Little Mosque on the Prairie: What Mormons Can Learn from Muslims

Andrew cinema, Culture, Humor, inter-faith, international, LDS, Mormon, mormon, Mormons, religion, television 23 Comments

What do Mormons and Muslims have in common? A lot more than you might think. And a popular sitcom about Muslims living in a small Canadian prairie town offers Mormons good suggestions about how best to handle being misunderstood and sometimes mistreated by the “outside world”.

People have been comparing Mormons to Muslims since the days of Joseph Smith, who was derided as an “American Muhammad.” Some even have referred to Mormonism as the “Islam of America.” Consider just a few of the remarkable similarities between Muslims and Mormons:

  • Both accept the Bible as scripture as well as an additional post-Biblical book of scripture (Koran & Book of Mormon) brought forth by the prophet-founder of their faith (Muhammad & Joseph Smith).
  • Both religions’ book of post-Biblical scripture (Koran & Book of Mormon) was intended, in part, to correct corruptions in the Biblical text.
  • The two major factions in both religions split over the issue of succession, i.e., whether the prophet-founder’s family had divine authority to succeed the prophet-founder after his death (Sunni & Shia in Islam; LDS & [former] RLDS in Mormonism).
  • The faction that does not believe in lineal succession in each religion (Sunni & LDS) is larger than the faction that does believe in lineal succession (Shia & [former] RLDS).
  • Both believe in a pre-existence.
  • Both have a health code that proscribes alcohol.
  • Both have patriarchal orders of church government.
  • Both struggle to overcome guilt-by-association-type negative publicity created by individuals considered by the majority/mainstream to be fanatics that fall “outside the fold” (e.g., Osama bin Laden & Warren Jeffs).
  • Both groups receive significantly lower favorability ratings in public opinion surveys compared to other religious groups like Catholics and Jews.
  • Both religions have recently been cited as reasons not to vote for a U.S. Presidential candidate (Mitt Romney’s Mormonism & Barack Hussein Obama’s contact with Islam in his youth).
  • The words “Muslim” and “Mormon” both begin with an “M” and have six letters (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

Interestingly, a Muslim co-worker told me that the first time someone told her that he was  “Mormon,” she thought he was saying “momin,” which means “good” in Arabic.

As reported by the Los Angeles Times recently, Muslims and Mormons have been forging closer ties, facilitated in part by their common bond of being oft-misunderstood and sometimes mistreated by the rest of society. When Muslims and Mormons meet, it is easy for them to relate to one another. Consider these statements by a Mormon and a Muslim who were interviewed at a recent open-mosque day in my city of Irvine, California, at which over half those in attendance were Mormons:

“A Mormon living in an Islamic society would be very comfortable,” said Steve Young, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints attending the event.

“When I go to a Mormon church I feel at ease,” said Haitham Bundakji, former chairman of the Islamic Society of Orange County. “When I heard the president [of LDS] speak a few years ago, if I’d closed my eyes I’d have thought he was an imam.”

Muslims’ struggle to overcome negative stereotypes and to persuade others that they are good, normal, family-centered people is something Mormons can relate to. And that is the central theme of a popular Canadian sitcom, Little Mosque in the Prairie, which is set in the fictional small prairie town of Mercy, Saskatchewan. In this clip from the first episode, a young man who is to be the new Imam (priest) in Mercy has been detained at the airport as a suspected terrorist.

Little Mosque on the Prairie, Episode 1 Clip

This comedy series, which is available on YouTube for free viewing, is a fine example for Mormons of how best to deal with being misunderstood and sometimes mistreated by others: Laugh about it!

But in addition to having a therapeutic effect on its Muslim viewers, the show also serves as an invaluable PR tool for Muslims and Middle-Easterners in general. Nowadays, the most common visual images of Muslims and Middle-Easterners that North Americans see are people like Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Iranian President Ahmadinejad, or a swarm of hooded men doing a rigorous monkey bar circuit at an elite terrorist training camp. None of these would be embraced by most Muslims as good representatives of Islam.

The cast of Little Mosque on the Prairie provide North American viewers with friendly Muslim faces to put in their place. After watching a few episodes, the show’s hilarious cast of characters will come to mind whenever you hear the word “Muslim,” rather than one of the many angry, finger-wagging clerics you see on the nightly news. Moreover, the fact that the Muslim writers and actors of Little Mosque in the Prairie can poke fun at themselves and at the awkward and ridiculous social situations in which they sometimes find themselves exhibits an admirable self-confidence and is an effective way of defusing (no pun intended) any unnecessary social tensions that exist between Muslims and non-Muslims living in North America. Little Mosque on the Prairie demonstrates that when it comes to erasing prejudice and creating familiarity and goodwill, laughter is once again the best medicine.

So my question for you is: Is there, or has there ever been, a Mormon equivalent to Little Mosque on the Prairie? Have creators of Mormon media succeeded yet in producing works with mass appeal that provide accurate and endearing portrayals of Mormons? If so, what are those works? And if not, why hasn’t it been done yet?

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Comments 23

  1. I don’t know if there’s ever been a Mormon equivalent of “Little Mosque” but I started watching “LM” when it first came on the air (lucky me, I live in Canada. 🙂 ) and I was really struck by how easy it would be to replace “Muslim” with “Mormon” and still have pretty much the same show. I enjoy it for its gentle humor. I think the writers are still struggling to find ways to write without being hokey or too formulaic but hey, they’re inventing the wheel here; I’m inclined to give them the time to grow.

  2. I need to view the link still, but I have found that my Muslim friends really see Mormons for who we are. They don’t have preconceptions about us, and we do have many things in common: focus on family, no alcohol, fasting, spirituality over dogma, etc. And they, like us, tend to be a little reluctant at first to bring up religion.

  3. “Papa Married a Mormon” – and the accompanying Great Brain series – is similar for popular literature, but I can’t think of a television counterpart. “Angels in America” certainly doesn’t qualify.

  4. Islam is the second largest religion at BYU. I had several friends from Palestine, one who I roomed with, and they all loved Mormons. I even joined the Arab club at BYU and went to their parties, ate their food (couscous, yogurt, some weird bitter leaves, rice, lamb, pita). I was shocked at how much of a brotherhood there is. The honor code made them feel right at home. They even identify with the terrain of Utah, the Jordan River, etc. Two of my friends had an arranged marriage. She would come over to the house and cook for him (and sometimes I partook of the spoils).

    The biggest disagreement, and it is an alarming one, was over pluralism. My friends were more comfortable living in a country where religious law was imposed than I was. I cherished the first amendment, freedom of religion and speech. They wanted to live in a land where religious law was dictated.

  5. Btw, it’s instructive that I had to go so far back to even think of a popular book series that dealt with Mormonism in a warm and fuzzy way.

  6. “Have creators of Mormon media succeeded yet in producing works with mass appeal that provide accurate and endearing portrayals of Mormons?”

    Well, I just rented “Return with Honor”. When you read reviews of Mormon Media films on Netflix, you get these comments like, “Another propaganda film for the Mormons. I think you could use “Return with Honor” as propaganda to convince people NOT to join the church. The Mormons depicted were intolerant, overbearing, judgmental, quick to offend, and rather dense. It was hard to believe that these characters could draw anyone into the church.

    “And if not, why hasn’t it been done yet?

    I would say lack of quality screenplay writing is the issue with the most recent crop of movies. “Go Toward the Light” was a movie that presented a good depiction of LDS characters of substance who lived their religion with quiet humility and dignity. Not a warm and fuzzy subject matter though.

  7. I’m being nitpicky, but I wanted to correct a few points.

    “Both accept the Bible as scripture” Only sortof for Muslims. In the very earliest centuries of Islam the Bible was referenced more, but nowadays its not scripture they use, just sort of a footnote.

    “Both religions’ book of post-Biblical scripture (Koran & Book of Mormon) was intended, in part, to correct corruptions in the Biblical text.” That’s really not waht the Qur’an is. In Islam yes the message of the Bible (or the Torah and the Gospel as they would refer to it as two different reference points) and their accompanying Jewish and Christian faiths was corrupted, but the Qur’an is seen by most (after a lot of very fierce ideological debates in the first centuries of Islam) as an uncreated co-eternal with God message/book. It is in other words, far more than the Bible, perfection in written or oral form so to speak, and as such something quite different from how we view the Book of Mormon.

    “Both believe in a pre-existence.” I have never heard this belief in Islam, I think the statement is incorrect or that if there is some esoteric reference to it somewhere that it is at the least something that most Muslims would be utterly unaware of.

    “momin” (mu’min more accurately) means “believer” not “good”.

    Just to point some things out, appreciate the broader comparison you are making.

  8. Great article. I too am from Canada and watched the show when it came out. I in a cycle of TV-is-a-waste of time at the moment though, so I haven’t been watching it for quite a while. It’s pretty interesting stuff though.

    It reminds me of another post I read not to long ago about taking things from other religions and applying them to our lives. There’s good stuff everywhere.

  9. Just to clarify: this is not a “popular sitcom” in Canada. Take out the word “popular” and you’ve got the goods. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be instructive, but the writing/acting/production value is typical CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation – tax funded) low end.

    Sort of like the “Work and the Glory” series – instructive if you can stand it 🙂

  10. Rigel, are you talking about the TV movie about the young boy with AIDS. If that’s the movie, I believe that film was done by sensitive non-Mormon professionals which I think might make all the difference. It was also based on a true life story and the family that lived through it are wonderful people. The producers based it on the mother’s book and according to the actual family, were more than willing to work with the family (although they disagreed with the casting).

  11. Yeah, Michael thats the one. I agree with you on the things that make the difference. I thought Linda Hamilton was great, but don’t think Richard Thomas had the right quality for the role of the father. Well done overall and available to rent on Netflix.

  12. As British Mormons i was struck by my daughter’s comfort with Moslem girls at school,she shared the same standards.When it came to her socilaising with Moslem boys however,it was a whole different thing.Whilst it’s important to look at what we have in common,there are significant differences,and as a woman I’m gratefulfor them.

  13. I just want to add a couple more similarities:

    Both muslims and mormons dont have pre-marital sex

    also, both muslim girls and mormon girls have a dress code that emphasizes modesty in dress

  14. And if you think about it.. in a funny kind of way, Mormon’s pray five times a day too. Once for each meal… that’s three… plus, I was always taught to pray in the morning after you wake, and in the evening before bed. (Not to mention numerous other instances)

    ..okay… so not the best comparison.

    But anyway, great article! Except, as far as I know, a pre-existent life is not a part of Islam. Otherwise, you make a great point!

  15. Hi. I’d like to have some points about the “pre-existencee” bit of the discussion. Islam believes in pre-existent life. It’s a great article.

  16. I don’t know which rock JJackson (above) crawled out from under, but he’s got it all wrong.

    In its first season, LM drew an average of 1.2 million viewers per week. If you check out Neilson ratings, the only Canadian-made shows rating higher at home have been the Stanley Cup Finals and Canadian Idol. We do have a few more folk watching Law and Order and CSI, but not by much.

    The show has been picked up worldwide with several netowrks in Europe and the Middle East broadcasting it. An Americanized versison is in the works as well.

    To most of us, the writing is wonderful and the production values stand up to any American sitcom I have seen lately. As for the cast, they are a great mix of well-known Canadian comics and totally fresh faces. The comic timing, the dry wit of Rayyan and Amaar, the satirized stereotypes of Fred the talk-radio host and Babar the most conservative Moslem in town, all make for a show that is both thoughtful and entertaining.

    The CBC has been keeping me and my family well informed and entertained for years, despite the fact that successive federal governments have slashed its budget repeatedly for ideological reasons (and pressure from private sector media outlets).

    So crawl back where you came from JJ, or at least do a little research before you write!

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