Canada Chuckles at 'Little Mosque on the Prairie' In Canada, a sitcom about a Muslim community in the fictional town of Mercy is creating a lot of buzz. The first episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie attracted more than 2 million viewers.

Canada Chuckles at 'Little Mosque on the Prairie'

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A new sitcom on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is getting attention around the world. "Little Mosque on the Prairie" deals, as you might expect, with the group of Muslims living in a small prairie town in Canada. It's drawn a huge audience and has surged some controversy, as Richard Reynolds reports from Toronto.

RICHARD REYNOLDS: The name "Little Mosque on the Prairie" may bring back memories of the long-running U.S. drama "Little House on the Prairie," but that's where the comparison stops. This is a 30-minute comedy, but it's more akin to British comedies than American ones. There is no laugh track, few obvious jokes, and the humor is rather gentle. In this scene from the first episode, the mosque's new Imam gets arrested at the airport after someone overhearing his conversation gets concerned.

(Soundbite of "Little Mosque on the Prairie")

Mr. ZAIB SHAIKH (Actor): (As Amaar) Look, if dad thinks its suicide, so be it. This is Allah's plan for me.

Unidentified Woman: Oh, my…

Mr. SHAIKH: (As Amaar) Yeah, I'm not throwing my life away. I'm moving to the prairies. To run a mosque?

Unidentified Man #1: Step away from the bag. You're not going to paradise today.

REYNOLDS: The show's creator, Zarqa Nawaz, says it's a pretty standard formula, the fish out of water. In this case, the fish is the mosque's new Imam, a liberal man who quits his big city law practice to take over the tiny mosque, which is in a rented church hall. And why Muslims? Nawaz, who has been a humorist for more than a decade, says the answer is simple.

Ms. ZARQA NAWAZ (Creator, "Little Mosque on the Prairie"): Every artist writes from their known experience. I write because I write from the place where I am and what I find funny and humorous. And it just happens because I'm Muslim that the topic of my situational comedies, and how I see things from my perspective.

REYNOLDS: According to Nawaz, the show's setting provides a rich vein of misunderstandings from which to mine it's humor. The small town people are, well, provincial. The town's tiny Muslim population seems a bit out of place, and it's a strange group, to say the least. But the show has a definite subtext. Although Nawaz denies it's intentional, Canadians love to laugh at their southern neighbors. And John Doyle, the TV critic for the Toronto Globe and Mail, says that many viewers will be thinking of the U.S. as they chuckle.

Mr. JOHN DOYLE (TV Critic, Toronto's Globe and Mail): I do think that there is a subtext in the comedy on "Little Mosque", in that the kind of redneck attitudes from some of the locals in the small town towards the Muslims is very much reflective of an American suspicion of Muslims, not a Canadian suspicion.

REYNOLDS: Muslims in Canada watch the show with some anticipation. But there were few vocal complaints. That said, some thought the show's portrayal of Muslims and Islam was insulting. But when pushed, most admitted that the portrayal of the non-Muslims in the show was just as insulting. Walid Hejazi is a university professor and a Muslim.

Professor WALID HEJAZI (University of Toronto): I would expect that if you had this type of a comedy in a church or in a synagogue, you'd have a similar reaction from different parts of the community. But again, because of the image that Muslims have in the media, this particular show generates extra interest in how the community is going to react in light of other things that have been in the media about Islam.

REYNOLDS: When the show was first announced, there were suggestions that the CBC maybe opening itself up to controversy, the same as that seen when a Danish magazine published cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. The CBC has hired a consultant and worked with several imams to ensure there is nothing in the show Muslims might find offensive. CBC insists there is no risk of real controversy. But they need look no further than "Little Mosque on the Prairie" to see how things sometimes spin out of control.

(Soundbite of "Little Mosque on the Prairie")

Unidentified Man #2: Is this terrorist attack hotline? You want me to hold?

REYNOLDS: For NPR News, I'm Richard Reynolds in Toronto.

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