know where to go to buy the proper Muslim swimwear for women if you take her to the women’s pool class and the lifeguard happens to be a male.
Sarah – I guess you could call her a MINO (a Muslim-in-name-only) because she likes playing her lottery and bingo and she only wears the hijab when she goes to the mosque, but in her love for her husband Yasir, her conversion as a white woman to the Muslim faith itself is quite a step of loyalty (even if she can’t make good on a bet to pray five times a day for thirty days.) Her relationship with her daughter Rayyan and Rayyan’s devoted attempts to help her converted mother become a better Muslim is another entertaining dynamic in the show.
Zarqa Nawaz‘s show succeeds on a lot of levels. While there may be a couple inner jokes only those of the faith might catch, for those outside the religion who might not encounter Muslims on a daily basis and for whom maybe ninety percent of what they hear about Muslims has to do with wars and suicide bombings, this show does a great job of humanizing a religion which may be very foreign to a large portion of America.
We Christians should remember that we live in a little sliver of history where’s it’s the Muslim faith that has an infection of radicalism running rampant in its body, but before we get too high and mighty about it, we might want to remind ourselves that there have been many other periods in history where it was the Christian religion which had that infection of radicalism, starting crusades, burning witches and slaughtering natives “in the name of” Christianity. Most Christians would be quick to tell you the murdering and the pillaging wasn’t perpetrated by true Christans, and guess what? Most Muslims will say the same – those aren’t true Muslims.
The show has some good laughs, but as you continue watching, I think you’ll also grow fond of many of these characters, the kinds of characters you might not have the chance to meet on a daily basis.
After watching Little Mosque, you end up with a warm feeling and a hope that we can all coexist in this life while staying true to our faiths and leave it up to God to sort things out when our lives on Earth are done.