After six seasons — rare longevity in Canadian television — CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie ends tonight with the “Best of Times” episode.
“The show came into a landscape where nothing of its kind existed, and leaves the landscape having changed it,” said star Zaib Shaikh in a recent TV, eh? interview. “Now it’s up to another show, or a different take on this conversation, but the impact is still clearly being felt on a positive side.”
“The forces of negativity and fear still exist,” he added. “It’s amazing the show got in six seasons in that climate on a global level, where it stands out as a positive in the conversation between Muslims and non-Muslims.”
Shaikh points out the show’s purpose “was never to be a message. Its purpose was to have Muslims as characters — ‘look they’re people too.'”
Growing up Muslim in Toronto, he hadn’t seen a character that reflected his own experience before taking on the role of Amaar, the Toronto imam who relocated to Saskatchewan.
“That fish out of water perspective really worked well for the show on a comedic and entertaining level,” he said. “Now he leaves the show a proud member of the community, married into it. He’s not the pompous prick he was coming into it.”
Even with a primary goal to entertain, Shaikh believes the show couldn’t have launched anywhere but on CBC, especially at a time when 9/11 was fresh in the audience’s memory. He believes in a way that the Canadian show was able to begin a conversation that couldn’t happen in the US while they were still in trauma from those events.
“In Canada our supposed tolerance and congeniality led to the idea it could get done here,” he said, saying “that speaks to the country’s values.” Creator Zarqa Nawaz “had a hope — maybe it was a naÃ¯ve hope” that the show would work, and CBC agreed.
“As a business model it’s a risky take on entertaining, on getting eyeballs,” Shaikh said before pointing out it debuted to 2.1 million people in 2007.
He calls this sixth and final season “a gift to our fans,” and has himself reaped the benefits of the high-profile role, having just filmed Midnight’s Children with Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie. “I don’t think I would have gotten that kind of experience if I wasn’t on a show like Little Mosque.”
Listen to the entire Zaib Shaikh interview, including his thoughts on the necessity of supporting the Canadian TV industry, here.