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“Muslim Comedy Prescribes Women’s Lib” By Bill Harris. This originally appeared here.
Women’s lib is alive and well on Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Think about the situations encountered by Sitara Hewitt’s character, Dr. Rayyan Hamoudi. Now think about the struggles of early-1970s sitcom characters such as Maude, or Mary Richards, or even Laurie Partridge.
There definitely is a thematic link there, with regard to women battling for equality and respect. And Hewitt takes it as a big compliment.
“It’s funny, because sometimes it really does feel like the women’s-lib movement when I play my character,” Hewitt said. “And I personally think it’s a great way to portray this Muslim woman, because she’s one of the main characters on the show.
“So which direction do you go with her? She’s a Muslim, she covers her hair, but she’s a feminist doctor. So I thought okay, I’m going to make this fun and personable and human. I didn’t want to play her as this regimented Muslim, who’s quiet and subservient. I know a lot of Muslim women who are not like that, even though that’s the misconception.
“So what better way to take a Muslim character than to go, okay, let’s do a throwback to women’s lib? She’s the smart one. In most of the situations, Rayyan is the one who holds it together or figures it out or tells the man how it really is. I think that’s so cute. I love it.”
In the second-season finale of Little Mosque tonight on CBC, Rayyan faces yet another dilemma that mixes the complexities of Muslim tradition with North American-style women’s liberation.
Rayyan must decide whether to agree to an arranged marriage with J.J. (Stephen Lobo) — which her father Yasir (Carlo Rota) is head-over-heels excited about — or go against her father’s wishes and possibly pursue her simmering feelings for Amaar Rashid (Zaib Shaikh).
“What’s cool about this show is, we haven’t followed a formula,” Hewitt said. “We’re not following Everybody Loves Raymond, we’re not following Friends, we’re not following Fraiser, we’re not following Arrested Development, because there never has been a show like this about Muslims before.
“We want to take chances, but we also want to respect people’s beliefs. It’s delicate, but we all work really well as a team. Our motto is, be careful, but take risks.”
Many of the sitcoms of the early 1970s took risks, too. But the better-written ones understood that sometimes the smarty-pants women had to be the targets for comedy, too.
“Rayyan is flawed,” said Hewitt, citing one of her favourite things about the character. “Often she’s foiled by her own ambition. She has a bit of an ego. She’s competitive.
“Characters that are perfect are boring. Especially in comedy, we must try and fail. You don’t want characters who are so stupid that they fail all the time. But comedy comes when smart people are trying so hard that they’re failing.
“To me, that’s the best thing about life anyway, and that’s the way I see Rayyan. She tries so hard, but sometimes things go horribly wrong for her.”
That’s what season-ending cliff-hangers are all about.
Modest attire ‘classy’
Beauty isn’t merely about slutty clothing, according to Sitara Hewitt.
“It’s so cool to be playing a role that is not merely the sexy girl or the cheesy girlfriend,” said Hewitt, who plays Dr. Rayyan Hamoudi on CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie.
“Being a young actress who is considered good looking, those are the roles you audition for. But this makes my parents so proud.”
Rayyan’s Muslim attire is suitably modest. But Hewitt loves the “classy” aspect.
“Sometimes I feel more beautiful dressed as Rayyan,” said Hewitt, whose extended family on her mother’s side is Muslim. “Sometimes I’ve had that reaction of walking out onto the set in a particularly striking Rayyan outfit and having all these guys on the crew going, ‘Wow!’
“It really is beautiful clothing and it’s so great that this character can look beautiful without being half-naked.”