The fifth season of the Canadian situation comedy Little Mosque on the Prairie has started. Set in the small town of Mercy, Saskatchewan, and partially filmed on location in the province, Little Mosque on the Prairie is an enjoyable comedy focusing on the Muslim community in Mercy, and focusing particularly on Imam Amaar Rashid, a former lawyer from Toronto who has left behind the legal profession and big city life to lead a small congregation out West. It’s a little bit like Northern Exposure, with quirky small town characters and its fish out of water central character—at least in the earlier seasons.
As I noted in an earlier blog post, the title playfully evokes Laura Ingall Wilder’s series of frontier narratives, and, although the setting is contemporary, Little Mosque emphasizes its small town in the prairies location as well as a sense of the frontier as a meeting point between different cultures, a first contact of sorts between Muslims and Christians. The meeting point is not only the town of Mercy but also Mercy Anglican, which houses the mosque as well as the church.
The Christians and the Muslims don’t always get along, the friction a source of much of the comedy. For that matter, the Muslims have their own conflicts (especially between the conservative and progressive factions, a divide that Amaar must negotiate). There is a group of Mercyites as well who are opposed to the Muslim presence in town, spearheaded by right-wing radio host Fred Tupper. In one of the first episodes, Fred brings in Amaar for an interview, and the conversation shows one of the ways the show evokes the genre western and ideas of the (Canadian) West:
Fred: I call on Reverend Magee to turn you and your gang out the church by sundown.
Amaar: Sundown? What is this? the Wild West?
Fred: You got that right, my little bedouin buckaroo. You’re not in the big city anymore.
Season four began with the arrival of a new sheriff in town, or, rather, a new priest, Rev. Thorne, for whom Amaar is quite simply “the enemy.” As a comic foil to Amaar, the conniving Rev. Thorne was quite delightful. By the end of the season, Rev. Thorne had managed to manipulate the conservative Muslim faction into firing Amaar. Baber, the head of the conservatives, took over as Imam, and Amaar rented a space in Joe’s field. In one of the more moving and beautiful scenes of the series, Amaar began leading prayers outdoors on the prairie. In the interim, Baber (instigated by Rev. Thorne) invited a super-conservative group of “nomad” Muslims to Mercy, which provided the excuse that Thorne had been looking for to evict the Muslims from the church.
The season ended with Amaar winning back his congregation, and with the revelation of Thorne’s manipulation of events, and ultimately with the disgrace of Rev. Thorne. As season five begins, Thorne is bedeviled by one of his parishioners posting a video on YouTube of his angry meltdown, in which he insults everyone and everything in Mercy. Rev. Thorne is a superb comic antagonist, and I expect that he will return to that role soon. At the moment, he’s attempting contrition (not very successfully).
The first four seasons are currently available on DVD.
For more information, see the Little Mosque on the Prairie Official Website.