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Three years after finding unlikely success in Canada, the Western world’s first Muslim sitcom has gone mainstream at home and flourished abroad, reports Trends magazine.
November 2, 2009 3:38 by Ian Munroe
The plot often touches on real-world issues, particularly those that have cropped up in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. While relations between Canada’s 784,000 Muslims have remained more or less on the up and up compared to Western countries like the United States, Britain and France, there have been a few tremors. And the sitcom hasn’t shied away from making light of them.
In 2002, a 31-year-old Canadian engineer named Maher Arar was deported by the US government to Syria, where he was held for nearly a year and tortured, he says. Rather than seeking his release, Canadian authorities appeared to leak false information tying him to al-Qaeda. Arar returned to Canada anyway, where the government cleared his name and awarded him $10 million in compensation for its misdeeds.
So in the very first 30-minute episode of “Little Mosque,” Shaikh’s character, Amaar Rashid, winds up being interrogated by airport-security officers after a misunderstanding. “If my story doesn’t check out, you can deport me to Syria,” Rashid quips. In another episode, a character is barred from traveling to the US after mistakenly being placed on a no-fly list.
With that kind of cutting satire, the sitcom “made waves around the world” when it first aired, Shaikh recalls with excitement. “We were on BBC, we were on CNN, we were in The New York Times.”
Because of the media spotlight, and no doubt because the show was a true original in a media landscape where Muslim characters are supposed to be serious, even dangerous, the first-ever episode raked in 2.1 million Canadian viewers. It was a remarkable feat in a country of 30 million people, many of whom prefer America’s big-budget broadcasting to homemade productions.