Little Mosque on the Prairie: Should We Throw the Baby Out with the Bathwater?

With the new season of Little Mosque on the Prairie coming back to the Canadian Broadcasting Network (CBC) soon this fall, I think it’s time I spoke my piece.

First, I am thrilled that there is a show that is doing its best to show the humanity and positivity of Muslims. I am glad that the cast is pretty diverse by television standards (a Nigerian, several Pakistanis, an Arab, a white Canadian, AND a biracial Canadian!!!), I wish they had included a few more ethnic groups. The show may simply be reflecting immigrant patterns to Canada, but I know there’s a bunch of Iranis and Arabs up there, too! What about Indonesians? C’mon now.

I’m glad the show features a white Canadian convert. And I’m glad she doesn’t cover her hair. But I’m NOT excited about the way she is portrayed among the other Muslims, who very frequently call her a “bad Muslim” for not praying five times a day or wearing hejab. During the episode which she was trying to be “a better Muslim,” her own daughter called her a bad Muslim. What is that? First of all, for my non-Muslim readers, judgment of another Muslim by a fellow Muslim (especially if you’re throwing around words like “bad”) is considered haram. Only Allah’s judgment matters. And yet, this television show is not only promoting the idea that all Muslims think women without hejabs are Bad Muslims, but also reinforcing this idea within the Muslim community. Because we’re dealing with a convert (or “revert,” if you like), there is also the idea that she is not “authentically” and “culturally” Muslim, and so viewers may get the impression that she’s just in this religion for fun and giggles.

Another issue is the reinforcement of arbitrary gender mores. In one episode, Sarah’s daughter (her name is Rayaan? I’m not sure of the spelling) is treating a male patient in the café. Mr. I-Used-To-Be-Imam (I forget his name, too) sees her, and starts spreading lots of rumors that she’s dating this guy, that she’s a bad Muslim, etc. I know that the Muslim community is gossipy, yeah. But this is another thing that is totally haram. You can’t spread rumors that will ruin a woman’s reputation! That’s haram! And yet, this guy is doing it, and no one ever stops to question him. They automatically believe that this girl, who is educated, a doctor, a serious hejabi, and a pillar of the Islamic community, is suddenly dating! GASP! Her own parents don’t believe her when she says she’s not dating! And then, she decides to invite the guy over for dinner, and all of a sudden, the show turns into a fulfilled prophesy. When the show ends, she is “repenting” from her “horrible” behavior; I don’t like the way the show colored this entire episode to be her fault.

Also, with her character, there is a question around hejab. She is biracial and Canadian, and I’d LOVE to see an upcoming episode deal with her identity politics. Does she wear hejab to be “authentically” Muslim? Or because she’s rebelling against her parents (who are Western/Westernized)? Or because she interprets the Qur’an to tell her to wear hejab? Hm…

Criticism number three: everyone revolves around the mosque. I know this is a small town, and the mosque is a place where everybody gathers, and the mosque is a convenient meeting place for plots to unfold. But…the idea that everyone’s lives are so consumed with the mosque is unrealistic. Yeah, everybody knows everybody else’s business. But that doesn’t mean that the mosque is everyone’s main priority. I don’t know a lot of Christians who have nothing else to talk about but what’s going on at the church.

Anyway, with the new season coming out, I am eagerly awaiting to see which direction we’ll take. The first episodes dealt with some pretty stereotypical stuff (like arranged marriages), most likely as an introduction for the non-Muslim viewer. But I’d like to see the new season diversify. Add some more ethnicities to the cast. Have the characters talk about stuff specific to their culture instead of pretending that everyone in the show practices Islam the exact same way. I’d like the show to mirror the fact that we’re just people; Islam doesn’t have to be our common punchline.

http://www.cbc.ca/littlemosque/

  • Duniya

    Excellent analysis Zeynab. I just wanted to point out one other aspect of the show which also perpetuates the message that hijab is obligatory – Laila, Baber’s daughter (Baber is the fanatic, but funny, ex-Imam). In one episode (the one in which the Mercy Muslim community gains, and then loses, a convert) Laila refuses to wear the hijab. This character, according to Zarqa Nawaz, the show’s creator, is supposed to represent non-hijabis. HOWEVER, this character is portrayed as a rebellious teenager refusing to do anything she is “supposed” to do. The message therefore is not “it’s ok to not wear the hijab” but rather that “those who do not wear the hijab are rebels against the religion.” Thanks Ms. Nawaz for “appeasing” us but we’d rather not the patronization.


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