The problem of the relations between popular culture and religion refers to two sides of human life. Culture in the broad sense of the term can be defined as a dynamic system of human achievements in the knowledge, development, and the overall transformation of the world. It includes the skills and methods of social organization in various fields of human activity from material production to refined images of art, philosophical and theological concepts, appropriate sign systems, and the ability to use and improve them (Nanko-Fernandez, 2013). In religion, practical development of the world occurs by a method based on the concept of the decisive influence of supernatural forces on the daily lives of people (Nanko-Fernandez, 2013). The Canadian comedy series Little Mosque on the Prairie that is dedicated to the life of the Muslim community in the fictional small Canadian town of Mercy is an example of how pop culture and religion coexist in modern Islamic society. This essay aims to analyze the metamorphosis of pop culture in the Islamic perspective. It examines Little Mosque on the Prairie with the reference to the Forbes and Mahan's typologies and focuses on how the director of the series depicts orientalism.
If to analyze the characteristics of religious engagement with popular culture that are present in Little Mosque on the Prairie, the Forbes and Mahan's typologies has to be mentioned. According to this typology, it is possible to say that the series fits the first typology called "religion in popular culture" (Nanko-Fernandez, 2013). Pop culture is the culture of the majority. In fact, it is the culture of life, entertainment, and information that prevails in modern society (Nanko-Fernandez, 2013). Naturally, pop culture tries not to intrude into religion. However, the creator of Little Mosque, Zarqa Nawaz, has discussed the rights of the Muslim women. In fact, previously, her attempts to raise this topic in a format of a documentary were not successful. However, Nawaz managed to show the realistic, modern, and slightly humorous view of Muslims on the popular culture in Little Mosque on the Prairie. Here, the religious perception of the world is transmitted into the popular culture (Canas, 2008).
The second typology called "popular culture in religion" is present in Little Mosque as it clearly shows the benefits of borrowing mass culture and implementing it into all spheres of life (Nanko-Fernandez, 2013). For instance, Yasir and Sarah always try to give a new interpretation of certain religious precepts and reject the archaic customs. Thus, Sarah wears a headscarf during prayers in the mosque, but not at work and in the city (Canas, 2008).
The third typology called "popular culture as religion" is not applicable to Little Mosque on the Prairie (Nanko-Fernandez, 2013). There are no signs of a mass culture that could be accepted as a religion. There is no specific material object that could become a fetish in the series. In one of the episodes called "Keeping the Faith," the viewers may notice Sarah and Fred's strong wish to win in the chili competition (Canas, 2008). However, in this episode, pop culture cannot be considered as religion, fetish, or an object of worship. They are trying to win so eagerly because they want to show that they belong in the society.
Forbes and Mahan's fourth typology called "religion and popular culture in dialogue" is the most relevant to the Little Mosque on the Prairie (Nanko-Fernandez, 2013). This typology is the main characteristic of this show as to convey the dialogue between religion and modern Western culture is the principal goal of the director. For example, Rayyan Hamoudi, undoubtedly, embodies the image of a modern Muslim. She wears the hijab and takes religion very seriously, but she believes that women should strengthen their role in Islamic society. Rayyan often argues with her parents because of their weak commitment to Islam, but she also has arguments with the hostess of the cafe Fatima because of her archaic and too strict views on Islam. One more character, Leila, is a teen girl who also faces the controversy of modern life trying to follow the need to obey the Islamic regulations and the desire to be like her Canadian peers. Babar is the strictest person who remains archaic and serious in his faith. He wants to refuse women to be dressed in pants in the Mosque (Canas, 2008). On the contrary, Rayyan thinks that the modernization and the influence of mass culture have benefits. Besides, Amaar also has to resolve a problem of finding the "golden middle" between religious laws and gender equality. As a result, Amaar is willing to do what he feels right (Canas, 2008).
Without a shadow of a doubt, Little Mosque combats orientalist stereotypes concerning the Islam and the Muslim people, especially women. This show encourages people of various religions and cultures to be liberal and tolerant of the other nationalities and religions because the relation of Islam and Christianity is depicted vividly. The show is highly esteemed for its portrayal of multiculturalism and coexistence of religion and popular culture. Zarqa Nawaz is a person who is not afraid of rejecting orientalist stereotypes of Muslim people (Canas, 2008). In her work, she expresses that orientalist stereotypes emphasizing constant rivalry and opposition of Western culture towards the Muslims. Nawaz's aim is to debunk those stereotypes. Owing to this fact, this television show represents a humorous story around the problems arose from the interaction of Muslims with non-Muslims, conservative believers with people open to the new world. Still, the main objective of the show is to entertain and amuse the audience. It cannot solve political or religious problems. A comedy is one of the best and most effective ways to reduce the barriers of misunderstanding in the society and promote dialogue between culture and religion (Canas, 2008). Despite the emphasis on the religious theme, the plot is built around the standard images of family, friends, their humor, and everyday life. These funny series tells about everyday problems and disputes of the Muslim community. It reveals how Muslims are involved in the life of society and in how they express themselves.
The coexistence of pop culture and religion is a complicated and ambiguous issue. Having launched Little Mosque on the Prairie, Muslims earned one more small victory in the cultural field which made Islam closer and more understandable to the modern world. Even though Islam has its limits, the focus of the series on the traditional themes and storyline is one of the main reasons for the show's prompt success. Muslims doomed to experience the islamophobia and hostility have learned certain cultural practices how to present themselves in the society. With the help of various forms of mass culture, Muslims try to overcome barriers. They are trying to establish a new connection between the Islamic way of life and the trends of modern pop culture. One of the main aims of the modern Islamic pop culture is to demonstrate the Muslim identity who is fighting for the "golden middle" in the approach to modern life for the younger generation. Popular culture is a global world culture, and the only way to develop it is to follow its trends while preserving national, cultural, and religious identities.