Alright, in 10 seconds try and name 5 Muslim characters on television? How about any shows with a predominantly Muslim cast? Surprisingly hard to do, right? This simple task is meant to highlight just how few Muslim characters are on television. More than 1 in every 5 people are Muslim, but this is not the case for US media.
Enter Little Mosque on the Prairie. Little Mosque is a Canadian sitcom that ran from 2007-2012 on CBC . The show focuses on challenges of muslims assimilating and being accepted by dominant mainstream Canadian society.
The show is different from most others for two reasons. 1) It is one of the only shows that has primarily muslim characters 2) Avoids many of the stereotyped roles of muslims.
This is important because research has shown that in lieu of sustained face-to-face contact, media has a very large impact on our perception and attitudes towards other people. Due to the natural bias of media to focus on conflict, disagreement and violence, over time our perception of the world can become overly negative. This is known as Mean World Syndrome and has been demonstrated to impact a litany of individual perceptions (murders, terrorism).
Positive depictions of Muslims in the media are absolutely critical to counteracting this bias and helping to reduce anxiety about immigration and people from different religions. The show is especially strong at showing a diversity of Muslim characters- there is no monolithic Muslim other but many different types of Muslims. There are the relatively progressive Muslims doing anything they can to assimilate and grow their construction business, juxtaposed to a very traditional Muslim who is fearful of women being able to pray in the same space as men.
This diversity of characters breaks down our own expectations for Muslims and causes us to give them more space to define themselves, instead of narrowly stereotyping them. It also helps individuals empathize with Muslims they interact with in real life- instead of the foreign terrorist being our point of reference, its a single mother trying to help her child getting bullied over his slightly different lunch box contents. Research has shown that this particular show can break down anti-muslim attitudes and help to instill greater tolerance.
Unfortunately, Little Mosque got very little play in the US and has been mostly ignored by the American consumer. It is however available on Amazon, or Hulu for those who are interested, not only is the show great at combating prejudice but it’s pretty funny as well.