Will Mosque’s message click in Quebec?

Radio-Canada will air the hit sitcom next spring, hoping its bighearted take on religious tolerance will find a place in a province beset with culture clash

MONTREAL — Following its sales to France, Israel and Turkey, Little Mosque on the Prairie will air in Quebec next spring on Radio-Canada.

The pubcaster’s decision is timely, as the province is in the midst of a very public, and at times divisive, debate about the integration of religious minorities and immigrants.

‘From the very beginning we thought it was a very contemporary series. It touches on issues that we are all dealing with,’ the director of acquisitions at SRC, Patricia Leclerc, tells Playback Daily. ‘It may be [set] on the Prairies, but it also reflects our culture. It’s Nordic, and it’s tightly knit.’

Mosque, which will be dubbed in French, also fits the pubcaster’s mandate because it promotes tolerance, says Leclerc. The series, about the goings-on in a Muslim community in fictional Mercy, SK, has become a rare hit on CBC. It has been scoring between 900,000 and one million viewers in its current, second season.

Leclerc regrets that a Quebec writer didn’t have the idea first. ‘It could have taken place in Hérouxville,’ she quips, referring to the small Quebec town that adopted a bizarre code of conduct for immigrants in January. The town ultimately altered its bylaws, which included banning public stoning and burning people alive, after a group of Muslim women met with the mayor.

A month after the Hérouxville uproar, Quebec Premier Jean Charest launched a commission to examine the social accommodation of religious and cultural minorities, led by two university professors, Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor. The traveling inquiry, and the racist views many ordinary Quebecers have expressed in front of it, are making headlines daily in la belle province.

‘I hope Quebecers will enjoy it,’ says series creator Zarqa Nawaz. ‘My impression is that in Quebec, especially small-town Quebec, the only images of Muslims they get is of the extreme elements of the culture,’ says Nawaz. ‘Hopefully it will have an impact, because Little Mosque is about showing Muslims in ordinary situations.’

Nawaz, who wears a headscarf and is the mother of four children, also wants the series, which features a number of strong-willed women, to change the common North American perception that all Muslim women are oppressed. ‘We live in a culture where women get liposuction and breast implants. That’s oppressive. Just because you wear a headscarf, it doesn’t mean you are oppressed,’ she says.

Little Mosque‘s makers recently received the Search for Common Ground award, a humanitarian honor previously given to Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter. The award promotes collaborative problem-solving as an alternative to conflict.

Leclerc is quick to point out that Little Mosque‘s main selling point was not that it’s socially conscious, but that it’s funny. ‘It’s good TV. We wouldn’t have bought if it wasn’t,’ she says.

Little Mosque has also recently inked deals with French-speaking Africa, Finland, Dubai, Gaza and the West Bank.